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A Big 50 for a Bad Neighborhood: The Barrett M82A1 Review

by Robert Kolesar   |  May 2nd, 2008 2

Barrett-M82A1_001

I’m probably not the best person to write an objective review about Barrett’s rifles. I hadn’t shot one until my tour in Iraq and didn’t have any interest in them professionally, seeing the M107 (the Army’s nomenclature) as a specialty item for use only in very limited military applications. That perception changed in April and May of 2004 when I got to see the big .50 in action.

Salvadorian Paratroopers, who had some cast-off M107s and 10X scopes from the U.S. Army, were using the Barrett with devastating effect on Mahdi militiamen trying to overrun our FOB (forward operating base). The Task Force Commander had earlier drafted me to assist the little airborne people in zeroing and familiarization. We zeroed at 500 meters, using a laser rangefinder and M33 ball, on a dark spot of a distant concrete wall. Later, when Muqtada’s Mahdi army “martyrs” tried to claim ownership of our little base, I watched kill after kill from 600 out to 1,000 meters in 130-degree heat. I became a Barrett fan in An Najaf in the spring of 2004.

When Guns & Ammo editor Rich Venola called me and asked me to do a review of the 82A1, I agreed instantly. The opportunity to shoot a .50 again (under somewhat more comfortable conditions) was something I couldn’t refuse. And as the Chief Marksmanship Instructor and NCOIC of First Army’s Task Force SARG (Small Arms Readiness Group) at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, I had access to ranges and facilities that most gunwriters never experience. So a meaningful test, under field conditions with plenty of ammo, was possible. I recruited my team of Army Reserve Instructors to assist, laid on a range complete with discarded armor vehicles to plink at and picked up some ammo. This was going to be fun.

The Barrett .50 82A1 that arrived at my dealer, Tobe Whitley’s, door in San Antonio is the same semiauto rifle that earned my respect in Iraq in 2004. The M107 military version has spades on the bottom of the bipod legs for better ground contact (the 82 has flat-bottomed pods, like the M60 GPMG), but other than that, the M107 and 82A1 are one and the same. It’s a big rifle—weight is 31 pounds unloaded, without scope. Add a good telescopic sight, rings and 10 rounds of ammo and you’re up to 40 pounds.

My rifle came equipped with a Leupold MK4, 4.5-14x scope with Mil-Dot reticle. It was typical Leupold- clear, bright with totally reliable adjustments. Mounted above the Leupold was the new B.O.R.S. (Barrett Optical Ranging System). The barrel is 29 inches with an effective muzzlebrake attached (it looks a lot like the ones on 155s). The barrel is fluted to keep the weight down without losing stiffness. The receiver parts are coated with a rugged, flat gray finish that is non-reflective and (I know this sounds dumb) attractive. The usual 1913 rail is on top and gives plenty of mounting leeway for eye relief. The bore is chrome-plated for long life and reliability. Back-up iron sights, usable to 1,500 meters, are also provided. A great feature for a rifle this size is that it breaks down into two pieces and will fit into a regular Pelican case. It can be assembled, ready to fire, in about a minute. This rifle is designed “from the ground up” to work. More than 5,000 Barretts have been sold to the military and used in combat in the most extreme conditions on the planet. Our rifle went almost 600 rounds without a hitch, and I expected nothing less.

I assembled my little team of USAR Marksmanship Instructors for a pre-planned day of training with the 107/82A1 on a range that gave us almost 1,500 meters to use. After a class on the M107s’ capabilities by Staff Sgt Chris Bonner, our resident M107 expert, we zeroed at 500 meters with issue M33 ball. We had three different types of ammo on hand M33 GI ball, IMI (Israeli) M33 Match ball and some A-Max match and hollowpoints from HSM. The M33 and Israeli stuff had pretty much the same point of impact (as much as we could tell on the target vehicles), but the HSM ammo shot several feet higher at ranges beyond 600 yards. Also, the HSM A-Max bullets were too long to feed using the magazines (we single-loaded and continued to shoot). A call to Barrett confirmed that the HSM ammo is hot (not a problem at all with the 82) and that some of the rounds are loaded too long for the Barrett mags. HSM uses 750-grain bullets, as opposed to 661-grain ones from the IMI ball provided by Barrett. This may explain the long OAL. The 82A1 happily digested whatever we loaded into it, though, whether singly or semi. And once we figured out the different point of impact, the Leupold Mil-Dot made it easy hitting at extended ranges with the HSM ammo.

If you’ve never shot a .50 rifle before, you’re probably wondering about recoil. After having shot almost 600 rounds of .50 ammo in about four hours, my team can comment from experience. While not as agreeable as shooting a 5.56mm for an extended period, it’s not as bad as you’d think. The weight, coupled with a recoil-operated action and a good muzzlebrake, keeps recoil manageable. The 82/107 series also has dual barrel springs that help dampen recoil. Recoil was comparable to a 12-gauge shotgun with high-base loads. A PAST pad (or body armor) would help. Gripping the rifle firmly and pulling it snugly into the shoulder soaks up additional recoil.

What surprised everyone was the nice trigger—not an M14 National Match trigger—but pretty good nonetheless. It broke cleanly, with just a slight roll-off. A super-light trigger is not beneficial under stress, as fear, fatigue, heavy recoil and the high stakes of the shot itself will degrade the shooter’s ability. A good combat trigger needs to strike a fine balance between control and poundage. This trigger has that balance. I know what you’re thinking We were shooting a “tuned” rifle (yes, we were). All Barrett rifles are checked and, yes, “tuned” at the factory before shipping (for more than $8,000 retail, that would be expected). And other Barretts I’ve shot had similarly good triggers.

Something that I forgot to mention is the role this rifle plays in combat. At well over 40 pounds with case, scope and ammo, it’s not designed to be carried around the battlefield by sniper teams looking for targets of opportunity. And the ammo is simply too powerful to be used on soft targets at “normal” (out to 800 meters) sniping range. What this rifle does that no other weapon in the U.S. arsenal can do is engage targets at ultra-long range that may be lightly armored or protected (such as a vehicle or concrete block wall). It shoots flat and hard out at ranges that a heavy machine gun or grenade launcher (M2 Browning or MK 19) would normally be used. It avoids collateral damage and civilian casualties that other weapons would cause. Set up in a semi-permanent, camouflaged “hide” or as a long-range defensive rifle on a FOB, the Barrett .50 can reach out to 2,000 meters and connect.

So there you have it, a not very objective test of a rifle by someone who already considers it a winner. My team and I spent a warm day shooting an awesome rifle that didn’t malfunction, shot superbly, had a nice trigger and hit anything at which we pointed it. It handled well, fieldstripped easily and assembled quickly. It was liked by everyone who shot it.

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