Norma’s Oryx The Best Bullet For Tough Game


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Apr 1, 2014
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By Wayne van Zwoll


Verily, the world abounds with bullets that will kill big game. Bullet placement counts for more than does the name of the maker. You could argue that shape, speed and manufacturing tolerances affect placement. But bullets and ammunition are so carefully produced now (thank a competitive market!) that just about any bullet will center the vitals if your aim is true and the shot well executed.
Of course, “terminal ballistics” matter too. A bullet must upset predictably, and drive deep after the strike. But hunter expectations and preferences differ. Some want bullets to exit, to increase blood loss on the trail. Others favor bullets that expend all their energy destroying vitals, ideally coming to rest just under off-side hide. Neither group is always satisfied, as animals come in all sizes, and shot angles differ.
Norma’s Oryx has emerged as one of the premier big game bullets. Like other hunters, I’ve found it reliably lethal on tough game. But many designs have preceded Oryx, their performance nudging bullet-makers to tweak materials, profiles and dimensions, and ways to secure lead cores to copper jackets.


Getting lead off the lands

Jacketed bullets became necessary in the 1890s, to withstand the higher velocities generated by smokeless powders. In the U.S., early jackets were of steel, with cupro-nickel jackets. Satisfactory in the .30-40 Krag, they fouled badly at the higher velocities of the .30-06. Tiny lumps of jacket adhering to the relatively cool steel near a rifle’s muzzle tore at the jackets of subsequent bullets, accelerating the process. Shooters fought fouling with “ammonia dope” in water. Poured into a plugged bore and allowed to work for 20 minutes, this brew was then flushed with hot water, and the bore dried and oiled.
To reduce metal fouling, the U.S. Army issued “Mobilubricant” to soldiers on the eve of World War I. Unexpectedly, pressures in the .30-06 bounced from 51,000 to around 58,000 psi. Cartridge necks coated with Mobilubricant sent pressures higher still, the lube giving the neck no room to expand while it increased back-thrust on the bolt. Tin-plated jackets brought another headache. The tin sometimes “cold soldered” the neck to the bullet, so the two left the case together! Pressures soared.
The Army discontinued Mobilubricant and tin-plated bullets, to incorporate tin in the jacket alloy. Later, cupro-nickel (60% copper, 40% nickel) became the jacket of choice. Gilding metal (90% copper, 10% zinc) was initially thought too soft for high-velocity 150-grain bullets in .30-06 service ammunition; but Western Cartridge Company’s jacket of 90% copper, 8% zinc and 2% tin worked well. It was called Lubaloy. In 1922 Western furnished Palma Match ammunition with Lubaloy bullet jackets. Experiments at Frankfort Arsenal proved gilding metal could brook high velocities.
Most bullet-makers now use gilding metal for jackets on hunting bullets – commonly 95% copper and 5% zinc. Ductile, almost pure-copper jackets began showing up on bullets built for deep penetration – like Bitterroot’s Bonded Core, an early entry in the field of so-called “controlled expansion” bullets. Soft, thick jackets resisted fragmenting on heavy muscle and bone. The liability of unalloyed copper, still, was its tendency to foul barrels.


Cores - and keeping your jacket on

Lead cores of most current big game bullets have a dash of antimony to boost hardness. The usual ratio is 97.5% lead, 2.5% antimony. A little antimony makes a big difference; 6% is a practical limit for hunting bullets. Some bullets – typically big-bore missiles driven at modest speeds – have soft, unalloyed lead cores to ensure upset. Heavy copper jackets keep these cores from disintegrating on impact.

Bullet cores are commonly lopped from lead wire that’s been extruded from bar stock to proper diameter, then annealed to prevent upset during forming. Bullet jackets come about in one of two ways: “cup and draw” or impact extrusion. Drawn jackets begin as wafers punched from sheet metal. Formed over a series of dies, they become progressively deeper cups that are eventually trimmed to length, then stuffed with lead and finish-formed. Jackets produced by impact extrusion begin as sections of metal rods that are annealed and fed into a punch press, which slams them into cups with 60 tons of force.

Cannelures help the jacket grip the core but serve mainly as crimping grooves. Cannelures have gradually disappeared on rifle bullets. They’ve been retained on those for hard-kicking rounds to prevent bullet creep in the magazine, and on pistol bullets to keep short shanks in place and smooth the cartridge profile for better feeding. Most cannelures are rolled on.

Tight core and jacket tolerances deliver best accuracy – though hunting bullets needn’t adhere to match standards that keep jacket variations to .0003 inch thickness, bullets uniform to .3 grain in weight.

Expansion, penetration and weight retention trump gnat’s-eye precision in hunting bullets, which depend on deceleration to dump energy, and a broadening nose to destroy tissue. Bullet upset increases wound channel volume dramatically. A bullet mushrooming to double diameter pulps a great deal more than twice as much tissue as a non-expanding bullet.

Securing jacket to core is crucial to maintaining bullet integrity in heavy bone and muscle. Core-Lokt, Trophy Bonded, Bonded Core, InterBond and AccuBond are trade names that play on this theme. A physical ledge or dam, as in Partition and A-Frame bullets can reduce the loss of core material. These and other devices date way back. Before the Great Depression, American rifle and cartridge designer Charles Newton developed a wire-core bullet. During the 1940s the German H-Mantle appeared. Now the trend is to bonded bullets, heat and chemicals wedding core to jacket without physical assists. Coaxing the exact processes from bullet-makers is no easier than wrangling the formula for CocaCola.


Opening the velocity window

Nose design has much to do with how bullets mushroom. Hollowpoint bullets are typically used for target shooting and on thin-skinned game. Small cavities and thicker jackets keep hollowpoints from breaking up on big game, but they also make expansion less reliable. Early hollowpoints by Western Tool and Copper Works had a tiny nose cavity that helped them drive deep in big animals. Westley-Richards listed a bullet with a dimple covered by a metal cap that kept the jacket from rupturing too soon. DWM “Strong-Jacket” bullets had a long, narrow nose cavity lined with copper tubing and capped.


As new cartridges hurled bullets faster, the task confronting designers got more difficult. Higher impact speeds increased forces tearing bullets asunder; at the same time, hunters expected reliable upset as bullets slowed to a lope far from the muzzle. When iron sights and modest exit speeds kept kills to 200 yard or so, the range of impact velocities was quite narrow. Most bullets left the muzzle clocking 2,100 to 2,700 fps, to reach 200 yards at 1,400 to 2,100 fps. A .300 magnum might now be used to clobber an elk at 50 steps, the bullet jetting along at 3,000 fps, then turned on a pronghorn 450 yards out, where velocity has dropped below 2,000. The heavy shoulder of an elk exacerbates the tendency of a bullet to fragment, while the fragile pronghorn may not present enough resistance for the same bullet to expand at all.

As if bridging the widening strike-speed gap weren’t challenge enough, designers now must meet a growing demand for bullets that fly flatter and hit with minute-of-angle accuracy at distance. Packaging all the attributes of an ideal hunting bullet in one missile is darned near impossible. Choosing between

the flattest-shooting bullet, the most accurate bullet, the bullet that penetrates best, the bullet that plows the biggest channel, the bullet that retains the most weight and the bullet with the most reliable upset over a range of impact speeds can be a tough decision for hunters!


Everything a bullet should be

I’m keen on lead-core bullets that open reliably to over double-diameter but stay intact in tough game and drive straight through muscle and bone. The Norma Oryx is one of a small handful of bullets that meet this bar – and deliver tea-saucer groups at 300 yards. A relatively recent design, Oryx has risen quickly to the top of softpoint offerings in Norma’s growing ammunition line. The company’s CEO most responsible for putting Oryx into campfire chats is Torbjorn Lindskog. After just a short time afield, he told me, the bullet was hailed by Sweden’s moose hunters “and on safari, for game as tough as buffalo.”

Oryx is a lead-core bullet with a unique tapered, gilding metal jacket that’s scored at the nose for easy upset. The rear of the jacket, enveloping the shank, is thicker and “soldered” to the lead (evidently, there’s no bribe big enough to get the details on this process). The two components stay together when blasting through big bone. A thick heel section helps prevent deformation at the base. One test Norma has applied to its Oryx follows a longitudinal sectioning: Opposite sides of the bullet are removed for most of its length, so only the central third remains with the heel. That slab is then twisted 90 degrees. “Core and jacket don’t separate,” beamed Torb. Not many jacketed bullets will pass this test! While Oryx lacks the sharp polymer tip in fashion now, the leading .1 inch of a 30-caliber bullet has relatively little effect on its rate of deceleration. Oryx is not a sluggish missile! Its long ogive readily parts the air.

This is also an accurate bullet. In a Blaser rifle, Norma’s 300-grain .375 Oryx loads have shot into a minute of angle for me at 200 yards. A .30-06 with the 180-grain Oryx drilled a 2-inch knot at 300.


In Africa, Oryx is lethal on gemsbok (another name for the durable oryx antelope). One gemsbok bull I met in thick thorn took a quick shot to the shoulder and summarily collapsed, dead as he fell. You could say the .375 H&H has the same effect with other bullets; but I’ve seen tough antelopes gallop off after solid hits by competitive softpoints, from rifles that have taken elephants! Other kills – and bullets I’ve recovered, typically under off-side skin, where I want them – have left me no reason to doubt Oryx. I killed a British Columbia moose with an Oryx from my C-Z 550 in 9.3x62. The animal moved not a step. Beautifully mushroomed, the bullet bulged the off-shoulder hide, having lost just 10 percent of its weight.

Norma lists Oryx bullets in more than 30 cartridges, .222 to .375. Where .22 centerfires are legal for big game, the 55-grain Oryx excels. The 200-grain .30-06 load makes this versatile cartridge a giant-killer. An elk I shot at 300 yards with a 250-grain Oryx from my .358 Norma wilted instantly and didn’t twitch. That’s the result everyone wants from a game bullet. I get it routinely with Norma’s Oryx.



1 – Wayne thinks the .308 Norma, circa 1960, a fine .30 magnum – ideally with a 180 Oryx at 3,000 fps.
2 – Namesake of the bullet, the oryx, or gemsbok, is a big, tough antelope. But no match for Oryx bullets.
3 – In southern Africa this Blaser R93 in .375 did its best work with Norma loads, 300-grain Oryx bullets.
4 – It lacks a sharp nose; but Oryx shoots flat (courtesy a long ogive) and upsets reliably on distant deer.
5 – Costly hunt? Pick an accurate bullet that opens and drives deep across a wide range of impact speeds.
6 – Beasts as big as Cape buffalo have succumbed to Oryx. It plows through heavy bone and muscle.
7 – Tested on Swedish moose and African game, Oryx is becoming popular stateside, even on the prairie.
8 – Wayne likes this load in his .358 Norma, a modified Mauser. An elk at 300 yards folded instantly.
9 – A broad mushroom and intact core/heel bond. This bullet drove through hard going, double-diameter.
10 – Elk hunting, shots can come around the next tree or across a canyon. Oryx performs at all ranges.
11 – Norma loads Oryx in more than 30 cartridges, including .22 and 6mm rounds for game like impala.
12 – Nothing proves a bullet like antlers on a pack horse! Oryx ranks among the best bullets for elk.
13 – While introduced in traditional rounds, Oryx now appears in WSMs and other recent U.S. cartridges.
14 – Open country needn’t mean quarter-mile shots. Most prairie game falls between 100 and 300 yards.
15 – Wherever hunters gather, talk turns to bullets. Oryx gets plaudits from riflemen who’ve used it.
16 – Accuracy? Not a match bullet, the deep-driving Oryx has delivered sub-minute groups for Wayne.
17 – This heavy-horned oryx fell to one Oryx and didn’t twitch. The bullet retained 90 % of its weight.
18 – A versatile big game round for single-shot rifles, the veteran 9.3x74 is deadliest with a 285-gr. Oryx.



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Aug 19, 2014
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I can vouch for the accuracy. In both my Tikka .308 and Winchester .375 H&H the Oryrx is the most accurate!

flatwater bill

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Jun 16, 2013
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An excellent article, so carefully worded- correct even in historical details......thanks, Wayne, Norma.....................FWB

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