If you’re in the market for a hard-hitting brush gun that can tackle virtually any North American wild game you’re likely to encounter – whether it’s whitetail and wild hogs or bears and bull moose - look no further than an AR-15 chambered in .50 Beowulf.
Hunting/Self Defense Application
Introduced in 2001, .50 Beowulf was the first of the big-bore AR-15 cartridges to hit the market, and while manufacturers have since taken advantage of the platform’s legendary versatility to chamber ARs in .458 Socom and .450 Bushmaster, among others, the .50 Beowulf is still hard to beat when it comes to punching through dense foliage and heavy cover at short to medium ranges.
The round is also well-suited to tactical applications in urban environments, which is why it has seen relatively widespread adoption by military and law enforcement personnel who need a tool that can easily penetrate windshield glass, auto body panels, and body armor without any noticeable deflection.
The .50 Beowulf cartridge features a tapered straight-wall case based on a lengthened .50 AE case, but one of the first things you’ll likely notice when picking up one of these rounds is the heavily rebated rim, which fits a bolt head designed for the 7.62x39mm cartridge. It’s a strange-looking combination, but don’t let the looks fool you – this round performs flawlessly, and that same case design, along with the plentiful availability of .50 bullets, make this cartridge a reloader’s dream. [50 Beowulf's cartridge size is 12.7x42, and due to copyright constraints from Alexander Arms, many manufacturers (including Bear Creek Arsenal) will refer to their uppers and barrels as 12.7x42. 50 Beowulf and 12.7x42 refer to the same thing, however.]
50 Beowulf Compatibility & Magazines
But for my money, one of the best features of the .50 Beowulf cartridge is just how easy it is to transform your AR with a simple upper swap – any mil-spec lower will mate to a .50 Beowulf upper with no issues. Your existing 5.56 magazines will work just fine, though they’ll only hold ten rounds in a single-stack configuration thanks to the hefty case size. [We recommend using dedicated 12.7x42 magazines, however, for optimal reliability.] That means that if you already own an AR (and if you’re reading this, you probably do), one of our Bear Creek Arsenal complete uppers can have you slinging .50 downrange for under $350! [As always, we recommend tuning the upper to the lower by making adjustments such as adding a heavier buffer/spring to reduce recoil.]
50 Beowulf Recoil
Ergonomically, an AR chambered in .50 Beowulf doesn’t feel all that different from one chambered in 5.56. It’s certainly a bit heavier, but you’ll appreciate that extra weight when it comes time to pull the trigger – the heavy barrel and muzzle brake keep muzzle climb to a minimum and make the recoil much more manageable, though a touch more forward lean in your shooting stance will help, too.
In fact, assuming you’ve got your shooting technique squared away, felt recoil will be quite similar to shooting 12-gauge buckshot. [You'll want to add a heavier buffer spring to minimize recoil; we recommend an H2 or H3 buffer for our 12.7x42 AR-15 complete uppers and rifles.]
In terms of ballistic profile, the best point of comparison is the venerable .45-70 Government. Most .50 Beowulf ammo you’ll come across falls in the 300-400 grain range, and even at the very low end you’re still looking at a muzzle velocity of nearly 1900 fps, which translates into 2,300 foot-pounds of energy. In other words, it hits hard.
And like .45-70 Govt., you can expect some pretty dramatic drop and loss of velocity at long ranges, which is why .50 Beowulf is much more suited to shooting inside of 250 yards. You aren’t going to get sub-MOA precision out of it, but if you’re like me and do a fair bit of hunting in places with plenty of thick brush, there is a lot to be said for a big-bore, magazine-fed, semi-auto rifle that can put a hog down with a single shot while still allowing for fast follow-ups when you encounter a runner or multiple targets. [To learn more about hunting with an AR-15 and AR-10 see our guide about the Best AR-15 & AR-10 Calibers for Hunting.]
Fun to Shoot
Last but not least, there’s one thing about .50 Beowulf that simple numbers won’t tell you: it’s just plain fun to shoot something with this much power behind it. It’s a real thumper of a round, and when you start putting lead downrange, don’t be surprised to find other people wandering over to find out what exactly it is that you’re shooting. Whether you’re just punching holes in paper or if you’ve got some big game hunting planned, a .50 Beowulf upper is an excellent way to turn your AR into an affordable, hard-hitting beast of a rifle.
[We'd like to extend a huge thank you to Eric Shattuck for his hard work on this article. Check out our other helpful content like infographics and firearm guides.Comment what caliber you would like us to cover next below!]