Noreen makes a fairly broad range of these powerful guns, so I arranged a visit to their office and factory. Alas, like so many manufacturers, they would not allow us to take pictures of their manufacturing (proprietary technology) nor even visit without a camera (the bearing companies allowed the visits, but no pictures on the factory floors). Why? Some of their weapons go to the US Armed Forces... OK, understood!
Nonetheless, Nathan Pitcher (their national sales manager) gave me an overview of Noreen and answered all my questions (one thing both of us have noticed is that people here in Montana and Wyoming are very friendly and open).
The first thing about Noreen’s range of long range rifles that got my attention was their .338 Lapua (the history of the .338 Lapua is rather interesting, Wikipedia has a good discussion here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/.338_Lapua). This is their .338 Lapua in semi-automatic is pictured just below (photo courtesy of Noreen):
Noreen about a year ago started making a new line of semi-automatic big bore rifles based on the AR design, they are their BN36 line. The design is very similar to the AR-15, but (obviously) the components are larger. They make their new line in a variety of calibers, popular among civilians (hunters, etc.) is their BN36 in .30-06, pictured here:
Zero Hedge reader “SilverRhino” informed me that he owns one of their BN36 rifles (he did not mention which one). Take a look at Noreen's line of semi-automatic rifles: http://onlylongrange.com/bn36.asp
Nathan told us that Noreen is the only precision manufacturer of size that makes these larger rifles in a variety of calibers of long range rifles. LOTS of other gun makers (smaller and larger) make bolt-action versions, but as of the moment, no one else has the hang of making precision long range guns in semi-auto (which perhaps explains, at least in part, why they did not want us back there poking around their manufacturing area and asking questions…).
Their largest rifles are their versions of the .50 caliber BMG (next two photos), note these are bolt actions, this weighs about 32 lbs:
Several things to note above. At the end of the barrel you can see a muzzle brake, Noreen designs and builds their own muzzle brakes (a “muzzle brake” is a machined cylinder of steel with holes attached to the end of a barrel to reduce recoil). The gun is positioned on a bipod, as it is heavy! The butt is plastic and freely extends (extreme right). Also notice the two cartridges (a "cartridge" is the bullet, the brass case and propellant), the left (larger) one is for the .50. The other is a .30-06 round.
Here is another photo (courtesy of Noreen) of one of their .50 caliber rifles:
The above has one of their optional paint schemes. Note the bolt action and the stock is extended. Noreen’s .50 caliber rifles are the ones with the extra-large muzzle brakes. Here is a good photo and discussion re muzzle brakes from Noreen: http://onlylongrange.com/muzzle_brakes.asp
Cartridge size comparisons... (photo courtesy of C. Mix):
At the bottom is a .30-06 round (familiar to most hunters and people who shoot rifles, this also known as the 7.62 mm * 63. In the middle is just the bullet (smaller copper coated) and the whole cartridge for the .338 Lapua (the .338 Lapua was American sniper Chris Kyle's favorite gun when he did his time in Iraq, Noreen's .338 Lapua is a popular gun for them). At the top is the .50 BMG caliber cartridge. The .50 is a BIG & HEAVY round, the photo here really does not do it justice...
But, the .338 Lapua is often favored by many long range aficionados (and snipers) because it shoots flatter over a longer range. The .338 Lapua is the round that British sniper Craig Harrison used in 2009 in Afghanistan for the longest confirmed kill ever (2475 meters, about 8100 feet). The .50 does have better armor higher kinetic energy on impact and is better for piercing armor...
I asked Nathan a number of semi-technical questions, in good part to educate myself (as is typical of me, when I encounter an expert in some field in which I am interested, I am merciless in asking for information…, smile).
(My wording, edited and approximate)
Robert Mix: What are the differences between a precision rifle like Noreen’s and other production rifles?
Nathan Pitcher: Mostly the precision of the components, as in the uppers and lowers are more carefully made and matched. The tolerances (Noreen uses) are tighter. The materials Noreen uses are of higher quality.
Robert Mix: Do you make every component yourselves?
Nathan Pitcher: No, our barrels, for example, come from specialist barrel manufacturers, we buy from different ones, depending on what exactly what we need.
Robert Mix: What are other differences between your rifles versus, say, and the Remington 700 models?
Nathan Pitcher: We test every rifle we make. We take more care in making every rifle as carefully as possible. Remington makes fine rifles, but they make so many that they cannot use the same precision in manufacturing and precision in materials that Noreen does.
Robert Mix: What are some of the differences in your rifles, like the .50 caliber, between what you make and older ones (the Sharps .50 Buffalo Rifle is from the 1800s…).
Nathan Pitcher: Well there have been many technology changes. The precision is much higher in every component. The powder is better, the bullets better made, the rifles themselves are of much better quality…
Robert Mix: What do you recommend, or do your customers typically choose for scopes? And what power?
Nathan Pitcher: We mostly use NightForce scopes. They are very tough and have reticles that our customers like. The most popular scope is their 5.5 * 22 power.
Robert Mix: Here in Montana some of the game you hunt up here is big (bears, moose and elk), and also at longer ranges than is normal in the Southeast. What calibers are OK for using on big game as opposed to deer hunting in the Southeast USA where I am from? The .308 is considered just fine by most deer hunters, the .30-06 may be considered overkill for deer (by my local gun store manager for example).
Nathan Pitcher: It depends on what you like. You do not need a big gun to hunt even for big game. A .308 is fine for even large game. A .270 or even smaller caliber will do. [Ed. Note: I presume that Nathan was assuming a high-level of marksmanship if using a smaller caliber as he described, if it were ME out there shooting at a bear, I would want multiple rounds of a .338…].
Robert Mix: What is your percentage of sales to civilians as opposed to the military?
Nathan Pitcher: About 70% are to civilians, the rest to the military.
Robert Mix: Do you sell to overseas customers?
Nathan Pitcher: Yes. [No further details for understandable reasons…]
Noreen appears to be the technology leader in making semi-automatic long range rifles. Their pieces are apparently very popular among those who really want them or need them (their US military customers). Their website is well done, with many pictures and lots of information for those interested.