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If bigger is better, then either of these two cartridges should be among the best.  Both are relatively new cartridge designs.  The period from 2000 to 2001 saw both cartridges come to life.  The concept behind the designs was for a large-bore cartridge that would deliver a lot of stopping power and could be used in an AR rile lower.

Both the 458 SOCOM and the 50 Beowulf derive from the 50 Action Express Cartridge and have similar but not the same technical specifications. 

Specifications .50 Beowulf .458 SOCOM
Bullet Diameter .500 inches (12.7mm) .458 inches (11.63mm)
Neck Diameter .525 inches (13.3mm) .485 inches (12.32mm)
Base Diameter .535 inches (13.6mm) .541 inches (13.74mm)
Rom Diameter .445 inches (11.3mm) .473 inches (12.01mm)
Case Length 1.65 inches (42mm) 1.575 inches (40mm)
Overall Length 2.125 inches (54mm) 2.260 inches (57.4mm)
Primer Type Large pistol magnum Large pistol

(Courtesy of ammoguide.com)

In general, it is good to remember a few things about these cartridges before we begin talking about range comparisons.  Both designs initially came from a need by military combat units for a cartridge that adaptable to an AR platform, and that delivered more energy than the traditional 5.56×45 military rifle round.   

The .458 SOCOM came from a request from US military troops serving with the Special Operations Command (SOCOM, hence the name).  The cartridge has developed a considerable following among civilian shooters, especially those who favor the AR platform.

The .50 Beowulf, whose development occurred about the same time by Alexander Arms, was initially designed as a hunting round.  The .50 Beowulf was quickly adapted to the AR platform and became popular with hunters and as a home defense cartridge.

These are large slow bullets and the ballistic characteristics reflect that.  

At the Range – How do the .458 SOCOM and the .50 Beowulf Stack Up?

Velocity

Comparing the ballistics of these two cartridges side by side shows how closely the two matches in velocity.

Range (in yards) .50 Beowulf .458 SOCOM
100 1442 FPS 1522 FPS
150 1270 FPS 1373 FPS
200 1137 FPS 1245 FPS
250 1042 FPS 1142 FPS

As you can see, the velocity characteristics of both cartridges are similar.  Some of the difference may be due to the bullet weight or powder loads used during the testing. The main thing to take away from this information is that at 200 yards, both cartridges are approaching becoming subsonic with the association drop off in delivered energy and distance

Distance

Neither of these cartridges is going to win a long-distance challenge.  At best, in the hands of a skilled shooter, 400 yards is about the most effective distance you will ever get from a rifle chambered in either of these cartridges.

The comparison in the chart below shows bullet drop.  The rifles used in this test are zeroed at 100 yards

Range (in yards) .50 Beowulf .458 SOCOM
100 0 inches 0
150 -4.32 inches -4.5 inches
200 -14.03 inches -13.7 inches
250 -30.45 inches -28.5 inches

Again, the bullet drop characteristics of each of these bullets are comparatively close.  The data also indicates what we already knew from the concept of the original design for these cartridges.  Each of these designs came from a need to deliver lots of energy at close ranges.

Delivered Energy

Delivered energy in terms of shooting is the amount of force that any given bullet imparts to the object that it impacts.  Some of the energy propelling the bullet from the gun returns to the shooter as recoil. 

The rest imparts to the bullet as potential energy.  When the bullet strikes an object, the energy transfers to the target as kinetic energy.  It is the transfer of this energy from the bullet to whatever it hits that then causes destruction as the energy is absorbed and distributed through the target.

The bigger and heavier the bullet and the faster it travels, the more energy it delivers to the target.  

Range (in yards) .50 Beowulf .458 SOCOM
100 1385 ft/lbs. 1542 ft/lbs.
150 1075 ft/lbs. 1257 ft/lbs.
200 861 ft/lbs. 1033 ft/lbs.
250 724 ft/lbs. 868 ft/lbs.

In this comparison, the .458 SOCOM gets the edge in delivered energy, although not by much.

Accuracy

How well you put rounds on target is always a factor when considering any cartridge and gun combination.  Accuracy depends on a combination of several factors, as well as the skill of the shooter.  In general, accuracy is a function of the ballistics of the cartridge and, in this case, the two cartridges are so similar that you should expect their accuracy characteristics to be nearly the same. 

The comparable ballistics leaves the ability of the shooter to control the recoil, muzzle flip, and skill as the real driving forces on accuracy with either of these two cartridges.  The primary factor in this part of the equation is the force of the recoil.  

When considering recoil, the .458 SOCOM again takes the edge with less felt recoil than the .50 Beowulf.  The .458 SOCOM delivers around 28 – 29 ft/lbs. of recoil to the shooter while the Beowulf imparts 39 – 40 ft/lbs. of recoil to the shooter.

Less recoil means greater control and better accuracy.

Availability

Don’t expect your local range shop to stock a huge supply of either of these ammos.  Even most of the big box stores will only have a limited selection, even if they stock it at all.   These are rather obscure cartridges that are mostly used by the military.  In time, the supplies in the civilian market may increase, but you can expect to pay a premium for these cartridges.

How the Comparison Plays Out

In the end, the .458 SOCOM gets the edge delivering slightly better ballistic characteristics across the range than the .50 Beowulf.  However, the differences are so slight in many cases that, for the average shooter, they will be almost unnoticeable.  

If you are looking for a home defense or close range cartridge for an AR-style rifle, either one of these makes a good choice.  In the end, our choice would be the .458 SOCOM.

We hope that this article has given you the information you need to decide on the best choice for you between the .458 SOCOM and the .50 Beowulf.  Whichever choice you make, remember to practice good gun safety, store your rifles and handguns in a safe, secure place, and be a responsible gun owner.