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.50 B&M Alaskan: how to get the most from the lever-lover's "big fifty.".

DURING A RECENT CONVERSATION WITH GUNSMITH Harry McGowen, I was surprised to learn how popular an old cartridge called the .50 Alaskan is today. Soon after opening his St. Anne, Illinois, shop in 1959, he started making .50-caliber barrels and converting Winchester Model 71s to the cartridge. Then, when the Marlin New Model 1895s and Browning Model 71s came along, he began converting those as well. Despite today's interest in high-velocity cartridges with banjo-string trajectories, McGowen continues to build a couple of rifles each month chambered for this vintage number, the bullet of which moseys along at 1,900 to 2,000 fps.


The .50 Alaskan was the second of two cartridges designed during the 1950s by gunsmith Harold Johnson of Cooper Landing, Alaska. Both are on the .348 Winchester case. First came the .450 Alaskan, pushing a 400-grain bullet along at 2,000 fps at a chamber pressure level easily handled by the Winchester Model 71. For a time it was popular among brown bear guides who needed a close-range stopper for keeping their clientele healthy. Lever-gun stopping power moved to an even higher level when Johnson necked the .450 Alaskan case on up to .50 caliber. Having no .510-inch bullets on hand, he nibbled away at the 750-grain bullet of the .50 BMG until 450 grains remained. When pushed to maximum speed by "the .50," as Johnson called his creation, the bullet was good for stem-to-stern penetration on brown bear and moose from about any angle.

The .50 B&M Alaskan is a recent version of Harold Johnson's old cartridge. Created by William Bruton and Michael McCourry, it is the same as the original except it uses .500-inch bullets. The smaller diameter provides the option of using .500 S&W Magnum bullets for practice and for use on deer and such, then switching to tougher bullets from Cutting Edge and North Fork for larger, tougher game. McCourry has also used the Hornady 500-grain softnose a good bit and considers it big medicine for about anything in North America. The .50 B&M case is easily formed by slightly necking down Starline .50 Alaskan brass. Reloading dies are available from RCBS and Hornady.


The load data shown herein was pressure-tested by Michael McCourry and chronographed by me in two rifles. One was McCourry's Browning Model 71 with an 18-inch barrel built by SSK Industries. The other was my own Marlin Model 1895 MLXR with a 22-inch barrel, also built by SSK Industries. It has a Weaver V3 scope held to an SSK/T'SOB base by Warne quick-detachable rings as well as N.E.C.G. Masterpiece iron sights, No. 61 fully adjustable at the rear and No. 661 Banded Ramp up front. In addition to a fixed 3/32-inch silver bead, the front sight has a larger 11/64-inch white hinged bead that can be flipped up in front of the smaller bead for use when light is bad or folded down when not needed. English rifle builders of the early 1900s called it a night sight, and its bead was often carved from the tusk of a warthog because it does not turn yellow with age as elephant ivory is prone to do.


Lighter bullets in the .500 B&M Alaskan are fine for smaller game, but for the really big stuff I would want a sectional density of .300 or close to it, which calls for bullets in the 450-to 500-grain range. Given proper construction, a bullet of that weight would handle any game animal on the planet out to 150 yards or so, but beyond that it plummets to earth like a bowling ball. Which is OK since the cartridge will always be seen at its best when quickly applying the brakes to large and potentially dangerous game at iron-sight distances.


                       WEIGHT (CR.)            (CR.)     (FPS)

                               SSK MARLIN M1895 (22-IN. BBL.)

HORNADY FTX *                   300  IMR4198    67.0     2,428

SWIFT A-FRAME                   325     RL-7    66.0     2,251

CUTTING EDGE HP                 395     RL-7    64.0     2,122

BARNES BUSTER                   400  IMR4198    59.0     2,057

SIERRA JSP-SM                   400    H4198    63.0     2,113

CUTTING EDGE CS                 425     RL-7    62.0     2,080

NORTH FORK BONDED               450   RL-10X    63.0     2,022

HORNADY FP-XTP                  500   RL-1QX    62.0     1,947

HORNADY FP-XTP                  500    H4198    56.0     1,855

HORNADY FP-XTP                  500     RL-7    58.0     1,876

CAST RCBS 500/400 SWC           400  IMR4198    50.0     1,986

CAST LEE C501/440 RF            440   RL-10X    54.0     1,822

                               SSK BROWNING M71 (18-IN. BBBL.)

HORNADY FTX *                   300  IMR4198    67.0     2,359

SWIFT A-FRAME                   325   RL-10X    62.0     2,062

CUTTING EDGE HP                 395     RL-7    64.0     2,015

BARNES BUSTER                   400  IMR4198    59.0     2,041

SIERRA JSP                      400    H4198    63.0     2,086

HORNADY FP-XTP                  500     RL-7    58.0     1,834

BULLET                     ENERGY       AVC.
                       (ft.-lbs.)  GRP (IN.)

HORNADY FTX *               3,922       1.08

SWIFT A-FRAME               3,653       0.73

CUTTING EDGE HP             3,945       0.81

BARNES BUSTER               3,754       1.44

SIERRA JSP-SM               3,961       1.49

CUTTING EDGE CS             4,078       1.62

NORTH FORK BONDED           4,081       1.40

HORNADY FP-XTP              4,204       1.37

HORNADY FP-XTP              3,816       0.56

HORNADY FP-XTP              3,903       1.15

CAST RCBS 500/400 SWC       3,325       1,21

CAST LEE C501/440 RF        3,240       1.37

HORNADY FTX *               3,703       2.14

SWIFT A-FRAME               3,064       1.68

CUTTING EDGE HP             3,557       1.20

BARNES BUSTER               3,696       2.40

SIERRA JSP                  3,861       1.32

HORNADY FP-XTP              3,730       1.55

* Shorten the case to 1.97 inches for this bullet for a
cartridge length not to exceed 2.55 inches for the Martin
rifle. Notes: Powder charges are maximum and should be
reduced by 10 percent for starting loads. Starline cases
and Federal 210M primers were used. Accuracy shown
represents an average of three three-shot groups fired at
50 yards from a sandbag rest. Velocities are an average
of nine rounds measured 12 feet from the muzzle.

WARNING: The loads shown here are safe only in the guns for which they were developed. Neither the author nor InterMedia Outdoors Inc. assumes any liability for accidents or injury resulting from the use or misuse of this data.
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Title Annotation:G&A RELOADS
Author:Simpson, Layne
Publication:Guns & Ammo
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 23, 2012
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