ArmaLite AR-50

ArmaLite AR-50: Hands-On Review

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If you are looking for a rifle that offers unparalleled reliability, accuracy, and functionality, check out the ArmaLite AR-50. When it comes to long-range combat, nothing beats this rifle. Its bolt-action mechanism is engineered to provide the highest levels of accuracy and dependability.

The Armalite AR-50 is a single-shot bolt-action rifle with a 30-inch chrome moly barrel and a large muzzle break. This rifle is also ideal for tactical use since it can handle extreme weather conditions. Other than that, it has plenty of good features as well. Read on for our review of the ArmaLite AR-50.

ArmaLite AR-50 Pros & Cons

Pros
  • Affordable for a 50 cal rifle
  • Extremely accurate
  • Very smooth action
  • Clean single-stage trigger break
  • Stable to use, making easier follow-up shots
  • Heavy duty and solid build
Cons
  • Heavy and hard to move
  • Single-shot rifle
  • Impractical weapon to have

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The ArmaLite Company

The ArmaLite company is a small arms company founded in the 1950s in Hollywood, California. In 1952 Armalite released its first product, the Armalite 1 Parasniper, one of the first rifles to use a foam-filled fiberglass stock and an aluminum barrel with a steel liner. However, it wasn’t until 1956, when the AR-5 and AR-7 were produced and used by the US military, that ArmaLite became popular.

ArmaLite Ar-50 Review
AR-5

In 1957, the world first got a glimpse of the large-caliber AR-10. And although it lost its contest for the new combat rifle for the US forces, it became the initial platform that gave birth to the smaller caliber AR-15.

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Who is the ArmaLite AR-50 for?

The AR-50 is an anti-material precision rifle, which packs a lot of power. In general, there are two reasons why you should own this gun. First and foremost, law enforcement and Special Response Teams (SRT/SWAT) would benefit from having the AR-50 in their arsenal. The ability to blast through cement walls and nullify a threat from 1000 yards is a good option to have should the need arise.

However, on the civilian market, this is a highly impractical weapon with very little civilian use outside of recreational target shooting and sometimes, albeit a bit excessive, deer/ large game hunting. Not only do you need to have the budget to purchase this $3000+ behemoth, but at an average of around $3 per bullet, simply shooting this gun at the range can add up.

Add a high-quality scope, some front, and rear bipods, and a case big enough to fit it in, and you’re looking at a $5,000 investment. It’s an experience to be had for sure. However, it’s not an experience for the faint of heart and those on a tighter budget.

Regulations on the ArmaLite AR-50

The U.S. Federal Law allows gun owners to purchase firearms up to .50 Caliber. So, that includes .50 Caliber pistols and rifles, including the ArmaLite AR-50. However, some states have passed legislation making it illegal to own a .50 Caliber rifle without the proper permits, which will need to meet specific clauses.

For example, in California, you can’t own or purchase a .50 BMG rifle unless you have a valid permit to possess an assault weapon, own it before it was illegal, engage in lawful target shooting or police-approved exhibitions, or travel to California for a competition. As I always say, err on the side of caution and check with your local agencies to see if you can legally purchase this rifle.

ArmaLite AR-50 Variations

Since its release, ArmaLite has come out with newer iterations of its AR-50 rifle. 

AR-50A1B

The AR-50A1B is ArmaLite’s fire upgrade from its AR-50 model. The 50A1B features a smoother action, a new pressable bolt release similar to newer model rifles, and an even stronger, heavily reinforced muzzle brake. 

AR-50A1L

The AR-50A1L has all the updated features of the AR-50A1B but is configured for left-handed shooters instead.

AR-50-A1BNM

The AR-50-A1BNM is ArmaLite’s refined AR-50A1B specifically for match-grade ammunition.

AR-50-A1B-416

The AR-50-A1B-416 is ArmaLite’s AR-50 model modified to chamber the .416 Barret.

The ArmaLite AR-50 Hands-On Review

Let’s look at the AR-50, now that we know where it came from and its technological “lineage.” The rifle is a fairly simple affair — a single-shot bolt-action behemoth that weighs almost 35 pounds. We’ll talk about shooting it later. Here are some photos.

Mike with the ArmaLite AR-50
Setting the rifle up
free-floating barrel of the ArmaLite AR-50
The barrel is free-floated, helping accuracy. Note the polymer stock. (and the piece of a weed).
ArmaLite AR-50 with bolt open
Open bolt. Note the huge locking lugs…
muzzle brake
Muzzle brake

This thing really works! It is, in a word, massive. It vents gases to the rear and side, thereby pulling the rifle forward when you shoot it. This lessens felt recoil but creates a large area of blast.

muzzle ports

Muzzle brake ports, from behind off to one side. Look how big the blast deflector is — that is necessary with this rifle.

pistol grip
Pistol grip. Very AR-15-esque. Just bigger.
buttstock of the ArmaLite AR-50
Buttstock — it is very adjustable.

You can move the butt pad up or down, along with the cheek piece. I had no trouble shooting it left-handed. The safety tab is behind the bolt handle. Up for Safe, down for Fire.

buttstock left side
Butt stock, left side
muzzle of the ArmaLite AR-50
The muzzle. Big hole!
2 bolts comparison of ArmaLite AR-50
My Savage Axis II XP .243 bolt (top) for comparison

This photo doesn’t even show the whole AR-50 bolt — the three locking lugs are hidden. These lugs are very large and thick, as they need to be.

ArmaLite AR-50 on rest
Rifle on improvised “bench.”

The blast folded the table legs the first shot — we fixed them.

Let’s look at some specs before going on.

ArmaLite AR-50 Specs

Caliber:.50BMG (Browning Machine Gun)
Barrel:30 inches, chrome moly, 1:15 twist. I measured it at 1 5/8 inches diameter. This is a heavy-barreled rifle for sure. It uses a V-shaped receiver bottom-bedded firmly when the action screws are tightened, and is free-floated in front of an octagonal receiver (see photo above)
Muzzle Device:Multi-flute recoil device
Stock:3-Section - Extruded Fore End, Machined Grip with Vertical Grip, Removable Buttstock (not adjustable, just removable)
Extractor:Sako type
Finish:Hard Anodized Aluminum, Manganese Phosphated Steel (a form of parkerizing)
Weight:34.1 pounds (the one I shot had a scope which brought the weight up to 34.8 pounds)
Overall Length:49.8", Butt Stock Removed / 58.5" Extended
Front Sight:Modified Octagonal Form, Grilled, and Slotted for MIL-STD 1913 Scope Rail With Boss to Engage Cross-Slot on Receiver
Bolt:Triple-locking lug, "floating"-- the piece that holds the locking lugs "floats" within the bolt body itself, helping with recoil
Ejector:Spring Loaded Plunger, Auto-Ejection
Trigger:Shilen Standard Single Stage, Approximately 5lb
Included:15-Minute Sight Base, Ear Plugs, Owner's Manual
Warranty:Limited lifetime
Options:front bipod, rear monopod
MSRP:$3359 (out of stock as of this writing from ArmaLite)
Real-World Price:between $3000-$3500

Appearance 

The ArmaLite AR-50 is a rifle with a fairly simple affair. It’s as stripped down as you get in terms of a .50 Caliber rifle in this day and age. The AR-50 sports an all-black industrial appearance with a hefty and significant profile.

I noticed this when looking at the AR-50’s ginormous barrel. The Octagonal Muzzle break with its V-Channel chassis is intimidating. However, looking closely at the gun, you’ll notice that fit and finish on some unimportant parts are okay. 

Don’t worry if you find some parts that look misaligned. It won’t affect your rifle’s performance and is more of an aesthetic issue. Higher-end precision rifles are usually nicer around the edges, but for the price range of this rifle compared to other .50BMG rifles, it’s more than acceptable.

Handling 

The AR-50 is a solid, heavy-duty rifle, with emphasis on heavy. With a scope and bipod equipped, you should expect to be carrying upwards of 40lbs. The oversized bolt knob is easy to grab and has a very smooth action. The stock is also very comfortable, and aside from being an extra-long and hefty rifle, this is an easy-to-use firearm.

Features 

The AR-50 features a 31″ B bedded free-floating barrel with a 1:15 right-hand twist ratio and a proprietary V-Channel Chasis muzzle brake. It comes with a 15 moa base plate scope mount that is usable but would do better with at least a 20 moa.

Inside the rifle, you’ll find a Sako Type extractor, a Tri lug bolt, and a spring-loaded plunger ejector, which functions as the main action of the AR-50.

The trigger is a 5-lb single-stage trigger with a very nice, clean break and an ARA2 pattern grip that may not be the most ergonomic but serves its function. At the back end of the AR-50, you’ll find a nice solid, adjustable stock with an adjustable cheek rest. You also have an option for a very solid front bipod and rear monopod with your AR-50 purchase.

Shooting The ArmaLite AR-50

Accuracy 

The ArmaLite AR-50 is a very accurate rifle. The single-stage trigger breaks like glass, giving you a very nice trigger pull to work with. It’s also pretty stable for a heavy caliber firearm, making follow-up shots easier to set up.

bullet holes
more bullet holes

Inch-thick steel (bottom), half-inch (white), both with front side towards camera. All rounds went through the white plate, and most through the inch piece.

There were a few that didn’t make it through the inch piece, and even left parts of the bullet. The armor-piercers had no trouble with this. When a round generates between 10,000 and 15,000 foot pounds of energy like the .50BMG does, there’s not much it can’t do within its limits.

Now is as good a place as any to insert the video compilation I made — it’s less than a minute but will give you an idea of what happens when you pull the trigger.

That last shot was by one of my sons. What caused the sparks, etc.? An armor-piercing incendiary round.

Recoil 

Interestingly enough, there’s not as much recoil on the AR-50 as expected. It’s similar to firing a 10 gauge, and it’s actually smoother than firing a .308. Compared to other .50 BMG rifles like the Barrett M82 (significantly lighter), the recoil is not that bad/horrible and certainly better than those 2.

To give credit where it’s due, the softer recoil is mostly part due to the weight of the rifle and their proprietary muzzle brake design.

The weight of the gun really helps cut the recoil (recoil comparison vs. the .338 Lapua Mag), but the muzzle brake (pictured again) is the real deal here.

muzzle brake
Muzzle brake

Notice the two forward ports that direct the gases out and back. This serves to pull the rifle forward upon firing, yielding the result of less felt recoil. The large wings behind the ports are blast deflectors. This ensures that the escaping gases and any blast effects are kept away from the shooter.

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Performance 

The two giant side ports on the muzzle break do a great job dispersing the gas away from you and creating this cone of pressurized air around the shooter. You can actually feel it pull the gun a little and help with that recoil. And even you’re just watching, you can feel the concussion just by being near the AR-50.

My only gripe is with loading the rifle. It’s a lot easier to eject the cartridge than it is to put a new round in. Locking the bolt will take a significant amount of force and is the complete opposite of the otherwise smoother action of the firing group.

Performance-wise, this is a fun gun to shoot. However, it can get expensive at around $3 per round, but it’s definitely an experience.

Reliability

The phosphate finish on this gun is okay, but it’s good enough for the military to employ the same coat. The gun itself is as heavy-duty as possible and will handle the .50 BMG without issue.

The thick steel barrel is so solid that you can probably take it out and hit someone with it if something happens to your gun. The lack of fancy mechanism makes this a heavy-duty but straightforward and reliable precision rifle.

The .50BMG

Here is the assortment of ammo that we shot:

ammo selection

Here is a screenshot of the various .50BMG rounds out there.

50BMG rounds

You can see we had an assortment of rounds to shoot. None of it was commercial — this was all military stuff, except for two match reloads. As you can see by comparing our ammo to the above, we had plain ball, armor-piercing incendiary tracer, and armor-piercing incendiary.

There was even one tracer round in the middle of the linked ammo — couldn’t get it out to shoot it. (If you are looking for new factory ammo, here’s a good place to start).

It’s no wonder that we created sparks and more. The incendiary rounds are designed to set fire to whatever they go through like a gas tank on an armored vehicle or airplane. Armor-piercing rounds can cut through three-quarters of an inch or so of regular steel at over 500 yards (according to specs), and then kill whatever’s behind it.

I’ve seen videos of Taliban hiding behind a substantial concrete block wall that were hit with this type of round and were neutralized, to put it politely. I’m sure many of you former or active military readers out there can vouch for the .50’s effectiveness, much more so than I can. If so, thank you for your service.

Quick History of the .50 BMG

In the late 1910s, legendary gun designer John Browning was experimenting with a larger, upscaled round based on the .30-06. He was looking for an improved anti-aircraft weapon during WWI and for later conflicts. He was also responsible for the venerable M1911 pistol and its .45 ACP cartridge. Both the 1911 pistol and the .50BMG are still used, after 108 and 98 years respectively. He knew what he was doing.

J. Browning
J. Browning

He designed the round and then scaled up a machine gun (the 1917/1919) to shoot it. The military was interested, especially in armor-piercing and armor-piercing incendiary rounds.

It wasn’t until November 11, 1918 that the machine gun, with Colt onboard to help in development, was tested and completed. Ironically, that was the day WWI ended officially, so the gun was worked on and perfected. It was eventually named the M1921 Browning Machine Gun. That gun was developed further and was named the M2HB (heavy barrel).

This gun has been with us since 1921 in one form or other and is affectionately referred to as the “Ma Deuce.” During WWII, a lighter, shorter-barreled version was developed for aircraft use. This is truly a flexible platform, one that is still in use today to great effect.

We shot a few armor-piercing incendiary rounds — note the sparks in the video- and a few armor-piercing incendiary tracers, along with one or two “plain ol’ ordinary” ball rounds. The ammo was given to me, which is a good thing since (to the best of my knowledge) you can’t buy such rounds over the counter. I may be wrong… I’ve just never seen them for sale.

Seventy-Six And Still Going Strong

Another aspect of our shooting “donated” rounds was that of age. As you can see in the photo below, head stamps from the fired rounds reveal where the round was made, and in what year.

Some of these rounds date back to 1943 — made during WWII. That says something. No deterioration, no squib loads, no problems at all — just a heck of a big boom when the trigger was pulled. This, and similar, ammo is sealed and is pretty impervious to humidity, heat, cold, etc.

case headstamps

We see in the headstamps above that these rounds were made in the following ammunition factories, in the given years:

  • SL (St. Louis, Missouri, 1945)
  • LC (Lake City-Independence, Missouri, 1945)
  • DM (Des Moines, Iowa, 1943 & 1945)
  • TW (Twin Cities, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1953)
  • (For a good reference about headstamps of cartridges made during WWII, go here).

Competition

Barrett 99

Like the AR-50, the Barrett M99 is a single-shot, anti-materiel precision rifle as an affordable .50BMG rifle option compared to their higher-end models. For the .50 caliber Barret 99, you can choose between a 32″ or a 29″ barrel.

This rifle comes in a bullpup configuration allowing the Barrett 99 to be shorter and around 16lbs lighter than the AR-50. However, this reduced mass also translates to more recoil, and with the Barrett 99, you will feel just how heavy the .50 BMG round hits. The Barrett is also more expensive than the AR-50. So, as affordable as it is, there’s still a hefty price tag that comes with it.

Accuracy International AX50

The Accuracy International AX50 is regarded by some as the best .50 BMG rifle out on the market. This is a modern bolt-action anti-materiel precision .50BMG Rifle manufactured by the British Company Accuracy International. It is built to withstand military combat and heavy usage with a proven track record to match. 

Compared to the AR-50, the AX50 is a compact, lightweight bolt-action .50BMG. However, the recoil is on par with the AR in a much lighter and much smaller profile. The two-stage trigger with adjustable pull might be the more desirable trigger for some, but for me, I like the single-stage trigger on the AR-50 better.

What’s nice about the AX50 is how much easier it is to store and carry around. At 27.6 pounds, this is a firearm you can easily carry out on the field, and with AX50’s left foldable buttstock, you can quickly compact the Rifle to a little over 40″.

Accessories

Athlon Optics Argos BTR Rifle Scope 6-24 x 50 FFP

The Athlon Optics Argos BTR Rifle Scope 6-24 x 50 FFP is a great, budget-friendly scope that is incredibly accurate at up to 1000 yards away. The scope’s AO system will allow you to quickly adjust for elevation and windage while also compensating for varying field conditions. It will also work great even in low light conditions and comes with a competition-grade, variable zoom power.

Nightforce SHV 5-20x56mm Zeroset .250 MOA Scope

The Nighforce SHV 5-20×56 Zeroset .250 MOA Scope is one of the best long-range scopes for the .50 BMG. It’s a versatile scope with exceptional accuracy and versatility at close and extended range.

The scope is durable magnesium alloy and has an oversized zero stop and resettable turret. The magnification knob on this scope is designed for ease of use and features a full 80 MOA elevation adjustment. However, be prepared to break the bank. This high-end scope is definitely not for people on a tight budget.

MTM Case-Gard BMG10

Requested by BMG users, designed by MTM, the MTM Case-Gard BMG10 is a slip-top hard case ammo box for the 50 BMG. The 10 round hard case is perfect for transporting and carrying the large .50BMG rounds in bags and pouches, protecting them out on the field and keeping them organized while shooting. The case is built with special bullet tip protectors that hold the rounds at the shoulder. Also, the tight fit prevents the round from rattling while on the go.

Conclusion

When it came to the AR-50, it was all about getting the job done at long distances. As a result, it has a very narrow range of applications, but it’s an ideal choice in certain situations. It’s just the proper weapon for the job: drilling precise holes in faraway targets.

This is one of those guns you check off your bucket list for the average shooter. It’s fun to shoot the .50 caliber and is a one-of-a-kind experience. The AR-50 is one of those entry-level guns that allow you to do that. It’s a high-quality, solid, reliable, and highly accurate, simple gun that works.

However, even if you’re on a budget, it will still set you back a good four to five thousand dollars just to get set up. Keep in mind that it has no real practical scenario in a modern household, and even in hunting, there are better long-range options than the AR-50 for a fraction of the price. 

Unless you’re looking to go into the premium market for something like a $12,000 McMillan TAC 50, you’re not going to get any better than an AR-50 for a sub $4000 .50BMG rifle. The recoil is soft, the action smooth, the gun is simple, the accuracy is top-notch, and barring the weight issue, this is a rifle that outcompetes any rifle in its price range.

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14 comments
      1. Tanker, that sounds like fun – but only if no one is shooting back at me! The M60 was a heck of a tank – how long ago were you in one? Thanks for writing!

  1. Hey Mike, nice article! I bought an AR50 a few years ago. Finding a safe area to shoot this monster is probably it’s worst quality! I have always told people in the owner’s manual it says “The safest place to be when firing this gun is behind it pulling the trigger.” It feels like someone has just hit me in the chest from the percussion when watching someone else shoot it. Thanks for the article. Keep up the good work!

    1. Danny, thanks for the kind words. I remember when one of my sons shot the beast how that felt – I agree. It also laid the grass low for yards around from the concussion and blast. Thanks for writing!

  2. Brings back memories of borrowing a friends Barrett M82 .50 bmg sniper rifle. IIRC the monster weighed like 33lbs without an optic and he had a large Nightforce scope on it. When i got to the range i frequented at the time they sent me down to the far far far end and for good reason. The muzzle brake redirected the blast quite effectively and anyone within 4-5 shooting positions to either side found the concussion quite uncomfortable. The longest distance the range had was 500 yards which was laughable for this rifle. I would love to have another go with it, but somewhere i can shoot 1000-1500 yards or more.

    1. Andrew, 1000 yards sounds fun – can’t do that here. I truly understand why they moved you to the end! Thanks for writing.

  3. Excellent review and History (of both the rifle and the .50BMG).
    I’ve a Machinest friend who built his own single shot. I fired 3 rounds, and that was enough for me. I’ve fired 10 gauge shotguns, a .375 H & H, and Elk hunted for years with a .338 Win Mag. None of those came close to the recoil of that homemade .50. So I was surprised by your .308 evaluation/comparison, and it says a lot about Armalite’s engineering and addressing the problems the .50 is noted for recoil wise.
    I’m impressed and watching your video backs ot up. That looked nothing like my experience years ago.
    Thank you

  4. Bemused, it really was fun to shoot. I enjoyed it – especially since I was given the ammo. If I had to buy ammo, I’m not sure I’d enjoy it that much. Thanks for writing again!

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Hi! I'm Mike, one of the oldest writer of Sniper Country! If you have any feedback or question about my articles, please submit it here, it's always appreciated!

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