Looking for a big bore AR? .458 SOCOM and .50 Beowulf are two of the most popular big bore cartridges that are still able to be used with a standard AR lower.
They are both extremely large bullets designed to be used for hunting big game, such as bears and large hogs. While they both offer tactical use, these uses won’t be talked about much in this article.
However, before we get into the comparison of .458 SOCOM vs .50 Beowulf, we will start with some of the history of both rounds.
.458 SOCOM was designed for military use following the Battle of Mogadishu (depicted in the movie Black Hawk Down). Members of the military’s Special Operations Command (SOCOM) were not impressed with the stopping power of the 5.56 NATO round, so they decided to look into getting a large bore round designed that could still be used on the traditional M4 lower receiver. The round was designed in 2000, and Tromix was contracted to build the first rifles in 2002. To this day, Tromix still produces .458 SOCOM rifles and upper receivers, along with a few other companies.
.50 Beowulf was created by Alexander Arms. Similar to the .458 SOCOM, it has plenty of tactical uses, and was designed to be used on a traditional AR lower receiver. Alexander Arms has all of the proprietary rights to .50 Beowulf, and have been very up tight with any information about it. They produce everything and all of the related accessories for the round, and don’t divulge much about it.
.458 SOCOM projectiles range in weight from 250 to 600 grains, while .50 Beowulf projectiles range from 300-400 grains. As you can see, there are far more projectiles available for the .458 SOCOM, at a variety of sizes.
When using a 300 grain projectile, .458 SOCOM fires somewhere in the neighborhood of 1900 feet per second, and .50 Beowulf fires around 1870 feet per second. Obviously, as the projectiles get larger, they are fired slower. 300 grains was selected just to provide a common ground between the two rounds. The .458 SOCOM round fires slightly faster, but that difference will be almost negligible. The two muzzle velocities are extremely similar. Both projectiles are capable of shooting through engine blocks though, so rest assured that they both have plenty of stopping power.
However, where the .50 Beowulf starts to gain an advantage is that the projectile is .5 inches in diameter as opposed to .458 inches in diameter. While that extra .042 inches may not be much, the projectile of the .50 Beowulf will create a larger hole, which causes more damage.
In terms of ballistics, the rounds are very similar. The two are fired at very similar rates, but the .50 Beowulf is slightly larger to create more damage to tissue. For this reason, we give an extremely slight advantage to .50 Beowulf. However, even this could be argued because .458 SOCOM is available with heavier projectiles than .50 Beowulf.
In terms of price, the rounds are very different. Other than one workaround, .458 SOCOM is much more expensive. Just for the sake of comparison, .50 Beowulf comes in just under $1.50 per round, while .458 SOCOM comes in costing at least $2.50 per round, more commonly closer to $3 per round. .50 Beowulf gets the advantage in terms of price
However, when looking to buy an upper, the available uppers for .458 SOCOM are a good bit cheaper than the upper made by Alexander Arms in .50 Beowulf. A simple cost benefit analysis comparing the uppers and the prices per round will give you a good idea of your break even point. Once you know that, you can decide which round makes more financial sense to you based on how much you plan on shooting.
If you are looking for a big bore AR, there is a good chance that you are very knowledgeable about weapons and maybe even load your own ammunition. While the reloading options are limited with both of these rounds, .458 SOCOM definitely takes the advantage. The parts for reloading are way easier to find, the brass is easier to find, and there are more bullets to choose from, as previously mentioned. Alexander Arms controls everything about .50 Beowulf, which makes it more difficult to find brass, projectiles, and reloading parts. However, one positive of .50 Beowulf is that the brass will arguably last longer.
Another positive of loading your own ammunition is that the price becomes less of an issue. This was the workaround mentioned before when talking about the price of .458 SOCOM ammunition. When loading your own ammunition and not paying by the box, you are able to buy everything you need in bulk. If you are loading the ammunition, .458 SOCOM becomes less pricey, and the rounds start to come closer in price.
Uppers for .458 SOCOM are made by Wilson Combat, Tromix, Rock River Arms, and Radical Firearms. Uppers for .50 Beowulf are only made by Alexander Arms. While all of these are quality uppers, each has their slight advantages over the others. The biggest disadvantage of the .50 Beowulf upper is that Alexander Arms produces the only one available, which more or less means they set the price.
There are a few other things to keep in mind when comparing .458 SOCOM vs .50 Beowulf. One thing is that .458 SOCOM will work with standard AR mags. Since it was designed for use in military M4s, one of the design parameters was that it had to work with the standard issue magazine. If you decide on .458 SOCOM and already have an AR, you will not have to buy much in the way of accessories.
Another slight advantage of .458 SOCOM is that it arguably cycles better through your weapon. Due to the shape of the cartridge, many people believe that the round chambers more definitively. The .458 SOCOM case tapers slightly, while the case of the .50 Beowulf round remains the same diameter throughout. While .50 Beowulf has never jammed on me, it is something to consider.
One last advantage for .458 SOCOM is that it is made by multiple manufacturers. This gives you some more choices and more available parts. This availability certainly doesn’t hurt the price and the available options. It also allows you to select from multiple manufacturers, if there are some that you don’t like as much.
While these rounds are quite similar, there are also quite a few differences. In terms of ballistics, the .50 Beowulf is slightly larger in diameter, which will cause more damage. However, the .458 SOCOM is slightly faster, and the projectiles are available in more weights, including some weights that are way heavier than any of the .50 Beowulf projectiles. The .50 Beowulf has more power, although that power is also felt in some added recoil. Some people will take more comfort in the added size and damage that the round will cause, but others will see the ballistic difference as being almost negligible. While we give the slight edge to .50 Beowulf, they are very similar and it’s hard to call.
In terms of price, .50 Beowulf has a definite advantage when buying boxes of ammunition from the store. However, once you get into loading your own ammo, the difference in price becomes much smaller. The .458 SOCOM has an advantage when it comes to the price of the upper though.
When you look into reloading your own ammo, .458 SOCOM has a definite advantage. There are more bullets available, and the brass and parts are easier to find. The brass for .50 Beowulf may last a little longer, but it is more difficult to find.
Lastly, the .458 SOCOM has a few advantages in terms of small odds and ends. It chambers a little smoother, uses standard AR magazines, and the number of manufacturers means that there are more parts and options available.
Both of these rounds are excellent, but we can make a few recommendations dependent on your uses for the round.
If you are using this round for hunting or home defense, either one will work admirably. Both rounds will drop a bear. However, due to the number of manufacturers involved and the fact you can get a heavier projectile, we will recommend .458 SOCOM. Using this round, you will not have to buy any new magazines, and the upper will be cheaper for you. Just keep in mind that the projectile velocity will drop significantly around 200 meters, making this a weapon that is really meant for nothing but close range use.
If you are looking for a range gun, either one will work. We will defer our recommendation to whether or not you reload your ammunition.
If you reload your ammunition, we recommend .458 SOCOM. The number of options available will let you fine tune your exact cartridge, and the parts will be easier to find. While it may be slightly more expensive, reloading your ammunition negates this cost slightly.
If you don’t reload your ammunition, .50 Beowulf is probably better for you, as it is significantly cheaper per round when buying by the box. As long as you are okay with dealing with Alexander Arms, .50 Beowulf will perform well for you.