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50 BMG Ammo

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In order to write this, I figured there is just no way to discuss 50 BMG without beginning with a discussion of its massive ammunition. I initially even considered writing it as a complete article, but including 50 BMG rifles and 50 BMG ammunition together was just too much. I separated them mainly out of fear of making it too tl;dr. I gave it a little thought, and decided that they should be two separate articles. The problem is that the thing that makes 50 BMG so interesting is the massive ammunition, and there is much information, at least for me, to exclude.

The 50 BMG round is ~5.45 inches overall length. Its casing will hold ~290 grains of water. The bullet is .510 inches diameter traveling down a barrel which is only .500 inches diameter. The common military projectiles for which even non military bullets are based on range in weight from 647 grains to 705 grains and travel with a muzzle velocity right around 3000 feet per second. This gives it a muzzle energy in the 13,000 to 14,000 foot pound range. Most military 50 BMG rounds have various cores with a copper jacket drawn over the core. The jacket is usually sealed base which is either a small lead plug or a swaging of the copper jacket at the base. This is done to prevent combustion gases from separating the jacket from the core during firing.

Common military loadings are:

Ball: Identified by its plain finish, it is generally the lightest bullet in the group. 50 BMG ball rounds range from 647 grains to 690 grains depending on the year, model, and country of origin. Instead of a lead core in ball ammo, 50 BMG ball generally uses a soft mild steel core covered with a copper jacket and having a small lead gas plug at the base. This is a boat tailed projectile.

Armor Piercing: Identified by a black tip, this general purpose armor piercing bullet uses a core of very dense, hardened tungsten steel. Contrary to common belief, it is not the “best” armor piercing 50 BMG round, but it is the best general purpose armor piercing round. Bullet weights are in the 690 grain to 705 grain range depending on year, model, and country of origin. Covered in a copper jacket, this round can be found with either a lead plug base or with the jacked swagged at its base for the gas seal. This is a boat tailed projectile.

Tracer: Usually identified by a brownish or burgundy tip (sometimes mistaken for the black armor piercing tip). There have been models of 50 BMG tracer with red and orange tips but they are not as common. The tracer weights vary but are usually in the same range as ball ammo. The tracer is a longer bullet with a flat base. It is composed of an shortened mild steel core and a longer copper jacket squared off at its base to allow it to carry the tracing compound, an igniter compound, and a base enclosure disk to protect the compounds from reacting with the powder until ignition. For more accurate tracer needs, the most recent production tracers are made by actually drilling boat tailed ball projectiles and inserting the tracing compound at the rear.

Armor Piercing Incendiary: Identified with a silver or “aluminum” colored tip (not to be confused with the pointy Hornady AMAX match round which uses a real aluminum tip). This is generally the best common armor piercing round. Used where fear of secondary ignition effect after piercing is wanted or not a problem. The round is similar to the armor piercing round in that it has a dense hardened tungsten steel core but slightly shorter, allowing a incendiary compound to be enclosed in front of it under the boat tailed copper jacket sealed with a lead gas plug at the rear.

Note: This incendiary compound known as “IM 11” is purportedly made from equal parts Barium Nitrate and Mag­nesium Aluminum Alloy. There is no fuze for ignition; instead it is based on the compression of impact. This “IM 11” compound when compressively combined with the copper ahead of it in the jacket, the sloughed off iron based metal plating from impact, and the compression force of the dense tungsten core behind it creates a “plasmatic” cutting force similar to that seen in shaped charge cutting warheads. This extends its armor piercing capability by allowing the tungsten penetrator to cut more cleanly and deeper than is possible with just plain armor piercing projectiles.

I have seen this effect in person on mild and hardened steel in thickness from 1 inch to just less than 2 inches. Whereas a plain AP round impacts steel like a droplet of water breaking the surface tension of a puddle with a small splash that is frozen into a flowery hole with the petals not made of the copper jacket, but of the steel itself.

The API round makes a clean burned hole with discolored molten metal around the entry perimeter that resembles a hole cut with a torch.

This round is also available as a tracer version known as “Armor Piercing Incendiary Tracer” with the addition of a small amount of tracing compound inserted at the rear.

Incendiary: This round is identified with a blue colored tip. This round consists of a boat tailed jacket drawn over a small steel tube shaped core or a steel capsule completely containing the IM 11 or IM 35 incendiary compound and sealed at the rear. This is likely the most explosive military loaded round that will be commonly seen.

Less common military loadings are:

Mk 211 Mod 0: AKA the “Raufoss” round. The name comes from a factory in Norway where the projectiles are made. This round is identified by a green over white, or green over silver coloring. Variations as seen on the Nammo Raufoss website show an all green tip and also a green over red tip tracer version (aka Mk 300 Mod 0). Army Manual TM 43-0001-27 lists it only as having a green tip as well. A small dense hardened steel penetrator is surrounded by a mix of two incendiary compounds and backed by an explosive charge with a boat tailed copper or brass jacket. There is no fusing of this round although early test models had impact fuses. Testing showed that the fuses were superfluous as impact was sufficient to fully detonate the round. These rounds are purportedly loaded to match tolerances. This round even with the addition of explosives is still considered an Armor Piercing Incendiary round.

In my personal experience, every picture or live round of this ammunition I have seen has a lot serial number on the case itself. These cases also have a cleaner, shinier finish to them than most of the bulk ammo rolling out of factories. Last I had heard the only heard stamps you could find with this ammo were FN, WRA, and WCC. With the war in Iraq in past its 5th year who knows what flies now.

Your chances of getting your hands on one these rounds are about nil unless you join the Special Forces or at least some elite fighting unit. Before the start of the 2003 war I saw these rounds occasionally for sale, selling in the $100 per round range. The problem is that without an x-ray of the round, you can’t even be sure you aren’t being duped into buying a repainted API round. Even if it was provided with an x-ray, you don’t know if the x-ray is of the round you purchased!

SLAP: Sabot Light Armor Piercing rounds. This is a extremely high velocity round utilizing a sabot over a dense sub-caliber hardened tungsten steel penetrator. This round as far as I know is the best at penetrating armor plate thickness which the other rounds can not. Deathy McDeath reminded me to mention that there is a SLAP-T or "tracer" version of the SLAP. Also Editing this piture below because my original was something that I grabbed off google which was a homemade SLAP. This new picture is correct.

Armor-Piercing-Explosive-Incendiary, APEI-169 or M 02 A new exploding round from FN produced for aircraft variations of its new high round per minute M3P machinegun which is intended to replace the M2 upon its retirement. This round is identified by a gray over yellow tip.

M48A1: Marker Spotter This round is identified by a yellow red tip. This round uses a very long and heavy bullet which was taken from the shortened case version of the 50 BMG used in a marking/spotting binary gun for recoilless rifles. Pre-dating laser range finders and modern guidance equipment this shortened round was used to indicate where the recoilless round would hit if fired. Basically you fired the quiet round and if it hit the target you fired the noisy round. These shortened case rounds were torn down and the bullets reloaded by Places like Talon for public consumption. The round utilizes a primer in the tip to set off a flash and smoke compound. The rear of the bullet is full of tracing compound. There is only a small center plug core of metal between the two compounds with a copper jacket drawn over the whole mess with the primer in a recessed opening in the tip.

Depleted Uranium: This is an urban legend. Anyone who argues they existed has no proof. The premier 50 BMG cartridge collectors will tell you that if there ever were any specimens produced, it was a test, done in secret, and they were all either destroyed or expended during testing because none exists. This would be the biggest secret ever because even examples and pictures exist of some of the rarest 50 BMG test ammo ever tested.


50 BMG rounds generate the same chamber pressures found in other smaller rounds. The powder used in military ammo is WC 860 or IMR 5010. This is an extremely slow burning powder. It is along the same lines as those used for muzzle loading rifles. Here is a chart from fastest to slowest of 199 current and obsolete gunpowder types.


Note that WC 860 is #194 and that the Hodgdon H-5010 modern civilian 50 BMG reloading powder is #198.

On page 38 of the 7th edition (2007) of the Hornady reload book you will see a list of 131 powders from fastest to slowest. The last powder, #131 is Vihtavuori 20N29 which is another common 50 BMG reloading powder, the Hodgdon H-5010 modern civilian 50 BMG reloading powder is #129, and Hodgdon H50BMG specifically made for 50 BMG and magnum case reloading is #126.

The impulse of this chamber pressure is a very slow lazy spike, as opposed to the fast ignition spike of small rifle calibers like the 22-250 or 5.56 NATO.

Fancy rounds and YOU!!:

Many of these rounds may not be legal where you live to own, possess let alone fire. Many of the places that have them won’t ship to plenty of states.

Some states/locales it is because of baseless bans on “scary” AP ammo. This sucks, because with its 700 grain weight, it is ideal for, and was once “back in the day” the regular round, for 50 BMG 1000 yard competitions.

Others states/locales ban tracer or incendiary effect ammo with good cause; dumb assholes keep trying to burn the fucking state down! Finding some prime private land, setting a large target out at 1000 yards to a mile is a fucking blast with good friends, and tracer rounds.

Lastly some states/locales now have baseless bans on 50 BMG all together. Soccer moms just don’t feel safe with you having big scary rifles. To me this would be like banning whales. They are big and scary, and certainly have the potential to cause harm, but all the harm they ever caused is so minuscule, that it makes about as much sense as banning whales.

Ranges 50 BMG and you:

Consider if your range would even let you shoot 50 BMG milsurp ammo. It is ALL magnetic, some is AP, some is tracer/incendiary, and all of it is irritatingly loud. Many ranges have a “no 50 BMG” rule because they are afraid one of your rounds will travel 20 miles beyond their backstop, or through their backstop, through a schoolbus of nuns and start a fire at the local orphanage, etc. Lastly some have insurance companies that after surveying have decided that 50 BMG is “not appropriate” based on the outlandish capability figures supplied to them by Tom Diaz of the Violence Policy Center.

Some asshole 50 BMG owners further exacerbate this “gun owners/ranges that are anti-50 BMG” mind set with their behavior. For example, they shoot a target stand to bits. Big deal, people can do that with a smaller caliber, “you don’t impress anyone with that kind of behavior big guy”.

Another example, the blast from your muzzle brake is blowing the shit off the bench next to you. Handloady McFireformerson didn’t spend 6 hours yesterday fine tuning his competition high caliber bench rifle and ammunition for the match next weekend so you can blow his custom made Lapua 6.5mm wildcat bench brass all over the fucking firing line with your ego booster/penis extension. Give these shooters a break, go to the end of the line away from other shooters, preferably where there is no overhead protection. Trust me, if these want to see they can come down. If you have to be near someone, talk to them. Don’t be the asshole blasting away giving everyone a headache. Let them know what is going to happen when you pull the trigger, you are an ambassador for your sport.

If you don’t know body will. Keep it up and one night when the range has its monthly meetings, Handloady McFireformerson and the rest of the long range bench team will be there making an argument for, then motions, and finally voting on, banning the 50 BMG.


For those of you in 50 BMG banned areas, you can have lots of the same rifles in “.510 DTC EUROP”. This new ban free round uses the same bullets, and uses a 50 BMG case trimmed down, resized, and then fire formed in a rifle designed to shoot that caliber. These rifles cannot chamber 50 BMG and are legal in places that have 50 BMG bans.

What to shoot:

Most 50 BMG rifle manufacturers have a rule “only modern 50 BMG ammo” some go further specifically stating “No surplus other than 1987 and newer US production”. Some simply say “No military surplus ammo”, while others say “no 50 BMG surplus older than 10 years old”.

Some of this is due to inconsistencies of 50 BMG military ammo loading factory equipment. Other reasons are that “war era” ammo, that is to say ammo produced during a conflict before the first gulf war (WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, etc) may actually be loaded hot. It was intended to go into M2 machineguns and they are forgiving of things like that. The people operating them belong to Uncle Sam, and operate that equipment with some understanding of the dangers. Also powder degrades with age. 50 BMG powder is made of large extruded tubular pellets. Expose these pellets to a certain type of long term handling, transport or storage and they begin to break into smaller parts, or even oxidize. When that happens it speeds the burn rate. In such a large cartridge this can be an issue.

Additionally if that ammo was not made in the US there are these as well as a few other factors to consider. This is not a “hurr brown people make bad ammo” situation. This is a storage, handling, and component supplier situation. For example, I offer the Dominican Republic 50 BMG. A few large lots of 50 BMG Armor Piercing came into the US from the Dominican Republic for public sale. This ammo is identified with a yellow tip.

After a few mishaps from hot loaded rounds in the US, some of the ammo was inspected. The powder was found to have heavily degraded into smaller granules. Through investigation it was found that poor storage techniques in the hot steamy Dominican Republic caused the ammo, even the newer ammo, to get surface oxidization. The ammo was rusting away in its crates. To combat this they tumbled complete loaded rounds, which to remove the oxidization, repainted the tips and packaged it in better cans.

Many people who had large quantities of this ammo in the US broke down the ammo into components to try to salvage them with US surplus powder. Upon inspection many of the projectiles had no gas seal at the bullet base in the jackets. A poor attempt to swage them had been made, but some of the bullets jackets weren’t even long enough to swage.

It will be up to each shooter as to what they think is best for them. I don’t recommend that anyone put a WWII round into a rifle. I have an example round of 50 BMG from 1943 that since I have owned, has been shaken by every one who has ever held it. They always say “wow you can hear the powder in it, there is a lot of it too…” I have owned it since before I owned a rifle that shot the ammo. I cringe to think what would happen if I were to fire that round, its large powder granules now turned nearly to the consistency of sand would detonate at a burn rate that is scary to contemplate.

That said I have some WWII production AP ammunition that I have fired a few rounds without ill effect. It would be downright careless for me to suggest you do the same in any rifle.

Price changes:

During this year and the end of last year ammunition and components for 50 BMG rifles really started to dry up and prices skyrocketed. Part of this was due to the closure of Talon. Much of it has to do with the effect of a law passed many years ago not only banning the sale of most 50 BMG ammo from US military contract factories, but also of a ban on the more exotic components and ammo from being imported as well.

The war on two fronts was also eating into what was available with Brazilian and Korean 50 BMG brass being found in lots collected from US military bases indicating that the US was actually outsourcing for some of its needs.

Some it also was coming from demand of shooters. With so many companies producing weapons that fire this round the end users were fueling the shortage as well. Then there are the people who buy it up fearing that changes in administration and law could affect price and availability.

Then prices started to stabilize. For a while it was hitting around $5 a round having stabilized now at just under $2 a round.

Current sudden influx of ammo:

This hourly updated user supported ticker of the lowest 50 BMG prices are brought to you free of charge

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Also various vendors like Hunting Shack, Magtech, Barrett, Doubletap, even Extreme Shock, etc, sell ammo ranging from hunting to match purpose ammo at increased cost.


Reloading has always been a great cheap way to shoot, and 50 BMG is no different. A way to make nice, safe, and accurate ammunition for your 50 BMG. Components just like the ammo started to go up in price due to reduced availability, but are available again.

Primers, brass, bullets, even primed brass are all available, ranging from match quality to military quality. Even surplus powder is available for the moment. A few of my favorites:

lets not forget google can help us a lot here

lets not forget google can help us a lot here
http://www.google.com/search?q=50 bmg primers&tbs=shop:1

lets not forget google can help us a lot here
http://www.google.com/search?q=50 bmg powder&tbs=shop:1

lets not forget google can help us a lot here
http://www.google.com/search?q=50 bmg bullets&tbs=shop:1

also dont forget to check gunbroker with a quick search for bullets, primers, brass, or powder

Presses :

Lee, not a very strong or powerful press, is just fine for reloading ammo out of brass you have fired from a rifle or new brass. Just remember you will not be able to resize lots of machinegun brass with its neck blown out. I suggest to avoid it unless you will never be using milsurp once fired.

RCBS Ammomaster, I haven't had a chance to play with one yet, but I am told it has a lot more “umph” for those more stubborn cases:

Hornady makes a copy of the RCBS for more money:

Then we have the mother of all reloading kits. The Dillon BFR:

There are also a variety of tools that are found in other forms of reloading made just for prepping 50 BMG cases.

This is an important link to find or for you to help others find, deals on 50 BMG ammo http://gun-deals.com/ammo.php?caliber=.50%20BMG

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