Whether your gun is for hunting, home defense or something else, prudent .50 Beowulf ammo selection is the key to unlocking this cartridge’s maximum performance.
After deciding to build or buy a gun in this caliber, the next logical step is understanding how to select the right .50 Beowulf ammo for your needs. There are several kinds available, and they all cater to different purposes, so let’s dive into the details of various loads and determine what to look for when selecting your own.
.50 Beowulf Ballistics
For .50 Beowulf ammo, the most typical loads sport between 300- and 400-grain bullets moving at 1,800 to 1,900 feet per second producing around 2,300 to 2,800 foot-pounds of energy. The exact velocity and energy are also of course dependent on other factors like barrel length.
Also keep in mind that just because a manufacturer claims its ammo has a certain velocity, depending on how they measured it, your personal chronograph readings may vary.
All .50 Beowulf projectile types and grain weights sink like a stone with a G1 ballistic coefficient of less than .200.
Unfortunately, the few manufacturers that do make .50 Beowulf ammo (or the generic equivalent 12.7x42mm, Alexander Arms holds the patent for the .50 Beowulf name) don't provide drop tables. In turn, you have to rely on third-party testing or figure it out yourself.
Realistically, you can expect a maximum point-blank range of no more than 150 yards on a 4-inch target.
As for trajectory, according to ShootersCalculator.com, one could easily expect a foot or more of drop at 200 yards and over 5 feet of drop at 300 yards and beyond. At 200 yards, the projectile will have lost more than one-third of its velocity as well.
In terms of energy, the first 200 yards of travel rob the projectile blind. Most loads drop below 1,000 foot-pounds by 300 yards, which is considered the minimum for big game hunting in some states.
According to our ShootersCalculator table, a common 350-grain FTX hollow-point from Alexander Arms will dip below 1,000 foot-pounds of energy before even reaching 200 yards and it begins rapidly approaching 500 foot-pounds beyond 300 yards.
What this all means is that while a skilled marksman with a good scope may be able to stretch .50 Beowulf’s legs some, for most shooters its utility is solidly within the 200-yard range.
Besides the velocity and energy of the projectile, recoil energy is another area of concern to consider.
While you can read about recoil energy as much as you want, it won’t necessarily translate into what you’ll feel on your shoulder. There are too many factors regarding the type of weapon used and the particulars of the shooter to accurately represent recoil energy with a simple number.
With that said, .50 Beowulf tends to produce between 25 and 33 foot-pounds of recoil energy. To put that figure into perspective, it’s somewhere between the .300 and .338 Winchester Magnums. That’s quite a lot of kick, especially for the lightweight AR-style rifles and pistols this cartridge is typically fired from.
.50 Beowulf Projectiles
The three most common brands of .50 Beowulf ammo are Alexander Arms, Underwood Ammo and Steinel. The latter two companies sell theirs as 12.7x42mm because—again—Alexander Arms holds the patent.
Common projectile styles include jacketed hollow point, jacketed soft point, flat-top FMJ, spire-point FMJ and hard cast lead.
Underwood offers the Lehigh Xtreme Penetrator bullet in this caliber, in 350- and 425-grain weights. JHP options include both 300- and 325-grain Speer Gold Dot JHP (available from Underwood) and a 350-grain Hornady XTP JHP from Underwood, Alexander Arms and Steinel. Alexander Arms also offers a 325-grain FTX (akin to Critical Defense) load.
Hard cast loads include a 380-grain load from Underwood, and both 500- and 600-grain HC loads from Steinel. Hawk makes a 400-grain semi-jacketed flat top bullet, which is loaded by both Steinel and Alexander Arms.
All manufacturers offer some form of FMJ, including round shoulder/flat top and Steinel's brass spire point bullets. Underwood and Alexander's FMJ loads are 350-grain FMJs, but Steinel's brass spire point bullets are offered with 280- and 414-grain bullets.
Alexander Arms also offers a 200-grain Inceptor ARX frangible load.
Those are the most common loads of .50 Beowulf ammo. While there may be some other manufacturers out there, this is the ammunition you are most likely to actually find.
Choosing .50 Beowulf Ammo
So…how does one determine which load of .50 Beowulf ammo will best suit their needs?
Unlike more common calibers like 9mm, .50 Beowulf doesn’t have the benefit of millions of users documenting their experiences over the course of several decades. This caliber is still relatively new and obscure, as a result, it’s severely lacking good data.
Because of this, prospective .50 Beowulf shooters need to start from square one when choosing their ammo. That is, deciding on an intended purpose.
Since the cartridge uses pistol bullets, it's best to think in those terms. What would you pick for hunting if you were using a traditional pistol or pistol-caliber carbine? What would you pick for home defense? What would you pick for predator defense? What would you pick for range use and niche applications?
As far as defense, there's some evidence to indicate that .50 Beowulf might be tenable.
Formal testing of terminal performance is nonexistent, but there is some informal testing.
BrassFetcher tested a 325-grain load using a Speer Gold Dot JHP loaded to around 2,000 fps through a 16-inch barrel, which resulted in 19.8 inches of penetration through heavy clothing into 10-percent ballistic gelatin.
The FBI's standard is 12 to 18 inches of penetration in 10-percent gelatin through 4 layers of denim, which means that the specific load in that single test (just one data point) was on the outside edge of what you'd want to consider for home defense.
Alexander Arms posted their own testing video of their 200-grain ARX Inceptor frangible load and it certainly looks promising as well.
The 200-grain frangible load penetrated 17 inches into bare gelatin.
What this would indicate is Gold Dot and ARX frangible loads may be tenable for home defense use (the FBI standard exists for a reason) though there is minimal data to support it. If defense was a use you were considering this cartridge for, you need to be your own judge.
As for using various kinds of .50 Beowulf ammo for hunting, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence online supporting the efficacy of the cartridge against medium game at moderate ranges. This would be expected given the cartridge’s attributes on paper, but there is also some value in first-hand accounts regarding which projectiles performed better than others.
Hornady FTX and XTP loads are popular for medium-size game, given the jacketed hollow points have a strong record and are known for their reliable controlled expansion. In FTX's case, an improved ballistic coefficient is baked into the cake thanks to its polymer tip.
Gold Dot is also a viable choice for medium game, providing ample penetration and excellent expansion as demonstrated by BrassFletcher's tests. Honestly, if one had to pick a do-it-all loading for this cartridge, Speer's 325-grain Gold Dot would be at the head of that list.
FMJ .50 Beowulf ammo should primarily be considered a range load, although it would also be a viable choice for defeating light barriers such as auto sheet metal and typical residential structures (which was the original intent behind the cartridge’s development to begin with).
For large predator defense (think brown bears), the heavy hard cast lead loads remain the best choice due to their impressive penetration.
With all that in mind, which .50 Beowulf ammo would serve you best?
The 5 Best Loadings Of .50 Beowulf Ammo
Alexander Arms 200-Grain ARX Inceptor
The ARX Inceptor load from Alexander Arms is a good choice for home defense. It has an advertised velocity of 2,500 fps from a 16-inch barrel, which equates to roughly 2,775 foot-pounds of energy.
The frangible bullet means less risk of overpenetration in urban or suburban environments, making it an acceptable choice for home defense or other applications where overpenetration is a concern.
MSRP: $43.85 per box of 20 // alexanderarms.com
Steinel 12.7x42mm 414-Grain Brass Spire “The Brass Spike”
Sometimes, the answer is to heck with what's downrange and to heck with its cover. The Steinel 414-grain Brass Spire Point load will punch through almost anything you can think of.
It is literally a brass spike in a cartridge case, with an advertised velocity of 1,300 fps from a 16-inch barrel, producing 1,553 foot-pounds of energy. Brush deflection? Never heard of her. Barriers? HA! If max penetration is what you want, this is the one to go for
Home defense is out of the question with this round, but hunting or certain niche applications involving barrier defeat would be suitable applications. Also, it's darned unique.
MSRP: $57.99 per box of 20 // steinelammo.com
Underwood Ammo 12.7x42mm 325-Grain JHP
The 325-grain JHP load from Underwood Ammo uses the renowned Speer Gold Dot hollow point bullet, and it’s loaded to 1,870 fps and 2,524 foot-pounds of muzzle energy.
This would be an excellent all-around load, good for medium game hunting and even tenable for defense. The expanding projectile means it isn’t ideal for barrier penetration, however.
Speer Gold Dot, of course, is one of the standards by which other JHP projectiles are judged. It's one of the most common issued duty loads (along with Federal HST) for a reason and has been proven on the streets and in the fields.
MSRP: $32.99 per box of 20 // underwoodammo.com
Steinel 12.7x42mm 500-Grain Hornady FP-XTP
If you wanted a hunting/woods load and were not kidding around, take a look at Steinel's 12.7x42mm load with the Hornady 500-grain FP-XTP bullet, which is also used in .500 S&W Magnum ammo.
The bullet is a 500-grain semi-jacketed flat nose, a controlled expansion (meaning less expansion, more penetration) bullet meant for handgun hunting and predator defense. If you absolutely mean to bash a hog or whitetail flat, or if you wanted a .50 Beowulf as a bear defense/brush gun for larger game…this would be the ticket.
It's loaded to 1,281 fps, with 1,822 foot-pounds of energy.
If that's not heavy enough, Steinel also offers a 600-grain hard cast load as well.
MSRP: $51.99 per box of 20 // steinelammo.com
Underwood 12.7x42mm 350-Grain Flat-Nose FMJ
This is the closest you can get to range .50 Beowulf ammo. It's a 350-grain flat-nose FMJ bullet. The advertised velocity is 1,775 fps from a 16-inch barrel, which equates to 2,448 foot-pounds of energy. It still isn’t cheap, but it’s about as affordable as you will be able to find for this caliber without reloading your own.
MSRP: $32.99 per box of 20 // underwoodammo.com
More On .50 Beowulf:
- .50 Beowulf: The Half-Inch Heavy Hitter
- Best .50 Beowulf Uppers
- Alexander Arms .50 Beowulf Hunter
- Polycase .50 Beowulf Inceptor Ammunition