Photos by Mark Fingar & the Murray Road Agency
Long-range hunting is the rage. Although I’ll argue the ethics of shooting game at extended distances, nevertheless it is a trend that shows no sign of slowing. Regardless of opinion, the quest to extend an experienced shooter’s effective range has driven a lot of new and improved technologies sought after by hunters who take time to practice at distances in excess of 400 yards. We have better rifles with better triggers, improved optics with ballistic-compensating reticles and electronic rangefinders, some sending aiming points to the riflescope. All of this is increasing a hunter’s odds of making a killing shot, both up close and far. I’ll save the ethics discussion for a future article.
Ammunition manufacturers have led the way, often forcing firearms and optics to improve. Obtaining maximum accuracy has always been a goal, but long-range hunters also want bullets to expand, which usually means reliable expansion and penetration at slower terminal velocities. During these last few years, it has been an arms race — literally — to build better bullets. All the major American players offer consumers truly revolutionary offerings, including the Hornady ELD-X (Extremely Low Drag – Expanding), Federal Edge TLR and Nosler Trophy Grade, just to name a few.
Norma Ammunition announced a long-range loading at this year’s SHOT Show as part of its Strike family of ammunition. As you can guess from the name, the new Norma Bondstrike Extreme features a bonded, lead-core bullet. Earnest engineers and over-zealous marketers claim the magical combination of long-range accuracy and reliable terminal performance at any distance.
Though it doesn’t enjoy the instant name recognition among American hunters, Norma is a recognizable brand name throughout the remaining world of hunting and shooting. (Longtime readers may also remember Norma’s hot 10mm loading featured on the August 1984 cover alongside the Dornaus & Dixon Bren Ten.) Beyond North America, Norma is actually one of the most well-known and popular brands of ammunition in the world. In the States, Norma fanbase includes benchrest shooters who look to the brand to meet their absolute accuracy demands. To add, many hunters who carry a rifle chambered in an obscure cartridge have likely also relied on Norma ammunition.
Swiss technology manufacturer RUAG Ammotec is Norma’s parent company. This year, RUAG aims to further penetrate the American firearm industry. Having added their presence to the United States market in 2013, RUAG has since expanded and established a dedicated Norma USA. With a forward-operating base in Florida, Norma USA will be selling components and loaded ammunition more readily because they don’t have to rely on an outside company for importation and distribution. I predict that you’ll start hearing and reading more about Norma.
Norma was established in 1902 by the Enger brothers, who took the name from a favorite opera by Vincenzo Bellini. Though the opera “Norma” may seem a strange inspiration for an ammunition company, it’s hard to argue Enger’s success. The brothers began manufacturing ammunition in Oslo, Norway, in 1895, but it wasn’t until the Engers moved across the border to Åmotfors, Sweden, after the turn of the century that Norma, the ammunition company, was officially created.
In the first several decades of operation, Norma dedicated almost all of their capabilities to manufacturing ammunition for the military. After World War II, with space on the production line freed up, Norma started developing, manufacturing and exporting ammunition for hunters. This, and a growing interest in unique chamberings, helped Norma establish its reputation. Today, RUAG Ammotec churns out more than 30 million rounds annually for more than 100 different cartridges.
Building the Bondstrike
There’s an inherent challenge when building a bullet for long-range hunting. Game animals are relatively unpredictable. Unless hunters are going out with the intent of shooting at extended distances, they’re just as likely to encounter animals at close-to-moderate distances than they are beyond 400 yards. I’d wager that a majority of shots made at big-game are attempted within 300 yards. To that end, when designing long-range hunting rounds, reliable performance at these distances must be a consideration of engineers as much as performance and accuracy at extended ranges are.
The core of the Bondstrike is a precision-formed lead that’s been chemically bonded to its copper jacket. This creates a tough bullet intended to perform reliably and maintain integrity when encountering heavy muscle tissue and bullet- busting bone. Rather than fragmenting or shedding petals, a bonded bullet housing a solid lead core has to be designed so that it expands during penetration and loses minimal weight.
As tough as bonded bullets are for use on heavy bodied big-game, durability can come at a price if expansion is compromised at lower terminal velocities. That’s where tipped bullets shine. The Bondstrike’s blue polymer tip is designed to initiate expansion on impact as it’s forced rearward into the lead core. At extreme close distances expansion is violent, which can be detrimental if the bullet fragments upon impact. However, the Bondstrike design mitigates that splashing effect.
When combined with the shape of the Bondstrike’s ogive and boattail, the polymer tip also increases the bullet’s ballistic coefficient (BC), which is advertised at an impressive .615 across the .30-caliber, 180-grain lineup.
For 2019, you’ll find Norma’s 180-grain Bondstrike offered in the following loads: .308 Winchester, .30-’06 Springfield, .300 Winchester Magnum, .300 Winchester Short Magnum and .300 Remington Ultra Magnum. To test this bullet, I opted for the .300 Win. Mag. and fired it through a Seekins Precision Havak complete with a Tract Optics Toric 3-15x42 riflescope. To explore another hunting trend, I attached a Silent Legion Magnum suppressor to the Havak’s muzzle and evaluated the Bondstrike both suppressed and unsuppressed.
I wasn’t surprised when the Bondstrike printed tight groups from the bench. That’s what everyone expects given Norma’s storied reputation. Without the suppressor in place, every three-shot group measured less than an inch. After five rounds shot over a chronograph, velocity averaged 2,952 feet per second (fps), with a peak of 2,981 fps. That’s a bit under the 3,084 fps marketed by Norma, but it’s close enough that the difference is likely due to a combination of different barrels, barrel lengths and environmental factors.
As well as the ammo performed unsuppressed, the Bondstrike demonstrated even better performance capabilities suppressed. Already impressive groups were squeezed even tighter. Three rounds produced a cloverleaf, so I pushed my luck and sent another downrange. The results? I shot a personal best five-round group of .45 inch at 100 yards. This solidified the Seekins-Norma combo’s place in my arsenal. Average velocity of the five rounds fired suppressed was 2,975 fps with the fastest clocking in at 2,999 fps, ever-so-slightly faster than shooting the same ammunition in the same conditions unsuppressed.
Out of the 40 rounds of Bondstrike tested at the range, I did experience one failure-to-fire (FTF). The primer had been struck, but nothing happened. In fairness to the company, my rounds for this evaluation were pre-production samples packed in generic boxes rather than the Bondstrike packaging consumers will find on the shelf. (It is noteworthy that the packaging is the nicest combination of printing technology available.)
When it came time to take the Bondstrike to the field, my friends and I chose to stalk an animal that would best test the bullet’s capabilities. Native to North Africa and current denizen of West Texas, the aoudad, or Barbary sheep, is as tough as they come. They roam safely in rough, rocky terrain. They’re also skittish, meaning that shots are long, often against craggy rimrock or above the scrub plains of the Trans-Pecos region.
I’d like to say that I put the Bondstrike’s accuracy potential to the ultimate test, but the truth is that I muffed my shot a bit. My guide, Miller Valentine of Miller Brothers Outfitting (millerbrothersoutfitters.com) had gotten me to a pair of fine rams ranged at 256 yards. That’s as close as we were going to get, so I positioned for a shot. The problem was that we were on the side of cliff. Getting prone meant my feet were on a different plane then body, and my rest was an overstuffed fanny pack. These were less-than-ideal conditions, my excuse for pulling the shot a few inches left in the wrong direction. The ram bucked at the shot, signaling a hit, and the heavy blood trail confirmed it. A second shot from 130 yards put the big ram down. During our post-mortem inspection, we determined that the first bullet penetrated the brisket, while the second tucked behind the shoulder. Both were complete pass-throughs and caused substantial tissue damage.
Perhaps the ultimate test of a long-range hunting bullet is how it performs at close range. My friend and hunting partner, Tim Brandt, got such an opportunity after spotting a ram bedded below rimrock. After a well-executed stalk, Brandt leveled the crosshairs on the big ram from only 32 yards and made a perfect killing shot. Norma’s Bondstrike put the aoudad down hard in it tracks before it could take a single step. We managed to recover Brandt’s bullet, which retained a majority of its weight and flowered effectively. That’s an example of the tip doing its work.
With an estimated terminal velocity of almost 3,000 fps, most bullets are typically forgiven by American hunters for failing at such a close of range. In contrast, the Bondstrike performed admirably. After impacting the front shoulder, Brandt’s bullet passed through the vitals, punched a hole in the opposite shoulder and came to rest tucked just under the hide on the off-side. The recovered projectile weighed in at 108 grains, or roughly 60 percent of its original weight including the tip.
If you’re new to comparing the terminal ballistics of bonded big-game bullets, the measure for success is currently held to a 60 percent standard when tested against bare ballistic gelatin at 100 yards. The fact this the Bondstrike achieved this in a third of that distance in a real-world scenario is a confirmation of performance and a testament to the Bondstrike’s engineering.