Product Testing Articles
by the Staff of Manhattan Shooting Excursions
Originally Published in The Bullet, The Journal of the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association
Non-custom made, commercially available rifles chambered for the .50 BMG first started appearing in the 1980s. Expensive and exotic, their customers were collectors and long range target shooters who often reloaded the other wise expensive ammunition. Twenty- plus years later, more manufacturers make rifles chambered for it, (though it is still a very small component of the overall firearms business) and ammunition is less expensive. Most 50s are still bolt action, and we would like to see several companies including ArmaLite challenge Barrett’s near monopoly in the semi-automatic segment with a less expensive, gas operated design.
Description & General Impression
The AR-50 is a singe shot, bolt action rifle made almost entirely of metal. The stock is two piece anodized aluminum with a dark gray finish while the barrel, muzzle break and action are manganese phosphate steel. The AR-50 is a simply and ruggedly constructed rifle. Metal fitting was very good, and the finish was very utilitarian.
Overall, the manual was well written and illustrated. However, it did not provide all of the NRA standard safety warnings such as keeping one’s finger outside the trigger guard until ready to shoot. It did provide a number of rifle and caliber specific warnings that were very useful. For instance, the warnings about the significant muzzle wash, the considerable report this caliber and muzzle brake combination produces, the importance of making sure the muzzle brake is undamaged, and how to handle potential hang-fires were very appropriate. The latter point is especially important given ubiquitous military surplus ammunition that may not been improperly stored and the 50 BMG’s potential for injury if a hang-fire goes off with an open action. ArmaLite encourages readers to suggest improvements in the manual, and they incorporated some of our Editor in Chief’s comments previously submitted in the current edition.
Ergonomics & Function
The AR-50 is purpose built for bench rest or bipod firing, and we evaluated it using the recommended Prince bipod, ArmaLite short range (below 600 yards) scope mount base ArmaLite scope mount and a soft shell Bagmaster case.
The Prince is steel and aluminum and its legs fold and lock in the down or up positions. The legs do not adjust for height and the bipod was much better suited for prone rather than bench rest firing where height differences between shooters necessitated raising or lowering the seat. The other problem was the looseness of the legs in the down position and the loosely fitted connector that mounts the bipod to the stock. This system allowed the gun to rock forward-rearward and side to side, which was a real distraction when firing for accuracy. This rocking produced noticeable metal wear on the aluminum connector after fewer than 50 rounds. Bench rest systems like this should have firmly fitted bipod mounts. We suggest a bipod that is firmly locked for forward-rearward movement, and lock adjustable for cant if on uneven ground. For tactical applications on moving targets, the bipod should also pan.
The Bagmaster case is well suited to the AR-50 and can be used as a shooting mat. It has a separate muzzle brake pad for additional protection, additional straps that allow for three person carry and elastic material that neatly holds 12 rounds.
The scope mount base is very well designed and made. Its recoil lugs are “designed to “defeat both lateral and longitudinal recoil forces”. The screws supplied with our ArmaLite scope base were properly sized, but the manual states that they may be too long for the receiver and may need to be shortened so that they do not protrude through the receiver and interfere with the movement of the bolt. We found this strange that the user should be told to shorten screws when the fix at ArmaLite –include the right size screws–would be simple.
The AR-50’s single stage grooved trigger let-off at 8.5 lbs. with no creep. Current production guns have about 5 lb let offs, which is much more reasonable. We would like to see a much wider trigger shoe on a target rifle like the AR-50. This is a personal preference, but wider trigger shoes create the perception of a lighter weight trigger.
The safety is a two position type that mounts on the rear of the striker assembly. This allows the user to unload the gun while the safety is engaged. Curiously, the design allows the striker to travel forward 1/8″ if the trigger is pulled and the safety is engaged. The manual makes note of this feature and the intentional difficulty of de-activating the safety from this condition
The bolt has three large front locking lugs that engage the receiver. Wear patterns indicate that lock up is even on all lugs. The action was stiff to cycle, which we perceived as indicative of a tight action, although not necessarily so. A smoother action with tight tolerances is possible, albeit costlier to manufacture.
The two piece aluminum stock has a height adjustable butt plate and a very functional cheek rest. The M16 style grip also worked well ergonomically. The action is secured in the extruded forestock which also free floats the barrel and has a long channel cut into its underside for mounting the bipod at different places. The forged aluminum rear stock holds the grip, cheek rest and butt pad. The octagonally shaped receiver is bedded into a deep V channel in the aluminum forestock by large allen bolts and a bedding block.
Disassembly for cleaning is simple. An allen head screw retains the bolt, and the action/barrel group can be removed from the stock with three bolts. The AR-50 is far more compact (46.25″ long, 6″ high with cheek rest removed) when the barreled action is removed from the stock which is a plus for storage and transportation of the very long, unwieldy assembled rifle.
We tested the TPS using Talon 662 grain M33 FMJ ammunition. Talon loads demilitarized US GI ammunition using commercial powder and primers, and GI bullets and cases. Though we usually use assorted types of ammunition, we stuck with the Talon because of its performance. We tested the AR-50 using the ArmaLite supplied products: rifle, scope mount, scope rings and Prince bipod. As was explained, the weak link in this system is the bipod.
We excluded extensive statistical information on the accuracy of the AR-50 because testing was done, by necessity, mainly on a windy, cold winter day and cut short. Nonetheless, average 4 shot groups were 3.75″ at 300 yards using Talon ammunition and that miserable bipod. On 5 targets, three shot clusters averaged 1.83″ and ranged from 1.125″-2.5″. We attribute the fliers that widened the groups mainly to bipod, weather/shooter, and ammunition. We are confident that firing the AR-50 off sandbags front and rear, using match grade ammunition, a 5 lb. trigger, and in good weather would produce 1 MOA or better groups. Our best 4 shot 300 yard group shot during ideal weather measured 2.375″ center to center, and 3 shots were clustered in a mere 1.125″. You read this correctly– 300 yards using ball ammo with 1953 case headstamps!
Time constraints did not allow us to chronograph the Talon loads, but they are reduced by 10% from NATO specifications.
Recoil was substantial, but very manageable due to design that incorporates significant weight, a muzzle break and an effective Pachmyer recoil pad, though we would like to see an even better gel style pad instead. We perceived it as similar to a 12 gauge 3″ magnum rifled slug fired from a Remington 870 pump action. The sound wave concussion produced by the caliber and muzzle brake was palpable and the muzzle wash knocked over empty 50 caliber shells on the adjacent bench 3 feet away. Bystanders on either side will experience much louder sound than the shooter due to the muzzle brake and one needs to be sure everyone is wearing adequate ear protection.
Despite a few desirable feature improvements, the AR-50 is very good 50 caliber rifle. It is reasonably priced compared to its peers, accurate with inexpensive ammunition, well built, and carries a lifetime warranty. Our customer service experiences with ArmaLite are usually very good. The only caveat we give is that the test rifle was made about 5 years ago, though ArmaLite tells us they have not changed anything about the gun or how it is produced except for the trigger weight. Given the performance of our rifle, we hope that ArmaLite still makes them like they used to!
Capacity: single shot
Barrel Length: 31″ excluding muzzle break
Construction: Steel button rifled barrel and action, anodized two piece aluminum stock
Weight: 33.2 lbs. unloaded without accessories
Length of Pull: 14.75″
Trigger Pull: 8.5 lbs. (new models are about 5 lbs.)
Accessories: ArmaLite scope base for 600-1,000yds and 1000-1,800yds, scope mounts, Bagmaster soft case, Prince bipod, rear mono-pod
MSRP: $2,885; $3,454 as tested excluding scope
Manufacturer: ArmaLite, Inc.
P O Box 299
Geneseo, IL 61254
Categorised in: Uncategorized
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