Gun Review: .50 Beowulf Overmatch Upper
The .50 Beowulf is a proprietary cartridge designed by Bill Alexander, the chef de la maison of the eponymous Alexander Arms. As a big, powerful but slow, short- to medium-distance round that’s about the size of a cocktail weenie, the .50 Beowulf is reputedly versatile enough to do the business on elk, grizzly, bison, hogzillas and your brother-in-law’s big block Chevy . . .
That’s good news for anyone who might find himself confronted by a savage Silverado. The icing on the cake is Alexander Arms’ contention that its complete Beowulf Overmatch upper will mate perfectly and shoot properly on all the milspec 5.56 lowers that you might have laying around in your garage or closet, and that you won’t need to modify a damn thing, including the seemingly wimpy 5.56 recoil buffer.
Well, color me slightly skeptical. To put Alexander Arms’ claims to the test, I joined TTAG commenter Greg in Allston and his pal Dave for an afternoon of blazing away with this interesting and capable cartridge. Dave brought his .50 Beowulf upper, Stag Arms lower and a lady friend, while Greg and I brought a complement of lowers ranging from basic to upscale.
A Big Bore AR-15
We’ve all known for some time now that the AR-15 platform is as adaptable as bacteria. It’s been exploited by creative designers to chamber more and more specialty cartridges such as the 6.5 Grendel (co-created by the aforementioned Bill Alexander), 300 AAC Blackout, 6.5 Creedmore and 6.8 Remington SPC. I also hear tell that it’s a fine platform for traditional rounds such as the .243 Winchester, .260 Remington, .338 Federal, 7mm-08 Remington, the little .22LR, pistol calibers such as the 9mm and, for all I know, would make a great base for a phased plasma rifle in the 40 megawatt range. The big lummox of a .50 caliber cartridge is merely another step in the evolution of the exceptionally flexible Eugene Stoner design.
The .50 Beowulf cartridge is based on the .50 Action Express, a large pistol cartridge that’s the source of the Desert Eagle’s legendary power and even more legendary recoil. The .50 Beowulf’s rebated rim matches the rim of the common 7.62×39 commie cartridge. I don’t know what satanic forces inspired Mr. Alexander to consider the unlikely union of an Israeli .50 AE pistol round and a Russian carbine cartridge, but he did, and the result is the .50 Beowulf.
The family resemblance between the Beowulf carbine and your basic AR-15 is obvious. In fact, at first glance the Beowulf looks like any other AR-15, save for a barrel that looks like it was borrowed from a shotgun and a shoebox size tank-style muzzle brake pinned (in Massachusetts) to the muzzle. In fact, the muzzle diameter of the .50 is closer to that of a 20 gauge than it is to a 5.56, but it’s not really shotgun-sized. Finally, there’s no dust cover on the receiver, which I hardly missed.
Removing the bolt carrier group for a look-see, there’s another apparent difference. While the bolt carrier, firing pin and little bits seem familiar, the bolt face is sized for the 7.63×39, which has a larger rim than the 5.56. Like a good facelift, there’s a visible but not a dramatic difference.
As noted, the straight-sided .50 Beowulf cartridge features a rebated rim — the rim is narrower than the case. It looks odd, but it isn’t. The photo below also illustrates the other obvious difference between the 5.56 and the .50 Beowulf. The 5.56 looks as sleek and racy as a cheetah while the .50 Beowulf resembles a caballito.
We shot hollow points, but you can have your .50s with brass or lead solids or FMJ if you prefer. Any way you want it, the .50 Beowulf is a reloader’s delight because of its case design and the ready availability of .50 caliber bullets.
Alexander Arms will sell you .50 Beowulf mags that they claim will not handle 5.56 ammo. Rest assured that standard 5.56 mags can handle the Beowulf effortlessly. We know, because we used traditional double-stack 5.56 mags, including PMags and C-Products metal mags, and they all functioned perfectly as single-stack .50 Beowulf mags.
For shooters who live in AWB states, having Beowulf-only magazines may be an advantage. A 30 round 5.56 magazine might be a ticket to prison in AWB states even though it only holds 10 rounds of .50 Beowulf. In contrast, a 10 round Beowulf magazine, which is identical in all respects to a 30-round 5.56 mag except for the feed lips, may be legal. It’s a perfect illustration of why mag limits are stupid and any politician who votes in favor of them should be recalled.
I can’t lie – an AR with a .50 Beowulf upper, huge muzzle brake, optics, quad-rails, bipod, grenade launcher and other bells and whistles is more clumsy than a traditional AR carbine. But, it’s not so heavy that it will overwhelm the physical ability of a slightly-built, sub-130 lb. woman shooting it offhand.
The camera shake is the result of Dave standing too close to, and in perfect alignment with, the backwash from the muzzle brake. The rush of hot gases is powerful enough to blow your hair back as effectively, but perhaps not as pleasantly, as a Trojan brand personal joy buzzer.
Recoil, while prodigious when compared to the light 5.56, is manageable. We fired ARs in 5.56, 7.62 and .50 Beowulf in rapid order just to get a handle on recoil. The Beowulf does have more perceived recoil that a 7.62 NATO, but no more or perhaps a tad less than a 12 gauge firing reduced recoil 00 buck. Shooting hundreds of rounds in a single range session from such a powerful rifle is not my idea of a great time, but it isn’t torture.
Greg in Allston’s presentation is so grooved that every shot he takes with any rifle looks exactly the same, and he shot the Beowulf offhand to great effect. A bit more forward lean and weight distribution might have helped mitigate muzzle rise, but still, Greg was pretty damn accurate.
Good technique seems to be the difference between an exciting shooting experience and the onset of bursitis. Pull the rifle in tight and there’s a big shove awaiting your glenohumeral joint. Get a little lackadaisical and your shoulder will quickly advise you that your technique could stand some improvement. Fortunately, this problem is self-correcting. Watch the difference between Dave’s first shot, with a big push, and his second and third with slightly less push.
Ballistics & Accuracy
.50 Beowulf ballistics are similar to the venerable .45-70. A 300 grain .45 Gov’t bullet clocks in at about 1800 fps at the muzzle and 1500 fps at 100 yards, with energy of about 2200 and 1500 ft.-lb. at those same distances. The numbers for 300 grain .50 Beowulf are almost 1900 fps at the muzzle and 1400 fps at 100 yards, bringing a load of about 2300 and 1400 lb.-ft., respectively. In other words, the .50 hits hard.
What does that mean in the real world? Well, due to of the short supply of elk at the rifle range and the prevalence of small block engines in the parking lot, we couldn’t put the .50 to the ultimate of tests by killing big game and Chevys. However, comparing the entry wounds on paper from the .50 and the 5.56 made a very cogent point. Check out the two holes at 9 o’clock on this target. You won’t have to guess which is the .50 Beowulf and which is the 5.56 NATO.
Four 5.56 bullets would fit very neatly into that single .50 caliber hole, and that’s before expansion.
This kind of impact crater, from a round that can be fired from just about any 5.56 magazine, is pretty cool. We tried to dig some expanded bullets out of the berm for photographs, but we didn’t have a steam shovel.
Power is one thing and accuracy is another. The .50 Beowulf has oodles of the former and just enough of the latter. Our buddy Dave describes the .50 slug, especially the HP, as a flying ashtray. It’s just not all that aerodynamic and thus not MOA accurate.
All our shooting was from 100 yards. We didn’t fling a ton of lead downrange, so I can’t represent our testing as a full 500 round shoulder crushing shoot ‘em up. As far as optics are concerned, we used a 1x Eotech red dot sight as opposed to a good 3x or 4x scope. Magnification would have aided our shooting; well, it certainly would have aided mine. However, even without a long period of familiarity and appropriate magnification, I’m reasonably certain that the Beowulf carbine would manage 2 MOA all day long.
For its intended uses, that’s plenty accurate enough. The .50 Beowulf was not intended to be a precision target round any more than was the .45 Gov’t. It’s more of a blunt instrument, and should kill anything it hits.
Likes and Dislikes
I liked the .50 Beowulf for the same reason that I like V8 engines, 101 proof bourbon and Marshall amps. Power, baby! Power is good, and more is better, up to the point where it becomes unmanageable. The Beowulf never crossed that line.
Power always comes at a price, and I’m not just talking about the initial cost of the upper. An entry-level Alexander Arms .50 Beowulf upper will set you back $759. That’s reasonable to me, but to you maybe not. Buy a top-of-the-line AA upper and you won’t get any change back from your $1012 Visa statement. Too much? Maybe for me, but not for you.
Ammo cost is also an issue, but not as big an issue as you might think. Feeding this beast is very doable. AA will sell you twenty 350g Hornady® XTPs for only $29.23. The same ammo from Midway will be even cheaper when it’s in stock. That’s an attractive price for a box of first class, big bore hollow point cartridges. AA, Midway and other retailers offer several more expensive ammo flavors, but all ammo costs can be mitigated by reloading.
The carbine, all fitted out with stuff, is a tad heavy. The AA upper alone weighs in at 4.45 to 5.37 pounds, which is light for a newborn calf but not for half a rifle. Mate the upper to your favorite lower, which will tip the scales at anywhere from 2.2 to 3.0 pounds, add the obligatory doodads and a full magazine, and the whole megillah has a bit of heft.
But, Sir Isaac Newtown giveth as much as he taketh away. Most of the “excess” weight will be forward, as this carbine starts out muzzle-heavy and only gets worse from there. The extra weight up front made my sight picture a little wobbly when shooting offhand, but also helped to keep the muzzle down, where it belonged, during firing. And the extra mass probably helped to mitigate recoil.
Owning a .50 Beowulf carbine does not require a life-altering commitment of working capital. You won’t melt your MasterCard or have to raid the kiddie’s college funds. Simply grab the complete lower and optics that you already have, order your choice of Beowulf uppers, and wait. And wait. And wait some more.
It’s going to take time to get your gun. I didn’t speak to Bill Alexander, but Dave did throughout his ordering process. Dave told me that Alexander is responsive and professional. So, like Dave, you may be able to track your personal Beowulf build, and as long as you’re patient you’ll get your big bore AR upper sooner or later. Mostly later.
By the time your new upper arrives, you’re going to be as excited as the time you had your first blind date with your first sure thing. But then, it hits you. Unless you hunt buffalo on a regular basis, what good is the .50 Beowulf? Unadulterated overkill for self-defense, not quite accurate enough for high power target shooting and possibly too much gun for whitetails or muleys, it seems like a rifle with limited utility.
So it comes down to this one question: is the pure fun of shooting this beast worth the waiting time and money?
Oh hell yeah.
Model: Alexander Arms .50 Beowulf
Configuration tested: Stag Arms tactical lower, Midwest Industries quad rail, Alexander Arms tank muzzle brake, Eotech sight
Caliber: .50 Beowulf
Magazine capacity: 4, 7 or 10 rounds
Materials: 7075-T651 forged upper; ASTM 9310 equivalent, surface refined, case hardened, peened and phosphated bolt; CrMoV phosphated barrel; Internally honed and hard chromed, M16 type carrier
Gas system: Mid length 316 stainless, hard drawn
Weight: 4.45 – 5.37 pounds (upper only)
Barrel Length: 16.375″
Price: $759 – $1,012 MSRP (upper only)
RATINGS (out of five stars):
Style * * * *
It looks like an AR, but the huge muzzle brake adds some visual sizzle — and enough sideways muzzle blast to knock off your hat.
Ergonomics * * * *
Sure, it is muzzle heavy, but that doesn’t make it too clumsy to handle. Still, if we’re headed out to the prairie for a bit of early morning bison blasting, you’re the one who gets to hump the rifle there and the buffalo meat back, and I’ll carry the sandwiches.
Ergonomics (firing) * * * *
While comfort was totally dependent on technique, ease of shooting accurately was somewhat dependent on the lower. Two out of three testers subjectively felt that the carbine seemed to shoot a tad more easily with a first class two stage trigger and A2-type stock.
Reliability * * * * *
Flawless. It performed without a single hiccup, no matter what lowers and magazines we used.
Customize This * * * *
The upper can be ordered all dressed up, or it can be fully accessorized by you to the financial limit of your wallet and the physical limit of your biceps.
Overall * * * * *
Utility be damned. The fun factor alone merits four stars. Big game hunters and passionate reloaders will award it five. For manning the Karaj al-Hajaz checkpoint, the Beowulf carbine is worth its weight in gold.