Friday, September 17, 2010


I have a question about the .50 bmg as used in special-purpose military sniper rifles. I read a work of fiction recently that repeatedly asserts that the .50 caliber "destroys people" "blows men apart", and so on. Is this realistic (at a few hundred meters)? I would have thought ball ammunition would put a .50 caliber hole straight through them without slowing down much or expanding much, the way a .458 caliber bullet does when shooting a human-sized animal. Am I wrong?

Michael -
Trust me . . . a .50 bullet explodes a head at any range:

Garbage in, Garbage Out is a good way to understand the damage done by any non-exploding (cannon) projectile. Take the energy in foot-pounds striking the victim, subtract the energy of the projectile exiting the victem the result is a very accurate measure of the damage inflicted. A .50 BMG ball round with 10,000 ft lbs of energy exiting a torso with 8500 ft lbs of energy does no more damage than an old 50 cal muzzle loader.

"Destroys people" sounds pretty close, "blows men apart" could be a stretch, it will do considerable damage but stops short of actually cutting you in half like some claim. at any rate, 12,000+ FT/LBS of energy could ruin your day.

Hope this helps - S.L.

"Meanwhile, never flinch, never weary, never despair." - Winston Churchill



  1. The high kinetic energy behind a modern high powered rifle is due to the faster velocity and heavier weight of the projectile. When this energy is delivered to the target it pushes everything out of the way causing a rapid shock-wave type of expansion to the target which literally rips tissue apart far from the wound itself; if the energy is high enough, the tissue literally explodes, just like they say. Additionally, the projectile is shaped to cut through the air with much less drag than a ball delivering more of that energy to the target. With the designed ballistic expansion (mushrooming) of the lead projectile, the modern .50 cal round is exponentially more devastating than a cap and ball pistol or rifle of yester century. Remember, in the end, it ain't how big the boat, it's the size of your Johnson!

  2. Judging by the utterly explosive damage done by the .50 in the vid, The head shot pic - by the relative intactness of the target - looks to be done by a smaller round. Say a .300 win mag(?)

    /Or maybe the rounds used in the vid were HE ?

  3. No offense, but it depends on projectiles.

    You can punch really neat half inch holes in things, depending on the overall circumstances.

    Wound ballistics is more complicated than "this is big and makes people's heads explode".

    I head-shot a SQUIRREL with a .450 Marlin once, as it was what I had with me, and it punched a neat half inch hole through it's head and we cooked him for supper.

    Averages are a nice thing, but wound ballistics have a LOT of exceptions...

    I shot a whistlepig more than once with .270 with 150 grain Swift A-Frames and they exploded into pink mist and I punched a hole that had almost the same entry and exit wound sized in a squirrel head with a .450 Marlin solid...

    Calibers are calibers, velocity is velocity, not all bullets are the same, and you can think on this one:

    .45-70 and .220 Swift have about the same muzzle energy.

    It's not as simple as people make things out to be.

    Smithy friend of mine watched a person put THREE .500 Nitros into a rogue elephant, and the bullets failed, and he downed it with one G&S solid in .458 Lott.

    For what it's worth, .577 SNIDER CONVERTED ENFIELDS explode heads as regularly as BMG.



    The various 6mm-ish cartridges all reach out and touch people too. Go to a bench-rest competition and you'll note that there's a pretty wide array of calibers that will do palm sized groups at 1,000 yards. And there's a large diversity of bullet construction.

    The only given in projectiles, it that they might fail. There is no "sure cartridge" for anything.

    Sorry to be contrary, but that's how I am...