Because these two cartridges share a lot of similarities, it can be easy to get on the track of determining which is the better cartridge. That is not our goal in this article. Unlike other comparison attempts, we want to bring an unbiased look at these two cartridges to the table. With this information, you can better make your own decision.
In the end, your cartridge selection often comes down to personal preference after using both. Arguments will abound from both sides of the aisle concerning which cartridge is preferable. We are also only looking at items that are measurable. Availability of components to outfit your rifle for these cartridges, how they feed, and other factors are not going to be discussed here.
In the end, it comes down to what you have the most confidence with, especially when looking at two similar rounds.
.458 SOCOM vs .50 Beowulf: A Brief History
The 458 SOCOM was designed for a very specific purpose. As the acronym implies (Special Operations Command), members of special operations units were unhappy with the 5.56 rounds ability to bring down the enemy quickly and with as few shots as possible in combat while using platforms such as the M4 and M16.
After deliberations and experimentation, the .458 SOCOM came to be in the early 2000’s. This 40mm long case was designed to be fitted with the much larger .458 diameter bullets that produce dramatically more force than the 5.56 rounds but still able to be used with an AR magazine and a specialized upper receiver.
The cartridge has found some popularity in the civilian shooting world as well and is very popular among AR enthusiasts and hand loaders. The .458 SOCOM has been touted as an excellent low-velocity home defense round as well as a great brush gun. There are several companies producing factory loaded .458 SOCOM cartridges, but the availability is limited. The majority of these rounds come in bullet weights ranging between 300-500gr with subsonic rounds available.
Similar to the .458 SOCOM, the .50 Beowulf cartridge was designed and produced in the early 2000’s with the idea to generate a large bore cartridge that could be used in the AR-15/M16 style weapons that traditionally are chambered for the 5.56×45 rounds. The reason was again because of the low stopping power with the traditional rounds, and a large, .50 cal cartridge gave the promise for a round with devastating power in close quarters to mid range shots.
The combination of a round with performance specs similar to the highly regarded .45-70 cartridge and a semi-auto tactical platform was advantageous to both military and police personnel who often found themselves in close quarters situations with a need to bust through cover and neutralize targets quickly.
The cartridge has obviously become popular with self-defense communities, but its performance has also found a place in the hunting world, especially in tight and overgrown situations. Factory loads for the .50 Beowulf are lacking compared to other cartridges but is slowly gaining traction. Most bullet weights fall in the 300-350gr category, and there are much larger options available for subsonic rounds.
.50 Beowulf vs .458 SOCOM Specs
|.458 SOCOM||.50 Beowulf|
|Parent Case||.425 Westley Richards||.50 Action Express|
As you can see, both of these large bore cartridges are much larger than your typical 5.56 round. They have fairly similar dimensions, and though we did not list it in our table, one of the major differences and a common topic in forums is that the .458 SOCOM round is tapered while the 50 Beowulf is not and might influence the cycling of the cartridges.
Neither of these rounds has a SAAMI rating for case capacity or max pressure and the handloading references out there for these two rounds vary. We have listed the averages for max capacities we have found from reliable sources here, and we see that they hold similar amounts of powder and they are also fitted with similar weight bullets. Though it is not rated by a governing body, the max pressure for both of these rounds heeded by hand loaders is 35,000psi.
Both of these cartridges fill a very specific niche within the shooting world, and because of this, a number of options you have for factory loads are very limited when compared to more popular defense and hunting rounds. Still, to the make these comparisons, we have selected five rounds of each cartridge and listed them below.
- .458 SOCOM SBR Hornady Interlock JHP 300gr
- .458 SOCOM SBR Barnes Tipped TTSX 300g
- .458 SOCOM Buffalo Bore Jacketed Flat Nose 350gr
- .458 SOCOM Underwood Ammo Lehigh Controlled Fracture HP 300gr
- .458 SOCOM Buffalo Bore Subsonic Jacketed Round Nose 500gr
- .50 Beowulf Alexander Arms XTP JHP 350gr
- .50 Beowulf Alexander Arms Rainier Plated HP 335gr
- .50 Beowulf Underwood Ammunition Bonded JHP 325gr
- .50 Beowulf Alexander Arms Millennium Solid Brass Spitzer 350gr
- .50 Beowulf Underwood Ammunition Xtreme Penetrator 325gr
Before we get into our comparisons, there is one more note that we would like to make. We are using computer data that was compiled from the manufacturer’s websites as well as from trusted ballistic calculators. When we do use ballistic calculating software, we do make a point to be clear as to what the variables are and what we have used to generate the data.
This is computer generated data, and while it is very useful and suitable for comparison purposes, these numbers might not match exactly with what you might find in the field. Each rifle has its own personality, and numbers can fluctuate based on environmental and physical differences in your rifle. Still, the numbers shouldn’t vary that much, and it doesn’t take away from the purpose of this article for the .458 SOCOM vs .50 Beowulf.
One last item before we get to the fun stuff. We are looking at a lot of categories completely removed from the influence of other factors. When it comes to ballistics and how a round behaves, everything is linked. Velocity influences certain characteristics and is itself influenced by others. So keep in mind as we move through this comparison that the terminal ballistics of these rounds involve more than simply the kinetic energy or the sectional density. For the sake of clarity and not getting stuck in the weeds, we are going to keep the discussion to each category but will bring it all together when discussing applications.
So, let’s get it rolling.
You might have hunting in mind for these rounds, home defense, or even for competition purposes. Whatever your endgame is for these cartridges, recoil is going to have a significant impact on any shooting scenario. We don’t mean these rounds will knock you down, but when used in lighter AR platforms for competition, home defense, and even for some hunting situations, you want to be able to get quick shots in succession off at times and recoil can hamper that.
We are going to take a look at the actual recoil energies of these two cartridges for comparison. This is not the same as the kick you feel when firing, but increased recoil energies do translate to increased felt recoil. We can’t look at felt recoil because it depends heavily on the firearm that is being used. Suppressors, barrel length, and stocks all impact the felt kick. So, we will stick with comparing the actual energy (ft.lb) that is generated from firing the rounds.
Even these numbers can change depending on the variables such as powder charge, type of powder, and firearm weight. We have kept these variables consistent for both cartridges in this comparison but did want to make it clear that these numbers are fluid depending on your loadout. Still, these numbers give you an idea of how these two cartridges stack up against each other.
We have used a 7lb firearm in the equation as well as a powder charge of 40gr for all of the selected rounds and presented the results here.
We see that all of the selected rounds fall into the range of 24-32ft.lb of recoil energy which is quite a wide range. The .458 SOCOM rounds have slightly lower recoil energies when compared to the .50 Beowulf, which has several rounds in the 39-32ft.lb range compared to the highest .458 SOCOM round at 28.89ft.lb.
All of these rounds are in the 300-350gr range besides the single subsonic .458 SOCOM round which is 500gr. They also have the same powder charge and firearm weight, so why the increased recoil energy for the .50 Beowulf rounds? It has to do with the muzzle velocity of the rounds that we put into the calculation which came from the manufacturer’s website and a point of interest that we will look at in an upcoming section.
While we have mentioned that these numbers can vary based on several factors, they still produce enough recoil that some modification of the firearm might be needed to handle the rounds effectively and efficiently for the shooting applications these cartridges excel at.
Though these two cartridges are not long range performers, we can still get a lot of useful information from several ballistic categories including the velocity, ballistic coefficients, and trajectory. Both of these rounds can and are used at the range as well as for hunting purposes, so these sections are still relevant. Understanding how these bullets behave is highly advantageous because it lets you better adjust shots and helps you understand the cartridges limitations.
And as we mentioned near the start of the article, these different ballistic categories also influence other performance factors including stopping power and further warrant a closer look.
When looking at the .50 Beowulf vs .458 SOCOM, especially when it comes to velocity, we have to remember that both of these rounds are low velocity even when not subsonic. Normally, velocity is critical for both hunting and self-defense for a variety of reasons including performance at long range, proper expansion, and penetration. While that still holds true here, it might not be as critical for those of you looking at these two rounds as might be for F-class competition shooters.
These are large diameter, heavy hitting rounds designed for close encounter situations where a lot of expansion might not even be wanted. There is no doubt that they have enough velocity to penetrate targets as wells as be used in cover situations, we just want to acknowledge what’s going on here.
We have collected the velocity (fps) data for all of these rounds from the muzzle out to 500 yards.
One thing that jumps out to us is that all of the rounds bleed off velocity pretty rapidly, though we also have to keep in mind that these rounds are designed for much closer range shooting than 400 and 500 yards. We also see that there is not much of trend between the two cartridges in regards to one showing consistently higher or lower velocities. Initially, the .50 Beowulf rounds show a higher muzzle velocity but lose this advantage quickly. If we take the averages of the rounds for each cartridge we see that there is never more than 100ft.lb difference between the two. This is without factoring in the subsonic .458 SOCOM round. Below we have listed the average velocities for each cartridge out to the 300-yard mark and have omitted the subsonic .458 SOCOM round.
|.458 SOCOM||.50 Beowulf|
As we have said several times, these are lower velocity rounds, for rifle cartridges, and all of the rounds fall below supersonic speeds by the 300-yard mark which is the upper limit for the range of these cartridges. From 0 to 200 yards, the velocities remain supersonic for the majority of the cartridges.
The ballistic coefficient is derived from an equation that uses several bullet and cartridge variables and may or may not have any relevance to you. A few of these include the bullet design and the speed of the bullet. The math and physics behind the BC can get a bit technical and cluttered though we do recommend you take a look as it is very interesting. For this article, we are going to keep it as simple as possible. The ballistic coefficient gives you an idea of how streamlined a bullet is. The higher the ballistic coefficient, the better the bullet can resist wind drag and wind drift which would make the bullet less likely to be pulled off of its flight path and, in theory, be more accurate.
For the .458 SOCOM versus the 50 Beowulf comparison, the BC might not have the same relevance as it would for more long range cartridges. We are dealing with two cartridges that were designed for close quarters situations
Even while these rounds might not be used in long range capacities (300+ yards) we still think it is important to discuss the BC for those who still might be interested but because it also influences our next section.
We have collected the BCs for all ten rounds from the manufacturer’s website and listed them here.
From the factory loads that we have selected, there appears to be a trend towards the .458 SOCOM rounds showing better ballistic coefficients than the .40 Beowulf rounds. Granted, not one round cracks the .3 mark. Four of the five .458 SOCOM rounds break the .2 mark while only to .50 Beowulf round do so, and they also have two rounds below the .15 mark.
This is a small sample size, though maybe not with the amount of factory loaded options out there, but with handloading you could increase the BC with these cartridges by using certain bullets that just are not available in factory loads at the moment.
The lower BCs make sense for these rounds. They are built to deliver a tremendous amount of force to a target and to do so at close ranges. Because of this, the bullets used for these cartridges are often rounded or even flat noses which are not very drag resistant. While the numbers are much lower than say a .338 LM round, for their purpose, these numbers shouldn’t cause any alarm. And like most ballistic numbers, environmental conditions can change these slightly from day to day based on temperature and pressure, among others.
The BC is most known to influence a bullet’s trajectory so let’s take a look at this in our next section.
Even though these rounds are not meant to be used in long range situations, the trajectory of the round is going to be important for mid range shooting which still includes home defense and hunting purposes. What we are comparing in this section is the amount that the bullet drops over its flight. Obviously, flatter trajectories (less bullet drop) is going to be more advantageous for the shooter than one where you have to make more radical adjustments to shot placement. And whether you have open, holo, magnifiers, or traditional magnified scope optics on your rifle, home defense and hunting situations don’t always comply with letting you make careful and accurate readings to distance and other factors. A flatter trajectory helps negate small errors that can be made during these situations.
In the case of the .458 SOCOM vs .50 Beowulf, we are not going to mess around with the trajectory over 500 yards. Even 500 yards might be overkill, but it was a nice round number. Throughout this range, we are comparing the bullet drop, in inches, of our ten selected rounds for comparison.
From the muzzle out to 150yds, there is no difference between these two cartridges. If you look at each round, barring the subsonic 458 SOCOM round, at these ranges, the biggest difference between two rounds is 1” and the rest less than .5”. As the rounds move out to the 200 and 300 individual rounds, do begin to distance themselves from one another. Below we have listed the averages for each cartridge out to 300 yards.
|.458 SOCOM||.50 Beowulf|
From the averages alone, we see that both of these cartridges are nearly identical when it comes to the flatness of their trajectory at 150yds. The gap widens slightly between cartridges at the 200-yard mark where the .458 SOCOM nearly an inch less bullet drop than the .50 Beowulf which is not going to be a point of concern for most people. At the 300 yard mark, we see the biggest difference between the cartridges with a little over four inches of difference with the .458 SOCOM round having the flatter of the trajectories. Again, most wouldn’t put too much stock in four inches of difference between these two cartridges, but the data is there.
As you can see, 300+ yards is going to offer some difficult shooting for even skilled marksmen. We also have not mentioned the subsonic 458 SOCOM round up to this point which takes a dive past the 300 yard mark, but it’s not an issue as subsonic rounds are almost exclusively used for close range applications.
Though there is a slight trend for the .458 SOCOM being a bit flatter in its trajectory, both cartridges have rounds that perform better and more poorly in this specific area. Overall, we wouldn’t give an edge to one cartridge over the other in this category.
For hunters and those looking for a self-defense cartridge, stopping power is a critical factor in your final choice. Coming up on wounded animals, especially if they are predators, can be dangerous and being able to drop them cleanly takes this risk away. Most hunters also want enough stopping power to be able to make a clean and humane kill of the animal with causing unneeded suffering and risk losing it in the field. For self-defense, the reason for wanting a round with incredible stopping power is obvious.
Stopping power is a culmination of several factors including bullet energy, penetration, bullet expansion, and shot placement. Below, we will look at the bullet energy as well as penetration and how they relate to stopping power between the 458 SOCOM vs 50 Beowulf. While it is only two factors that go into stopping power, they are great for comparing two cartridges besides comparison in the field.
When a bullet is launched from the barrel down range, it carries a kinetic energy along with it. This kinetic energy is derived from the mass and the velocity of the bullet. When the bullet reaches the target, this energy is transferred and causes a tremendous amount of damage to the surrounding tissue and organs.
How much energy is required to take down an animal or neutralize a target varies, and the amount that gets transferred to the target varies as well. But that’s the case with just about every round. We will go ahead and say that there is not a round on this list that wouldn’t neutralize a target at close range or that couldn’t take out medium sized game within a reasonable range. Still, for those on the fence of one round or the other, we will take a look at the kinetic energy (ft.lb) of our selected rounds.
Like our previous discussions, we have graphed the data out to 500 yards, but we are going to limit our discussion to 300 yards as this is the upper limit of effectiveness for most users of either of these cartridges.
From the muzzle, the most noticeable trend between these two rounds presents itself. At this point, the .50 Beowulf rounds, besides ones, show higher bullet energies than the .458 SOCOM rounds. At this point, the average for the .458 SOCOM is 2,064ft.lb while the .50 Beowulf is 2,467ft.lb. The gap closes at the 100-yard mark with the rounds much more tightly clustered. The highest performing round at this mark is still a .50 Beowulf, but the averages begin to look similar. The .50 Beowulf average at this mark is 1570ft.lb while the .458 SOCOM average is 1,462ft.lb.
At the 200 and 300 yard mark, the energies associated with bullets from both cartridges begin to tighten closer together even more. The averages for the 200 and 300 yard mark for both cartridges are 1,052 and 800ft.lb for the .50 Beowulf and 1,056 and 810ft.lb for the .458 SOCOM rounds.
While the averages give you an idea of the differences between the two cartridges, we do want to point out that the rounds are interspersed regarding the amount of bullet energy.
Another factor that goes into a cartridge’s stopping power is the penetration of the bullet. To be effective, a bullet must be able to penetrate through sometimes very thick hide and bone to reach vital organs. Of course, how much penetration you need is going to depend on the game you are hunting.
Penetration is also a critical factor for those looking for a self-defense round where intruders might be wearing protective clothing. You need a round that is going to be able to pass through those barriers. There is also a fine line with penetration for self-defense rounds as well. Too high a velocity, little expansion, and deep penetration can pass completely through the target and endanger others in the room or the area.
And this is simplifying the topic since we are leaving out expansion, which is also going to play a role in penetration. Expansion not only creates a larger wound, but it is also critical for transferring the energy from the bullet to the surrounding tissue more efficiently.
Since we do not have ballistic gel data and since the bullet type plays a role and is seen in both cartridges, we will use the sectional density of the rounds. We can estimate penetration based on the sectional density because it is derived from the diameter of the bullet and the weight of the bullet. Heavier bullets with the same diameter are going to penetrate deeper than lighter rounds with the same diameter. If we have two bullets with the same weight, but different diameters, the smaller diameter localizes the force to a smaller area and gives you deeper penetration.
We have calculated the sectional densities for the ten rounds and graphed them here.
From our description of what sectional density is and given that both of these cartridges use similar weight bullets, these numbers make a lot of sense. The slightly smaller diameter of the .458 SOCOM rounds bumps up their sectional density slightly when compared to the .50 Beowulf rounds. We also have a good example of how weight affects the SD when we look at the 500gr subsonic .458 round that has an SD of .341.
And again, we’re taking a lot out of the picture when it comes to penetration and rest assured that these rounds are not going to plink off a target. It’s simply not what they are designed to do, but there is a distinction between these two cartridges when it comes to the potential penetration.
Accuracy when discussing a comparison of any two cartridges and even any two rounds of the same cartridge can lead down a road of arguments hotter and more passionate than any political debate. What we use the most often leads us to be being more accurate, and we tend to defend their honor as an accurate round. That’s the problem when discussing accuracy, it’s very subjective and often has more to do with the person doing the shooting than the cartridge itself.
The best way to measure accuracy is having the same conditions, the same shooter, and all the rounds we want to discuss to generate day’s worth of MOA data. Even then, how consistent would this data be? There is great information out there that has been compiled by expert shooters, but does their data correlate to your skill level?
Maybe and maybe not, but the best way to determine accuracy is to test it out yourself. That’s not always easy and can cost quite a bit of money, but we can look back at previous ballistic data and try a roundabout way to look at accuracy between the 458 SOCOM vs 50 Beowulf cartridges.
When it comes to the ballistics, we saw that both of these cartridges have very similar profiles. They both have rounds that perform more efficiently in each category, but there were some very slight differences when comparing the two. And even then, when it comes to shots within 100 yards, we don’t think one cartridge has any advantage over the other to accuracy.
If you are planning on shots coming outside of the 1oo yard mark, the .458 SOCOM round did have slightly higher velocities, higher BCs, and a flatter trajectory than the averages of the .50 Beowulf rounds. We find it difficult to say that this small difference would lead to a difference in accuracy, but in theory, the higher performing .458 SOCOM rounds should be easier to put on target at greater distances than the .50 Beowulf.
We also have to bring recoil into the discussion. The .50 Beowulf rounds had on average, several more ft.lb of force than the .458 SOCOM rounds. Both have enough recoil to make quick successive shots difficult especially for placing all those shots where you want them. Of course, with some tinkering with your rifle, you can make this recoil much more manageable.
Price and Availability
While we don’t necessarily recommend making a decision based on price, we know that it is a major factor we all have to take into account. While both cartridges have their more affordable and more expensive options, the .458 SOCOM is is more expensive per round than the .50 Beowulf. You have seen the performance specs, and if nothing stood out to you in those areas, it might come down to price for you. Of course, if you do decide to hand load, the price per round will go down significantly and save you quite a bit over time.
Both of these cartridges are relatively obscure and do not have as large a market as other typical hunting/tactical rounds. Because of this, their availability is often limited if you are searching in retail stores. You might come across them, but the selections for both are going to be limited. Of course, with the internet, you are going to be able to get your hands on whatever you need, but it might take more time. From our experience, these rounds are more often than not in stock through online retailers.
|458 SOCOM SBR Hornady Interlock JHP 300gr||$45.30 (20 Rounds)|
|458 SOCOM SBR Barnes Tipped TTSX 300g||$59.99 (20 Rounds)|
|458 SOCOM Buffalo Bore Jacketed Flat Nose 350gr||$46.71 (20 Rounds)|
|458 SOCOM Underwood Ammo Lehigh Controlled Fracture HP 300gr||$59.99 (20 Rounds)|
|458 SOCOM Buffalo Bore Subsonic Jacketed Round Nose 500gr||$54.99 (20 Rounds)|
|50 Beowulf Alexander Arms XTP JHP 350gr||$29.49 (20 Rounds)|
|50 Beowulf Alexander Arms Rainier Plated HP 335gr||$27.99 (20 Rounds)|
|50 Beowulf Underwood Ammunition Bonded JHP 325gr||$25.49 (20 Rounds)|
|50 Beowulf Alexander Arms Millennium Solid Brass Spitzer 350gr||$42.99 (20 Rounds)|
|50 Beowulf Underwood Ammunition Xtreme Penetrator 325gr||$36.49 (20 Rounds)|
We have looked at several ballistic and other performance categories for the .50 Beowulf vs 458 .SOCOM debate, we have seen evidence that both of these rounds can function in several shooting capacities.
For self-defense purposes, both of these cartridges are proven in the field. The data backs up their original purpose in that they have tremendous stopping power coming from an AR platform and have the velocities behind them to push through thick hide, cover, and even body armor. Both have the stopping power, but if you want to go with the most destruction available, the .50 Beowulf rounds have slightly higher ft.lb of energy behind them at close ranges and the large .50 cal bullet is going to be brutal.
Of course, the increased recoil of the .50 Beowulf might make successive shots more difficult to put on target when compared to the .458 SOCOM. Both of these cartridges have rounds designed specifically for this purpose as well to provide maximal damage at close range.
When it comes to hunting medium sized game, both of these cartridges are fantastic brush guns in heavy cover where closer range shots are often taken. And as we have seen, they can even be effective at longer ranges.
The slightly better BCs and the higher average velocities out at 100 and 200 yards might sway you towards the .458 SOCOM rounds when it comes to hunting purposes. While you might get in closer in some situations where this difference is negated, we think it’s better to think about hunting medium sized game and choosing the cartridge with 75+ yards in mind.
You’re going to get more than enough penetration and energy to cleanly kill game up to 200 yards with both of these cartridges, and both have good hunting options that offer a little more expansion for maximal energy transfer. Though all of the rounds we looked at dropped below the 1,000ft.lb mark at the 300 yard mark, there is still enough energy to drop medium size game with a well-placed shot, especially considering the size of these rounds.
Before we move on and wrap up this cartridge comparison, we wanted to select a round for each cartridge that we think we excel in certain shooting scenarios. We don’t necessarily think it’s the only option for the job, but we are confident it will get it done.
Top Hunting Round
For the .458 SOCOM, we like the SBR Barnes Tipped TTSX 300gr round. It has some of the best ballistic properties available for factory loaded .458 SOCOM rounds and has more than enough bullet energy, penetration, and expansion for excellent stopping power for medium size game out to 300 yards.
For the .50 Beowulf, the Alexander Arms Rainier Plated HP 335gr is one of our favorite hunting rounds. It does not have the expansion of our choice for the .458 SOCOM, but what it does have with the .50 cal bullet is enough to make clean kills up to 300 yards, and the trajectory is extremely flat when compared to other
Top Defense Round
Our recommendation for a defense round for the .458 SOCOM goes to the Buffalo Bore Subsonic Jacketed Round Nose 500gr. For in home defense and other close quarters scenarios, the subsonic round is perfect for reducing noise and flash that can be disorienting to the user. On top of that, the heavy grain bullet paired with the velocity at close range is going to neutralize threats quickly and the recoil is also extremely manageable.
Conclusion: .458 SOCOM vs .50 Beowulf
The debate between the .458 SOCOM vs .50 Beowulf we venture to guess that the debates will continue to rage. We hope that this article has taken several of the available factory loads and presented an unbiased look into how they stack up against each other in various ballistic and other performance categories.
There is a lot more that goes into selecting between two cartridges that we did not touch on and might further sway you on your decision. We have offered you what we can, but we also recommend getting a little experience with both if you have the chance. Both can handle your needs, but at the end of the day, your personal preference is going to be from confidence in the round from use.