I like big bullets and I cannot lie. You other brothers can’t deny. That when you see a .50 caliber machine gun topped by what looks a lot like a bird-watching telescope rattling off a few hundred rounds you think day-um! I want one of those. And why not? The Ma-Deuce (Browning M2) is the sina qua non of rapid-fire fiddy cals; the Marines depend on a video of a helicopter-bourne M2 doing its thing to convince young men to travel to exotic lands, meet interesting people, and kill them. Well, some of them. ‘Cause you can fire this bad boy in single shot mode, accurately, out to 1500 meters. IMHO that’s good enough to qualify the gun “for sporting purposes.” Uncle Sam disagrees. But then he’s a crotchety old bastard who seems determined to spoil all my fun. Even in Texas.

49 Responses to Obscure Object of Desire: M2 .50 Caliber Machine Gun

  1. One of the coolest things I got to do in the Navy was to fire a deck-mounted M2 in full-auto with tracers.

    • In Vietnam we called the .50 cal M-2 “the only round that goes through rocks and trees looking for people”.

      I last fired one in 2007 at Ft McCoy on a 1000 meter range. Tripod ground mount. Lay it on 800 meter targets then go “Shhh-boom-boom-boom-boom!” The dust blinds then settles before the rounds reach their down range. Short bursts, adjust fire, awesome.

  2. That’s a thermal scope. I had the smaller one for my M4. You can tell because he is adjusting it’s zero with a four way toggle button. The nomenclature escapes me right now though.

  3. I think you need to recheck your definition of “obscure.” Obscure != uncommon. There are probably not many people who read this site who are unaware of the M2.

  4. > IMHO that’s good enough to qualify the gun “for sporting purposes.”

    Meh.

    The only guns ‘Uncle Sam’ should be able to ban are ones that are ‘for sporting purposes’ only. Ones that have a military and defensive application are above and beyond their authority to control.

    Of course, this is crazy talk.

      • Airsoft guns aren’t legally considered firearms, so ‘Uncle Sam’ shouldn’t have any say in regulating them.

        • Believe it or not, in some European countries, Airsoft guns are considered firearms if they shoot with enough force.

        • In the late 1700s, “regulate” meant to “keep regular”, i.e. keep it happening, don’t let it stop, maintain flow, etc.

          Funny how propaganda changes the definitions of words, and now “regulate” has a meaning closer to “constipate”.

  5. I once asked an old seargent what the maximum range of the M-2 was. He thought for a second, then responded “If you can see it, you can shoot it!”
    If you are off to the side of the firing area, you can clearly hear the bullets flying through the air and hitting the target. It’s quite surreal.

    • Mike Dillon has/had one mounted on a flatbed truck. I had a VHS tape showing him shooting that thing till all four barrel glowed bright red. I can’t imagine being able to rip off that many rounds or be able to afford four new barrels on top.

      • I’ve calculated my reloads of plinking ammo at .96 each. That’s using the cheap API stuff. Not super accurate, but still fun.
        I’ve got that video in my collection. The barrels are so hot, you can see the projo’s in the barrels like an X-ray machine is being used.
        I’ve got vids of The Topperweins, Ed McGovern, (his book too), Herb Parsons. These folks are just a treat to watch. They truly inspired me.

  6. M2. Wonderful piece of kit. Those that blow hot air about how powerful the m4/16 and AK’s are have obviously never experienced the m2. But as others have stated, much too expensive to feed.

    • Chances are that if you are willing and able to drop the staggering amount of cash necessary to aquire this magnificent piece of engineering, the cost of ammo is likely not a concern.

  7. A coworker who served in an atomic cannon battery (now that would be fun!) back in the early 1950’s told stories about cutting trees down at a thousand yards with their half track mounted quad 50s. Try that with a .223.

    • I had the pleasure to converse with a Korean War vet and among other stories he remembered watching a quad .50 cutting down literally everything on the other side of a river they wanted to cross.

    • An A180 can do that with .22LR, but you’ll go through an entire 275 round pan for each tree.

  8. There’s an elderly man who stops by the pizza place I work at in the summers all the time. He served in North Africa, France, and Germany during WWII and was the gunner on an anti-aircraft half track. He swears that to this day, shooting a quad 50 with tracers is the most exhilarating experience he’s ever had. He’s in damn good shape for a guy in his 90’s and I’ve felt honored to hear his stories on more than one occasion.

    • I have friends who served in Vietnam, and they said that the Quad-50 was the most feared weapon at their disposal when the crap started hitting the fan. Once the volume of fire from the Quad-50 took the field, the opposition made itself scarce.

      One vet told me of being posted to keep overwatch on a trail where they suspected the NVA was resupplying irregulars/VC via a truck convoy at night.

      One night, the NVA forces show up with a truck convoy, lights out, in force. Our guys lit up the convoy from end to end with the Quad-50 from 700 to 900 yards out.

      His description of the carnage the next morning was rather gruesome.

      Snipers in trees or in tall buildings? Mr. Quad-50 sawed through buildings and trees with equal ease and speed.

      The downside was that he described the noise as deafening – literally. When I lived near him and he was in his late 30’s, he was already pretty much deaf as a post from these escapades.

    • At Dien Bien Phu, the last positions to be overrun were the Quad-50s. Giap just had more men than the French had bullets.

    • Just one more piece of genius by St. John the Browning. Is there another designer that was as prolific or got it right as often as he did?

      • “As prolific?” No. JMB was one of the really rare gun designers who designed everything: rifles, pistols, shotguns, full-auto belt-fed, etc. No, there’s no one who comes close to Browning in his sheer volume of output of designs. There have been several very talented gun designers over the years, but they often specialize in only a couple of types of firearms – eg, shotguns, or pistols, or rifles.

        As talented? Well, Browning himself thought Pedersen was more talented than Browning himself. I don’t think so, but Pedersen was certainly a very talented designer, even if his output was no more than perhaps 30% of Brownings’.

        The most significant thing about Browning is how durable his designs are. The length of service of the M2 is one example. But there’s other tidbits of Browning’s designs that got picked up and used in many other guns, which I think attests to how elegant and durable his solutions to many common issues gun designers find inside guns.

        Let’s take the M2: The manner of recoil action (where the whole barrel recoils into the receiver) was a Browning patented idea on the Browning (FN-made) A-5 shotgun. The A-5 used a much longer recoil excursion on the barrel than the M-2, but you can see the light bulb lit over JMB’s head long before he gets to the M-2 issue.

        The Garand, M14, and receiver AR-15 two-stage triggers are riffs off the Browning’s trigger group in the A-5.

        The Superposed, Browning’s last gun (I’ll go with “last released to commercial production,” altho Browning had many ideas rattling around in his head for this over/under shotgun clear back to the late 1800’s), was the first commercially successful O/U shotgun, and when his son Val finished the single selector trigger/safety setup, set new standards for how those triggers and selectors would work on double barrel shotguns. Prior shotguns had two triggers, or they had fiddly triggers that sometimes had problems (eg, the Hunter trigger on LC Smith double guns).

        Look at the Hi-Power and you can see the idea for camming the pistol’s barrel out of battery on a short recoil stroke, much like what you see on modern pistols. Look at how the barrel is pulled down on a Hi-Power and you see where Glock got his idea. Most modern recoil-operated semi-auto pistols use an idea similar to the Hi-Power’s to bring the breech end of the barrel down out of engagement with the slide. Contrast this to the swinging link system on the 1911, then ask yourself which is easier to manufacture and which is probably more durable?

        One of the things that’s a hallmark of many of Browning’s designs was a clear thought process of “how will this wear with use?” This is something that many gun designers don’t think of very much – and it shows.

        • Why are you not writing for TTAG? Your articles would be at the top of my list for good reading material.

        • +1 on CA.Ben’s comment. Between Ralph, jwm, and Dyspeptic Gunsmith, the articles would make me sh!t my pants laughing. Then make me stop laughing when I realized how much knowledge I just gained. And then sh!t my pants again, in astonishment. You guys (and most everyone else on TTAG) are legit.

        • I know you’re extremely busy, but could we maybe get one post a month or something like that? Maybe 500 words about whatever you feel like? Your stuff is gold.

      • He had so many designs, many were not released until years or decades after his death. The Hi-Power wasn’t released until more than a decade after Browning’s passing.

  9. While would not say employing a Maw Duce as a “highlight” I can relay open sights on a tripod without the T&E, firing single shot and hitting a dumpster at 1800 yards is more fun than listening to a fat guy yak about his hot load .45.

  10. Back in the good old days the little group of miscreants I hung out with had a Boys rifle. Life was good then, until the damned politicians decided we were enjoying it too much. The thing I remember most about the Boys is that if you fire it from the roof of a 49 Ford Woodie Wagon the bipod feet will do a job on the roof that takes a lot of Bondo to fix.

    • It’s always a bad idea to use a car as a gun rest. In my limited experience I’ve seen people shoot their own cars a number of times. Which is bad enough. What’s worse is people using the tail gate of their pickup as a staging area for explosive devices. Try explaining that “Oh Shit” moment to your wife or insurance company.

      My all time favorite was a proud papa trying to teach his obviously unready and too small boy to shoot using a model 97 12 ga. pump gun. Between 2 small hands and 2 large hands fumbling around with that gun proud papa’s station wagon wound up with a large hole in the door. It was the drivers door and the best part was the window was rolled down. Shake that door and it sounded like maracas. Good times.

  11. “the Marines depend on a video of a helicopter-bourne M2 doing its thing to convince young men to travel to exotic lands, meet interesting people, and kill them.”

    OK… just a small quibble. It’s a V-22 Osprey, not a helicopter. Sorry, pilots can be pretty picky. Keeps us alive.

  12. Got to play with one in boot camp. And they say there is “no sporting purpose” in a machine gun? Whoever said that has never fired one.

    Put 4 of them together in a Quad-50. Figure about $10,000/minute in ammo. Mount on a WWII half-track. What I’m buying when I win $50 million in the lottery.

    • Shooting a machine gun is not only sporting, it’s good for the inner child. In a non combat situation I dare you to find a photo of a person shooting an mg that doesn’t have a face splitting smile.

      And if I ever hit the lottery I want a tank. And enough land to play with it.

  13. “‘Cause you can fire this bad boy in single shot mode, accurately, out to 1500 meters. IMHO that’s good enough to qualify the gun “for sporting purposes.” Uncle Sam disagrees. But then he’s a crotchety old bastard who seems determined to spoil all my fun. Even in Texas.”

    HAHAHAHHA – Got a solid lough out of that.

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