Originally designed for Browning's heavy machine gun, the .50 BMG more recently has become an extreme long-range wunderkind.
What The .50 BMG Capable Of:
- Armor-piercing capabilities when loaded with a sabot round.
- Accurately achieving hits well past the 1-mile mark.
- Pushing a 675-grain projectile 3,000 fps at the muzzle.
The .50 BMG (Browning Machine Gun) was invented by its namesake and adopted into United States military service in 1918 for John M. Browning’s famous heavy machine gun. His attentions in this area were prompted by a battlefield need recognized during World War I. There have been other developments; and, at least once, the Pentagon considered dropping the .50 BMG in favor of more-modern and generally bigger chamberings. However, the .50 BMG has remained. The advent of saboted loads generating 4,500 fps muzzle velocities and having devastating armor-penetration capabilities, as well as its performance in the Gulf War, cemented its continued existence as a stable part of NATO’s arsenal.
Battlefield use is against light-armored vehicles to ranges of a mile or more. And, used against the unprotected foot soldier, it’s effective to several times that range.
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There’s long been interest in the .50 BMG as a quasi-sporting round. Today, the most significant sporting use for this chambering is long-range accuracy shooting, with some competitions exceeding one mile, and there’ve been a couple of King of 2 Mile matches held. The 1,000-yard .50-caliber record, as of this writing, is a five-shot group of just under 2 inches on centers.
Several bolt-action rifles are currently available for the Big 50. The .50 BMG easily launches the 750-grain bullets available for it at 2,700 fps. The lighter, 647-grain bullets available can be launched at 3,000 fps. For obvious reasons, sporting rifles chambered for the Big 50 uniformly feature muzzle brakes and weigh 20 pounds or more. Recoil is harsh until the rifle’s weight approaches 30 pounds.
Commercial ammunition is available for the .50 BMG from PMC and Hornady, among others, that are loading both once-fired and new brass and calling their offerings “factory new.” Components and specialized tools and equipment to handload this cartridge are available to the advanced reloader.
Editor's Note: This article is an excerpt from Cartridges of the World, 16th Edition.
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