February 27, 2023
After a 2-year ammunition drought, the ammunition shelves at my local gun store are no longer a barren wasteland. It’s refreshing to see freedom seeds turn shelves into a cacophony of colors. Familiar brands revamped their artwork, while several new companies have recently sprouted.
Norma is one brand you should be seeing more of. Making ammunition for 120 years, it is not a new company. However, Norma seized the opportunity to fill cavities within the US market during the last few years. Its ammunition offerings currently support hunting endeavors, self-defense, training and precision shooting. Norma also offers reloading components and airgun pellets.
History: Then to Now
Norma has been producing ammunition in Åmotfors, Sweden, since 1902. Its beginnings are rooted in manufacturing military munitions. During World War II, Norma provided rounds for the war effort and built 10 new buildings to keep up with demand. By 1950, it began exporting hunting ammunition, which now dominates the European market. In the 1960’s, Norma gained ground in the U.S. market when cartridge hot-rodder Roy Weatherby tested their cases and found them capable of withstanding the high pressures of his magnum loads. Subsequently, Norma produced ammunition for Weatherby’s cartridges.
Norma ammunition is still manufactured in Sweden, with the exception of its newer Monolithic Hollow Point (MHP) and Non-Expanding Defense (NXD) lines. The MHP is made in Hungary and the NXD in the U.S., respectively. Altogether, Norma produces 106 different loads and more than 30 million rounds of ammunition each year.
Through the years, Norma has been operated by several owners. RUAG Ammotec (ruag.com) is the current brand leader, which has honed Norma’s reputation for developing innovative products and precision ammunition. In 2012, in its effort expand its US presence, the distribution company Norma USA (normashooting.com) was established. Norma USA is headquartered in Savannah, Georgia, a large port city that moves more than 41/2-million 20-foot containers a year. It has a large distribution facility there, which is expanding to meet the high demand.
On March 9, 2022, Beretta Holdings finalized an agreement to acquire RUAG Ammotec. This should bode well for Norma given that they enjoy a track record of keeping companies that occupy the same market distinct, innovative and thriving.
Guns & Ammo sent me on assignment to visit the facility in Savannah to test Norma’s NXD, MHP and Bondstrike ammunition. The ammo revealed in this article was tested informally, which means that it does not replicate the stringent FBI protocol test. Therefore, I will make no comparisons about the ammunitions performance with respect to those standards. Despite this, experiences such as this is always informative. In this situation, I compared different ammunition types in the same medium. After returning home, I independently gathered additional accuracy and velocity data.
Not a Mushroom
The NXD is defensive ammunition that uses a fluted, non-expanding projectile similar to the Polycase ARX Inceptor round introduced by Guns & Ammo in the July 2015 issue. The NXD projectile is made of a copper-polymer matrix featuring a full-metal-jacket (FMJ) profile, but featuring specially engineered flutes. Combined with a high rotational velocity, the flutes leading to the ogive exploit two fluid dynamic principles: Hydrodynamic Ram (HRAM) and the Venturi effect.
When a high-velocity bullet enters a fluid medium, HRAM will cause a large cavity to form. The mushrooming of a hollow point bullet increases this effect. The fluted NXD bullet works differently than a jacketed hollow point (JHP); cavitation still occurs, but as Norma’s Vice President of Portfolio Management Daniel Cox explains, “The NXD takes it much further in utilizing the Venturi effect to create multiple secondary Hydrodynamic Ram events in soft tissue. This increases shock value and soft-tissue disruption.”
The use of eight flutes — as opposed to four flutes seen the similar ARX non-expanding composites — “allows for a more effective utilization of the Venturi effect,” according to Norma, “and helps produces a longer and larger wound cavity.” These flutes have the additional property of not being susceptible to clogging as many JHP bullets do.
There are benefits to the copper-polymer matrix versus a solid-copper or JHP bullet. The obvious is cost savings. A composite material is more affordable to manufacture than any type of copper projectile, and the injection-molding process to make them is faster than a lathe-cut solid bullet. The copper-polymer matrix is also formulated to maintain as much of its shape after impact, which allows for deep penetration since no energy is lost to bullet expansion.
The NXD round is available from Norma in a 9mm cartridge with a 65-grain bullet. That’s a lightweight bullet when compared to the standard 115- to 147-grain defensive handgun loads of the same caliber, but the secret sauce that makes the NXD so effective is its 1,730 feet-per-second (fps) velocity.
Compare the energy of Norma’s MHP .45 ACP to the NXD. The MHP in .45 carries a 175-grain bullet, which flies at 921 fps from the muzzle from a Glock 17. That translates to a kinetic energy of 330 foot-pounds (ft.-lbs.). I measured the 65-grain NXD bullet at 1,792 fps from the same muzzle. The kinetic energy of the NXD calculates to 464 ft.-lbs. — a 134-ft.-lb. difference in favor of the NXD. That a lightweight 9mm projectile has more energy than a .45 ACP may stun some handgunners, but this information falls in line with physics. Doubling the mass of the projectile will increase the kinetic energy two times (2X), while doubling the velocity will increase the kinetic energy four times (4X).
Shooting the high-velocity NXD felt like shooting any other 9mm round. I didn’t notice an increase in muzzle flip or recoil. However, the energy transfer from this bullet could be seen in gel. The NXD created an almost 6-inch X-shape on entry. I also observed splintered damage surrounding the entry as well as secondary damage from the hydraulic dispersion for the length of its penetration. The bullet penetrated nearly 14 inches in Clear Ballistics gel ($77, clearballistics.com) and retained 100 percent of its weight. The surprising thing to me was that the recovered projectile looked new; there was no perceptible deformation in the bullet’s profile.
Norma’s MHP is a deceptive-looking cartridge. However, its aesthetics is functional. The black-colored case, for example, it is made of brass, but a dark Physical Vapor Deposition (PVD) coating makes the surface slicker for ease of feeding. Additionally, the silver bullet may look like a fantasy round for stopping werewolves, but it’s color comes from its nickel coating that allows it to slide along a feed ramp and support a consistent velocity through the barrel.
Beneath the nickel coating is a solid-copper projectile. Copper projectiles are increasingly popular for self-defense round due to the material’s properties. Copper has a single density, which gives it a predictable performance. It’s also harder than lead and retains its mass better than a traditional lead-core, copper-jacket bullet. The downside to copper, though, is that it is less dense and therefore lighter than a lead-core bullet. Hence, more velocity is often required for a monolithic expander to mushroom.
Ammunition manufacturers are shaping copper projectiles with flutes, while other brands are introducing all-copper designs of the familiar hollowpoint. Norma went on the latter route with the MHP. One of the interesting differences with Norma’s design is how engineers pre-stressed the bullet. It’s common for manufacturers to pre-stress projectiles to encourage a mushroom to form along the path of least resistance. However, it’s at another level with the MHP. When the MHP bullet impacts an object, it can’t help but to open at the prescribed, blueprinted shape.
When testing the MHP load in .380 ACP and 9mm, I noticed that both cavities featured a similar small divot in the center. Because of the bullet’s design, a large nose wasn’t needed to aid expansion, therefore the MHP is less likely to clog with material such as clothing.
When testing the MHP in .45 ACP, 9mm and .380 ACP, I observed some unexpected results. In one test, I shot each caliber once into the same gel 20-inch-long by 6-inch-tall block, and they penetrated the same 11 inches! I would have guessed the .380 would have had the shortest penetration, and the 9mm perhaps trailing the .45. That wasn’t the case. And each mushroomed projectile looked symmetrical. Granted, symmetry doesn’t correlate to effectiveness, but when I considered the penetration of each, the results illustrate underpinnings of precise engineering. As a self-defense round, these results give me confidence that the MHP’s penetration and expansion will be consistent.
There were no feeding issues observed when testing the .45 ACP or 9mm MHP loads, but I did experience some when shooting it in a Ruger LCP in .380, which is my finickiest pocket pistol.
For Rifle Use
The Bondstrike line of ammunition incorporates a jacketed boat-tail hollowpoint (BTHP) hunting-type bullet with a polymer tip. It was introduced in G&A’s July 2019 issue, and it was based on Norma’s successful Oryx line of ammunition. Bondstrike, however, is intended to fill the desire of those who seek a bullet that maintains a high ballistic coefficient (BC) and provides excellent terminal performance at extended distances.
In brief, “BC” translates to how well a bullet slips through the air. The more drag on a bullet, the faster it slows down, the less velocity it carries, and the shorter distance it will fly. Velocity retention is connected to every element of ballistic performance that you care about, such as drop, wind drift and hit percentage.
One of the features that prime the Bondstrike bullet for long range is the boat-tail base. A boat-tail bullet will have smaller base diameter than a flat-base bullet of the same caliber. The surface area of base is where drag can occur. The smaller-base bullet will have less drag. Further, drag can be reduced by adding a polymer tip to make it pierce the air with less resistance. A polymer tip can be made smaller and more consistent due to modern manufacturing than the nose of a non-tipped bullet. The tip and boat-tail profile of Norma’s Bondstrike increases its BC, which only means that its effectiveness in game extends farther than a traditional hunting bullet’s range.
The amount of reduced drag on the Bondstrike bullet in .308 Winchester, for example, contributes to its BC of .615. Compare this significance to the Oryx in .308, which offers a BC of .354. The Bondstrike presents more potential effectiveness on game at longer distances.
Some riflemen will conclude that the Bondstrike is more of a precision bullet masquerading as a hunting bullet. However, Norma insisted that the internal design of the Bondstrike was built for taking game at close and far distances. As the name appropriately suggests, it is a bonded bullet. There are several methods to join a copper jacket to a lead core, including chemical, mechanical and electrochemical plating. Some bullets use a combination of a chemical and mechanical bond. The Bondstrike’s core is chemically bonded to the jacket, whereby the jacket and core are essentially “melded,” (i.e., “melted” plus “welded”) together. Keeping the jacket with the core is critical since a bullet that remains intact will penetrate deeper, carry more energy and cause maximum tissue damage. Norma claims that the Bondstrike has 10- to 15-percent better retained weight than its competitors, but that is a statement yet to be confirmed by G&A’s testing.
The copper jacket has an important role in controlling the bullet’s mushrooming characteristics and resulting penetration. Norma designed the jacket so that it is thinner in the front to expand quicker. Penetration wasn’t sacrificed for shots at long distances either.
Gel blocks were shot at 15, 100, 300 and 500 yards for this evaluation. At 15 yards, the Bondstrike bullet mushroomed aggressively and lost only 10 grains of its 180-grain starting weight. The bullet length started at 1.2 inches — excluding the tip — and shortened to a half-inch. I noticed that a decent portion of the bullet’s base retained its cylindrical shape, too.
Unfortunately, a torrential downpour limited these tests from 100 to 500 yards at 100 yard intervals. Not surprisingly, the projectiles made a complete pass through in each 20-inch gel block. The wound channels were indicative of an expanded bullet, but not much else could be interpreted. There was black soot lining the cavities, which was a by-product of compression combustion in the primary cavity. The soot appear in each block.
All of the tested Bondstrike rounds fed and ejected flawlessly. A Kimber 8400 Tactical rifle in .308 Win. was used to evaluate Norma’s ammunition.
Leaving Georgia, I reflected on all that’s changed during Norma’s 120-year legacy. The brand’s spectrum of ammunition will impress serious shooters, so it’s future is sure to be bountiful. Norma isn’t stuck in its past as many brands are. It is exploiting modern bullet technology and precise manufacturing to offer us superior accuracy and terminal performance. Next, I aim to test the MHP in a simulation of the FBI’s protocol. That will be most telling, but since the NXD doesn’t expand, we’ll have to consider that bullet for its already demonstrated merits. Riflewise, the Bondstrike sits at the pinnacle of copper-jacketed lead-bullet design.
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