Barrett's Bolt-Action Brute

by Jeff Quinn

photography by Boge Quinn

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 later. 

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.

Jeff Quinn

[Ed. Note: Barrett can be found on the Internet at www.barrettrifles.com. - Boge Quinn]

 

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Ed. Note: Jeff recently found some photographs taken when the initial test firing of the Barrett Model 99 was under way. These were taken by a conventional film camera and scanned by me as an update to this article. - Boge Quinn

 

 

The author prepares to touch off the "Big Fifty" while Cousin Melvin looks on.

 

 

The author firing the Barrett Model 99. The picture is blurry because the concussion from the muzzle brake not only jarred the camera, but actually knocked the photographer off-balance!