In recent years, there has been a growing interest in rifles made
specifically for the military machinegun round of choice: caliber 50 M2, known
affectionately as the 50 BMG. It is arguably the finest heavy machinegun round ever invented. The big fifty was the brainchild of that most prolific
of firearms inventors, John Browning. It is very much a scaled-up version of
our good ol' 30-06 Springfield. As such, it would seem the perfect candidate
for a bolt-action rifle on steroids.
For several years, there have been a small but growing group of
riflemen who have been drawn into the siren's song of the fifty. The unreachable
Holy Grail of long-range riflery has gotten much closer with the recent proliferation of single-shot and magazine rifles chambered for the 50 BMG.
It was with this in mind that we recently anticipated the arrival of our
subject of this article, a Barrett model 99, also known as the Big Shot. Barrett has been at the forefront of development of fifty caliber rifles
for the consumer market since the early 1980's. Their latest design is also one of the best of the
breed for it's intended purpose, reaching out and touching things.
The first thing that got my attention was the size of the box in which the
rifle arrived. It looked as much like a coffin as anything else. The rifle
was well packaged and after digging it from within the cardboard and foam, a
huge grin began to spread across my face. This was what a somewhat grown man's rifle should look like. The aluminum receiver wore a dark silver
anodized finish, with the barrel, bolt, and trigger group a matte black. The
pistol grip and fire control assembly seem to have been liberated from an AR-15, and should be
familiar to anyone who has spent much time with that particular family of weapons.
The butt plate is a very soft and compliant type of rubber, much like a
Kickeez recoil pad used by shotgunners. It greatly eased any reluctant feelings about pulling the trigger on the first round, but more on that
The bolt on our rifle was much like that of a standard sporting rifle
in that it had multiple locking lugs and a plunger type ejector. A few 50 caliber rifles employ a
shell holder type of bolt that must be removed from the action to load the weapon, but not the Barrett. It is a true bolt action
single shot. By this I mean that you lift the bolt handle, pull it to the rear and drop a round into the open breach. Closing the bolt chambers the
round and the fun begins, but more on that later.
The receiver has integral with its top a long rail that is made to accept any Weaver-type mount. We ordered Barrett's own scope
mounts with the rifle, as they are fully adjustable for elevation and have the necessary strength to handle the substantial recoil generated by this cartridge. The most noticeable feature of this weapon is the massive barrel is 33
inches in length with a muzzle brake that looks as if it were lifted from an
artillery piece. The barrel alone weighs fourteen pounds, contributing greatly to the
gun's overall weight of 25 pounds. Total length of the weapon is just over fifty inches. The initial impression that I had of the rifle was
one of quality of materials and workmanship.
For our testing of the Barrett, we mounted a Tasco
8-40x56 Custom Shop scope. This scope has many features that make it particularly suitable
for a rifle of this type. It is built on a 30mm tube with a 56mm objective
lens and an etched glass mil-dot reticle. When mounted in the Barrett mounts,
it makes for a substantial and rugged sighting device for both intermediate
and long range rifle work. The optics were extremely clear and the images sharp.
[Ed. Note: The 8-40x56 Custom Shop scopes
were discontinued by Tasco some time ago. They, along with
several other scopes such as the Tasco "Super Sniper"
scopes, are now available exclusively from S.W.F.A., Inc.
(www.swfa.com). Click the
following link for S.W.F.A.'s Tasco Page: http://www.swfa.com/riflescopes/tasco/index.html
- Boge Quinn]
The only ammo available to us at the time was some military 750 grain ball.
I was concerned that it might not make good use of the potential accuracy of
which the rifle and scope combo was capable. The range we used had a maximum yardage of 110 yards that we could be sure of a safe backstop. That is the
range at which all our testing was done. To truly realize the potential of
such a weapon, a much longer range is needed, but we had to use what was available at the time. We gathered our supplies and set up on a good bench to
commence with the festivities.
I settled the rifle on to the bags, closed the bolt on a round and braced
for the horrendous recoil. Squeezing the trigger, which broke at around six
pounds, the big gun roared. The recoil that I had anticipated never came. There was a long push, but no slap to the shoulder. The muzzle brake did an
outstanding job of dissipating the felt recoil. I have fired many 12 gauge
shotguns that were more punishing. After sighting in the scope, we proceeded
to determine the accuracy of the rifle at the limited range at which we were
shooting. The scope did double duty as a spotting scope as we could easily
see the bullet holes on the target. One of our shooters could see the large
half-inch holes without benefit of the scope at all.
My worry over the ammunition was unfounded, as the bullets shot into the same hole with almost
boring regularity. I would love to try this gun at long range with match ammo
to determine if our experience was a fluke, or if this rifle is really that
good. When shooting bullets that measure .510 diameter in a rifle this accurate, it quickly chews a ragged hole into the backstop.
While our time spent testing the Barrett was brief, we were very favorably
impressed with the accuracy and quality of this rifle. If you have a need or
just a desire for the biggest, baddest gun on the block, give it a try. It
will make large holes in hard targets at long range, and leave a huge grin on
your face and a $2800 hole in your wallet.
We like it.
[Ed. Note: Barrett can be found on the Internet at www.barrettrifles.com.
- Boge Quinn]
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