When the .50 caliber Browning Machine Gun round (12.7x99mm NATO) was introduced in 1921, it revolutionized the heavy machine gun/small cannon. It has been used in every war since then but hundreds of countries and is still is wide spread use around the world. The cartridge is large enough to sink ships, shoot down low flying aircraft, and disable unarmored vehicles. Capable of firing accurately out to and including 2600-yards with an 800-grain bullet, it is truly next level.
Since 1985, its use by hobbyists had expanded dramatically. Then, a good quality .50 rifles cost over $10,000 and was very hard to find outside of military circles. Today thousands of shooters enjoy making precision shots from 600-1000 yards regularly with these long-range systems. The Fifty Caliber Shooter Association (http://www.fcsa.org) sponsors over a dozen organized 1000-yard shoots around the country each year and has over 4000 members.
While still not as affordable as an old .22LR and a bucket of rimfire rounds, owning and shooting a .50BMG is close enough to many shooters to be able to swing.
Firearms shooting the stout .50BMG can be had in a wide range from hobby models to military grade pieces.
- Check around your local gunshops and you can often find entry-level AR conversions with .50BMG uppers among other 'fifty's'. This one in my local shop is only $900
Many smaller one-man shop type of gunsmiths like Watsons Weapons and Bohica have come and gone, their phone numbers disconnected and websites pulled, but their products remain around. Makers of single shot uppers for AR-15 platforms from these apparently defunct manufacturers can often be had for around $1,000 used.
Serbu, Safety Harbor Firearms, and LAR offers a number of platforms for $2000-ish new and have a proven record of accomplishment. Serbu states on their company's website that they have sold more than 1500 of their .50BMG firearms to the public. Armalite's AR-50 Big Black Series starts at about $3000. Alternatively, I have come across converted British Boys Anti-Tank rifles that are set up to fire the .50 BMG for comparable prices.
(LAR-Grizzly) photo by LAR
-Armalite Big Black .50BMG (photo by armalite)
Then there are the military-grade semi-automatics tactical .50s found in the hands of CT teams and foot soldiers around the world, McMillian and Barrett. The McMillan TAC-50 starts at about $7,995 for a bare stock firearm and rises steeply from there. Barrett, the granddaddy of the .50 rifle biz in the US, offers a number of rifles. These include the classic $8,900 Barrett M82 to the heavily accessorized $14,769 M107. Barrett also provides extensive 3-day classes for long-range shooters and armorers out past 2000-yards. They also offer single shot M99s for a more competitive $3,999 figure.
McMillian TAC-50 package. These and the Barret firearms are the top-tier of .50BMG rifles and are in current use with military long range snipers around the world. (photo by McMillian)
Remember, ballistically matched .50-caliber optics start at around $1200 for BORS Leupold Mark 4 M1's, which doesn't include the $230 rings, so be sure to budget accordingly if you plan on making those 1000-yard shots from behind a lens.
Hornady sells 10 round boxes of .50 BMG that can usually go for about $60. Federal M33 660-grain FMJs sell in cases of 100 for about $300. Between these two examples, you can see individual rounds costing about $3-$6 a trigger pull. While yes, this is expensive when compared to mainstream calibers like .223 and .270, overall is not that expensive when compared to quality belted magnum ammunition and even some shotgun shells. With NATO surplus ammunition occasionally available, you can often drop this to less than $2 per round.
- Its come to the point that you can find .50 BMG on the shelf without much effort.
Save that brass! If you know what you are doing and shop around, .50BMG spent brass in good condition can be reloaded for about 95-cents. Many fifty shooters even turn around and sell their spent brass as novelties to non-shooters for the price of new ammunition. It happens.
For the price of a top-tier tactical rifle or nice shotgun, you can get into the .50BMG game, and odds are, the prices will keep coming down as the firearms and the ammunition gains popularity.