Over the years, the AR 15 type rifles have gained much popularity in the United States not just for the military but also for hunters. So, firearms designers have always researched on creating powerful yet functionable cartridges for the AR15 type.
The years of research have resulted in the invention of two mainstream large bore cartridges with higher stopping power that the traditional cartridges lacked. These two mainstream cartridges are the .458 SOCOM and .50 Beowulf.
Today we will talk about the comparable criteria of these two cartridges that share so many similarities. But before we go ahead on the head-to-head comparison of the 458 SOCOM vs 50 Beowulf, let us have a look at their history of origin.
What is .458 SOCOM?
The .458 SOCOM is a large arch shaped ammunition which was designed for a specially designed barrel that can be mounted on AR 15 type rifles like M16 and M4.
Firearms that use the 458 SOCOM have very similar parts like any 5.56 or .223 rifle but has a different upper receiver i.e., the bolt and the barrel.
But if someone wants to use both 5.56 and .458, a rifle can be easily converted to use both calibers. This would require the gunman to purchase a barrel and a bolt in .458 and switch calibers whenever necessary. Swapping the calibers takes very little time.
This allows the gunman to save some money and use two very distinct calibers in the same rifle.
Origin of .458 SOCOM
The acronym of SOCOM stands for Special Operations Command. As the acronym suggests, .458 SOCOM came into origin for a very special function. Before the early 2000s, the military’s specialized forces were not satisfied with the 5.56 rounds used in AR15 type rifles. The 5.56 rounds used in the AR15 type rifles required multiple hits to take down enemies.
And so, the .458 SOCOM was thought of by Marty ter Weeme, founder of Teppo Jutsu LLC, during the early 2000s over an informal meeting with one of the senior representatives of the specialized forces. In a recent operation, the special forces faced difficulty taking down the enemy with the 5.56 rounds.
So, the absence of power of the 5.56 rounds used in M16 and M4 guns led them to request for something that would be effective for short range combat.
The design for the .458 SOCOM was developed by the join efforts of Marty Ter Weeme of Teppo Jutsu LLC and Tony Rumore of Tromix Corporation in the year 2000. And soon after that, the first prototype of the .458 SOCOM was built by the Tromix Corp situated at Broken Arrow, Oklahoma on the February of 2001.
This design of the bullet was made keeping in mind that it had to be completely adaptable to AR15 type rifles. That is why the standard .223 or 5.56 magazines can also specifically round of .458 SOCOM.
What is .50 Beowulf?
The .50 Beowulf is a tapered looking bullet which was designed to have a similar circumference like that of 7.62×39 mm rounds.
This bullet has been made with the intention of increasing the stopping power of rifles at medium range.
Origin of .50 Beowulf
The bullet got its name from an old English poem where the Scandinavian hero, Beowulf saves the day by killing the monster that was ravaging the kingdom.
The .50 Beowulf was also designed around the early 2000’s much like the .458 SOCOM. The intention behind its design was to create something that was a large-bore caliber, having a diameter of .40 inches or larger, so that it can be used in the AR 15 type rifles such as the M16.The AR15 type rifles that could hold 5.56×45 rounds had very low stopping power, which is why it needed a boost.
The .50 bullet gave the rifles the boost they needed for short to mid-range distance. And so, the .50 Beowulf was developed by Bill Alexander, founder of Alexander Arms situated at Radford, Virgina. The design of the .50 cartridge was made in a way so that you can use an archetype bolt which also lets the bolt to hold off the pressure during usage.
.485 SOCOM Vs .50 Beowulf
Before we dive headfirst to the comparison, remember that these cartridges were designed for AR 15 Type Rifles. And so, the comparisons and differences may seem very unimportant. But these slight differences become the buying factors for the average gun man.
Now, let us have a look at the comparable criteria for these two cartridges.
Criteria for Comparison
The .458 SOCOM and the .50 Beowulf are two of a kind, competing for the same purpose in the world of firearms and cartridges. Since they have a lot of similarities, we must compare them based on their specifications and categories.
Before we get to the comparison, let us have a look at the comparable criteria:
- Ballistic Coefficient
- Stopping Power
- Average Bullet Drop
- Penetration Power
- Availability & Price
Both the .458 SOCOM and .50 Beowulf are large bore cartridges. So, their cartridges are usually larger than archetypical 5.56 cartridges.
The main parts of a cartridge include:
- Parent Case
- Bullet Diameter
- Neck Diameter
- Base Diameter
- Case Length
- Overall length
- Case Capacity
Now that we know the integral parts of a cartridge let us have a look at the comparison of the two cartridges:
- Both the .458 SOCOM and .50 Beowulf have the same parent case which is the .50 Action Express.
- As seen from the name, the bullet diameter of .458 SOCOM is .458 inches and that of the .50 Beowulf is .500 inches.
- While the .458 SOCOM has a neck diameter of .485 inches, the neck diameter of .50 Beowulf is .525 inches.
- The base diameters are .541 inches and .535 inches, respectively.
- Case Length of .458 SOCOM is 1.575 inches while it is 1.65 inches for .50 Beowulf.
- Overall lengths of .458 SOCOM and .50 Beowulf are 2.260 inches and 2.125 inches respectively
- Lastly, their case capacities are 61.1 grams and 65.8 grams, respectively.
- While the .50 Beowulf is tapered, the shape of the .458 SOCOM is round.
Recoil is an unavoidable factor of the shooting ground. No matter where you use a firearm, you will always face recoil of some range. To compare between the .458 SOCOM and the .50 Beowulf, let us have a look at their actual recoil.
The recoil energy of .458 SOCOM is marginally lower than the .50 Beowulf although their recoil energy ranges from 24-32 ft.lb at the lowest and 28.89-39 ft.lb at the highest. But in this comparison,
It is seen that the .458 SOCOM has a recoil energy of 28.89 ft.lb while the .50 Beowulf has a recoil energy of 39 ft.lb.
For a fairer comparison, the recoil was tested using the same powder charge and a firearm of the same weight for both cartridges.
As mentioned before, both the ammos are used in short to mid-range distances. So, they are not to be used for long range performance. Despite of that, both ammos can be compared based on different categories of ballistics. The rationale behind these comparisons is that these ammos are used for hunting, so these categories are still very important.
The ballistics also regulates the other categories of the ammo’s performance. So, it will help us to understand the performance of the ammos as well as their limitations.
While velocity may be an important factor that decides the performance of cartridges, it is important we keep in mind that both .458 SOCOM and .50 Beowulf were designed for close ranged shooting. And so, both the cartridges have low velocity.
A higher velocity is required for longer ranges, expansion capacity and penetrative power. But that is not required for these cartridges. Nevertheless, these large bore cartridges have the necessary velocity required to infiltrate their targets. But the shooting range for both cartridges is less than 400 yards.
For ease of understanding, here is a comparison between the velocity of both cartridges in different ranges starting from 100 yards to 250 yards:
- At 100 yards, .50 Beowulf has a velocity of 1442 fps while .458 SOCOM has a velocity of 1522 fps.
- At 150 yards, it is 1270 fps vs 1373 fps respectively.
- At the range of 200 yards, the velocity is 1137 fps for .50 Beowulf and 1245fps for .458 SOCOM.
- And at 250 yards, the velocity for .50 Beowulf comes at 1042 fps while it is 1142 fps for .458 SOCOM.
Coefficient of Ballistics
The coefficient of Ballistics, also known as BC, is the measure of the cartridge’s ability to overcome the resistance it faces to reach the target after being shot. So, the higher the BC the farther the cartridge will travel. That means it has a higher ability to overcome the air resistance.
A higher BC also means that the cartridge will hit the target with a stronger impact. Ballistic coefficient also effects the trajectory of the cartridge. So, a higher BC causes a flatter trajectory.
In the comparison of .458 SOCOM vs .50 Beowulf, it is notable that the .458 SOCOM shows better ballets coefficient compared to .50 Beowulf. For most cartridges, the BC can vary from 0.12 to 1.00 usually.
In case of these two cartridges, .458 SOCOM shows an average Ballistics coefficient of .23 while the .50 Beowulf shows an average of .15.
Trajectory is an important factor for cartridges used in mid-range distance. While using these cartridges, having a less bullet drop is going to be more beneficial to the shooter, as it helps to avoid trivial errors made during hunting.
Since both the .458 SOCOM and .50 Beowulf are used in short to mid-range distances, the trajectory for both will be measured within 300 yards. Going above that will be too excessive for these cartridges as they are designed for short to mid-range distance. So, using the 300-yard marks, will let us have a clear comparison.
The trajectory is measured in inches. From the comparison of both cartridges, it is noticed that there are no notable differences in their trajectory for 150 yards. The difference ranges from 1 inch to 5 inches which is not a lot.
From an experiment testing the trajectory of both cartridges, the average trajectory was found to be what’s included below:
- .458 SOCOM has a trajectory of 5.5 inches while .50 Beowulf has 5 inches at 150 yards.
- The trajectory for .458 SOCOM becomes 14.2 inches and 15 inches for .50 Beowulf at 200 yards
- Lastly at 300 yards. It is 50.8 inches for .458 SOCOM and 54.4 inches for .50 Beowulf.
From the comparison, it is noticeable that the trajectories of both cartridges are very similar at 150 and 200 yards. But the difference increases greatly at 300 yards.
Stopping power for a cartridge indicates the capability of the cartridge to immobilize the target when shot. So, it is a very important factor to be considered in this head-to-head comparison of .458 SOCOM Vs .50 Beowulf. Hunters that use these cartridges need stopping power not only to immobilize their targets but to have a clean shot of the target.
The categories that determine the stopping power of cartridges are:
- Energy of The Bullet
- Penetration Power
- Expansion of the Bullet
- Placement of Shot
But the categories that will show a proper comparison between the .458 SOCOM and the .50 Beowulf are the bullet’s energy and its penetration power.
Energy of The Bullet
The type of energy we are talking about here is the kinetic energy. We all know about kinetic energy and how it is derived from the velocity and mass of an object. It is the same for bullets.
The bullet carries the kinetic energy when it’s shot from the firearm. With this kinetic energy, it causes damage to the target upon impact.
Similar to the previous comparison, the energy of both bullets will be compared within the range of 300 yards. The 300-yard mark is the limit for maximum performance for both the cartridges.
So, the comparison from 50 to 300 yards turns out to be:
- At the 50-yard mark, both the bullets display high energy. The .458 SOCOM shows an energy of 2064 ft.lb while it is 2467 ft.lb for .50 Beowulf.
- At 100 yards, the .50 Beowulf still leads the comparison with an energy of 1570 ft.lb while the .458 SOCOM has an energy of 1462 ft.lb.
- At 200 yards, the energy of both bullets seems to be very similar, which is 1052 ft.lb for .50 Beowulf and 1056 ft.lb for .458 SOCOM.
- Lastly, at the 300-yard mark, .458 SOCOM vs .50 Beowulf cartridges comparison of energy comes down to 810 ft.lb and 800 ft.lb, respectively.
A bullet shot can say to be effective only when it penetrates the target. It is an imperative factor that also determines the stopping power of a bullet along with the bullet’s energy. So, a bullet must be able to penetrate the thick barrier whether it maybe the thick sheathing of an animal or the protective shield of the enemy.
A factor that involves in determining the penetration power is the bullet’s expansion. The more the expansion, the larger the wound.
To determine the penetration power of the cartridges, we will take the sectional density into account. The sectional density indicates how much is dispersed along a specific axis. It is derived from the weight and diameter of the cartridges. And so, it can be used to determine the penetration power.
Before we look at the comparison, you should know that cartridges that have similar diameters but are heavier in weight will have more penetration power compared to the ones that are light in weight. On the other hand, cartridges with different diameters but same weight will also have more penetration power as it restricts itself to a smaller surface.
Since the .458 SOCOM and .50 Beowulf have similar weight, the comparison in their sectional density shows that .458 SOCOM has a higher sectional density compared to the .50 Beowulf.
To determine the accuracy of both cartridges, we need to have a look at the ballistics data mentioned above. Although both cartridges have a lot of similarities in their ballistics data, there are some fields where one cartridge performed better than the other. And that becomes the comparable factor for accuracy.
You have to keep in mind that the range is still a factor that should not be forgotten. Within the 100-yard mark, the accuracy of both cartridges is very similar. But when you cross the 100-yard mark, it is seen from the ballistics data that the .458 SOCOM shows a better accuracy. If you are wondering why.
It is because the .458 SOCOM has shown higher ballistic coefficient, velocity, lower recoil, and a comparatively flat trajectory when compared to that of the .50 Beowulf. Even though the difference is very negligible, it is still the factor that leads the .458 SOCOM to perform better in terms of accuracy.
Availability and Price
The price is not a factor that determines which cartridge is more efficient or which cartridge you are likely to select. But the differences in their prices and availability is still a factor for comparison.
Bear in mind both cartridges have prices ranging from an affordable option to a more expensive option. But if we are to have an overall comparison, it must be said that the prices for .458 SOCOM are slightly expensive compared to the .50 Beowulf.
Depending on the weight (300gram, 350 gram and 500 gram) and manufacturer (Hornady, Underwood Ammo and Buffalo Bore) of these cartridges, the prices per 20 rounds for .458 SOCOM ranges from $45.30 to $59.99. The most expensive one being a 300gram .458 SOCOM from Underwood Ammo.
On the other hand, the price per 20 rounds for the .50 Beowulf ranges from $25.49 to $42.99 where the notables’ weights of the cartridge are 325, 335 and 350 grams. While the two manufactures for the .50 Beowulf are Underwood Ammo and Alexander Arms, the most expensive cartridge is from Alexandar Arms.
The .458 SOCOM and the .50 Beowulf do not have a large market and is hard to find compared to the typical cartridges. So, bear in mind that the options you will have for them will always be very limited both offline and online.
As mentioned before, both the .458 SOCOM and .50 Beowulf are designed for short to mid-range distances. This means, these cartridges are best for self defense and hunting other than the military purposes. For short range encounters, both cartridges have been developed to inflict maximum damage upon impact.
For a final .458 SOCOM vs .50 Beowulf comparison, let us have a look at their applications for both self defense and hunting.
Since both the cartridges have the stopping power to push through thick sheathing or armor, you can choose either of them. But if you are someone who can control or manage the recoil, you can go for the .50 Beowulf. Because the cartridge has a higher energy thus ensuring more damage on impact.
Keep in mind that opting for a subsonic round will help you to avoid the flash that may cause disorientation while you use it.
As seen from the ballistics data, if you are going for hunting at a medium range like 300 yards or above, the .458 SOCOM shows a better performance compared to the .50 SOCO.
But if you are looking to use it within the 200 yards range, a .50 Beowulf cartridge will do the work for you.
Our head-to-head comparison on .458 SOCOM vs .50 Beowulf cartridges aim to provide you with an unbiased insight on these two mainstream cartridges.
The difference in their comparison is so negligible that you can almost say that it is something that you do not notice.But for a firearm enthusiast, these slight differences will be the deciding factor.
With the insights we have provided, it is up to you to decide which cartridge you want to go for. Since both cartridges are good fit for any AR 15 type rifle, your comfort and your preference are the main factors that are to be considered.
Be it self-defense or hunting, make sure you keep your firearms in a safe place. Maintain gun safety at all times. Keep them out of children’s reach. Use these insights for your betterment.