Noreen Firearms and their BN36 Series of Firearms

By Christopher R. Bartocci

When examining the black rifle market, you basically have two receivers. You have a standard 5.56mm lower receiver, which has multiple calibers it can host, but you are limited based on length and width of that magazine well. The next is the .308 lower receiver that is limited to basically 6 calibers. What about some more full power rifle calibers? One company has tackled this dilemma: Noreen Firearms out of Belgrade, Montana. Opening their doors in 2007 by Peter Noreen, the company set out to build .50 BMG caliber single shot rifles. At the time there was a rather large market for them. Prior to opening a gun manufacturing company, Peter was a machinist who owned his own tool and die company. When getting into the gun business he already had the machines necessary to build all but the trigger group of the ULR or Ultra Long Range .50 caliber rifle. For the first two years the company consisted of just Peter building the rifles. In 2009, Peter’s son Phil joined the company and from 2009 to 2013 the company grew from 1 to 14 people. Noreen Firearms is a family owned business that has most of its ranks filed with veterans. Proudly, Noreen Firearms claims that more than 85% of their rifle is manufactured right in Montana. With the introduction of more specialized weapon designs, Noreen Firearms has added several machines to increase both quality and speed of production. The company is in a constant state of research and development. In 2010 Noreen Firearms introduced their second product to the market: The Bad News (BN), which is a semiautomatic AR-platform .338 Lapua caliber rifle. In November of 2012, Noreen introduced their most popular rifle to date, the BN36. This is a semiautomatic rifle based on the AR-10 that fires the very popular .30-06 Springfield cartridge. Since the M1 Garand, there have only been a handful of semi-auto .30-06 rifles. These would include the Remington model 742 and the Browning BAR MKII, and the recent Ohio Ordnance Works semi-automatic BAR 1918A3 models. No modern sporting rifles until now. SAR was invited by Phil Noreen to visit his factory and test out some of his rifles. Setting foot into his assembly area one can easily see they are always in high speed R&D mode. Stepping back into his manufacturing room there were several CNC machines producing Bad News upper and lower receivers as well as muzzle brakes and bolt carriers. Many of his components do not even require de-burring; that is part of the CNC program.

Every rifle is inspected multiple times and test fired prior to it leaving the factory. From the employees this author met, they were all weapons enthusiast and professionals. Phil Noreen is a well seasoned long range shooter and knows what it takes to get that 1,000 yard shot. As of this time, Noreen Firearms has the capacity to make 500 rifles per month. Being a Montana company, where the state’s pastimes all center around those beautiful mountains, much of that is hunting the many large game species including elk, bison, black bear, antelope, deer and moose. This type of game required a little more power than the basic .308 Win. caliber AR could deliver. The open land in Montana offers the skilled marksman the opportunity to shoot well over 1,000 yards at his game. There is also a military and law enforcement application for more high power calibers in the familiar AR platform. This rifle was introduced at the 2013 SHOT Show and it was called the BN36 or Bad News .30-06 rifle.

The first look at the rifle one thinks of an AR-10 but with a longer magazine. But there are some major differences. The upper and lower receivers are proprietary and will not work on any other firearm. This is due to the longer magazine well for the longer .30-06 cartridge. With the 22-inch barrel the rifle has an overall length of 43.5 inches and weighs a light 8 pounds. The rifle comes with a polymer 20-round magazine.

The upper receiver is manufactured from a 6061 T6 aluminum billet. The receiver has a Mil-Std 1913 rail on top of the receiver. There is no ejection port cover or fired cartridge case deflector. The way the gas is regulated ejects the brass at 3 o’clock so it clears the face of a left-handed shooter without issue. But you notice this small channel behind the ejection port. That is there because the rifle does not use the conventional top charging lever. The bolt carrier has a handle attached to it and is actuated from the right side. According to Phil, the rifles are meant for use with long range optics. More often than not, the longer optics interferes with the access to actuate the charging handle. By moving the handle to the bolt, the shooter always has easy access to the cocking handle and can even actuate it while the rifle is still at his shoulder. When handling the rifle, this is a clear enhancement for those with these types of optics. Be aware that the bolt handle travels with the bolt carrier.

The 22-inch barrel starts its life as a 4140 Chromoly steel barrel blank that is button rifled with 6 lands and grooves and a right twist. The barrel has a 1 turn in 10 inch rifle twist. The barrels can be left with a round profile or can be fluted to increase strength but decrease weight. The barrels can also be black phosphate finished or left in their natural color. The weight and configuration of this barrel gives a maximum effective rate of fire of 45 rounds per minute. These are match grade barrels. To extend the life of the rifles, the rifle should not be rapid fired and should be maintained. According to Phil, the barrel has a normal life of 2,000 rounds if maintained properly. This is for the precision accuracy.

At the end of the muzzle comes the Noreen manufactured muzzle brake specifically designed to redirect the muzzle blast 30° rearward. What this does is shift the recoil force rearward, which pushes the rifle muzzle forward instead of rearward decreasing the felt/perceived recoil. This does wonders for recoil but there is a flip side to the recoil reduction coin. When you use this type of muzzle brake you increase the muzzle blast noise. It is not noticed so much by the shooter but it is very noticeable to those standing around the gun. Noreen Firearms offers this muzzle brake as an accessory

Attached to the barrel is a proprietary barrel nut on the rear and a Noreen manufactured gas block. The gas block is bolted onto the barrel and uses a standard rifle length gas tube. The BN36 is a direct gas operated rifle. On the gas block is an adjustment screw for regulating gas flow to balance the gas system with the particular ammunition it is firing. There is a wide range of projectile weights available in .30-06 ammunition ranging from 100 grains to 225 grains. Rotate the regulator screw down until gas is cut off. Back off one full turn. Place one round in the magazine and fire. Keep rotating the screw slightly counter clock wise while shooting one round until the bolt will lock open on the magazine. Just enough to make the bolt fully travel to the rear and not short stroke.

The bolt carrier group is longer than that of the .308 rifle due to the fact the .30-06 cartridge case is .47 inches longer than the .308 Win. The bolt and bolt carrier are manufactured from a much stronger material than most of the AR-10 type rifles out there. Most use the Carpenter 158 Mil-Spec material; Noreen uses 9310 steel that is a much stronger and more durable material. The bolt and carrier are made in-house by Noreen. They are cut to length from a rod of 9310 steel and placed in a CNC machine. When the bolt carrier is removed from the CNC machine it is complete. All burs are removed. All that needs to be done is the carrier key added, screws torqued down and the carrier key screws staked in place.

The lower receiver is also manufactured from a 6061 T6 aluminum billet. The rear takedown pin and the front pivot pin are held in by detents and cannot be removed from the rifle unless the pins are disassembled. The bolt catch has been strengthened to halt the heavier bolt carrier group. The safety is a standard semi-auto only safety. The trigger group that comes standard in this rifle is the Mil-Spec type. Building rifles like this, it is very difficult to install a match trigger that every customer is going to like. Some like two stage triggers and other like one. Some like adjustable and some like fixed. Due to the high cost of match triggers from $100 up to $400 in some cases, it would add cost to the rifle that the customer may not like anyway. It makes far more sense to put a stock trigger in the rifle and save the customer that money so they can go out and purchase the trigger that they want. The trigger guard is integral with the receiver and is oversized for use with heavy gloves. The magazine is located in the normal spot as well. The receiver is equipped with a standard A2-style pistol grip. This is another very personal preference accessory. Some like more rubbery grips and others may not like the finger groove. This permits the customer to put on what suits them. The receiver extension is a standard rifle length receiver extension with a proprietary buffer; the buffer is shorter than the standard rifle buffer to cope with the longer bolt carrier of the .30-06 rifle. The stock provided is the standard A2 stock. This is definitely one of the lightest rifle stocks in the industry. The number of stock options on the market is numerous. The customer may prefer a shorter A1 length or a Magpul PRS stock or anything in-between. Save the money and buy what stock fits the customer best. Just be sure that the same receiver extension is used. Due to the length of the buffer you cannot use a telescopic receiver extension.

The rifle is fed from a polymer magazine developed by Noreen Firearms as well. The one we fired was a 20-round magazine but Noreen offers 5- and 10-round magazines as well. The magazine will drop free from the rifle when the magazine release button is pushed.

The BR36 was lighter at 8 pounds than most of the AR-10 type rifles this author has tested. The rifle had the feeling of an AR-10. The rifle was equipped with a Leupold VX-3 2.5-8x36mm scope and the ammunition fired was Federal American Eagle .30-06 loaded with a 150gr full metal jacket projectile. It should be noted that the BR36 is designed to fire new production SAMMI standard .30-06 ammunition. Noreen Firearms will not warranty rifles damaged by use of .30-06 ammunition made during World War II. Much of this ammunition has degraded over time, has corrosive propellant and many of the foreign made military ammunition is not made to the proper specifications. Also, some military ammunition is loaded with steel jacketed projectiles that may damage and prematurely wear the lands and grooves in the match barrels. Noreen Firearms has found ammunition loaded specifically for M1 Garands are lower on pressure than commercial ammunition causing short recoil. Higher pressure ammunition can damage the operating rod on the M1 Garand rifles. Other ammunition that is made poorly has destroyed rifles. Stay with modern current production ammunition and your rifle will fire reliably and accurately. When looking at load data, standard factory .30-06 ammunition has little benefit over most factory .308 ammunition. The differences are quite negligible. However, looking at modern propellants available to the reloader plus the fact that the rifle may handle loads higher in pressure than the M1 Garand, there is a possibility to extend the range significantly with the .30-06 giving the BN36 an advantage over the contemporary 7.62x51mm/.308 Win caliber rifles.

When the rifle was tested, this author could not believe how little recoil there was. This was comparable to any AR-10 that I have fired. With the muzzle brake the muzzle hardly moved. First target engaged was at 100 yards and the gong was knocked off the mount. Next was the 300 yard gong. Phil adjusted to dope and one shot after the next hit the gong. Next was the 430 yard gong. Phil made another dope adjustment and the round was sent. It was noticed that the projectile took a little longer to get there than the .338 Lapua we shot earlier, but they hit the gong consistently. More than 60 rounds were fired out of this rifle with no malfunctions of any sort. This rifle is suitable for hunting most big game in North America without question. With the wide selection of ammunition you can easily go from a woodchuck to a wolf on to a deer and then a moose. As a tactical rifle – without question. You will gain at least a couple hundred more yards of effectiveness compared to the .308 Win. and can use some heavier projectiles as well. To show the versatility of the BR36 platform it is not only offered in .30-06 but Noreen firearms also offers it in .270 Winchester and the flatter shooting .25-06 Remington. The rifles are very competitively priced with a MSRP of $1,999. Phil also said that we can expect some more caliber offering in the future including the .300 Winchester Magnum and 7mm Remington Magnum.

Noreen Firearm is definitely a pioneer in the heavy caliber black rifles. With the caliber ranges the rifle is suitable for any North American Game. Those who like the AR platform can have it along with the large bore calibers required to hunt big and dangerous game. This author would challenge anybody who claims a bolt action rifle is far more superior in accuracy than a semiautomatic rifle. The proof is in the target and anyone who would say this has not fired a Noreen Firearms BN36 .30-06 caliber rifle.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V19N8 (October 2015)
and was posted online on August 21, 2015


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