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Best .50 Caliber Cartridges & Guns [Hands-On]

Who doesn't love a big boom? We hands-on review some of the best .50 caliber cartridges and guns out there. With plenty of pics and videos.

Who among us doesn’t love seriously BIG BOOMS?

Fortunately, there is an abundance of big-bore guns out there to choose from.

50 Beowulf Coyote Hunt
Running the .50 Beowulf on coyotes is one of my favorite things to do. No kill pics because…well, it does a lot of damage.

And if you truly love big guns odds are good you’re a fan of .50 caliber everything, meaning you came to the right place.

These are a few of my favorite .50-cal things. 

Be still my recoil-loving heart, it’s .50-cal time.

Table of Contents


.50 BMG

A century ago the .50 BMG (Browning Machine Gun) was developed for the United States Armed Forces.

More importantly, half a century has passed since USMC sniper Carlos “White Feather” Hathcock used his M2 Browning Machine Gun chambered in the formidable round for a confirmed kill at 2500 yards.

Sgt. Carlos Hathcock
Gunnery Sergeant Carlos Hathcock, Vietnam.

Yes, you read right: 2500 yards.

This is a cartridge touched by the heaven-sent creativity of John Browning with uses ranging from anti-aircraft mounted versions to high-powered sniper rifles.

.50 BMG has remained in military service all these years for good reason: during combat, overwhelming firepower in the form of a thumb-sized projectile is a stellar choice.

Common Calibers in Room
Common Calibers in Room (.50 BMG on the right)

Browning created .50 BMG based on the .30-06 Springfield, another large-caliber rifle that just happens to be a favorite of mine. The larger round was significantly altered, though.

Where .30-06 is slim and fast .50 BMG is thick and not even remotely subtle.

With its .510 bullet diameter and ability to produce muzzle energy of 15,000 foot-pounds it’s pretty clear Browning’s scaling-up process was successful.

at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

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The Barrett Model 82A1 is the rifle that made Barrett an almost household name.

It’s a recoil-operated, semi-automatic with a 29-inch fluted barrel with a 1:15 twist rate, an overall length of 57 inches, and an empty weight of 32.7 pounds.

It’s a hefty thing.

Barrett M82A1
The Barrett M82A1, for when you really need stopping power!

The M82A1 was built to withstand and mitigate considerable recoil and does it ever get it done.

I’ve run it with all manner of ammo including Federal Lake City .50 BMG 660 grain FMJ and Sinterfire .50 BMG 700 grain frangibles. It eats everything and is way more precise than you might expect.

It’s the components of the M82A1 that make it so gunner-friendly.

The stock is fixed and well padded, it has a durable Manganese Phosphate finish, and it has an arrowhead 2-port muzzle brake (also referred to as a tanker-style brake).

The Barrett M82A1 is my happy place.
The Barrett M82A1 is my happy place.

You might be thinking felt recoil is terrible but it isn’t.

The weight of the rifle and its design make felt recoil surprisingly negligible.

Does it nudge me back?

Yes, but it isn’t a rough slap it’s more of a firm shove into my shoulder.

The stock mounts to my shoulder well whether I’m prone or upright and the detachable bipod the rifle ships with is useful as well. 

Most beloved Barrett M82A1 .50 BMG moment? Firing frangible Sinterfire rounds at steel up close and personal. Come on, if you had the opportunity to nail steel targets at 75 yards with a .50 BMG you would totally do it.

Kat and Berrett M82A1
When your rifle is nearly as tall as you are you know your gun rocks. (Pictured: Barrett M82A1 in .50 BMG.)

Odds are I could have gotten closer, too. Frangibles for the win!

Do I recommend .50 BMG? Uh, yes!

And the Barrett M82A1 is freaking awesome although you are going to have to save a few pennies to drop the $$$$ necessary to own one.

at EuroOptic

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Available Coupons

Fortunately for those of us who are perpetually poor, there are other, more affordable 50-cal options.

.50 Beowulf

The Alexander Arms .50 Beowulf AR-15 just happens to be one of the coolest, if not the coolest, ARs I have.

What makes it interesting is its ballistic strength and design meant for a shoulder-mounted AR.

Alexander Arms .50 Beowulf
The gun I consider my baby: Alexander Arms .50 Beowulf.

You might be able to lift the 32-pound bulk of a Barrett M82A1 but it’s less than effective in execution.

Mounting the 7.5-pound Alexander Arms .50 Beowulf rifle to your shoulder?

Definitely doable.

Alexander Arms was founded in 2001 by Bill Alexander, a man whose vast knowledge of all things ammunition is immediately impressive.

Within minutes of meeting Alexander for the first time I knew he could answer any and every question you might have about any cartridge from history to in-depth ballistics.

left to right 9mm, .50 Beowulf, and .500 Linebaugh
Cartridge lineup, left to right: 9mm, .50 Beowulf, and .500 Linebaugh.

The man is a walking cartridge encyclopedia.

He considers firearms and ammunition more than objects to shoot; to Alexander, they are a scientific puzzle waiting to be unlocked.

And once those puzzles are understood, it’s time to expand on their design. Such was the impetus behind the .50 Beowulf.

The .50 Beowulf made its initial appearance in 2001 and was one of the two cartridges to thrust Bill Alexander into the industry spotlight. The other was the 6.5 Grendel, but that’s a story for another day.

Best AR-15 6.5 Grendel Uppers!

Like John Browning 100 years ago, Alexander wanted to create a cartridge with superior military capabilities.

The difference was he wanted to design his for a light-rifle platform specifically to help American troops win the war on terror and assist law enforcement here in the States.

He also wanted tremendous energy produced for use at short-to-mid ranges. Alexander’s cartridge wasn’t based on .50 BMG, though, it was inspired by .45-70 (its parent case was the .50 AE and its specs are similar to that of the .45-70).

The end result was a 50-cal round in an AR-platform rifle capable of some serious zip.

Kat on the range with 50 Beowulf
Running the .50 Beowulf at the range, because big boom!

Although I’ve had my .50 Beowulf for years now it still makes my heart skip a beat when I take it to the range or on a hunt.

I even had a Maine Coon named Beowulf and no one will ever know if it was a nod to my love of literature or just badass cartridges.

The cartridge in question has an overall length of 2.125-inches which makes it shorter than .223 Rem with its 2.26-inch overall length.

It’s thicker, though; .50 Beowulf has a base diameter of 0.535 inches and .223 Rem has a base diameter of 0.376 inches.

Complete rounds are available from Alexander Arms and come with various bullets – XTPs, HPs, RNs – but my favorites are the ones loaded by Inceptor. Yes, they are frangible.

at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

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The Inceptor ARX rounds have 200-grain bullets with a muzzle velocity of 2500 fps and muzzle energy of 2776 ft-lbs. They are badass.

Before I mentioned the cool factor of firing .50 BMG at closer range with frangibles.

Well, with the .50 Beowulf I can run Inceptor on steel plates at ten yards. Granted that is just for fun, but that doesn’t take away from the pure joy of close-range rifle work.

At 25 yards the rifle is crazy precise, a single-hole, five-shot trend that continues at 50 yards and 100 yards. For hunting, I’ve run the gun out to around 200 yards on feral hogs.

AA 50 Beowulf and Berrett M82A1 50 BMG
Both legit for different reasons: the Barrett M82A1 with the Alexander Arms .50 Beowulf.

The .50 Beowulf creates a significant entrance wound on game but when running it with frangibles there is rarely an exit wound.

I’ve found this to be true across the board for frangibles and it’s just one of the reasons I love them.

Ever so often I end up with an exit wound depending on the size of the animal and the distance of the shot but I’ve become accustomed to the performance of frangibles (and I love it). 

Felt recoil with this 50 is present but not problematic.

You’ll get a stout push back into your shoulder – far more than with a .223 Rem, of course – but it is likely less than you’re anticipating.

This is due in part to the design and the padding on the buttstock. Basically, if you shoulder the .50 Beowulf properly, you’re in for a good time.

.500 Linebaugh

A 50-cal handgun that isn’t a Deagle?


The .500 Linebaugh was created back in 1986 for revolvers by John Linebaugh who was clearly a brilliant man.

Its parent case was the .348 Winchester and it has an overall length of 1.755 inches and a base diameter of 0.553 inches (yes, a little broader than the .50 Beowulf).

Magnum Research BFR in .500 Linebaugh
That 50 cal revolver, though. (Pictured: Magnum Research BFR in .500 Linebaugh.)

My preferred round for hunting is made by Buffalo Bore and contains a 400-grain JHP with a muzzle velocity of 1400 fps and muzzle energy of 1741 ft-lbs.

Compare that to 124gr 9mm JHP that produces a muzzle velocity of 1100 fps and muzzle energy of a 333 ft-lbs. There is a slight difference.

Until 2019 .500 Linebaugh was a custom handgun option only which majorly cramped its style for widespread use.

Inceptor’s .50 Beowulf, picture left, alongside Magnum Research Glacier Ridge’s .500 Linebaugh.
Inceptor’s .50 Beowulf, picture left, alongside Magnum Research Glacier Ridge’s .500 Linebaugh.

But then the benevolent R and D guys at Magnum Research smiled down on us and designed the Magnum Research BFR in .500 Linebaugh, the revolver I didn’t even realize I needed in my life.

The revolver was officially launched at SHOT 2019 and brings the gun world a .500 Linebaugh priced just over a grand rather than the several thousand dollars required to have a custom revolver built in the past.

Cash Cannon
Even if these are $100 bills, these cash cannons are still cheaper than a custom revolver!

But can it shoot?

A few quick specs.

Magnum Research’s BFR in .500 Linebaugh is a sexy gun. It just is. The gun has a heavy-duty, durable 17-4 PH stainless steel short frame, 7.5-inch 17-4 PH stainless steel barrel with 6 grooves and a 1:15 RH twist rate, and ivory-colored Bisley grips.

I mention the type of steel because it’s a popular precipitation-hardened steel in the aerospace industry known for reliability, superior strength, excellent corrosion resistance, and good performance with high temperatures (you know, like shooting). 

The cylinder is unfluted, counter-bored, and has a five-shot capacity. This is a gate-loaded revolver with a free-wheeling pawl; you’ll be loading and unloading one round at a time.

Although theoretically possible, this NOT a realistic reload speed for revolvers!

With the factory adjustable sights the BFR ships with the gun is relatively accurate from the bench. Stand to fire offhand and those groups broaden. I solved that by mounting a Picatinny rail to the revolver and dropping a Leupold handgun optic on it.

With the optic the groups tightened up and I was nailing single-hole, five-shot groups at 25 yards and five-shot groups of around two to two-and-a-half inches at 50 yards. Seeing that, I decided I was happy to hunt with it.

You’re probably expecting to hear a tale of deer or hogs but instead, I give you the story of the raccoon later referred to as Rocket.

Kat and a Dead Raccoon
This is Rocket, say hi.

I’d been waiting on turkeys – this was in Texas, yes it was legal – but none had shown up. Dusk was fast approaching and I was irritated. Resting on my knee? My Magnum Research BFR in .500 Linebaugh (totally works on turkeys).

When a raccoon appeared, I didn’t hesitate, I simply shot him. (It’s worth noting this was on a working cattle ranch and raccoons love to dismantle the equipment, eat turkey eggs, and generally wreak havoc.)

Imagine my (sort of) surprise when the shot fired at fifteen yards flipped him and knocked him backward.

He’d landed about 25 yards away against a tree. It was a clean shot; the bullet passed through his heart and exited behind his hip due to his quartering toward me when I fired. Saying it was effective would be an enormous understatement.

Raccoon and Magnum Research BFR .50 Linebaugh
The Magnum Research BFR in .50 Linebaugh takes out raccoons like nobody’s business.

A word on recoil: this gun does have some serious felt recoil and muzzle rise. As long as you know what you’re doing and grip the revolver properly, you’re golden.

Shooting from the bench as I did more than once to zero optics weakens control over the gun since you’re using a rest and your strength is not behind it as solidly.

Firing offhand you can handle felt recoil and get back on target fairly fast.

It does recoil, though; I ended up wearing a fingerless glove on my support hand to cushion my finger against the trigger guard. It made me feel like a hunting, libertarian, Michael Jackson.

All Tested Tactical Shooting Gloves
If you don’t have gloves, take a look at all of our Tested Tactical Shooting Gloves!

The Magnum Research BFR in .500 Linebaugh is an epic gun and you need one in your life.

I’m just saying, it rocks.

Yes, the felt recoil is significant and no you aren’t going to want to fire it at great length.

Small doses work best. I, for one, am thrilled this gun now exists. Kudos to Magnum Research.

.500 Auto Max

This is something of a brief honorable mention for the Big Horn Armory AR500 chambered in .500 Auto Max, a cartridge of their own creation. Big Horn Armory created the cartridge as an AR version of the .500 Smith and Wesson.

It requires a larger bolt face and redesigned extractor to accommodate the size of the cartridge and is built on an AR-10 platform.

Big Horn Armory .500 Auto Max (2)
Big Horn Armory .500 Auto Max, not my favorite fifty but still a fun gun.

With the company’s own 400 grain JSP ammo muzzle velocity is 1875 fps and muzzle energy is 3122 ft-lbs. Sounds like a good start, right?

The AR500 has an 18-inch barrel with a 1:24 RH twist rate, an overall length of 41 inches, and anodized aluminum and nitrided steel finish.

Its stock is adjustable for length of pull and has a thickly padded buttstock – a wise addition by Big Horn Armory – and at just under ten pounds the overall bulk of the gun is meant to negate felt recoil.

That’s empty weight with no ammo or optic, too, and this rifle benefits greatly from optics. Since it ships with a Picatinny Rail and no irons it just makes sense to throw something on there to increase accuracy and range.

Big Horn Armory .500 Auto Max
Then there’s the Big Horn Armory .500 Auto Max. Big boom, fairly significant felt recoil.

Running this rifle at the range proved interesting. Although some will say its felt recoil isn’t as severe as other big bores I have to say it was significant.

The first day I ran the rifle alongside a Savage bolt-action in .450 Bushmaster; the Bushmaster produced far less felt recoil with its barely-padded stock.

Perhaps it isn’t the amount of felt recoil as much as the roughness of it; the test rifle I had recoiled rather roughly into my shoulder no matter how firmly I mounted it to my shoulder. 

With a Nightforce NX8 1-8x24mm scope on the gun I knew I had an optic tough enough to withstand the rifle’s recoil. At 50 yards, shooting from the bench, the AR500 produced five-shot groups on the bull’s eye of around one inch. Stretching to 100 yards, things got…interesting.

at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Available Coupons

Five-shot groups averaged 2.5-inches with the occasional sub-two-inch and above-three-inch groups. The best five-shot group I got at 100 yards was 1.89-inches (and it only happened once). 

There were some failure-to-feed issues Big Horn attributed to the magazine. Even clean and well-lubed it had FTFs; at one point I had an FTF in every five-round mag. Although this improves with better mags it isn’t totally fixed.

This is not a gun for longer-range hunting. If you’re going to hunt out to 100 yards – 150 yards, tops – go for it. But if you stretch beyond that the bullet drops in a brick-like fashion and strikes unreliably. I would not want to risk wounding anything, not even a coyote or feral hog.

Big Horn Armory .500 Auto Max Stock
The Big Horn Armory .500 Auto Max has a seriously padded stock.

All animals deserve the respect of a clean kill. Now, if you want to hunt hogs at closer range with the AR500, it’s awesome. It is, after all, a 50-caliber bullet with some serious oomph behind it. Dropping hogs at close range is its forte.

Aesthetically, the Big Horn Armory AR500 in .500 Auto Max is a drop-dead hot rifle. Performance-wise, it doesn’t quite manage the shock and awe precision and reach of its 50-caliber peers.

It’s still a fun rifle, though, and worth shooting if you ever have the opportunity. You want to be a well-rounded shooter, right?


As a hunter, I believe there is no such thing as overkill.

Do you want to preserve valuable game meat? Sure, so select your guns accordingly, but don’t tell me something is overkill.

The goal is a single-shot, clean kill. Big guns get that done.

John and Berrett
John shooting a suppressed Berrett M82A1 at TriggrCon 2019

From a tactical perspective, there are uses for big calibers as well. From breaching doors to penetrating bulkier barriers like automobile doors, 50-cals are there for us.

Will the average dude need to blow a hole in a door to get to a deranged serial killer lurking inside? No, but it’s nice to know the gun could do it. 

Here’s my deal: these guns are cool. They’re fun. I love them with all my cold, dark heart. You’ll never convince me there isn’t a special place in the gun world for big bores.

They’re here, they’re massive, and they’ll blow a giant hole in your intended target. What’s not to love?

Modern M2 Browning Machine Gun
Modern M2 Browning Machine Gun

What is your favorite .50 cal? Is the Barrett M82A1 on your firearm bucket list? Let us know in the comments! for more awesome big bore action, take a look at these awesome articles!

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11 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar
    Robert Coats

    I really enjoyed your writing style! Or maybe your love of all things guns!

    September 24, 2019 5:15 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Marcus Aurelius Tarkus

    The .50 Linebaugh as a varmint round. Who'da thought?

    September 19, 2019 9:04 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    Nice, Kat. Love the big bores! I too discovered shooting gloves after firing my first box of .454 ammo from one of Dick Casull's babies. After 50 rounds my hand was black & blue, not even counting the skid marks from the Pachmayr grips. Gloves make the whole experience more enjoyable.

    September 19, 2019 4:21 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    I always look forward to your articles. Bright, descriptive and tastefully written from an honest and personal viewpoint.
    I’m a big fan of the S&W 500 (love the revolvers) and am somewhat disappointed in the “rimless” performance in the AR platform. Oh well ....can’t have everything.......maybe the levergun version.

    September 19, 2019 4:15 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      hey john just bought a 500 smith. havent shot it yet, give me some pointers. ron///

      February 12, 2020 6:36 am
      • Commenter Avatar
        Edmond Franklin

        Going to buy one today. Cant wait!

        March 27, 2020 2:50 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Don Smith

    Excellent article, beautiful lady.

    September 19, 2019 3:51 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Ken Whitmore

      Just get to know her. She will give you nightmares.

      September 19, 2019 3:58 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    I have a blast, literally, with my Beowulf, Panzer BP 12 (slugging), and MKA 1919 (slugging). I like the capacity of the MKA 1919, the size of the Panzer BP 12, and the accuracy of the Beowulf. The all go "boom" in a big way, pretty much mangle what I hit, and give my shoulder a nice thump (I think the BP 12 taps me the hardest). They are all fun!

    September 19, 2019 3:51 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    50 S&W and 50 BMG are all that exist to me. Everything else is better served by a semi auto shotgun packing slugs. You get infinitely more options, and arguably a much greater ceiling out of a 3" Magnum 12 Ga slug than a 50 Beowulf.

    50 S&W is just fun, its nice to have the same caliber swap to a lever gun as your revolver.

    50 AE is annoying cause only 1 stinking gun in the world shoots it. That is what undermines it.

    September 19, 2019 9:56 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Scott C.

    No .50 AE or .500 magnum!?! Sacrilege I tell you lol. Nice that the almighty .50 gods were nice enough to grant us so many options.

    September 19, 2019 8:54 am
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