What's The .50 Beowulf Good For?
July 14, 2011
I knew when I first saw the .50 Beowulf cartridge that I had to have one. Interestingly, when my shooting buddies saw it they all asked the question, "What on Earth would you use that for?"
What is the 50 Beowulf good for? Well let's see. It closely duplicates the performance of our oldest war horse--the great .45-70--the devastating effectiveness of which is a known quantity. It fits neatly into the magazine of the current standard AR-15 platform of our military and the civilian version thereof. Due to the ready availability of a plethora of .50 caliber bullets, the cartridge is quite versatile for much of the hunting in North America. For law enforcement purposes it is definitely suited to roles for which the 12 gauge slug is suitable, and it is significantly more powerful and accurate than a rifled slug to boot.
Years ago, I ordered a .50 Beowulf upper receiver made by Alexander Arms in Virginia. They call it the Overmatch upper, and it features a 16 inch barrel as well as a medium length gas system. Due to the increased size of the ejection port required to eject the fat Beowulf case, no dust cover is included, but the receiver does have forward assist. I topped it with a Nikon Buckmaster 3x9 scope that has proven to be clear, reliable and very tough.
I upgraded my Beowulf upper receiver by installing a Yankee Hill Machine full length free float quad rail. That required that I fit the barrel with a low profile gas block so I called the nice folks at Triton Arms who got me an excellent low profile gas block and a very sexy muzzle brake installed on my barrel. The brake fits perfectly, features eight evenly spaced slots similar to a birdcage, and sports some aggressive teeth on the front that will aid in use as a stand-off device for breaching chores or as a pain compliance tool where appropriate. Besides being dang good looking, the brake helps mitigate the substantial recoil from full house loads, and when shooting hundreds of rounds of the Beowulf, that is an important consideration.
Loading the .50 Beowulf is straight forward--think of it as a big pistol round. It is a straight tapered round that headspaces on the case mouth like an overgrown 9mm Parabellum. As with most pistol rounds, it requires belling of the case mouth and a mild taper crimp. The distinctive rebated rim on the case is no accident, and the case head fits a 7.62x39 sized bolt face so there is plenty of strength in the lugs to securely lock the action closed. Unlike some other big bore AR
cartridges, there is no doubt about the strength of the bolt using this rebated rim design. Alexander Arms' load data cautions against over crimping. Too much crimp will cause a slight bulge behind the case mouth, and that will lock your gun up when the round gets wedged in the chamber. The best solution is to make sure the cases are trimmed to the same length and only a moderate crimp is used. Neck tension does the bulk of the work holding the bullet anyway.
Starline cases were used throughout my testing. The short version is that these Starline cases are excellent! I weighed and measured ten random cases, and the maximum difference in length was .008" and weight difference varied by only .3 grains. When the cases are trimmed to a uniform length, they weigh within .1 grain of each other--very consistent. I had no cases fail during testing even though some were loaded ten times during my trials.
Powders useful in the Beowulf are pretty limited--as I said, it is really a big pistol round. Hodgdon's LIL'GUN and H-110 were used for this testing. Those two powders did wonderfully, and both produced great accuracy with LIL'GUN giving a bit more velocity. Additionally, it is more economical to use than H-110 since less powder is needed to get higher velocity. Reloder 7 from Alliant Powders was successfully used with the heaviest bullets, and it did well for them producing great accuracy and low extreme spreads but lower velocity than either of the Hodgdon powders. Sadly, no published data was found pairing this great powder with lighter bullets.
I worked with three Hornady bullets for this project. The 300-grain FTX bullet offers great accuracy as well as top velocity tested. The 350-grain XTP is a tough mid-weight bullet that offers very wonderful accuracy. The 500-grain XTP flat-nose bullet is a monster crusher that proved to be the single most accurate bullet tested--I was able to shoot several ragged hole five-shot groups with that bullet with three different powders!
Speer also offers three wonderful bullets for the Beowulf. The 300-grain Gold Dot proved to be very lightly constructed for the Beowulf. It may very well make the ideal personal defense bullet for the .50 Beowulf since expansion is violent at these velocities thereby limiting over penetration. The Speer 325-grain JHP is a tougher bullet, and MOA accuracy is the norm. Don't be fooled by the label on the new packaging that calls this bullet a "plinker" and "ideal for target shooting." Concerned, I called Speer and was assured that in spite of marketing hyperbole it's the same tough JHP as it ever was. The spanking new Deep Curl bullet has a wide, flat meplat and a tapered jacket that gets very thick toward the base. Sub-MOA proved to be pretty easy with this new bullet--it's my do-all bullet for the Beowulf since it will expand on light game, and hold together on tough game.
SinterFire sent some of their compressed inert metal powder bullets for testing--both 300-grain round-nose and their V Force bullet of the same weight. The round-nose is a general purpose design while the V Force has a hollow point that helps it fragment a bit easier on softer targets. In fact, for hunting they would perform as solids against most North American game. I suppose impact with heavy bone might cause some fragmentation at Beowulf velocities, which would be fine of course. They do turn into dust against steel targets and are environmentally friendly containing no lead or tungsten. For LE purposes these bullets have been tested against automotive and marine engines with good results without the danger of over penetrating. My particular rifle did not shoot these bullets as accurately as it did lead core bullets, but for banging steel or hunting at ranges out to 100 yards they will be fine; keeping all shots in the head of a standard IDPA target is easy.
Alexander Arms offers factory loads that use the Rainier bullets, so I thought it only appropriate to include some of those bullets in the test. I had some FMJ as well as JHP on hand, and I have shot enough of them over the years to know they are good, dependable performers in the Beowulf. These plated bullets with paper thin jackets are not very tough, but they are inexpensive to shoot. Accuracy for me is usually 2-2.5 MOA with either bullet, certainly adequate for plinking and hunting out to 100-150 yards.
I'm pleased with the .50 Beowulf cartridge. It is powerful, accurate and fits in an AR platform. Ammo is easy to load with a surprisingly large array of bullets for everything from inexpensive plinking to crushing seriously big game. Interestingly the name Beowulf in Old English literally translates into Bee-Wolf, or simply Bear. I can think of few cartridges with a name that fits better than the .50 Beowulf.
Warning: The loads shown here are safe only in the guns for which they were developed. Neither the author nor InterMedia Outdoors, Inc. assumes any liability for accidents or injury resulting from the use or misuse of this data.
|Bullet||Powder||Velocity (fps)||Notes |
|300-gr. Hornady FTX ||44.5 grs. H-110 ||1980 fps ||High velocity, accurate |
|300-gr. Hornady FTX ||38.8 grs. LIL'GUN ||2034 fps ||Highest velocity, accurate |
|300-gr. SinterFire Round-Nose ||35 grs. LIL'GUN ||1862 fps ||Decent velocity, low S.D. |
|300-gr. SinterFire V-Force ||35 grs. LIL'GUN ||1861 fps ||Decent velocity |
|300-gr. Speer Gold Dot ||44.0 grs. H-110 ||1957 fps ||Good velocity |
|300-gr. Speer Gold Dot ||38.5 grs. LIL'GUN ||1998 fps ||Good Velocity and accuracy |
|325 gr. Speer JHP ||37.0 grs. LIL' GUN ||1782 fps ||MOA accurate, consistent |
|334 gr. Rainier FMJ ||36.2 grs. LIL' GUN ||1789 fps ||Decent accuracy |
|350 gr. Hornady XTP ||35.6 grs. LIL' GUN ||1797 fps ||Very accurate |
|350 gr. Hornady XTP ||41.0 grs. H-110 ||1837 fps ||MOA accurate |
|350 gr. Speer DeepCurl ||40.5 grs. H-110 ||1820 fps ||Excellent accuracy |
|350 gr. Speer DeepCurl ||35.0 grs. LIL' GUN ||1726 fps ||MOA accurate, consistent |
|500 gr. Hornady XTP FN ||28.1 grs. LIL' GUN ||1394 fps ||Most accurate |
|500 gr. Hornady XTP FN ||32.5 grs. H-110 ||1308 fps ||Second most accurate |
|500 gr. Hornady XTP FN ||37.0 grs. Re-7 ||1305 fps ||Third most accurate |