One of the worlds most powerful and accurate sniper rifles in the world today is the Barrett .50 caliber.

The Barrett .50 M82A1 and M-107 fires a very powerful rifle bullet, the Browning Machine Gun ( BMG ) .50 caliber. This large and accurate .50 caliber cartridge has been the " bread and butter " bullet of the U.S military since before World War Two and its a cartridge that's here to stay.

Below is the famous Browning .50 caliber heavy machine gun, also affectionately known as "Ma Deuce".  This is the gun that John Moses Browning initially designed the .50 caliber bullet to be fired from.  So successful was this heavy machinegun that it is in use by the military today and will continue to do so way into the future.

As a "spray and pray" round the .50 BMG is an ideal heavy machine gun round and it is just as suited when its fired individually in a Barrett sniper rifle.  Accuracy and maximum one shot kill potential has seen the .50 sniper rifle as the rifle to have in all military operations. In fact if a squad does not tote a .50 caliber Barrett around with them, then the question is why not?

It is interesting to note that the Word War Two U.S Thunderbolt P47 fighter plane had no less than eight .50 caliber machine guns fitted, four in each wing, no German plane could stand up to this amount of firepower.  A good burst from the Thunderbolt P-47's guns would literally shred an enemy fighter and would also rip up ground based targets like, jeeps, trucks, light tanks, artillery pieces, trains and buildings.

Below is shown the P47 Republic Thunderbolt, affectionately known as "The Jug" it was a heavily armed aircraft and served the U.S very well during World War Two.  Its prowess was of course down to its eight .50 caliber Browning machine guns that are visible protruding from the wings.

The bullet head of the .50 caliber is of course ½ inch in diameter, whilst the length of the cartridge is 5.45 inches, which makes the powerful 5.56mm NATO bullet or the most widely used 7.62mm for the AK-47, look rather tame by comparison. Indeed the .50 caliber BMG round is very impressive and very deadly, especially when suited up to a sniper rifle such as the Barrett.


Weight loaded: 31lb. Magazine Capacity: ten rounds. Magazine weight loaded: 4.12lb. Length: 57 Inches (4 foot 7in) Barrel length: 29 inches (2 foot 3in) Muzzle velocity: 2850 fps (853 M/s) with 600 grain bullet. Maximum range: 6,800 meters. Maximum effective accurate range 2000 meters.


The very first Barrett Light 50 was designated the M82 or Model of 1982 when it was first created.  Its development continued until 1986 where an improved model the M82A1 came onto the scene. It was in 1990 that the U.S army adopted this rifle and it is still with them today.

Below a U.S Marine sights up with the Barrett .50 caliber sniper rifle, he only needs one hit to take out the target.  The .50 caliber is a devastating take no prisoners  round especially in the hands of a capable "dead eye" marksman.

The Barrett Light 50, as it is more commonly called, is a semi-automatic and recoil operated rifle, with unique recoil absorption systems incorporated that allow the barrel to slide back much the same as a Howitzer cannon.  This  system is to save damage to the rifle and indeed the person firing it.

There is also a muzzle brake fitted that allows the gases to vent sideways and this also helps to keep the recoil down to a minimum.

The telescopic sight is fitted as standard but the rifle also incorporates fold down iron sights as a back up in case the scope gets damaged in the field of operations. The eye relief (distance from rear scope lens to the eye) of the telescopic sight is several inches, this is so that there is no threat of the scope embedding itself into the shooters eye with the recoil when firing the rifle.

The telescopic sights eye relief is quite apparent in the image below as Aviation Ordnanceman, 3rd Class Jamies McTizic fires the .50 caliber Barrett from the fantail of the aircraft carrier U.S.S John. C. Stennis - CVN 74.

The .50 caliber Barrett is accurate over a mile and still retains a tremendous amount of energy, even at this long range.  Hence the bullet has the kill potential of even longer distances...the problem then though, is actually being able to see the target, even through telescopic sights!


Below is near actual size image of a .50 caliber round, at over five inches long! It is an impressive cartridge and one that always raises an eyebrow when shown to people. Inert (dummy) rounds can be bought online as display pieces for collectors of interesting ammunition and decorate mantelpieces, desks and display cases the world over.

There are many different .50 caliber bullet composition variations for the Barrett sniper rifle.  Below are shown some of the most popular that the U.S army and special forces use.

From left to right: 1. High Velocity Aluminum Tipped Spitzer. 2. Copper Jacketed Soft Point. 3. Full Metal Jacket. 4. High Velocity Pointed Spitzer FMJ and 5. Full Solid Brass.

The composition of the .50 caliber bullet shown below, illustrates how the High Velocity Aluminum Tipped Spitzer round is made up.  It has a solid lead core, surrounded with a copper jacket and an aluminum tip that is secured to the end of the bullet head.

The aluminum tip is very light and will instantly fragment upon impact with the target, creating even more damage to it, as if the  big .50 caliber wasn't already powerful enough! The pointed tip also allows the bullet the travel at higher than standard velocities.

Military personnel, especially snipers will handle these bullets with care so as not to deform the tip of the bullet by accidentally knocking it.  Any deformation can affect the bullets accuracy and hence the tip is kept in perfect uniform shape.  It has even been known for snipers to actually polish the bullet to achieve even more accuracy.

Below is a simple comparison scale of the .50 caliber to three other popular military rounds. Images are not actual size.

.50 30-06 7.62mm 5.56mm

 The .50 caliber its truly head and shoulders above the competition, not just in physical size but also in ballistic properties.


The former Governor of California, U.S.A, Arnold Schwarzenegger, decided that the Barrett .50 caliber was too lethal and dangerous to be owned by civilians and he promptly banned its sale for private ownership.

Only the military can purchase and use this gun in California.  At present there are still forty-nine states in the U.S.A that can legally sell them to private individuals. They must be over the age of eighteen years with no criminal record, they cannot then however 'export' them into California, as its not just the gun itself that's banned, its the ownership of one as well.

Anti-gun lobbyists say that this is well justified seeing as the Barrett Light 50 has a kill range of over a mile or more. But in the hands of a responsible shooter, the gun should pose no threat to its a fifty-fifty argument.

The Barrett M82A1 and M107 fires the U.S Military's standard issue .50 caliber (½ inch diameter) bullet which incidentally is four times heavier than the U.S Army's standard .30 caliber rifle bullet, and a massive ten times more heavy than the 5.56mm bullet fired from the M16 assault rifle.

A recent report stated that the bullet fired from the Barrett M82A1 hits a target 1½ miles away with more energy and force than Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry  .44 Magnum does, fired at point blank range.

Only one accurate shot is needed from a proficient sniper and  the .50 caliber is an instant kill weapon.  Since the army adopted it, it is fair to say that they have never looked back.  The reputation of the Barrett .50 caliber sniper rifle proceeds it and many armies around the world have adopted this rifle into their arsenals.


The Barrett .50 caliber sniper rifle has been rated by the U.S Army as one of the best combat weapons ever invented, for its ease of operation, its power, accuracy and rugged reliability, under all conditions. The majority of Special Operations snipers now utilize the Barrett .50 as their mainstay sniper rifle.  The rifle is relatively portable too, coming in its own custom carry case.

The Barrett M82A1 has actually been around now for more over twenty five years, it was invented by Mr. Ronnie Barrett  in Murfreesboro, Tennessee U.S.A.  But why did he want to create such an awesome and lethal rifle for? "Well, I was just a 26 year old kid, and I didn't know any better"  he says, either way he had enough knowledge about guns to design and develop a sniper rifle that is used by armies all over the world.

The .50 Caliber bullet is actually designated as a Military grade round but when used in a rifle such as the Barrett M82A1 then Federal Gun laws deem it under the same laws as a high power Hunting rifle, consequently the M82A1 can be retailed to the private individual.

Mr. Ronnie Barrett actually stated "You know, if it wasn’t for the civilian sales, then I wouldn’t be here. There’s a lot of defence contractors that would not be here too, as sales to the Military vary on a wide margin every year."

Pictured below is the legendary Mr. Ronnie Barrett, holding the .50 M107 sniper rifle that he invented. He is only one of four private individuals that has ever designed, built and sold weapons to the U.S  Military.

Not surprisingly, the U.S military are incredibly fussy over any prospective weapons that they may adopt for service as their criteria is incredibly precise.  The Heckler & Kock XM8 assault rifle was almost a dead cert for adoption as it covered all U.S military criteria.

Heckler & Kock were almost certain that their new rifle would replace the M4 on a billion dollar contract. Unfortunately though, upon evaluation the U.S military were not 100% happy with it, and that was enough to fail it for adoption.

The Barrett .50 was an exception, it passed 100% and was quickly adopted.  It was first used in actual combat by American forces in Operation Desert Storm in 1991.  The Rifle was often used to shoot at targets at over a thousand meters away with great  and lethal accuracy.

Below is a photo of Master Sergeant Tanya Breed as she sights up the Barrett .50 caliber during a demonstration at Hurlburt Field, Florida, U.S.A.  The Barrett .50's power and accuracy was demonstrated to students from the U.S Air Force Special Operations School on a  Dynamics of International Terrorism course.

Photo credits: Chief Master Sergeant Gary Emery.

The .50 Caliber round can accurately engage enemy targets at a distance of over two thousand meters which is over a mile away!  In fact a professional sniper can hit a five inch diameter target at a distance of 1½ miles and recorded shots have been reported from U.S snipers killing enemy soldiers from a range of two thousand five hundred meters or just under two miles.

The angle that the gun is held, plus the amount of wind blowing, the general weather conditions and stillness of the target are all calculated to make this kind of skilful shot.

See the YouTube  U.S Army demonstration video below of the M82A1 Barrett .50 Special Applications Scoped Rifle as the army designate it.

The .50 caliber bullet fired from a Barrett M83A1 or M-107 can easily penetrate 1½ inches of solid steel armor plate, which is the normal amount of "protection" offered by most of the worlds Armored Personnel Carriers (APC's), Armored cars, trucks and other "light" vehicles.  Generally speaking, as long as its not a main battle tank, the .50 caliber round fired from the Barrett at moderate ranges will penetrate it.

Below are shown two Barrett light 50 caliber sniper rifles.  The top example, the M82A1, has the standard 29 inch barrel whilst the one below it has the shorter 20 inch barrel and is consequently known as the M82A1CQ  (close quarters)

A brick or a concrete wall that is about one or even two foot thick also offers no protection and can be shot clean through.  Mobile or static radio trucks, parked up airplanes engines, buildings, fuel depots, rail tank cars, machine gun 'pill-boxes', bullet proof  limo's, trucks, body armor clad enemy soldiers are all easy prey to the Barrett Light .50

The graph below shows the resistance that modern super strong laminated bullet proof glass can give.  As you will notice, the .50 caliber Browning round, fitted with an Armor Piercing bullet will go clean through this medium by a clear factor of two, @ three and a half inches! Even the standard .50 cal Browning will still penetrate two inches of so called bullet proof  glass and beats all the competition.

There is also a very strong psychological factor to be associated with this very powerful sniper rifle.  The supremely accurate and powerful bullet, travelling at up to Mach 3 (three times the speed of sound) can kill an enemy soldier/terrorist and he would not even hear the sound of the gun that killed him. 

When a target is hit at over a mile away the sound of the shot would not be that loud as to be too noticed by the enemy encampment.  Sound will travel that distance of course but it loses its loudness the further it has to travel.

The Barrett .50 is actually reported to be quite nice to fire as most of the horrendous recoil has been eliminated by powerful inbuilt shock absorbers, cams and springs, so in effect, there is about sixty to seventy percent less recoil than other rifles on a lb for lb scale.  Despite the size of this rifle, the Barrett .50 only  weighs 31lb (13.6Kg ) so it is relatively easy to carry around by the average soldier in the field.

Fitting the Barrett M82A1 with a silencer/suppressor is not high on its agenda, due to its long distance kill ability,  however this has not stopped manufacturers from actually producing a silencer or sound moderator for the Barrett M82A1 as pictured below.

The sound of the Barrett is not muffled to a light 'phutt' by any means, the silencer would have to be something like two foot wide and eight foot long for that, in fact its still quite audible but at least some of the sound is reduced, especially for the discerning hunter.


It has been refuted that Osama Bin Ladens Al Qaeda (The Base) terrorist network, managed to secure twenty-five Barrett .50's in the late 1980's and Coalition Forces out in the Gulf could find themselves on the receiving end of this most awesome sniper rifle.

With an effective kill range of two thousand yards or twenty football pitches, the enemy sniper could fire and kill his target and getaway from his position before the attacked forces even worked out where the shot came from.  This of course works both ways!

Indeed, the Barrett M82A1 is not noted for being an extremely powerful and accurate Sniper rifle for nothing.  this is an appraisal it has earned and a reputation it will keep for the foreseeable future.


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Above is the latest offering from accredited rifle manufacturers Accuracy International, the AX sniper rifle. Although not in .50 caliber, this .338 Lapua Magnum offers very close comparisons in accuracy and power.

The Barrett Light .50 still offers the discerning sniper the maximum in ballistic power, however it is not accredited with the worlds longest range sniper kill.  At time of writing this article, that honor is shared by the McMillan TAC-50  and  Accuracy International L115A3  sniper rifles.

The McMillan TAC-50  is an incredibly accurate bolt action sniper rifle, an example of which is pictured below.

It is made by a different manufacturer and consequently looks and handles differently to the Barrett Light 50.  The TAC-50 does however fire the same ammunition, the .50 cal BMG cartridge.  Below is the refined McMillan TAC-50 MK15.  It is a serious competitor to the Barrett Light 50 and was recently adopted by Canadian Special Forces.

During conflict in Afghanistan in 2002 Corporal Rob Furlong of the Canadian Forces fired his McMillan TAC-50  to kill an insurgent at a range of  7973 feet or about 1½ miles away. Furlong temporarily held the record for the longest sniper kill in history.

Below is the latest version of the TAC-50, it is ultra reliable and ultra accurate and again illustrates how the .50 caliber BMG round has taken off in ways never originally envisaged by its designer John Moses Browning.

Because the .50 caliber bullet is so big and powerful it retains lots of energy over these long distances, distances where standard issue 5.56mm bullets would struggle to achieve the same performance.

Rob Furlong

Corporal Furlong said that his first shot was a miss, his second shot hit the insurgents back pack but his third shot hit the body killing him straight away.  As the old saying goes, a tool is only as good as the workman who uses it.

Rob Furlong is no longer serving with the Canadian Armed Forces having left the Army a few years ago. He now serves as a Police officer and sometimes speaks at lectures about the TAC-50 sniper rifle.

His record however, was broken by 150 feet in November 2009 by British soldier Corporal of Horse Craig Harrison of the Blues and Royals.  Harrison shot and killed an insurgent over 8,120 feet away (over 1½ miles away) whilst serving in Afghanistan.

Corporal of Horse Craig Harrison...nice tribal tattoos there Craig!

Harrison was using the British designed and built Accuracy International  L115A3  bolt action sniper rifle, shown below. It is chambered for the very powerful .338 Lapua Magnum cartridge.

It was a genial shot as windage and elevation for bullet drop, light breezes and even the curvature of the earth had to be taken into consideration and calculated.  The powerful .338 Lapua Magnum bullet travelling at 2,093 miles per hour still took almost three seconds to hit the target.

Harrison later recounted his remarkable feat "The first round hit a machine-gunner in the stomach and killed him outright.  the second insurgent grabbed the weapon and turned as my second shot hit him in the side, he went down too "

The L115A3 rifle has earned the sinister name of " The Silent Assassin " due to the fact that the target never hears the shot that kills them.  The bullet travels faster than the speed of sound, hence the target is hit before the sound of the shot reaches him.  A silencer/suppressor is usually fitted to guns like these so as not to give the snipers position away to any casual observers or close by people.


Just to mention here that there is also a British .50 caliber contender, the Accuracy International AS50.  This is the rifle that is issued to many of the British forces over in Afghanistan and is used by many of their snipers.

The AS50 is a .50 caliber sniper and anti-materiel rifle and is one of the latest developments of the famous British company Accuracy International Ltd.  It was actually first displayed in January 2005 in U.S.A at ShotShow05, this rifle reportedly has been developed especially for U.S SOCOM users, and has been tested by the U.S Navy SEALS, rumours have it that it had equipped them during Gulf campaigns.

The AS50 can provide snipers with highly rapid, accurate and concentrated fire over very long ranges.  This is achieved by the AS50 being built around a gas operated, semiautomatic action, with a tilting bolt mechanism.

The two part receiver is machined from super high grade steel, with a free floating barrel that is fitted with the all important muzzle brake.  The muzzle brake has a very low flash signature and is designed to minimize ground disturbance and felt recoil, this is to allow repeated rapid fire follow up shots.  The AS50 combines match-grade accuracy with Milspec reliability and robustness.

The butt-stock is easily detachable and is fitted with a recoil reducing butt-plate, along with a folding hand grip, which can also serve as a support leg.  The folding quick detachable bipod with adjustable legs is fitted as standard.

The top of the receiver is equipped with full length modern Pica-Tinny  universal type scope rail, there are also two additional rails mounted on either side of the front stock.

The AS50 is fitted with four sling mounts, and can easily be field stripped for routine maintenance or for ease of carrying.  It gets it ammo from a single stack box magazine, which holds five rounds of powerful .50 BMG ammunition.  Its a nice piece, lighter and shorter that the Barrett, but the Barrett light 50 has a ten round magazine and it is not interchangeable with the AS50 as far as I know.

Indeed there are a lot of rifle manufacturers now producing sniper rifles chambered to fire the .50 BMG round. This is progression and innovation but lets not forget where it all started...the Barrett Light 50.

To summarize these rifles as a whole, it is apparent that the venerable old .50 BMG round is as popular now as it was during Word War Two, although its application has slightly changed, from machine gun usage to a single accurate sniper fire combat system.

To see the worlds truly most powerful Sniper Rifle click won't be disappointed!




Page created August 3rd 2007. Updated January 27th 2013.