The .358 Norma Magnum

By Chuck Hawks

Norma of Sweden introduced this powerful medium bore cartridge in 1959. It is based on a standard length belted magnum case much like a .338 Winchester Magnum case with the shoulder moved .0443" forward. .358 Mag. cases can be made from .338 Mag. brass, but require fire forming.

It is natural to compare the .358 Norma to the .338 Winchester, as the .358 was introduced the year after the .338, the cases are similar, they can be chambered in the same rifles, they handle the same weight bullets, and they are both medium bore magnums intended for the same purposes. What it comes down to is the .358 has the advantage of a larger bullet diameter and the .338 has the advantage of greater sectional density (SD) for any given bullet weight.

This is essentially the same argument that has been going on for a hundred years between proponents of the .30-30 and .32 Special, or the .30-06 and the 8x57. It is an argument I am not going to be able to settle here. My opinion is that it is a matter of personal preference. What one cartridge will do, the other will also do. For me the decision comes down to other factors, such as which caliber has the greater choice of bullets for reloading, for which cartridge are factory loads more widely distributed, or which cartridge is available in the model of rifle I wish to purchase?

What no one can deny is that the .358 Norma Magnum is a very powerful big game hunting cartridge. The .358 Magnum is overkill for medium size big game (like North American deer and pronghorn antelope), but a fine choice for big game with a body weight in excess of about 500 pounds. With the right bullet it can take all large species of North American game, including moose and the great bears. It is also suitable for most African big game, with the possible exception of the thick-skinned species. In reality, I am sure it has taken those, too.

Factory loads are available from Norma and A-Square. The A-Square loads feature 275 grain bullets at a muzzle velocity (MV) of 2700 fps and muzzle energy (ME) of 4451 ft. lbs. At 200 yards these powerful bullets are still traveling at 2108 fps and carrying 2713 ft. lbs. of kinetic energy. From a rifle zeroed at 200 yards the Triad bullets will hit 2.3" high at 100 yards and 10.1 inches low at 300 yards. With these loads the .358 Norma is about a 250 yard big game cartridge.

The Norma factory load uses a 250 grain Woodleigh Weldcore bullet at a MV of 2799 fps and ME of 4350 ft. lbs. At 200 yards the velocity is 2112 fps and the energy is 2478 ft. lbs. The Norma trajectory figures show this bullet hitting +2.2" at 100 yards, 0 at 200 yards, and -10.0" at 300 yards. This is also about a 250 yard big game load.

The handloader has more bullet options. Speer has their 180 and 220 grain flat point bullets for deer-size game, the 250 grain Hot -Cor spitzer for large animals, and the 250 grain Grand Slam spitzer for heavy and/or dangerous game.

Hornady offers a pair of round nose bullets, a 200 grain number and a 250 grain, and a trio of spire points in 180, 200, and 250 grain weights. They recommend the 200 grain bullets for medium to medium-heavy game, and the 250 grain bullets for heavy and dangerous game.

Barnes offers X-Bullets (spitzers) in 180, 200, 225, and 250 grain weights, plus a 250 grain RN Solid and a 300 grain Original flat-point. The 180 grain X-Bullet is recommended for antelope and deer (medium game), the 200 grain X-Bullet is recommended for deer and elk (medium to large game), the 225 grain X-Bullet is recommended for elk and moose (large and heavy game), and the 250 grain X-Bullet is recommended for moose and dangerous game. The 300 grain Original is also recommended for moose and dangerous game.

Sierra catalogs a 200 grain Pro-Hunter RN bullet plus 225 and 250 grain spitzer boat tail GameKing bullets. Swift has .358" A-Frame bullets in 225, 250, and 280 grain weights. Woodleigh offers Weldcore bullets of 225, 250, and 310 grain weights. Nosler offers two Partition spitzer bullets of 225 grains and 250 grains, plus a 225 grain Ballistic Tip.

The Speer Reloading Manual Number 13 shows that 65.0 grains of IMR 4895 powder can drive their 180 grain bullet (SD = .201) to a MV of 2943 fps, and 69.0 grains of IMR 4895 can drive that bullet to a MV of 3133 fps. This is a deadly deer bullet for the .358 Norma, but should not be used on larger game. The 250 grain bullet (SD = .279) can be driven to a MV of 2581 fps by 72.0 grains of IMR 4350 powder, and 2732 fps by 76.0 grains of IMR 4350. 250 grains is the most popular bullet weight, and seems to be the consensus choice as representing the best balance between velocity, energy, sectional density, and recoil for use on most heavy or dangerous game in the .358 Norma cartridge.

As with all powerful medium bore cartridges, the biggest drawback to the .358 Norma Magnum is recoil, a familiar refrain to my regular readers. According to my Rifle Recoil Table, a 9 pound rifle shooting the Norma factory load (or a hot handload driving a 250 grain bullet at 2800 fps) hits the shooter with about 33.4 ft. lbs. of recoil energy. As effective as it is on big game, the .358 Norma Magnum is not going to be much fun at the range!

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Copyright 2002, 2012 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.