Joe Grine for TTAG
Joe Grine 50 BMG
Joe Grine for TTAG

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
Joe Grine for TTAG

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
Joe Grine for TTAG

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
Joe Grine for TTAG

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.

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45 COMMENTS

  1. Even with a scope I limit my shots to 300 yards these days. Too damn old for that long range stuff. Last time I fired anything .50bmg it was belt fed and that was about 5 decades ago.

    Still, I’d like to give a .50 rifle a shot or two just for shits and giggles. I’ll have to wait for my wife to retire and we can leave CA. They don’t allow any fun here.

    • My “neighbor” shoots his all the time. Rain, sleet, snow… Doesn’t matter. I’ve been up there a couple time and he frequents the shop I work at. He’s got all kinds of beautiful custom rifles. Aside from those occasions, the last time I fired an m2 was in 2010. 240b was my more my style 😉

      Can’t afford either now.

    • @jwm,

      Isn’t CA fun? .50 caliber is just too big, they tell us. Too dangerous. Depends, though…

      .50 AE…ok
      .50 Beowulf…ok
      .50 BMG…no soup for you.

      But .416 is okay, which is basically the BMG’s kissing cousin? Is a 12-ga slug okay? Yes? But the much smaller .223 isn’t if you can wrap your hand fully around the AR’s grip? Oh wait…swap in a shark fin grip and now it’s okay? Thumbs up? Pretty please, AG Becerra?

  2. Sad little peasant here. 😞

    I don’t have a .50 BMG. Long range for me is just my .270 or 5.56 at 500 yards. My wife is a good sport when it comes to my gun collection, but dropping, $11,000 on a rifle would cause marital strife.

    Enjoy the .50 my friend. Best wishes

  3. Do my best to make a long story short… got to shoot a .50 cal back in the late summer of 2000. Barrett bolt gun. Owner said the total setup was around $10,000 & weighed around ~30 lbs. Fired the gun once (sitting at a bench) and called it good (it was a Saturday). Went to work on Monday and talked with some firearm aficionado co-workers about it at lunch. Lifted up my shirt to show them my shoulder. The look of shock on their face was priceless. Besides my shoulder being completely black-n-blue, the Phillips-head screws that that held the buttplate/pad on were very clearly imprinted into my shoulder and upper pectoral muscle. Their guess was a #2 size Phillips-head. One of those things in life I wish I had taken a picture of.

    Never had the urge to shoot a .50 cal since…

    • I had the unmitigated pleasure of torching off 10 rounds out of the Barrett semi auto. Was shooting at 900 yards.

      Took me 3 or 4 days to get the smile off my face. It was awesome!

    • I call nonsense, unless you put some screws on the back yourself. The recoil impulse from a barrett bolt gun is about the same as a 12 gauge, and I’ve never met one with anything other than a rubberized butt. Their weight, combined with their brakes makes them intensely docile for their caliber.

  4. The long range round that has always held my fascination is .338 Lapua. From what I understand, it has incredible performance at long distance. Does anyone know if it faces similar challenges as .50 BMG?

    • Lapua, bmg, and the cheytac stuff might as well be Ferrari and lamborghini as far as I’m concerned. They all sound like loads of fun but way out of my price range unless I become an otherwise boring man. Watching the videos on the cheytac stuff does make it seem like the more nimble big hitter though.

  5. My first experience with the .50 BMG was an M2. Other than indirect fire or an air strike it ruled the roost. Shortly after the Barrett Light Fifty went into production I was invited to a private machine gun shoot. Another shooter there had one and was gracious enough to allow me to run a magazine through it. Recoil was manageable. I just wish there was more range. We only had 500 yards. There was another guy there with a custom built single shot .50 cal. With muzzle brake of course. He set up next to his custom conversion van, if any of you remember those. The muzzle blast blew out one of the large tinted side windows. He was not a happy camper. The show stealer though was the host’s British Ferret Scout Car. No kidding. Turret mounted Browning 1919 and a pintel mounted FN MAG on the rear deck. That thing was a hoot.

      • tsbhoa, no, not a legend in my own mind. Just lucky. I’ve loved firearms since I shot my first squirrel on my Grandpa’s farm in Mississippi with a .410. I think I was six. Maybe seven. Anyway, by design or providence I always seemed to have had firearms in my life since. Often some very interesting firearms. I even got paid to shoot free ammunition. My life has been damn near perfect. Sorry for your luck.

    • I’ll explain:

      You get called a fudd because you are willing to turn your back on those who are on “your side”, because you don’t feel things like bumpstocks or arm braces are worth fighting over.

      You are then also extremely snarky and troll like in the process. This leads me to personally believe you are a troll or simply naive.

      If you are a troll then you can stop reading and begin the insults.

      If you are not a troll please consider the following:

      You may not care about bumpstocks and arm braces, but even if you don’t own one you should care about what happens to them.

      1. We should not be ok with throwing our own under the bus simply for a little more time before they come for the next thing.

      2. There WILL, I repeat WILL, be a next thing. There always is. Slippery slope isn’t a fallacy, it’s tactics.

      3. They WILL be coming for your choice in firearms one day, which ever it is, and when they do, there won’t be many standing beside you by then.

      4. Remember that yes, we can in fact win. We beat them when they came for M855.

      I’m a firm believer in fighting to win. Not fighting to fight, or make a statement, or prove my manhood. I want to win because through victory, our values outlast our lives. This is proven by history.

      We win by standing together. Not by going down one by one in blaze of glory.

      We should all be supporting every arm brace owner right now in every legal form of resistance right now s and be very loud about it. That’s how we beat them when they tried to come for M855.

      • Ron, that’s quite a little temper tantrum. If you read my previous posts I don’t believe pistol braces or bump stocks should be illegal. I just think they’re silly. Told my friends that own them the same thing. To their face. I believe that the NFA and the GCA ’68 are unconstitutional. When the ANTIFA and BLM shit started I moved an HK91 and several thousand rounds of ammunition, as well as spare magazines and support gear to the farm. A Kimber 1911 also. Sorry to the plastic pistol fans. A Bianchi UM-84 holster and Wilson mags. Wish the army had outfitted me as well. They gave me an M-16. The farm is roughly 2000 acres. All that gear is still there. Waiting. As is my 1/2 dozen friend’s gear. As well as provisions. We’ll keep it as long as we can. It will be expensive to take. Ron. I like being called a FUDD. Every one I ever met could shoot. Never was impressed by a soy boy doing a mag dump at 25 yards. A troll? No. When I began visiting this site I had to ask what a troll was. As well as a FUDD. Look it up. Naive? That’s so funny I spewed my tea through my nose when I read it. Get back to me when you’ve jumped out of a C-141 (first time I was ever in an airplane), scared shitless, dove for bodies on the bottom of lakes with zero visibility, kicked in doors knowing armed felons were on the other side (again scared shitless) looked at more homicides than I care to remember. Yeah, that’s me. Naive. I’m going to do something I’ve never done before. Ron, you want to talk about naive. 850-694-9405.

        • Anyone. Anyone, who has ever doubted me is welcome to call me. I’ll even welcome a visit. I’ll take you hunting. Quail or deer. Or both. Show you the farm. I don’t woof shit!

        • Well…. I appreciate the in depth response.

          I wouldn’t personally put my phone number out there… that is bound to get entertaining… keep us posted.

          I’d recommend email as a better avenue for such communication. Good luck.

        • Montana, dumb means you can’t speak. I’m just tired of everyone hiding behind screen names. Steal what little I have on line. I worked financial crimes for years. It will be a minor inconvenience to recover a loss. Besides, I haven’t used credit Since 2009. I pay cash for everything. I’m debt free.

        • “I like being called a FUDD.”
          and there’s the rub, you’ve previously posted as to how much the term bothers you.
          i’m not poring thru months of your posts to link, but as the resident chest thumper you should come clean on that lil’ bit.

        • For a quail hunt? Hell yes I will!
          Haven’t been numbers here enough to hunt in decades. I have carefully protected the one covey I have here on our place, but they are about the most sacred thing we’ve got. No hunting those few left.

        • jwt, you are about the only man on this site I would be honored to take hunting. Guessing you might even have a good chilli recipe you could share.

        • Why is everyone asking for my chilli recipe lately? I stole it fair and square from the Chili Cook-off winner of the Austin Aquafest sometime in the mid 80s.

  6. Oh, tbhoa, not that would matter to you and it sure as shit doesn’t matter to me what you think, but real POTG might find this entertaining. I grew up wanting that .410. When Granpa died I was enjoying the tail end of an all expense paid tour of the Mojave Desert thanks to the U.S. Army. Thirty days as I recall. It was a lot of fun. The red cross flew me from Ontario, CA to Savannah, GA for the funeral. Then I had to get to Mississippi. It was too late for the funeral. A cousin had already claimed the .410. So, tsbhoa, if you had a dick I’d tell you to fuck yourself. But then, you’d probably enjoy yourself. Troll.

    • honestly, i don’t deserve all this attention being lavished upon me (blush).
      i do have a dick, a richard, a ricky and a guy from altoona who’s birth certificate labels him as rick. he threw somebody off of a mountain once but i digest. buffalo wings.
      my penis, in the other hand, is impressive; normally i wouldn’t mention it in polite company but you primed the pump, so to speak. but enough about me.
      i’m relieved that you’re not concerned about my opinion. that said, it sucks that you were late in claiming that .410 from gramps estate.
      good luck in the field tomorrow. enough grousing.

    • He was perpetuating a .50 BMG myth and actually shot it through the eyes. The eyes weren’t sucked out. At that location, there’s skin, eyes, and thin bone around the nasal cavity. You can see mist coming from the nose and mouth. Not a lot of incompressible tissue to blow up, like a watermelon or varmit. You can see another video of him next shooting another doe, and it has a pretty conventional hole. If a .50’s shockwave was devastating, it would shred paper targets, which it doesn’t unless it’s near the muzzle blast. Demo Ranch has a video of it not even knocking down stacked Solo cups or a house of cards.

  7. So America might put more sanctions on Russia because they’re selling arms to India. India and China are squabbling over who’s side of the mountain is who’s. I thought we were friends with India? Is America pissed because it didn’t get the arms deal or what? I hope it’s not the “or what” , that won’t be good.

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