Gun Review: ArmaLite AR-50 50 BMG Rifle

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: there’s beauty in functionality. If something fulfills a specific purpose and works flawlessly then it’s a work of art. Some might say the ArmaLite AR-50 .50 BMG Rifle is an ugly duckling because of its industrial appearance. To me, it’s a beautiful swan . . .

The AR-50 is a single shot bolt action rifle chambered for the .50 Browning Machine Gun round, also known as 12.7x99mm NATO, which is basically a scaled-up .30-06 Springfield cartridge. While a .30-06 or even a .308 has sufficient ballistic properties to be effective at 1,000 yards, the fact that a .50 BMG projectile is about six times as heavy as either one means that it maintains its velocity better over large distances.

To fire that heavier round, everything about this gun has been super-sized. The rifle (when fully assembled) tips the scales at 33.2 pounds. With a 30″ barrel, the ArmaLite AR50′s almost 60 inches long. In an attempt to make this rifle fit in the trunk of a car, you can partially remove the stock—making the gun only about 50 inches long. Rifle cases? I’ve got a few. But then again, too short to mention. The ArmaLite AR50 made the trip from my apartment to my trunk wrapped in a green wool blanket as I nodded nonchalantly to my neighbors.

The rifle’s massive weight and recoil present a number of problems, such as finding a strong enough bipod to hold the thing up and keeping the rifle on target. ArmaLite included a couple bells and whistles to mitigate these issues: a massively strong bipod (to hold it up), a gigantic muzzle brake (to lessen the recoil), and an adjustable rear monopod (to keep the rifle on target). The muzzle brake is standard equipment, but the front bipod and rear monopod are options ArmaLite offers.

The sighting system can be adjusted to suit the shape of the shooter’s face. ArmaLite placed the scope mount (with built-in 15 MoA tilt for longer distance shooting) in a fixed position on the top of the receiver. They also installed an adjustable cheek piece. Just loosen a couple of bolts and that sucker can accommodate any size face, from Laurel to Hardy. Even the buttplate (complete with an inch or so of recoil absorbing rubber) is adjustable depending on the shooter’s preference.

While it may not be obvious (or very easy to use), there is in fact a safety on this gun. The firing pin extends beyond the end of the bolt. It has a metal flag protruding from it which can be shifted onto a cutout in the bolt that prevents the firing pin from striking the primer of a chambered round, much like the safety on a Mosin Nagant. Also like the the Nagant, the ArmaLite’s safety’s very stiff and somewhat difficult to use. But it’s reassuring to have something mechanical to help prevent a negligent discharge from occurring while sighting in on a target—other than my wonderful trigger discipline.

The bolt, just like everything else on this rifle, is massive. The shiny bolt in the picture is from an aforementioned Mosin Nagant (1928), which until now has been the largest gun in my collection.

The AmraLite AR50′s action is butter smooth. There’s no magazine on the gun and therefore no follower to get in the way. Cycling the bolt is effortless. Even after 60 rounds of dirty machine gun grade ammo the bolt moved back and forth with ease. Closing the bolt is a little stiff, but not much worse than a standard Mosin action.

Ejecting the spent round is easier than putting it in. The extreme taper on the .50 BMG case means that it slides right out of the chamber. The AR-50′s extractor and ejector work together to dump the brass in a nice pile next to the shooter.

When you’re behind this rifle and getting ready to fire, everything just feels right. The massive bipod keeps the rifle rock steady when it’s shouldered, the rear monopod keeps it on target, and the rubber grip feels like it was molded just for me. And then you put your finger on the trigger.

At first, the trigger feels awful. The actual piece of metal you put your finger on is boxy and rough on the sides, nothing like the pleasant rounded and smooth feeling of ArmaLite’s National Match AR-15 A2‘s two-stage trigger. The AR50′s go-switch is also very tough; the company says it’s 5 lbs but it feels a touch heavier.

The break, however, is crisp and sharp. It’s a single stage trigger; there’s no creep whatsoever. It only moves after it releases the firing pin. Ignoring the weight and texture of the trigger I’d rank it right up there with the “world’s best” Timney trigger I reviewed last week, if not better.

You’d expect the recoil from this monster to be horrendous. In reality it’s quite pleasant. The kick feels more like a firm shove, heavier than a Mosin but less painful (thanks to the rubber recoil reducing buttplate, as opposed to the steel buttplate on a Mosin). After 60 rounds, my shoulder wasn’t the least bit sore from firing it.

Despite the negligible recoil, my shoulder was in fact killing me by the end of the day. The pain wasn’t caused by the recoil. It came from lugging this massive chunk of metal around all day. The 33-pound ArmaLite AR50 is closer to a deck gun or field artillery than a man portable rifle; it should have wheels and a horse. It’s not so heavy as to be impossible to move, just difficult. Most of that weight is due to an extra thick barrel, specially designed to not deform when firing (much unlike this PSL).

The only other issue I had with the AR50 was the caliber. 50 BMG is a superb long distance round, but choosing to fire something that big has consequences. Quantico is the only range within 100 miles that will let me shoot it, and even there Range 4 is the only range with an SDZ (Surface Danger Zone) large enough to handle it (which is only open a couple days each year to fiddy cal for civvies). That severely limits the number of days I can take this thing to the firing line. The price of ammunition (which starts around $4/round for the cheap stuff) limits my ability to send rounds downrange even further.

The AR-50 was designed to do one thing and do it well: hit targets at extreme ranges. According to their 1999 press release, the rifle is an ” . . . economical, accurate rifle for shooters interested in the challenges of long range shooting.” And that’s all it does. It’s a highly specialized piece of equipment with limited use. But where it’s useful, it’s perfect. It’s precisely the right tool for the job: punching precision holes in far away targets.

ArmaLite AR-50 Rifle

Specifications
Caliber: .50 Browning Machine Gun (BMG)
Barrel: 30″ Chrome Moly, 8 grooves, 1:15″ twist
Size: 59.5″ overall length (49.33″ without rear assembly)
Weight: 33.2 lbs.
Operation: Single shot bolt action
Finish: Hard Anodized Aluminum, Manganese Phosphated Steel
Capacity: Single shot (one round)
MSRP: $3,359.00

Ratings (Out of Five Stars)

Accuracy: * * * * *
ArmaLite claims somewhere between .7 and .8 MoA accuracy, and the results back them up. Even using machine gun grade ammunition this thing was putting rounds into a dinner plate sized target at 1,000 yards.

Ergonomics: *
OH DEAR GOD this thing is heavy. Lugging it around a range is a great way to work out. If you’re doing something that requires a hike to get to the firing point, hire a Sherpa.

Ergonomics Firing: * * * * *
Almost everything that the shooter touches can be adjusted to fit their body, and the recoil isn’t nearly as bad as people think.

Reliability: * * * * *
There aren’t many things to go wrong with a single shot bolt action.

Customization: * * * * *
There’s no aftermarket doodads to add on, but the rifle will adjust to fit you no matter what size you are.

Rate of Fire: *
I’m adding this category because I just know that someone is going to mention a how a single shot bolt action is horrible for “tactical sniping” or something like that. All I have to say to you is “one shot, one kill.”

Overall Rating: * * * * *
Without a doubt the most accurate and furthest reaching rifle I have ever fired. Despite only being able to use it a couple times a year, those few rare moments of bliss on the 1,000 yard line make it all worth it.

For more information:

Pictures by Michael Dobbs and Nick Leghorn for The Truth about Guns.

avatar

About Nick Leghorn

Nick Leghorn is a gun nerd living and working in San Antonio, Texas. In his free time, he's a competition shooter (USPSA, 3-gun and NRA High Power), aspiring pilot, and enjoys mixing statistics and science with firearms. Now on sale: Getting Started with Firearms by yours truly!

31 Responses to Gun Review: ArmaLite AR-50 50 BMG Rifle

  1. avatarracer88 says:

    Heck… that’s not much more than I paid for my SCAR-16S. Thanks for the review and fueling my fires even more.

  2. Thanks for the nice review, Nick. By the way, the muzzle brake and adjustable cheek piece are standard. The bipod and mono-pod are accessories. Your “for more information” list was cool. Here’s a link to the AR-50′s owners manual as well: http://tiny.cc/t5zf7
    Thanks again.
    Arthur Steadman
    Communications Director
    ArmaLite, Inc.

    • Thanks, Arthur! I updated the post to include your information.

      This really is a fantastic rifle. It looked good at the NRA convention, but it looked even better on the 1,000 yard line. In 3 rounds it was on paper, and 3 rounds after that I was in the 10 ring.

  3. avatarAnthony Lazar says:

    Nice review. However, I did notice one spec that you had gotten wrong. This gun is closer to 50 lbs (depending on scope, bipod and monopod). Even so, you are right it is an absolute bear to lug around!

  4. avatarJoe Doakes says:

    You can’t beat the pure American commentary off camera:)

  5. avatarme says:

    Meh. I’ll wait for them to make one in 14.5x114mm Soviet.

  6. avatarGS650G says:

    Perfect for clearing dinosaurs from your property.

  7. avatarTom says:

    the recoil on my beast is no more then a .308

  8. avatarGS650G says:

    “The ArmaLite AR50 made the trip from my apartment to my trunk wrapped in a green wool blanket as I nodded nonchalantly to my neighbors.”

    You are definitely on someone’s list for that one.

  9. What scope did you use? what scopes can you recommend for ar-50..preferably under 1k. I have that rifle sitting in my closet for about 3 years now..no scope – there is no point to shoot it. I have looked into Nightforce scopes but the price on those making me hesitate to commit.

    • avatarJohn says:

      I am using the Millett LRS-1 with .1 minute of angle. 6X25X50 Very good at about 450.00

    • avatardennis taylor says:

      If there is any way on earth you can swing a nightforce do it and get the 5.5 to 22 x 56.I have the mildot recital and moa dials and it makes this scope a breeze to shoot accurately. I bought mine fro optics planet on sale for $1666,i know its not cheap but it allows you to get the most from your gun.When i first got the gun i put a cheap BSA 6 x 24 target scope on it that i found at a gunshow for $50 and it worked good and held up to over 125 rounds and was fine when i took it off and put on the NF but it was like having cataract surgery with the difference it made.

  10. avatarHowdy says:

    Are shorter aftermarket barrels available for the AR-50?

    • avatardennis taylor says:

      There is a barrel maker in Montana you can call,Lilja i think is how its spelled,they make barrels for 50s.

  11. avatarDaniel Lizotte says:

    Just bought my Armalite National Match last year and been shopping for a year on my scope preference. So far the Nightforce 5.5-22×56 NP-1RR Reticle, Zero/stop. It’s got 100moa. elevation and 60moa. windage adjustment. Just trying to get a illuminated reticle for it. The NP-1 reticle is my 2nd choice. Both reticles has finer lined crosshairs than the NP-2. This set up should be good for 100 yard to 2000yrds. without serious dopeing of the scope. I’m out of Austin, Tx.

  12. avatarzipp says:

    I think the AR50A1 is a fabulous shooter with great potential for match accuracy providing that ones reloading is refined along with shooting skill. Sorry, but I see a lot of folks posting about the AR50 that doesnt sound like they know what theyre talking about. I believe that the AR50 can keep up with some of the best quality 50′s available as far as accuracy. Oh, and no, going out to the range and shooting pumpkins at 600 yards is not an adequate measure of accuracy. I saw a poster in a chat forum questioning what you can really do with an AR50, as its not made for putting a lot of rounds down range quickly and it’s not really the best shooter. Really? Doesn’t know what he’s talking about. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then I accept the fact that I also happen to believe that the AR50 is a sharp looking unit. So many posters giving 2 cent advice about the AR50, I think that based on its track record of competitive success, the right shooter could proove that it’s one of the best 50′s on the market.

    • avatardennis taylor says:

      One of my Iron worker apprentices who had never fired a 50 before came out and shot a spray paint can endo at 325yds first shot and now you cant get him to shut up about it ,he goes up to people he doesn’t even know and tells about it and this is months latter.That’s how we have to bring them into the fold,one at a time.

  13. avatarGeorge says:

    Sounds and looks great I am looking to purchase one at a local shop and find somewhere to shoot it in New Jersey

    • avatarDaniel Lizotte says:

      I have the .50BMG National Match. It is Flawless. I’m saving up for my Nightforce B.E.A.S.T. scope to top it off.

      • avatardennis taylor says:

        Be sure and get one piece rings to go with it,i ordered the ones from armalite and they work just fine,heavy duty as hell and over built like everything they make is but they wont flex.

  14. avatarzipp says:

    Nightforce is a great scope. The only times you generally see a Barrett win a match over the AR50 is if the AR’s scope breaks. No disrespect to Barrett, they are a fine piece of engineering. The AR is a precision instrument.

  15. avatarzipp says:

    The AR50A1 NM will only chamber match spec cartridges. For inexpensive ammo that seems like great brass you may wish to consider tmi50bmg.com.

    • avatarmark blitz says:

      Perhaps A-L changed their chamber specs during later National Match production? But I called A-L Tech Support this week and they said the National Match 50 will chamber non-match ammo all day long just fine and dandy. No need to use match ammo for chamber fitment reasons – straight from the horse’s mouth!

      • avatarzipp says:

        Thank you for the update. As I understood it in the past when they first emerged, they were chambered for match only and the standard AR50A1 was a military spec chamber. This is great news!

  16. avatarzipp says:

    All in all, it would seem that neck sizing techniques and good case prep can make all of the difference in your groups, no matter what version you go with.

  17. avatarBrian Smith says:

    I purchaced an Armalite AR50 A1 about one year ago. Shortly after I bought it I purchased and installed a Vortex Viper PST 4-16x50FFP EBR-1 (moa) scope on it. I love this rifle, both the rifle and scope have performed flawlessly. I’m fine with recoil but my wife is not and she loves to shoot the rifle. Armalite did a beautiful job with the muzzle break because I’ve shot 12 gauge shotguns that will punch you better than my 50.
    Thanks,
    Smitty

    • avatarZipp says:

      I found the recoil to be more like that of a .243. Very light. Of course, cover your ears good. There is considerable blast.

      • avatardennis taylor says:

        I have a 250 savage that kicks harder than my ar-50.

        • avatarZipp says:

          Yes, I see that. It’s as though you just press a button and watch a half inch hole appear in your target. Don’t laugh, but I put an EZpull trigger assist on mine and adjusted it to around 2 lbs. Fit is perfect and works like magic without changing components of the rifle or risking misfire from lighter trigger with surplus ammo. Slightly longer pull, but 2 lbs!! I’m telling you, it works great and feels great!!

  18. avatarZipp says:

    Just in passing, i’ve seen shooters talk about the fact that the AR50 is accurate, but not a benchrest rifle because it will not do it consistently. Everybody knows that you can win the world championships with custom-built 50s and quality reloading components and procedures. If the AR 50 is not a benchrest rifle, then neither is the Tac- 50.
    I regularly get one ragged hole groups with the AR50. And that’s with 647 match ball.
    Which would you rather bring into combat? Obviously, the Tac-50 due to weight and portability.
    Some say that the AR 50 will not shoot accurately on a consistent basis. I believe this has a lot to do with the factory trigger. If that issue is dealt with the AR50 will do a lot of damage and has at FCSA tournaments, in it’s appropriate class

Leave a Reply

Please use your real name instead of you company name or keyword spam.