When I was a kid in rural Utah, the .30-06 Springfield was the standard by which all other hunting calibers were judged. Yes, there were other calibers lesser (.30-30) and greater (.300 Weatherby Magnum), along with the .270 (usually seen more in the writings of Jack O’Connor than in the woods) and the .243 (good for jackrabbits), but the two most-encountered calibers where I grew up were the old “thirty-thirty” and “thirty-ought-six.”

The .30-30 lever action was the everyman’s working gun, and by any maker, the .30-06 bolt action was the powerhouse for big game or long distances. There was a very respectable range of .30-06 loads back then that ran from the comparatively mild 150-grain Garand military power levels on up through 180-, 200- and 220-grain options for hunting whitetail deer, moose and bear.

When the later magnum craze started to aggressively encroach into the hunt, the various 7mms and their ballistic kin severely challenged the aging government caliber but never quite managed to displace it entirely. The .30-06 transitioned well into the Magnum Era, and it’s still hard to go wrong with a good .30-06 rifle for any game in the continental U.S. and even on up in the frozen northlands of Alaska. Modern ammunition development has kept up here, and between mating the right load with good bullet placement, the caliber is fully capable of taking down some sizable fur.

Semi-Auto .30-06s

Noreen BN36 Assassin-X rifle right profile
Noreen outfits the Assassin-X with several features that’ll make it stand out on the range, including a skeletonized grip.

For many years, companies like Browning, Remington and Benelli have produced .30-06 semi-autos in more conventional hunting configurations, and there are .30-06 AK variants in pseudo-military trim from foreign makers, but the number of domestically produced, detachable-magazine-fed semi-autos can be counted on one hand.

The father-son duo of Peter and Phil Noreen of Noreen Firearms in Belgrade, Montana, opened up their shop in 2007, after Peter had already spent over two decades building custom high-performance bolt-action rifles. Phil learned early from his dad, and their first foray into full-powered semi-auto rifles came with the 2007 introduction of the company and its first proprietary design: the single-shot Ultra Long Range (ULR) in .50 BMG. In 2010, Noreen Firearms introduced semi-auto Bad News (BN) models in .338 Lapua Magnum and .300 Winchester Magnum.

In 2012, Noreen Firearms introduced the BN36 series as another development in its line of big-bore ARs that are sort of AR but not entirely AR. The latest carbine model, the BN36 Assassin-X, comes chambered in .30-06 Springfield. In other words, if you’ve been dreaming about a relatively compact .30-06 with familiar AR features, this is it. Of course, the emphasis here is on “relatively.” You aren’t going to see a truly compact semi-auto .30-06. Not by my definition anyway.

Noreen BN36 Assassin-X Specs

Noreen BN36 Assassin-X rifle barrel
The 16-inch, free-floating barrel has a 1-in-10-inch twist rate as well as a birdcage-style flash suppressor.

The Noreen BN36 Assassin-X is a further variation on the slightly older Assassin carbine, and in outline looks very AR-ish in a steroidally influenced way. The upper and lower receivers are fabricated from 6061-T6 aluminum alloy to balance strength and weight. The carbine also features a non-chromed, 16-inch, free-floating, chrome-moly barrel with 1-in-10-inch-twist button rifling, and it’s capped with a standard birdcage-style flash suppressor.

The flattop upper offers a 9-inch Picatinny rail for mounting the optic of your choice, and this mates up with another 13.63 inches of additional rail space along the top of the skeletonized, one-piece handguard. This aluminum forend also sports a shorter 4.5-inch bottom rail for a bipod, vertical foregrip, sling mount or other accessories.

The grip, also skeletonized, is made by Tactical Dynamics. It’s made of hardcoat anodized aluminum and is finished to match the black surfaces on the rest of the carbine. At the tail end you’ll find a polymer, five-position Luth-AR MBA-4 stock with a non-slip buttplate. The lower receiver uses a proprietary, synthetic 20-round magazine. Blocked 10-rounders for hunting and other capacity-restricted purposes and locations are also available.

The controls and internal operation are familiar, with a two-position thumb safety and bolt release tab on the left side and a magazine release on the right, and a standard AR-type direct-impingement gas system inside. Some small parts are mil-spec, like the safety, magazine release and ejector, but that’s largely it as far as anything being truly interchangeable with the smaller 5.56mm AR.

Which brings us to the point where we note that Noreen emphasizes the BN36 Assassin-X is not an AR-15 and is not intended to be a battle rifle. This is primarily a hunter despite its militaristic profile. Besides the obvious difference in sizes among the components, there are three very distinct departures from traditional AR Land: an adjustable gas block, a right-side charging handle and no forward assist, since there’s no need or place for one.

I like the charging handle in operation—it’s much handier than the AR’s T-job—but it does necessitate a slight change in the breakdown process for cleaning, and you’re not going to do it in the field without a tool. The upper and lower receivers separate the same old AR way by pushing the two takedown pins sideways, but obviously the carrier assembly can’t slide out the rear of the upper with the handle stopping at the end of its travel track cutout. To pull the carrier, you’ll need a 3/16-inch hex wrench to back out the screw and remove the handle, after which the carrier group will slide out. From there, disassembly and cleaning is the same. Another tip: Make sure you tighten the charging handle hex screw down tight when you reassemble the gun. If you don’t, you know Murphy’s Law dictates that it’ll loosen up during firing, and you can’t run the gun without the handle if it flies off into the brush.

This bolt handle eliminates any need for a forward assist, since it allows direct manipulation of the bolt in either direction if a round fails to completely chamber for whatever reason.

Fine Tuning

Noreen BN36 Assassin-X rifle controls

To cycle the action, gas is bled out of a hole near the front of the barrel and channeled back through a gas tube into the key at the top of the bolt carrier, just like your garden-variety AR-15, but the length and bore size of the .30-06 cartridge require tight tolerances in the gun, which means the system is much less forgiving of variations in different ammunition and bullet weights, at least initially. To deal with that, the gas block is easily adjusted to allow more or less gas to drive the carrier backward on ignition; it comes preset from the factory, and you use the included hex key to reach down inside the forend and turn the screw in either direction to tune the gas volume to your chosen load.

Starting out, you may run into extraction and feeding failures if the gas is turned too low or too high. Don’t be discouraged; in my case, it took some experimentation with the four loads I tested, and the gun managed to mangle an even 10 rounds through the four brands in feeding jams at the range. The action demands a strong buffer spring, and there’s a lot of force returning the carrier and bolt back into battery. It’s a balancing act between the cartridge length and power, the bore size, the gas regulation and the buffer spring, and you’ll need to do part of the balancing yourself with your own ammunition. Expect to spend time tuning the gas block, and don’t give up on the gun if it doesn’t cycle at 100 percent right out of the box. One tip that’ll help: The carrier and bolt were fairly dry on the test gun, and lubing it well helps everything settle in.

Quality Glass

Noreen BN36 Assassin-X rifle scope
The Burris Veracity is extremely efficient at gathering light with a large, ergonomic zoom knob and easy-to-adjust dials.

The .30-06 Springfield is a favorite of mine, and a high-quality rifle deserved something beyond entry-level glass for its no-iron-sights range trip. Burris provided a 3-15x50mm Veracity scope for the outing with a set of sturdy Burris XTR Signature rings to mount it on the carbine’s top rail.

The Veracity scope has two features that stand out as much as the image you’ll see through it: the company’s Ballistic Flex E1 reticle that compensates for both distance and wind via a descending “pyramid” of stadia lines and dots, and the front-focal-plane reticle design that changes the size of that reticle as you use the 5X zoom feature for distance adjustments. As you zoom in for increasing magnification, the reticle display grows; as you zoom out for closer shots, it shrinks.

Besides the two conventional elevation and windage knobs, the Veracity also includes a left-side knob for instant parallax adjustments at varying ranges. The turret caps are large and easily removed, the 0.25-MOA adjustment dials are easily finger operated, and the power ring is also easy to adjust, even with gloves. The Veracity ships with quick-flip lens caps and a 3.75-inch sun shade.

Range Performance

Noreen BN36 Assassin-X rifle test

On range day, the carbine was interesting to work with at 100 yards off a sandbag rest, in calm winds, under an overcast sky, with premium hunting ammunition. As mentioned, the gas system will need some attention getting started, but the rifle’s accuracy in my hands was fully up to the 1- to 1.5-MOA standard the factory expects. As the chart shows, with three-shot groups the carbine can hold under an inch, and I’d expect the gun to carry easily out to 500 yards as a practical hunter. Of course, you will not be doing much of that free-standing; even unloaded, the carbine alone weighs in at 7 pounds. With an additional weight of 25.1 ounces for the glass, a few more ounces for the rings and a fully loaded 20-round magazine, it all adds up. I’ve worked with lighter packages, and I’ll just leave the weight issue with a statement that it’s surprisingly easy to blow a chronograph to bits if you lose concentration at just the wrong instant and allow the weight to cause the muzzle to sag in conjunction with a trigger pull. Don’t ask me how I know—I’ll deny it. On a more positive note, the carbine’s weight and gas system went a long way toward reducing recoil. The gun was quite pleasant to shoot off the bench.

Speaking of which, the single-stage trigger was a tad on the heavy side at 6.5 pounds, and with some short travel before breaking, but no overtravel at all, it’s still superior to most production AR-15s. The receivers, bolts and carriers are all made in-house by Noreen, the machined hammers and triggers are manufactured for Noreen by Velocity, and if you prefer a slightly better trigger tuning, it shouldn’t be hard to do.

During shooting, the screws loosened on the lower front rail and the plate at the back of the sliding stock; it’d be good to keep an eye on those areas or apply some thread-locker. The Luth-AR stock itself was loose on the buffer tube out of the box, and it took a few minutes of analytical eyeballing (no instructions included) to notice the attached little 5/64-inch hex wrench in its recesses on the left side. Once you decide which stock extension slot you like, use this wrench to turn a small screw to lock the stock down tightly on the tube, after which there’s no more wobble. Collapse the stock for transport, extend it once you get where you’re going and lock it down for the rest of the session or excursion.

One thing I found quite annoying was the skeletonized grip; I see no benefit here whatsoever, and its edges are not quite sharp enough to cut skin, but they certainly can scrape it. Noreen says customers love it, though, so preferences vary, and pay no attention to mine if it appeals to you. A lesser annoyance, and one that I’d assume was an aberration on the test gun, was a frozen-in-place bolt release. It never functioned, and the bolt never locked open during any of the shooting. Internet research on the Assassin-X showed high opinions, so I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt there. An occasional glitch can escape any manufacturer’s watchful eye. The sample does display quality in machining, fit and finish; the castle nut is properly staked and the triggerguard is a solid extension of the lower receiver.

The Burris Veracity scope very clearly (mild pun there) demonstrated why a 30mm tube and 50mm objective lens work so well in gathering and transmitting light. Under clouds, the black bullseyes were very clean, very bright, very focused at the 100-yard distance, and the compensating reticle combined with the parallax dial can easily make this a great multi-purpose, multi-critter and multi-distance optic for the Noreen BN36 Assassin-X, or any rifle.

Caliber: .30-06 Springfield

Barrel: 16 inches

OA Length: 39.25 inches

Weight: 7 pounds (empty)

Stock: Luth-AR MBA-4

Sights: None

Action: Direct impingement semi-auto

Finish: Matte black

Capacity: 20+1

MSRP: $1,999

For More Information

Noreen Firearms

Burris Optics

This article was originally published in “The Complete Book of Guns” 2018 #200. To get a copy, visit

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