Courtesy Joe Grine

A few beginner lessons learned

I’ve been shooting guns for roughly 38 years and have owned many guns, but I’d never owned a rifle chambered in .50 BMG. Still, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to shoot other people’s .50’s, though it was always mere “familiarization” fire, as opposed to spending hours becoming an expert with the weapon system. So the quality time I got while reviewing the Accuracy International AX-50 was something of a new experience, I learned a few things that might be beneficial for anyone thinking of jumping on the .50 cal train . . .

As a beginner in the fifty field, I quickly discovered that sending 1/2-inch diameter, 750 grain bullets down range offers a unique set of challenges. First off, many gun clubs won’t let you shoot .50 BMG on their ranges, so finding a place to let your .50 stretch her legs can be tough. Even if you find a range willing to let you pull her trigger, you aren’t going to want to shoot this thing at 100 or 200 yards, either.

The massive recoil takes you off the scope longer than say, a .308 or even a .300 Win Mag. As a result, it’s harder to see bullet impact at short ranges. At 1000 yards, I could always see my own .50 BMG round impact steel. If the bullet hit rocks or dirt, I could usually see the dust that got kicked up. At 600 yards, things were a little more iffy: I really had to make sure I was set up perfectly on the gun to ensure I could see my hits. At 100-200 yards…fuggedaboudit.

So the bottom line: if you want to maximize you .50 BMG fun, make sure you have at least 600 yards and preferably 1000 yards. Or, if you can manage it, a mile is even better.

Courtesy Chris Dumm

Also you have to put some thought into your targets. Shooting paper isn’t really rewarding at long distances, because you don’t get instant feedback. It’s hard to see what you hit. At 600 yards, ½”-diameter holes were visible on Shoot-N-See targets in good light, especially through my Leica Televid 77 20x-60x spotting scope. But once our targets were in the shade of the late afternoon sun, it got more difficult to see, especially if the shooter missed the Shoot-N-See and hit cardboard. Add a bit of mirage into the equation and the targets quickly get obscured. No fun at all.

To get instant feedback, we mostly shot at my 18-inch diameter, ½-inch thick AR 500 gong from Grizzly Targets, as shown in the photo below. You can see a five-shot group grouping at roughly six inches at 600 yards with Hornady 750 Grain Match (4 of the 5 shots are high-center in a three-inch circle and the 5th flyer on the right opened up the group a bit (Note: the smaller hits are from earlier .223 and .308 impacts).

Courtesy Joe Grine

This target worked well, but we quickly found on an earlier trip that the only thing that would withstand the shrapnel was steel chain. The nylon and cotton webbing that worked so well with conventional rifle rounds were quickly cut by the lead and copper splatter from the big fifty. That was a wasted range trip. The .50 BMG would also bend steel carabiners, as shown above.

Courtesy Joe Grine

Another thing that you need to think about when shooting a fifty is that you need a top-of-the-line optic. Unfortunately, “affordable” options will get destroyed by the recoil. Accuracy International uses and recommends the Schmidt + Bender PM II 5-25×56  and so that’s what we used for our testing. You’ll also need to have scope rings and/or mounts  with at least 20-30 MOA of cant built in, because the big fifty requires a lot of elevation adjustment to reach out to distances of up to a mile.

Sighting in the .50 BMG can also be a bit problematic. As I mentioned, you can’t see your own bullet impacts at close ranges, and the large muzzle brake makes it difficult for spotters, too. I found that the only really good location for a spotter was 10 feet directly behind the shooter. Any closer (or if the spotter was off to the side) and the concussion and dust from the muzzle brake would make the spotter flinch.

On one shooting trip last summer, it took me 30 rounds to get the rifle sited in at 600 yards (remember, that’s at about $2.50 per round, at best). In large part, this was because we picked a spot that had a lot of tall grass. The grass made it impossible to see our bullet impacts – we knew we were missing the target, but we couldn’t easily tell if we were hitting high or low. I had never had similar problems with more “normal” sized rifles. Sending an expensive bullet downrange without getting any feedback was very frustrating. So avoid my noob mistake and really plan out where you are going to sight in your rifle.

Shooting a .50 cal rifle – particularly one as finely crafted as the AX-50 – is all kinds of fun. If you get the chance, I can’t recommend it enough. Keep some of these lessons I learned the hard way in mind, and you’ll get the most for your shooting dollar and your time.

64 Responses to How to Maximize Your .50 Caliber Fun

      • The trick is to get four or five wives and have at least three of them with decent paying jobs. Then you don’t have to work and they can pool their money on your birthday and Christmas to get you that AI AX-50 and a boatload of match-grade ammo.

        Problem solved.

        • Not meaning to be pedantic, but… a surplus to requirements firearm AND four or five wives?!!

  1. I was hopping that getting a .22 conversion kit for the 20-30lb monsters was going to be the recommendation. That would be awesome if someone made a .22 conversion kit for one.

    • “That would be awesome if someone made a .22 conversion kit for one.”

      I bet a .22 lr chamber adapter *could* be fabricated, offset bore so the firing pin hits the rim.

      As an upside, the huge empty .50 cal barrel will make a dandy improvised silencer for .22…

    • You could always shoot SLAP rounds. A 7.62 mm tungsten sabot. Not very accurate, but then again they were made to shoot at tanks. They’re quite nasty and very fun.

  2. Bought a Bluegrass Armory .50 bullpup a few years back – didn’t care much for the experience and sold it about a year later. You’re right about stretching the legs on the .50 – distances shorter than about 750 yards really aren’t that much fun, but then shooting the rifle isn’t all that much fun either.

    Even with ear plugs and muffs, the concussion still hammers your sinuses, and shock coming through your cheekbones and into your head is likely to give you a headache despite doubled ear protection. Within about three shots, your nose will be running, and after a half dozen or so, my vision would start to blur. I could actually consider that permanent visual damage (like detached retinas) could occur for someone prone to that affliction.

    The Bluegrass Armory Viper is a well-executed rifle at a lower price point than many, but the aluminum stock definitely needs a Sorbothane cheekrest, which my buddy added to his rifle. Even then, this isn’t remotely similar to shooting a 30 caliber magnum; perhaps an unbraked .338.

    For scopes, we both found that the higher-end Burris products held up just fine. They perhaps are “operator” enough for folks with lots of disposable income, but at under a grand (at the time) the XTR in a variable with about 6x20x magnification worked pretty well. Not as clear as a Nightforce, perhaps, but did get the job done.

    Eventually, I sold mine because it had become an expensive safe queen – too far to take it anywhere to shoot, ammo way too expensive, and really too punishing to have much fun with for more than a few shots. My buddy kept his and I gave him all my ammo, so we still take it out on occasion.

    • For all of the reasons that you stated above, I have often wondered if .338 Lapua was a “better” choice than .50 BMG?

      Nevertheless, I cannot see .338 Lapua having anywhere near the same ability to penetrate concrete walls and steel.

      • I sold my Barrett 99 for a custom .338LM, which I sold for a bunch of Shimano Tiagras. Big bores are fun….for a little while. 🙂

        • “I sold my Barrett 99 for a custom .338LM, which I sold for a bunch of Shimano Tiagras.”

          The Shimano Tiagra fishing reel or the bike groupset?

        • Reels, I have a 35′ CC with trip 300s. I get a lot more use out of them, then I ever did my big bores.

      • The same buddy that bought a Viper when I did, has recently purchased a Desert Tech with a .338 barrel. We shot it extensively at a long range event last year (Boomershoot, in central Idaho). Both the .50 and the .338 are very accurate in their respective packages. The .50 had a lot more recoil and was definitely more unpleasant to shoot.

        The .338 is a bruiser as well, but recoil and muzzle blast, in particular, are far less. I’d like to try a .338 in a different platform – to me the DT chassis is cool looking and has some nice features, but wasn’t particularly ergonomic for me – I think something in a more conventional stock would probably be even more comfortable (meaning, more shooting without getting beat up, which translates to longer sessions while maintaining accuracy).

        In contrast, I have a Remington 700 BDL in .300 Ultra Mag. It kicks too, but with the traditional stock I don’t feel it nearly as badly, and that’s even without a muzzle brake, in a relatively lightweight hunting rifle. When I bought the scope for this one I ended up with a Bushnell Elite 6500, largely because it had the longest eye relief I could find. A lesser scope with less eye relief whacked the heck out of my eyebrow, multiple times. Pain hurts – and I’m fairly recoil tolerant and a lightweight (160 lbs.) guy.

        Another thing to consider on the recoil from the large caliber, fairly heavy rifles. More than likely, you’ll be shooting them from prone or off a bench (or maybe off a bipod from some hybrid position). In any of those scenarios, your body doesn’t move much under recoil, so you’re absorbing a lot more of it than if you were standing – which is what you typically do when shooting 3″ goose loads from a 12 gauge. So to those who want to compare shooting a .50 to shooting a shotgun, try this: shoot the shotgun from prone or off a bench to get more of a cannonball to steam locomotive comparision.

      • I think the .338 Lapua is a nice step down from the .50 BMG, and offers a much less bulky platform. If I had a ton of extra disposable income, I’d definitely have a .50, though.

        S&B makes awesome scopes, but the Burris XTR and XTR II are quite solid for the money. My buddy’s Grizzly had a crappy Millett scope and could make 1,000 yard hits. Gunny Hathcock mounted a scope on an M2, of all things.

        I’d say the .50 is one of those things that probably isn’t best owned by a novice – it’s way too pricey. It’s almost like that bottle of 18 or 20 year old scotch. It takes some experience to appreciate. Then again, I’m a big believer in doing what makes people happy.

    • “distances shorter than about 750 yards really aren’t that much fun, but then shooting the rifle isn’t all that much fun either.”

      Then you’re doing it wrong. EBay sells both styrofoam heads by the case and Tannerite. And styrofoam heads just happen to have holes in the neck that fit arbitrary lengths of conduit pretty well. And conduit can anchor anywhere by sliding it over a length of rebar hammered into the ground.

      Also, Google Earth satellite imagery is pretty handy for scanning downrange for any unexpected land improvements, trails or primitive roads within 5 miles or so beyond your backstop.

    • “Even with ear plugs and muffs, the concussion still hammers your sinuses, and shock coming through your cheekbones and into your head is likely to give you a headache despite doubled ear protection. Within about three shots, your nose will be running,”

      Would shooting with your mouth open slightly reduce the punishment to your sinuses?

  3. Serious question: just how bad is the recoil? Does the muzzle break and the 26 pounds of this .50 BMG rifle make it tolerable?

    My personal recoil limit is my 12 gauge shotgun (weighing a paltry 8.25 pounds including scope) shooting Hornady SST 300 grain slugs at 2000 fps. That hits your shoulder really HARD. Going by the numbers, it looks like the .50 BMG would impact your shoulder at about the same velocity as my shotgun … except that the .50 BMG has a serious muzzle break.

    • That shotgun and that load probably very closely approximates the .50 Joe used. It will, however, be a whole hell of a lot louder, and the dust it kicks up can be a problem.

      • Thank you for your response Mr. Taylor.

        I figured the recoil had to be similar … if the .50 BMG recoil was substantially greater, I couldn’t see how anyone could tolerate shooting it much more than two or three times.

        In terms of strict momentum numbers, mass times velocity:
        — 12 gauge shotgun is 300 grains x 2000 fps == 600,000 grains feet per second.
        — .50 BMG is 750 grains x 2800 fps == 2,100,000 grains feet per second.

        Thus the “reaction force” (momentum) that the .50 BMG bullet exerts against the rifle is about 3.5 times greater than the shotgun. At the same time, the .50 BMG rifle has 3.2 times more mass to “absorb” the “reaction force” of the bullet. Account for some additional reduction in recoil due the .50 BMG’s muzzle break and both platforms should generate, in theory, about the same felt recoil on the shooter’s shoulder. On paper anyway!

        And yes, I agree that the .50 BMG makes WAY more blast than the shotgun platform.

    • See my other comment above. If you’re shooting your shotgun from prone or the bench, you may be approximating the recoil from a .50. If you’re standing or kneeling, your body is free to move to absorb more recoil, so a less apt comparison. You’ll still be missing out on the concussion, backblast from the comp (which is enough to clear loose objects on benches to both sides of you…. DAMHICK….), and the cloud of dust, rocks, and small mammals.

      • Defens,

        I was referring to shooting my shotgun on a “bench” with my body almost approaching the prone position … in other words there was nowhere near the amount of give compared to shooting while standing unsupported. After about 15 shots, my shoulder was literally slightly bruised the next day.

  4. Stupid question, but does laser bore sighting help with getting those sorts of beasts dialed in? I generally use a in-chamber laser to pre-sight my optics at home and it only requires fine tweaking once I get to the range. (I don’t regularly shoot anything past 300 yards.)

    • Should at least in theory. If you knew how much over or under line of sight you would be at say 25yds, the. You could then just set the crosshairs to that point relative to the laser dot on the target. However, I would bet that would still lead to some walking the shots in to the actual desired point of impact when you are way out at 600yds.

    • Ballistics laws work the same for the big guys. We used applications like Shooter and Ballistics with our .50s and they worked just fine. IIRC, I bore sighted mine at 50 yards, made corrections to a 200 yard zero and verified that at my first time out with my Viper, then immediately moved out to 600 yards and was pounding clay pigeons laying on the berm within a couple more shots to fine tune.

  5. Can you use a mortar tube as an M203 on that thing?

    Recoil, hell. The coil will kill you if you don’t have enough ass for dat.

  6. bought my bushmaster ba 50 about 3 years ago took it out about 3 times stretched out to 825 yards..put it back in my safe..and there it sits…my wife says i should sell it..i gave her a fist full of dollars and told her to go shopping…people ask me why i have a gun like that …i look them right in the eye and i say “because I can”…

    • Which is really the same reason I want to get a 50BMG rifle…
      Because I *CAN*
      🙂

      Of course, I’ll break one of the recommendations for shooting one, my favorite local range (indoor) is rated to 50BMG but is only a 25m range, so likely by the time I recover from the first shot, it will have already hit the backstop…

      But boy, will it be fun…
      🙂

        • There’s a range about an hour or so north of me that’s open for anything (Sits on Michigan DNR land,) but it looks like it’s only ~200ft or so…

          I recently (as in about 20 minutes ago) put a post up on a Michigan specific gun-owners forum asking about any public ranges that have a 600yd+ range that’s ideally open year-round. There’s one not to far away with a 600yd range, but that one’s only open for specific events…

  7. Sounds fun. Even after the thousands for the rifle, though, there’s thousands more for a scope and at least hundreds more regularly for ammo, all assuming you even have a decent place to shoot?

    Sounds like .50 cal sport shooting is a new contender for the Sport of Kings.

  8. Stupid question. How hard does 50bmg kick compared to a 7.62x54r round from a short barrel rifle (like a Chinese T53)? Twice, thrice or way more?

    • Charge divided by weight of the rifle is a good way to approximate recoil. There isn’t enough information in your scenario, but a 25lb .50BMG should kick more like 6 or 7X as hard as a stock 91/30, if that helps.
      Of course, that’s without the brake. I don’t know how to calculate for that.

        • See my comment above where I compared a 8.25 pound (including scope) 12 gauge shotgun shooting a 300 grain slug at 2,000 fps. If you are shooting a 1 ounce (437 grain) slug at 1600 fps, it is probably very comparable (recoil-wise) to the .50 BMG when the rifle weighs 26 pounds and has a muzzle brake.

        • Thanks, If that’s the case i’d just shoot 2 rounds .50… not too fun for me outside of 1 shot from the 12.

  9. I usually maximize my .50 cal shooting by using less powder and a lead round ball. Oh, wait you’re not talking about muzzleloaders? PFFT, enjoy spending that $3 for every shot and $250+ on a press specifically designed to reload .50 BMG.

  10. .5 shooting fun scale:

    1) 500 S&W
    2) 50 Beowulf
    3) 500 Nitro Express
    4) 50 BMG

    I’d love a chance to shoot a 50 GI, I imagine it will be in the top three. 50 BMG only moves to number one if its coming from an M2HB.

  11. “The .50 BMG would also bend steel carabiners, as shown above.”

    Proof logging chain may help, and if you fed the chain through the holes and secured the carabiners a foot or so away (or more) from the target it may alleviate some of that.

    Or perhaps find proof steel carabiners and have them hardened…

    • Perhaps even add some good sized springs to the chain ends. That would reduce the shock of the impact on the hooks a little.

      Or get a bigger plate. More mass, more resistance to movement. You could paint different colored rings on it if you wanted a smaller target.

    • Yep – we aren’t allowed full bore semi-auto but bolt action is alright.

      On the other hand the permitting system requires you to demonstrate (1) a safe place to use it and (2) a “good reason” to possess it… for any type of rifle. Which does make it trickier to own and shoot large bore weapons. The most usual “good reason” for larger calibre weapons is hunting, and it’s a bit of a tough sell to say you’re taking on deer with .50BMG…!

      If you’re a member of a long range target shooting club, with access to appropriate ranges (or lucky enough to own a lot of land!) then you’ve got nothing much to stop you bar the price tag.

      I’m fortunate enough to live on a farm of 300 acres. The local police force – who have to sign off on what you are / aren’t allowed to use – approved for .308 but weren’t happy with .338

      A friend lives in Scotland and owns several thousand acres: he has a .50 and enjoys shooting at mile+ targets.

  12. I really enjoyed my Tac-50 for many years. Broke two scopes with it. Every time I had to mount a new one, I knew it was going to take a bunch of rounds to get my 500 yard zero.
    The last scope was right at 40 rounds.
    Love me some big bore action. I keep toying with making a 20mm rifle.

  13. If you are going to pony up for a .50, get a Barrett. Gas system and floating barrel all but eliminate felt recoil. Feels like shooting a .308.

  14. As a fairly experienced .50 BMG shooter, I would say that you are spot on about having somebody observe the target about 10 ft behind you. I generally use a 100X Astronomy binoculars and mostly fire at a 10 inch iron gong at 650yds (Manatee Range down in Manatee County, FL – goes out to 1000yds). Optics, I use a Leupold scope, which has held up fine, but most serious users love the Nightforce scopes (which were one the three rifles side by side in the recent article). Concussion from the brake is both fun, and can be a curse. I strongly recommend a suppressor, if for nothing else, to cut the sound down a bit and to harness some of that blast. Bore-sighting helps tremendously with sighting in, but there is a major factor one has to come to grips with when sighting in: .50 BMG rounds don’t fully stabilize until about 300 yards. That would be the minimum I would sight one in at.

  15. Silenced .50 BMG. That takes care of the extreme concussion, dust ups, and double/triple ear pros. Would give a very slight velocity boost also. And the crowd behind you will enjoy it more.

  16. Any recommendations on what muzzle brake to get? Any one tried the grizzly gun works brake? Specifically “the Hunter”
    Thanks guys

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