Accuracy International isn’t a household name for most American shooters. But military snipers throughout the world revere the marque as it if it was divinely inspired. And with good reason. World’s longest sniper kill? Check. In use with 60+ countries, including British SAS? Check. First chassis system? Check. Industry leading detachable box magazine? Check. We’ve been able to spend some quality time with their AX-50 anti-material sniper rifle and can report now report to the Armed Intelligentsia . . .
It’s not every day that someone calls you up and asks, “Hey, wanna review an AX-50?” My answer, of course, was swift and purposeful. Who did I have to thank for this rare opportunity? None other than my favorite purveyor of high-end European guns and optics, the aptly named firm of EuroOptic , Ltd.
Who is EuroOptic, you ask? Well, it’s a Pennsylvania-based company owned by Alex Roy, a former U.S. Army Apache helicopter pilot. Alex started the company in 1997 when he was still in the military running the business out of his garage for the first few years. From those humble beginnings, Alex reinvested his earnings and built up his business to the point where EuroOptic is now the largest player in the high-end optic market.
There are a few things I really appreciate about EuroOptic, which makes them my go-to supplier for optics. First, Alex employs a sales staff of highly knowledgeable competitive shooters. These guys really know their stuff, and will help you select the right product for your needs. Second, EuroOptic typically has the best prices on the items they sell, and even if they don’t, they will price match on any item they have in stock. Third, they also offer free shipping on orders over $500.00 – guns and ammo excluded. And unlike some companies that advertise items that they don’t actually have in inventory, EuroOptic keeps a large selection of items on hand. Case in point: Alex Roy tells me that he has 1,500 Schmidt + Bender PM II scopes in stock! Their website is updated in close to real time, which means that you will know in advance if you are getting backordered.
Alex kindly sent me a Schmidt + Bender PM II 5-25×56 to test out the AX-50. When you shoot a hard-recoiling rifle like the AX-50, you need a scope that can handle the abuse. Again, Accuracy International recommends and uses Schmidt + Bender scopes because they are combat proven optics designed to withstand the rigors of police and military service. The PM-II didn’t disappoint, and now adorns my Blaser LRS-2. The only problem: once you use optics of this quality, you will start to hate all of your other, less expensive glass. Sigh.
Brief History of Accuracy International
For a company that builds some of the world’s finest sniper rifles, Accuracy International’s humble beginnings might seem almost accidental. In the 1970s, its founder, Dave Walls, was a competitive shooter, tool maker, and engineer living in Sussex, England. Along with his friend Dave Caig, Walls hand built a pair of replica Colt revolvers – a Colt 1860 Army and a Colt 1873 SAA. Lacking actual samples to work from, they built the guns from photographs and by studying samples at a local auction house.
With two working samples in hand, Walls showed them to an expert on Colt revolvers, but didn’t reveal that the guns were replicas. The expert noted that these were “just about as fine a set of Colt specimens as I have ever seen.” But then he gave them the bad news: the guns were fakes because they were missing a slot on the left side of the frame. As it turned out, Walls had added the slot to the left side of his replica, but the “right profile” photo he had worked from to build his replica was taken from a different gun that didn’t have the slot.
Amused by his oversight, Walls admitted that he had made these guns in his workshop, based solely on photographs and in-person viewing of auction house guns kept under glass. The expert was stunned by this revelation, and said, “If you built these pistols from a photograph, you should be in the business of making guns.”
But making replica pistols was not their real focus: Walls and Caig were also tuning target rifles and pistols out of Wall’s house. Through their competition shooting connections, they eventually met Malcolm Cooper, a shooter who would eventually become a world champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist. Cooper owned a small gun shop known as “Accuracy International Shooting Sports.” He recognized the genius in Walls and Caig, and a partnership was soon borne.
The three men set out to build tactical precision rifles. Cooper used a prototype to set a world record. Using what they knew about how to enhance the performance of Olympic target rifles, they started to design a rifle that would be rugged enough for military use. The result was the “Precision Marksman” or PM, a rifle chambered in .308 Win.
By 1984, they had secured their first customer, the highly elite UK Special Boat Service (comparable to US Navy SEALS), who bought eight rifles. Not to be outclassed by their navy buddies, the Special Air Service (SAS) purchased 32 rifles later the same year. In the mid-1980s, the British military decided to replace their aging inventory of Lee Enfield L42A1 sniper rifles. AI took a run at the contract, submitting an upgraded version of the PM that featured the now classic AI clamshell polymer and aluminum chassis design with adjustable buttstock and cheek riser. The prototype also employed a unique, rectangular shaped receiver and a unique two-stage adjustable trigger.
AI was awarded the contract for all 1,212 rifles. Incredibly, the PM rifle defeated the Parker Hale Model 85, the HK PSG-1, the SIG SAUER SSG 2000, and the Remington 700.
After being adopted by the British military, foreign military orders started pouring in. Sweden requested certain modifications to the design to make the rifle suitable for cold weather operations. As a result, the now famous “Artic Warfare” (“AW”) mode was accepted by the Swedish military in 1991 as the Prickskyttegevär 90 (Psg 90). More than 60 other countries have followed suit.
In the 1990s, AI starting focusing on variants of the basic design to make the gun more suitable for special applications. They introduced integrally suppressed rifles, “Super Magnum” caliber rifles, Covert takedown models, and .50 BMG models. These rifles are now considered to be amongst the finest precision sniper rifles in the world, and have seen extensive service in the war in Afghanistan and Iraq.
AI now manufactures a broad range of products, but three main products comprise the bulk of their sales: (1) complete sniper rifles, (2) the now classic Accuracy International Chassis System (AICS) as well as the newer patented KeySlot-based AX chassis, and (3) AI box magazine. The magazine has become an industry standard of sorts, and now many companies simply incorporate the mags in their own rifle designs rather than trying to reinvent the wheel. Case in point, the Remington MSR comes standard with 20 AI magazines. The AICS chassis is also a highly sought after upgrade for the Remington 700.
The AX-50 is the latest iteration of the AW-50 series. It’s a 26 lb. bolt action anti-material behemoth featuring a 27-inch free floated barrel and a five-round detachable steel box magazine. Contributing to its extreme accuracy is the squared-off billet steel receiver matched to a billet aluminum chassis system that’s encased in clamshell polymer sidestocks. The stock folds to the left to decrease the overall length of the rifle.
Barrel & Muzzle Brake
The business end of the AX 50 is a 27.25 inch threaded stainless steel match grade barrel with a 1:15 twist. Accuracy International North America (AINA) makes these barrels in house using Bartlein barrel blanks. According to AINA, this rifle will send standard M33 ball ammo downrange with a muzzle velocity of 2700 fps.
The rifle also features a beefy muzzle brake, which resembles a hand grenade in size and shape. It threads onto the barrel and indexes to the rifle with two 4mm hex screws. Over the years, AI has experimented with a variety of muzzle brake designs, and the current three-chamber brake is the latest and most effective evolution of the design. I shudder to think how much this rifle would kick without it.
The muzzle brake has one drawback, though, from a tactical standpoint: it kicks up a lot of dust. I believe a military sniper would have no choice but to add a suppressor in addition to taking other precautions to ensure that the dust signature doesn’t compromise his position. In the photo below, you can see the effect of the muzzle blast…and we were shooting with a 8×8 section of carpet under the rifle!
The photo below shows how 30-40 shots will dig a 1 inch deep trench in loose soil.
The AX-50 features a military style two-stage trigger that’s set at the factory to break at a crisp 4.0 pounds, adjustable from 3.3 to 4.4 pounds. According to my Lyman trigger gauge, my sample broke at a consistent 4.5 lbs. The trigger is adjustable, but only by a trained AI armorer (you can send the trigger module to AINA who will do the work for you).
Frankly, I’m not sure I’d want the trigger to be any lighter than it is. I found it easy to master, as the smooth take-up leads to a predictable wall. Additional pressure breaks the shot with no creep. Overall, it’s an excellent bangswitch.
The modular trigger assembly is easily removable for cleaning, something very important in a military rifle. Obviously, once you have your rifle zeroed, you won’t want to separate the receiver from the chassis. The AX-50 allows you to clean the trigger assembly without disrupting the critical receiver/chassis interface.
There really is no way to make a almost 30 lb. rifle easy to handle. Having said that, the AX-50 is a very well thought-out, comfortable dsign. From the front handguard located right at the natural balance point, to the ambidextrous safety and the adjustable trigger, AI has thought of everything. Even the corners are rounded to make the gun more comfortable.
As shown in the photo above, the stock is high and in line with the receiver — the best overall design for managing recoil.
The buttstock has an adjustable cheekpiece that moves up and down to give the shooter the perfect eye relief, as well as a buttpad that can be moved upward or down roughly two inches. The buttpad can also be adjusted to the left or the right to accommodate various shooting positions. It also features removable spacers to customize length of pull.
These features are very important on a big fifty, because you really need to have the rifle set up perfectly if you expect the stock to direct the recoil impulse where you want it. The rear monopod spike can be quickly moved up and down via a push button located at the rear of the buttstock.
The only improvement I’d recommend is for Accuracy International to consider making a removable handgrip interface that’s compatible with AR-15 style rifles. As pistol manufacturers have figured out, there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all when it comes to handgrips. The back half of the AI handgrip can apparently be replaced with different sized grips, but there are other designs that are so much better. Personally, I’d like to see Anschutz-style palmswell incorporated into the design.
One of the biggest improvements of the AX-50 compared to previous models is the addition of the KeySlot rail system. KeySlot is lighter than previous rails that featured continuous sections of Picatinny rails. KeySlot lets you place the Picatinny where you need it, and in some cases, there are accessories that interface directly with the KeySlot system.
Keep in mind that AI’s KeySlot is different tham Vltor’s KeyMod system, although the two look identical. The difference is in the way the underside is engineered: KeySlot is a much more robust system that’s intended for high-recoiling rifles.
One of the most impressive features of the AX-50 is the forged 30mm six-lug bolt. It features the one- piece AI leaf spring extractor which has proven to be very rugged.
At roughly 12 inches long and weighing in at 2.72 pounds, it could double a very effective self defense weapon on its own:
It’s beautifully machined and finely polished, making the action silky smooth. I have noticed with some other .50 BMG rifles the bolt can get sticky and requires a lot of force to extract a round. Not so with the AX-50. In fact, spent shell cases were easily extracted. I attribute this to the precision machining and hand fitting by the AI gunsmiths.
In the photo above, you can see two of the three pressure release ports on the rifle. These plastic-capped holes allow gas to escape out of the sides of the receiver and bolt in the event of an overpressure round or cartridge failure.
The AX-50 also features a “Firing Pin Cocking Indicator” which allows the operator to ascertain whether or not the rifle is cocked by the position of cocking indicator protruding through the rear of the action.
If you’re considering acquiring an AX-50 keep in mind that you’ll need to use extra tall scope mounts. The cheek piece is set up high to give clearance for that long bolt. None of the scope mounts I had on hand would work, and even your typical “extra high” mounts don’t appear to be tall enough.
The AX-50 comes with an integrated 0 MOA rail, and the rifle really needs some additional cant to get the rounds out to a mile. We decided to use an ERA-TAC 34mm Adjustable Incline Mount – 47mm/1.85″ T2064-0030 by Recknagel (Germany). This unique, variable-angle scope mount is designed so that the shooter can add up to 70 MOA of scope cant in precise 10 MOA increments. After loosening the cross bolts, the desired angle can be adjusted by simply rotating the cam action hand wheel, as shown in the photo below:
It’s a complex and remarkably well engineered design that probably deserves a review all its own. At $436, its pricey, but it’s surprisingly affordable given the precision and complexity of the design. The adjustable MOA design is especially useful if you will be using the optic on multiple weapon systems.
Accuracy International also manufactures some really nice and affordable mounts for the AX-50, if you are trying to save some bucks.
At the Range
I’ve never been recoil shy. I own some hard-kicking rifles, including a Winchester Model 70 chambered in .458 Lott, a Browning 1885 Hi-Wall in .45-70 Government, as well as a Ruger 77 RSM Mark II Magnum in .375 H&H Magnum. But I don’t have a ton of trigger time behind bolt guns chambered in .50.BMG.
When I first fired the rifle, a few of my buddies were watching, so I didn’t even think much about recoil. Also, I started by shooting the “cheap” stuff: Federal American Eagle 660 grain Ball @ $2.40 a round (mail order) or $4.00 a round (at my LGS). This ammo felt very manageable (roughly equivalent to a 12-gauge shotgun shooting 3-inch magnum slugs).
The recoil became more noticeable, though, when I started shooting the “good stuff” (Hornady 750grain Match @ $6.00-$7.00 a round). This ammo packs considerably more wallop. Recoil from that round seemed to me to be roughly equivalent to a .458 Win Mag or .416 Rigby. It’s definitely not as bad as a .458 Lott or .460 Weatherby, but it’s certainly getting up there in that territory.
I realize those assessments are somewhat subjective and depend on a lot of variables; it’s only possible to speak in generalities. Let me put it this way: after round one for the day, I would say, “Oh, that’s not so bad.” By round thirty or so, I’d be starting to get a bit recoil-shy, and occasionally would flinch as I touched off a round. The cumulative effect is very real.
The rifle never bruised my shoulder, but it would be a bit tender the next day. The AX-50 is a real beast. This isn’t a gun that a man of typical stature will want to take out and shoot 100 rounds in one sitting. I fired roughly 200 rounds in five sessions, averaging between 25-50 rounds each time. I would let my buddies shoot as much of my ammo as they wanted, but most guys were done after 10 rounds or so. In part, I’m sure they didn’t want to seem greedy by shooting up my expensive ammo, but I also suspect that the kick played a factor as well.
Having said that, of the nine male shooters I let fire the rifle, nobody thought the recoil was in any way unmanageable. Shooters as small as 150 lbs, and ranging in age from 18 to 79, were able to get reliable hits at long distances, which gives me confidence in saying that most adult males can handle this firearm.
I’ve fired Barrett M82s/107s and was never wowed by their accuracy. On the other hand, the McMillan TAC-50s can be quite impressive from an accuracy standpoint, but I always shot those with the owner’s custom hand loads, so it is hard to make an apples to apples comparisons. Nonetheless, there is no denying the inherent accuracy of the AX-50, especially when using the match ammo it prefers.
When we first started shooting this rifle, we were easily shooting roughly 2 MOA groups at 600 yards using the American Eagle 660 grain ammo. The photo below shows the first nine shots that former TTAG writer Chris Dumm and I shot at 600 yards. The top hit was my first sight-in shot and, with the exception of one flubbed (called at far right) shot by yours truly, the remaining seven are in a roughly 12-inch diameter on the 18inch gong. Not bad, but we soon found out that the AX-50 can do much better.
In fact, we eventually got to the point where we could shoot ½ MOA groups at 600 and 1000 yards on a fairly consistent basis. But I will admit that it didn’t start out that way. This is a rifle you have to tame, and that takes practice. Nonetheless, your patience and good adherences to fundamentals will be rewarded.
I really started to get the best accuracy out of the gun when I duct-taped 50 lbs of lead shot to the Key Slot rail. Doing this brought the recoil down to .308 levels, which really helped eek out the best accuracy. If I owned this rifle, I would try to figure out a way to attach lead weights to the KeySlot attachment points.
Here is a photo of our Grizzly BYOR Target at 1000 yards, as well as a corresponding 3-shot group that put the first two shots in more-or-less the same hole:
Here are some additional 3-shot and 4-shot 600-yard groups that came in right at 3 inches +/- :
Hornady 750 grain A-MAX
As I mentioned above, I’m by no means an expert on the .50 BMG, but I think that one thing that most experienced .50 cal shooters will agree on is that the standard military M2 and M33 ball ammo isn’t extremely accurate, at least by modern standards. Of course, these rounds were never intended to be match grade accurate. It’s machine gun ammo after all, and machine guns are intended to create a cone of fire, not place 20 rounds in the exact same spot.
Hornady was kind enough to sponsor my little education into the world of the big fiddy by providing some ammunition. The Hornady 750 Grain A-Max ammo is purpose-built to be used for long range shooting and shoot it does. Corporal Rob Furlong used Hornady 750 grain A-Max and his Canadian military issue McMillan Tac-50 to shoot a Taliban fighter at a distance of 2,657 yards. That’s over 1 1/2 miles, folks. Of course, that’s not easy to do, but the Hornady ammo is one of the few logical choices when contemplating that kind of shot.
Whereas the standard M33 ball has a ballistic coefficient somewhere in the .65 range, the Hornady 750 grain A-Max has a BC of 1.050. This really becomes important at long range, because the Hornady really slices through the wind much more efficiently than the M-2 / M33 ball. In the photo below, you can see the obvious difference in bullet shape between the Federal American Eagle 660 grain and the Hornady 750 grain A-Max.
I was very impressed with the performance of the Hornady ammunition. At an average sales price of $6 – $7 bucks a round, this stuff isn’t cheap. Nonetheless, if you just shelled out 11K for an AX-50, it does not make much sense to feed it cheap ammo.
As expected, the Accuracy International AX-50 functioned flawlessly. This rifle is built to withstand the rigors of military operations, and it shows in every aspect of the rifle’s design. We didn’t abuse it in any way or conduct destructive testing, but you can tell by handling the weapon that there are no apparent weak links in the design. I did attempt to introduce sand into the action to see if that would jam it up. The AX-50 brushed off dry sand with ease. Wet sand was more problematic, but didn’t prevent the action from closing. Residual wet sand was easily addressed with the application of canteen water.
Most of us civilians don’t have much practical “need” for an anti-material sniper rifle. It’s too big for hunting most animals, and hunting cars or other large objects isn’t a very practical pastime. Nonetheless, this is the type of rifle that you will want to own simply because you can. It’s like owning a 200 mph-capable car, even if you never plan on driving it that fast. The .50 BMG is, in a very real sense, a symbol of freedom.
Perhaps another reason to consider buying one now is because there may come a day when you can’t own one any more. There are plenty in government who don’t trust gun owners to possess guns like this.
Of course, if your idea of fun is sending 750 grains of lead into targets located one to two miles away, the AX-50 sniper rifle is certainly capable of doing so. The AX-50 is also a great training tool, because it exposes any fundamental training deficiencies. Bad shooting posture? Your back will feel it. Bad recoil-induced trigger flinch? This rifle will force you shoot it correctly in order to hit your target at extreme distances.
Of course, the AX-50 retails for $11,082, making it cost prohibitive for all but the most dedicated gunnies. And buying one is just the beginning; even the cheapest ammo runs $2.50 a round and match grade ammo is $6.00 a round and up. But it will provide, without a doubt, the most boom for your buck. And frankly, it isn’t much more than some of the big bore rounds like the .460 Weatherby or the .458 Lott. Heck, its even cheaper than the various Nitro Express cartridges.
Another question I have been asked: as between the AX-50 or the Barrett 82/107 series of rifles, which would I buy first? I have fired the Barrett 82 semi-auto rifle on a few occasions, and I much prefer the AI AX-50. Sure, the Barrett has some distinct advantages, including 10-shot semi-auto capability and considerably less recoil. Nonetheless, the AX-50 is a true ½ MOA capable rifle. The Barrett most certainly is not. And perhaps with handloads you might even be able to squeeze out even more accuracy out of the AX-50. Most Barrett 82 shooters state that its practical accuracy is 1.5 MOA. The other thing I will say about the Barrett is that it does not look or feel like a sniper rifle, whereas the AI AX-50 looks and feels like an oversized version of other AI sniper rifles.
One final tidbit: the Harris bipod was clearly inadequate for this rifle, as it didn’t provide a wide enough stance to keep the gun upright. I charlie-miked with the Harris because I knew I would eventually have to return the rifle, but if I’m ever be lucky enough to own one, I would opt for something with a wider stance, perhaps something along the line of the Vltor Mp-1 Modpod or the Light Tactical bipod from Long Range Accuracy.
In any event, if you have interest in exercising your Second Amendment rights to their fullest and have an extra 11K of room left on your favorite credit card(s), give Alex Roy a call at EuroOptic and he will have one sent right to your FFL pronto.
Specifications. Caliber: .50 BMG Capacity: 5+1.
Weight: 26 lb, with empty magazine and no scope or scope mount. Operational weight is 30-32 lbs with loaded magazine.
Length: 54 inches (43.5 inches with buttstock folded)
Bolt: 6 lug, 60 degree throw.
Trigger: 2-stage adjustable (3.3 lbs to 4.4 lbs).
Barrel: 27.25 inches, 1 in 15 twist.
Price: $11,082 at EuroOptic.
Ratings (out of five stars):
Ergonomics: * * * * *
First rate. It’s obvious that a ton of thought has gone into the design of this rifle. The operator interface is intuitive and easy to master. No fumbling around with this beast.
Recoil Management: * *
Both the Barrett Model 82 and the McMillian Tac-50 have incorporated more recoil management technology into their designs. This is the one area where the AI AX-50 falls a bit short. The excellent stock design, recoil pad, and large muzzle brake take much of the sting out of the 50.BMG, but I’d like to see some sort of recoil shock absorber built into the stock, assuming it could be done without compromising accuracy.
Accuracy: * * * * *
Hard to beat: ½ MOA with Hornady 750 grain Match ammo.
Reliability: * * * * *
No issues. Perfection.
Overall: * * * * *
The McMillan Tac-50 is, undoubtedly, a worthy competitor. But I love the small details of the AX-50: the safety features, the fully adjustable polymer stock, the KeySlot rails, and the excellent trigger. Finally the overall look and feel of the Accuracy International AX-50 put it over the top for me. There isn’t another bolt action .50 cal I’d rather own.