Noreen Firearms ULR – Direct from Noreen $1,999
Manatee Gun Club – 1000 Yard Range Tampa FL
When it comes to guns, cost and quality are usually tightly tied. If you want to charge more for your gun, you had better be using higher quality materials, and/or taking more care in it’s creation. And if you want to sell yours cheaper than everyone else, you better figure out what you are going to cut out that doesn’t effect performance.
That was my big question when I agreed to review the Noreen Firearms ULR, a .50BMG bolt action rifle with a built in heavy bipod, for $1,999. Noreen is known for their AR style firearms in large calibers (up to .338 Lapua). My first Noreen review was their .30-06 Long Range Assassin, and though the price on that gun is reasonable, Noreen isn’t known for guns on the cheap.
If you are new to rifles that shoot .50BMG (which stands for Browning Machine Gun), it is not a cheap niche of the firearms world to dip your toe into. My first 50 review was back in 2012, and it was a Barrett that currently sells for over $10,000. For shooters on a practical budget, the least expensive 50 I had found until now in a complete rifle was in the $2,400 range, and from what I can tell, that company is now gone.
A “name brand” Armalite single shot 50 retails for $3,300, without the bipod, and in a niche dominated by small manufacturers it is rare to find any decent 50 with good reviews under about that price. To me that was what made this Noreen so interesting. If it performs, this is a great deal on an entry level rifle.
So first off, the rifle does reliably go bang every time. In shooting over 30 rounds in the outing you see on the video, no parts shook loose or bent. The primers showed no pressure or headspace issues, and no shell stuck in the gun even a little. That alone is saying a lot in an inexpensive rifle.
I did have two issue with the gun, both of which I think have been answered sufficiently. The first is that the scope rail was not mounted plumb to the bore. This resulted in it being impossible to zero to scope to even the extreme left position on the adjustment turret of my Burris XTR-II 80-40 First Focal Plane scope, with the F-Class reticle. The groups you see here I had to shoot at the 8MOA to the right marking in the reticle. This is not an easily fixable problem, and when I contacted Noreen they admitted that a few guns had gotten out that were not bored correctly. I have had this gun for several months, and it was one of the early prototypes of this model. The problem has been rectified, and they have taken care of the people who got those few guns.
My other issue was the trigger, and you’ll see in the video that I measured it at 10 lbs. For a competition gun, that’s really a killer, and it effected my ability to shoot the gun for accuracy at distance. I forgot to mention the trigger when I emailed them about the rail, and I have since found on their website that the trigger is a Timney, and it is adjustable. To date I have not had the gumption to figure out how the gun comes apart, but I don’t think there is excuse to ship a gun with a 10 lb. trigger regardless. As they are all avid competition shooters, I am sure that the folks at Noreen would agree.
For you, as a potential buyer, I don’t think either of these issues with this particular test gun should be of much concern. If anything, it shows you that Noreen didn’t cherry pick or slick up the gun before sending it out (and I can’t tell you how many guns have come “new” from manufacturers over the years to me for review that were sent from a gunsmith shop, not the factory). These were clearly minor oversights that will not be a factor in a gun you would buy today.
But they did, unfortunately, keep me from shooting the gun at distance. As you can see, I was shooting at a public range in Tampa FL, and it’s a great range, except that they have a few overzealous range officers that make shooting there very unpleasant. As I was trying to narrow down what was going on with the scope adjustment, they hovered as if I was going to shoot rounds over the burm in what I guess in their self inflated minds would be my haste to burn $12 a round Hornady competition ammo. Then of course I couldn’t shoot the gun into less than 3.5″ at 200 yards. It wasn’t a good day, and because it is 4 hrs away from home, my days at that range are few.
Unlike the print mags, we don’t make up accuracy numbers and lie so that the gun companies will spend more money advertising with us. That heavy trigger cost me what appears to be potentially sub-MOA accuracy, and the out of plumb bore cost me half the day trying to figure out what was going on. It was funny in a not funny kind of way that it just so happened that another guy was there shooting a small manufacturer’s 50 cal, and he had the same out of plumb issue with his gun. It must be fairly common. His company was already out of business. Noreen will not suffer that fate, because as I said in my last article for them, these guys are genuine lifetime shooters, and they will figure out how to make it right at the reduced cost.
Where I think Noreen did cut corners on this gun is with fit, finish, and standardization of parts. But that is what I find the real value of this gun, because it tells me that they were trying to hit a pricepoint without compromising performance. I saw it as soon as I opened the case when it arrived. There is no fancy AR style stock on the ULR. It is a simple steel plate with a rubber buttpad welded to two guide rods. The guide rods are held in place with removable and ugly pins. The whole gun is butt ugly in fact, and I’m just going to say it. It’s an ugly gun with a big ugly bipod and an ugly stock and an ugly bolt and a paint job that looks like the home camo’d M1A that you’ll find in nearly every gunshop, that was taken in trade because the owner felt bad for the bubba who camo’d it.
But hey, it’s only 2 grand for a real 50 that goes bang every time and doesn’t fall apart when you shoot it. And I betcha that yours will prove to be MOAish with range ammo, and work perfectly.
The .50 Cal Experience
I know a lot of you out there are new to shooting and perhaps only have a plastic pistol and an AR. Of all the guns out there, I think the .50 Cal is the most misunderstood.
There is no destructive shock wave that follows a .50 Cal bullet along it’s path. My camera, as you can see, is only a couple feet off of bore axis, less than ten feet from the muzzle blast. It was not disturbed. So if you have read accounts of “pink mist” on near misses, a miss is a miss with a .50 just as much as any other rifle. Close only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades, and nuclear weapons.
The kick is also not what you’d think. This is a 32 lb. rifle, which is 5 to 6 times the weight of a .30-06 deer rifle, and the .30-06 kicks more as a result. I sat next to this gun to shoot it, which is generally not how you would shoot a .50 Cal. Normally you would shoot prone and get behind the gun. Nonetheless, I could have shot it non-stop and never flinched from recoil. It is that light kicking, due to the extreme weight.
If there was one “classic” .50 Cal thing you’ll see in the video, it is that the action is really hard to open. At first I thought that it was because the shells were sticking, but it was not. As I explained in the video, the bolt appears to be a “cock on open” type, and it takes a good deal of effort to cock. With two hands on the gun, you can get the bolt open with no shell, but with a recently fired round in the chamber, you really need a stick or hammer of some kind to bang it open. The case head is no worse for wear, and as I said, no shells stuck in the chamber even a little bit.
What do you need it for?
Well, for those of you who had to ask that question, perhaps you don’t need one. They are expensive to shoot, and ballisticaly, there are few applications where you could ever effectively use a 50 in practical life as it stands today. That I would grant you.
But for those of us who would never ask that question because it is blasphemous, it all boils down to money, and space. This gun is $2,000. Is it incrementally more firepower than yet another high end AR? Oh yea, it sure is. If you are worried that some day the black helicopters are going to be dropping paratroopers into your neighborhood (ie. the entire state of Texas), some real firepower never hurts.
For space, she’s a beast, but that stock collapses down to a total overall length of 48″. The barrel is 34″ total with the muzzle break, and thankfully the muzzle break is round and doesn’t have those ridiculous wings. If you shoot this at a public range, be aware that the side blast is significant. I enjoy standing in the breeze, but maybe that’s just me lol.
You can find cheap range ammo for usually $3-$5 per round, and sometimes cheaper in quality. Both Lee and Hornady make .50 cal reloading systems, and the Lee press is only like $255. Hodgedon makes a powder specifically for the .50BMG, and there is also a special size primer. The most popular bullet for 50BMG is the Hornady .510 AMAX, at just over $2 a bullet. There are other bullets at $1.50 and up.
If you plan to shoot competitively, I have seen independent reviews of this Noreen that put it in the sub-MOA range at long distance. I wasted a lot of ammo trying to figure out what was going on with that rail situation, but by the end of the day I got a few of those groups in the under 2 MOA range with fliers, and as you see in the video, the majority of the rounds in sub-MOA, using factory Hornady ammo, which is the best money can buy.
Competition shooting with a 50, beyond a local periodic fun shoot, is a science unto itself, and I would go visit a well attended shoot before you buy a rifle. With tuned loads, I’m sure this Noreen is capable of competitive performance, but you should go see what people are shooting before you show up with your fugly yet practical Noreen. That’s just my two cents.
Owning a 50 Cal while you can is what I would call mandatory for most of us out here in the choir. If you don’t have one, I think this is a really good investment that will never be worth less than you paid for it. If you Cerakote this Noreen one solid tan color you might even get more lol. I think the looks, performance and price all match up pretty good on the value of the gun, and I would not hesitate to purchase a Noreen ULR.