As a former sniper unit for a Sheriff’s Office SWAT team in eastern North Carolina for over a decade, I learned two simple things the hard way while behind a rifle for long periods of time during training and deployment. First you MUST be comfortable and second well organized. These days, I have the pleasure of being able to teach a new generation of precision rifle shooters as well as testing new firearms, optics, ammunition and equipment to aid in doing so. A few months ago, I discovered the NORM Shooting Mat by a company named OffHand Gear.
For those of you not familiar with OffHand Gear, this is a great small business that started in Mesa, Arizona back in 2012 marketing what Sandi Keller, the owner, calls “sassy apparel & functional gear for the female gun enthusiast.” This astute business woman grew tired of subpar equipment painted pink being the only thing marketed to women and sought out to not only change the women’s market but offer all shooters the best gear possible at the company grew. As the proud husband of a state leader here in Florida for the national ladies’ not-for-profit shooting organization, The Well Armed Woman, founded by Sandi’s good friend, Carrie Lightfoot, naturally this company has been on my radar for some time. (Either growth trend recognizing gun writer or just smart husband, you decide.)
With the recent release of the NORM or “No Ordinary Range Mat”, OffHand Gear is set to cross over into the mainstream with not only female rifle shooters, but men as well. Over the summer I had the pleasure of testing the NORM while working on both rifle reviews and training. Most of the testing occurred at our secluded training grounds in North Florida affectionately known as “The Swamp” where the terrain can range from loose gravel to damp grassy tree lines and the occasional hard pack dirt roadways.
When the shooting mat arrived at my door, I immediately liked how flat the entire mat folded to fit into the thin shipping box. While the mat’s padding felt cushiony, the thin profile initially concerned me as to how comfortable it would be while shooting off of it in the prone position. Due to the summer tropical storms that roll through Florida during the summer, it looked like I would have to wait to find out. Thankfully, the clouds parted a few days afterwards and I had a great opportunity to start field testing.
Upon my arrival at “The Swamp”, I began setting up my shooting position by unrolling the NORM in a grassy clearing near the tree line over a few small exposed roots that would normally dig into my hips or chest when shooting prone. As I settled into position behind the rifle, I remember feeling like I had just stretched out on a bedroll while camping. The mat was comfortable and did a great job protecting me from the underlying roots popping up through the grass. The long length of the 75” mat fit me well while I feeling like I had all the room in the world to my left and right to rest my range finder, ammunition and even a laptop. (Yes, laptop, more on that in a future article.) The main body of the NORM measured 32” across with the fold out wings gave an additional 12” of vertical space to each side.
As a dedicated long range shooter, I enjoyed how the carry handle locates itself in the perfect to position to double as a bi-pod stop. With the bipod deployed into the loop, it did a great job anchoring the rifle in order to “load” the bipod to create enough tension between rifle and shoulder to prevent any wiggle or slipping while breaking my shots. When the mat is folded back up, the handles are well placed to strap together and balance the package evenly during carry. If the mat has to be carried longer distances, the matching shoulder strap offers a very comfortable carry option as well.
The entire main 30” work space of the shooting mat is covered in a soft Velcro surface for attaching handy additions offered by OffHand Gear such as a mesh bag for holding spent brass and my personal favorite, the rear shooting rest bag. Much like my old sniper’s “sand sock”, the rear shooting bag offers a pliable, lightweight bag filled with plastic beards to secure under the toe of the rifle stock. This offers for quick elevation changes by only using the movement of squeezing or releasing the bag with your hand quietly and efficiently.
Kryptek Fabric (500 Denier Cordura utilizes durability and water resistance).
◦Bi-pod stop that doubles as a carry handle
◦Ambidextrous adjustable shoulder sling for easy carrying.
◦Extra-long (75″) & wide (32″) with fold out wings (added 12″).
◦Dense foam padding the entire length and wings.
◦Soft, loop fabric on upper 30″ of mat for added comfort and to attach accessories.
◦Fan-fold design makes for easy setup and storage without curling up while in use.
My experience with OffHand Gear’s NORM was a very good one. I enjoyed the tough 500 Denier Cordura construction in the very attractive Kryptek Typhoon pattern. This modern age camo option has been popular over the past year in the industry. My only comment on this currently being the only color option is heat retention. Black is usually not a top choice when shooting in the hot Florida sun throughout the summer months. I am eager to see lighter color options as the product has more time on the market.
Retailing for $229 US for the mat alone and $255.95 US as a package including the mesh bag for spent brass and handy rear rifle bag, the NORM is fairly priced for such a high quality shooting mat. Along with color options, I am eager to see how the accessory options grow in the future as well. This shooting mat offers an excellent platform to anchor a wealth of needed tools for long distance shoot such as a possible DOPE book pocket, spare ammo pocket, map pocket or cleaning kit bag just for starters.
Overall, I highly recommend the NORM shooting mat to everyone. I have always respected what OffHand Gear has set out to do in regards to leveling the playing field in the shooting industry for women and proud to work with them at any level. I clearly foresee their shooting mat becoming a crossover success for all ages and gender as time moves forward. To learn more about Sandi and her awesome team, check them out at www.offhandgear.com.