300 Norma Magnum: King of 1 Mile rifle
This is a sequel to our previous article, 300 Norma Magnum Cartridge, the king of 1 mile. If you’re still looking at making up your mind, I suggest you read that article which delves into the internal and external ballistics of the 300 Norma Magnum.
In this article we shall look at the switch barrel rifle we set up for the king of 1 Mile participation in Denmark as well as the King of 1 mile competition in Canjuers, France, May 2020.
After the research I carried out, I knew the 300 Norma Mag would make a nice rifle for 1 mile shooting competitions and maybe 2km if we stretch it in good conditions. I was aware that it uses the same bolt face as a 338 Lapua. That is the most interesting bit because 338 lapua rifles do come up for sale second hand with regular frequency so I just had to look out for one, acquire it and screw on a bartlein 300Norma Mag barrel. The good thing is that most 338Lapua barrels are not burnt out. You need to shoot a few thousand rounds to burn a 338 lapua especially if you’re shooting standard factory loads/pressures. This meant I would probably end up with a switch barrel rifle.
Moreover, while discussing cartridges with US shooting legend David Tubb, he mentioned that his 37XC round could also be used on a 338Lapua mag bolt face. That means you can have one barrel for 1mile shoots and another barrel for the 2mile competition with the 37XC chambered and fitted while keeping the same scope, chassis and bipod reducing the overall expense. The 338 lapua barrel would serve as a spare when we needed to acquire factory ammo because it’s ‘easier’ to find. You wont find 300 Norma Ammo and definately no 37XC ammo off the shelf in any gun store.
Found the rifle match I was after!
One evening while scrolling through a gun listing site, I came across a nice looking RPA Rangemaster in 338Lapua!
Damn, my heart skipped a beat, I knew this could be a good buy so I got in touch with the owner. The RPA rangemaster line of rifles is not as well-known as some other brands but RPA have been around for decades building sniping rifles for a number of military forces around the world as well as popular target and hunting rifles on their popular Quadlock action. There’s a good chance that if you’re in the UK, the first target rifle you shot at a club sported an RPA action.
Second hand rifles versus New rifles
Shooters regularly ask me why do I tend to go for second-hand rifles? Reason is simple, it’s cost effective. I like to make good use of my budget and I’m specific about what I buy. Second-hand rifles are about 20-45% cheaper, most of the time high end ones are in near perfect condition – I know so, I sold my first custom rifle after 350 rounds down the tube when I was getting my consultancy business off the ground. This means you can pick up a high end factory rifle or a 2nd hand custom rifle for £2000-£3300 whereas you would probably be looking at £5500-6500 for a new one. Then you still need to add a scope (READ riflescopes101-how-to-choose-a-riflescope/ quality bipod, dies, brass bullets powder, primers…..
That money that you save will go into new custom barrel if needed, funding a scope purchase, getting ammo components or else fund shooting trips to various parts of Europe. I’m not keen on breaking the bank over a new rifle by the time I get it all set up, I would have spent so much that I run dry on my running budget. Remember these are expensive rifles to shoot and load for, so when you work out your budget, keep in mind that these rounds are £3-£6 per shot. It’s not a gun you shoot 100 rounds per weekend with. That’s 10% of its competition barrel life! You then have to add the travelling, flights, accommodation, fuel etc… It’s a speciality rifle much like a high-performance laser-flat hunting cartridge with which you will hunt a good few years, except with a target ELR setup, that barrel may last 1 or 2 seasons max.
I knew I wanted another spiral fluted rifle, man I love this fluting design that Mik from Dolphingun company makes. It’s a signature series type of feature, one of those things that you spot on the range and say- it’s a dolphin. I went with a Bartlein 1.9, 30 inch plus 5 port dolphin muzzle break with the same profile as my barrel. This muzzlebreak makes it feel like a 223 rem no BS! Watch how both rifles recoil elegantly in a straight line moving less than a cartridge with 1/3 the powder.
I like the lines to follow nicely so for me, large muzzle breaks that seem like a sausage on a barbeque twig are not my cup of tea. To be fair, the muzzle break on the factory barrel couldn’t be the same profile as the barrel since the factory barrel has a significant taper to make it light to handle. You won’t be able to shoot my rifle in any other position but prone with my 30inch barrel, guaranteed.
Sitting atop the 2nd storey tower at Cold bore range in Skern Denmark, is my RPA rangemaster 300 Norma Mag, March 2.5-25×42 MTR3, Tierone evolution bipod, Swarovski ATS 65 HD and manfrotto tripod.
First time I got delivery of my rifle was at the airport. I opened the case and found the rifle had no muzzle break £”!££”!** I had not listed it in the build sheet and it was too late to backtrack, I would have to send the barrel back a few thousand miles to get the thread made! Where I live we don’t have a riflesmith, we have a lot of software programmers but no gunsmiths, so I would not take chances. Few weeks later and a costly round trip, the barrel was back.
Planning Load development for 300 Norma Magnum
I sat down to load for the rifle, I wanted to start out around 90% from the load I had in mind and slightly higher. I wanted to settle for around 3200ft/s with 215 berger hybrid. I printed a sheet from quickload that would give me a good indication of what charges I should start at and listed them down.
This gave me a good idea of where I would start. Quickload tends to be a little conservative in its numbers so I knew there was a good chance that the numbers would be slightly higher on actual firings.
Loading for the 300 Norma Magnum
I loaded up 1 round of each charge across the entire spectrum. I then loaded up 5 rounds of the first charge to be able to zero with and make sure we are on target at 600m before I start my ladder test. I used Redding FL bushings dies and Wilson Inline bullet seating dies with an arbor press. This enables me to
- get a very good feeling of the neck tension I want to impart on my bullet/cases
- gives me a very good feel of the actual neck tension when I am seating bullets.
- load easily anywhere I am even on the actual range while in the back of my truck.
- No need of heavy presses to seat bullets with
This is all the shooting kit we took for load testing wkend! I love labradar and magneto speed chronographs. The rifle is massive even when the stock is folded. It does not kick whatsoever.
For load development I used a dolphin Bipod typically used for Fclass shooting, its wide stable and easily adjustable. For range used I had mounted a Tierone revolution carbon bipod – superb bit of kit, light, folds away nicely and recoils smoothly. I had to get a picatinny rail fitted to the forend of my RPA rangemaster and had an engineer make me an adapter so that I could tighten the picatinny rail to the foreng as if it were a sling.
This is my preferred setup on the move. Ohaus 10-10 scale with a powder monkey to drop the charges and trickle it to perfection. I have all the base charges loaded up before into plastic test tubes as you would find in a lab, so I then just have to add the difference. Say I have a base charge of 85 grains and then add 3 grains for a 90grain charge. This is fast way to load on the ranges or between competition days. Just get someone to prepare your base charges into these test tubes or if you know your load already ask them to drop it for you. I’ve done this for Europeans when I know my time to load is going to be limited.
300 Norma Magnum Load testing weekend: Heavy moving!
We packed up our truck with every imaginable item possible for a weekend of shooting, load testing and analysis and set out to this private range in Italy 5 hrs away from our home, nestled between rolling hills and straw fields. All three of us had rifles to test, me and Rob had 300 Norma Magnums (RPA rangemaster and a custom Defiance Deviant built rifle) and our mate Bill had his Accuracy International AX 338 Lapua with ammo loaded up by HPS ammo in the UK. (very good stuff and easy to deal with, speak to Matt at HPS ammo ltd. He also loaded up my 284win training ammo for F-class Europeans, very well-made ammo.
Getting our rifles bore sighted and zeroed at 200m.
Ladder testing the 300 Norma Magnum
After our initial zeroing at 100m we moved back to the 600m range. With such a flat shooting round, I like to increase the range so I can see greater discrepancy in elevation of one charge versus another. I’m not interested in windage, I keep same point of aim and fire all the various charges at the target. I LOVE a white blank target so I can spot the impacts easily and be able to plot them. At this range we had cameras at 600m and we used our phones to see the camera view. Make sure the paper is big enough to capture all impacts as the velocity increases. This is especially true if you take your rifles further back as we did for our 2nd part of load testing at 1200meters. You want to have the biggest piece of paper you can put your hands on and carry to the target.
Here you can see us setting up for the load testing. I know the magneto is not the best to have on the gun for accuracy testing but I wanted to get all the velocities and assuming that it stayed in the same place, it would effect point of impact the same across the string. (before you butt in, I have also tested this at Bisley on the 1000yard line on my 284win. Although there was a slight change in group size, it was less than 10inch vertical anyhow so I couldn’t tell the difference.)
I always place a pice of wood beneath my bipod and beneath my rear bag or monopod in this case so the gun recoils smoothly and the elevation is kept at perfect as can be for minimal vertical. I admit, I love this rifle, you cannot even tell when it goes off.
RPA Rangemaster 300 Norma Magnum with Magneto Speed chronograph for velocity data gathering
As my shots broke on target, the results started to look promising but also I was thinking, how do I tell which load is the best given they’re so close to each other? My mate bob was on the right hand side target while I kept to the left hand side target. The blast from the muzzlebreak and 90grains of powder going off meant that we were the only guys shooting. Too much dust is kicked about even with the plastic sheets beneath the muzzlebreak however the guns don’t even move an inch!
By the end of the ladder test, I was looking at this and some notes I had scribbled during load development. I had noted the velocity as well as whether the impact was close to any other shot I had fired earlier so I could compare the charge. This was in 39 degrees Celsius and the heat started to tire us out as well as the blast and concussion from 3 muzzle breaks saddled near each other!
We had a spread of about 8 inch vertical between the lowest load at 3176ft/s to the highest at 3354ft/s (178ft/s change over 6.5 grains of N570, that’s 27ft/s per grain or about the same as if you would add 1inch of extra barrel length) Mine is a 30inch barrel. We didn’t see any over pressure and neither was the bolt sticky.
We called it a day and went to hunt for a good trattoria where we could relax, have a nice dinner and look back at our data from day 1. I also had a few base charges that I wanted to topup so that I could fire 5 rounds of the selected loads at 1200meters the next day. After dinner I went to work and modified 30 rounds for the charges I had selected; 89.5gr, 90.8gr, 92 grains.
Here is Bill trying out his HPS Ltd UK ammo at 600yds through that picture perfect Accuracy international AX 338 Lapua Magnum.
Above: Plotting the velocity of the shots during the ladder test.
300 Norma Magnum ladder test at 1200meters
We went back to 1200meters, we added another level of paper to the targets to ensure we would catch the impacts of the faster moving rounds. We knew at this distance spotting holes in paper was impossible, our cameras would not transmit so far so we had to recruit a kind soul to spot for us through his camera at 600m and call the impacts for us over radio. Man I miss the paid spotters at Bisley on days like these 😉))
The spotters were standing at the 600m firing point which is to the right hand side of the target we were engaging but out of line of sight. The thorns on this part of the farm were massive, I swear I never saw thorns this big in my life. Driving over them I wondered if they would pierce through my BFGs tyres!
We placed some large plastic sheets beneath the muzzlebreak to ensure the concussion would not blow thorns our way from the rapidly expanding gasses. There was a mount of sand and we sent 2 sighters just to get the elevation right before we went on paper.
We picked a rock about 10inch high and our first dope given by kestrel was dead on for the 89.5grain charge. I had loaded 8 rounds of this charge to include sighters. See the picture below taken through the spotting scope. The rock stands 2 MOA low and 1 MOA right.We then shot 5 rounds of each charge. We kept same point of aim and strived to shoot in same wind condition although there were no flags here to go by. The spotter relayed to us the difference in elevation impact so we could take notes.
This vertical spread on these shots was amazing to watch when we drove back to the targets. Remember that so far we were just aiming at a 1 inch square on a large white paper 1200 meters away and sending rounds downrange with feedback from the spotter. It’s a little like flying blind.
The spotter had said that they were landing close to each other. That is amazing vertical there with little load development effort. I also tried moving onto another target to try out my fastest load of 92 grains but 2 of the 3 rounds went high and I missed the paper with a large puff of dust rising like a geyser! Barrels got very hot so we went for a break.
This is a picture I took from target right were we initially sent out 2 sighting shots and the red mark shows where we were standing when doing the load testing. It just makes you appreciate what precision shooting is about and what we were trying to do. We used a Vectronix PLRF10 laser range finder to ensure accurate distance inputting into kestrel applied ballistics.
RPA rangemaster sitting in its real element.
By this time, we had a very good indication of what the loads and rifles were capable of and felt pretty confident that we had found a load to test at One Mile at the next trip at Coldbore range in Skjern, Denmark. Not only would we be changing geographic location, but we would be shooting in cold, wet and windy weather, really wet weather lads! We had tested the loads in scorching heat similar to what you would find on an African hunt and we were now northern bound heading towards Scandinavia for a range that stretches out to 3.2km!