So, you’re in the market for an AR chambered in a straight wall cartridge but just don’t know whether to go with the 350 Legend, 450 Bushmaster, or the 50 Beowulf? Although there is not necessarily a best option, let’s dig into some of the positives and negatives of each to make your decision a little easier.
Muzzle energy is a big selling point for many cartridges, especially those used in hunting applications. Compared to the 450 Bushmaster and 50 Beowulf, you can see just how small the 350 Legend is in its diameter. Although it is not technically a big bore, how does the 350 Legend compare in terms of muzzle energy?
- 350 Legend – Hornady Custom 165 grain FTX @ ~2200 fps1774 ft/lbs
- 450 Bushmaster – Hornady Black 250 grain FTX @ ~2200 fps2687 ft/lbs
- 50 Beowulf – Alexander Arms 300 grain FTX @ ~1793 fps2142 ft/lbs
Due to the small case capacity of the 350 Legend, paired with a relatively light bullet, it is easy to see why it produces the least muzzle energy on this list. With that said, 1774 ft/lbs of energy is nothing to scoff at, especially out of an AR platform.
Based on the size difference of these cases, it would be easy to think that the 50 Beowulf is more powerful than the 450 Bushmaster. Surprisingly, this is not the case. Although the 450 Bushmaster is slightly smaller than the 50 Beowulf, it generates over 500 ft/lbs more energy at the muzzle than the 50 Beowulf.
Note: The factory loads referenced were chosen based on the same projectile type. Many 50 Beowulf loads produce more muzzle energy than what was referenced, though not as much as most 450 Bushmaster loads.
Trajectory and Retained Energy
In hunting applications, trajectory and retained energy play a major role in determining how far a shot can ethically be taken. How do these cartridges compare at different ranges using the same factory loads mentioned previously and a zero value of 100 yards?
Looking over these figures, it is probably safe to say that none of these cartridges are well-suited for long-range shots. Although this may be the case, we see an almost identical trajectory between the 350 Legend and the 450 Bushmaster, with the 350 Legend having slightly less drop.
Both cartridges start at 2200 feet per second. However, the 165 gr FTX used in the 350 Legend has a G1 ballistic coefficient of 0.215. The 250 gr FTX used in the 450 Bushmaster, on the other hand, has a slightly lower G1 ballistic coefficient of 0.21. A difference of 0.005 gives the 350 Legend a slight advantage regarding trajectory, though it is not enough to provide a noticeable advantage over the 450 Bushmaster.
With an almost identical G1 ballistic coefficient of 0.2, it would be easy to think that the 300 gr FTX used in the 50 Beowulf would have a similar trajectory. However, starting with a muzzle velocity of 400 feet per second lower than the other cartridges, the 50 Beowulf produces a rainbow-like trajectory at 300 yards.
Now that we know the trajectory of each cartridge, how do they compare in terms of retained energy?
Even with significantly more drop, the 50 Beowulf retains more energy to 300 yards than the 350 Legend. The 50 Beowulf may start at a lower velocity, but it produces higher muzzle energy and has a similar ballistic coefficient, explaining why it carries more energy.
As expected, having the highest muzzle energy and a similar ballistic coefficient helps the 450 Bushmaster to retain the most energy out to 300 yards. Even with a low ballistic coefficient, the 450 Bushmaster still carries more than 1000 ft/lbs of energy to approximately 270 yards. In comparison, the 350 Legend drops below 1000 ft/lbs at approximately 170 yards, and the 50 Beowulf does the same at about 200 yards.
Although the 350 Legend cannot compete with the 450 Bushmaster in terms of ballistics, it does have some qualities that make it a compelling option. Because the 350 Legend case is essentially the same diameter as a 223 Remington case, it has a greatly increased magazine capacity over the 450 Bushmaster or the 50 Beowulf in the same profile magazine.
In the same profile as a 20-round 350 Legend magazine, the 450 Bushmaster and the 50 Beowulf are limited to just seven rounds (potentially 8 for the 450 Bushmaster, depending on the magazine manufacturer/setup). This equates to the 350 Legend having nearly three times the magazine capacity of the 450 Bushmaster and the 50 Beowulf.
If you have ever hunted feral hogs, you know just how much of a benefit this is. However, this increase in capacity is only a real benefit if you live in a state that does not restrict the number of rounds allowed in a magazine while hunting.
Recoil seems to be one of the most overlooked statistics when comparing the 350 Legend to the 450 Bushmaster and the 50 Beowulf. The more recoil a cartridge has, the longer it takes to make follow-up shots. Since these cartridges are all useful in the AR platform, follow-up shots should be a major consideration (otherwise, why not go with a bolt action). So, what is the difference in recoil between these three cartridges?
Assuming that each is fired out of 7-pound rifles, the numbers below represent the recoil figures generated by each cartridge.
- 350 Legend – Hornady Custom 165 grain FTX @ ~2200 fps11.01 ft/lbs
- 450 Bushmaster – Hornady Black 250 grain FTX @ ~2200 fps25.66 ft/lbs
- 50 Beowulf – Alexander Arms 300 grain FTX @ ~1793 fps24.81 ft/lbs
The figures above show that the 350 Legend produces much less recoil than the 450 Bushmaster and the 50 Beowulf. In fact, it is less than half the recoil of either of these cartridges, making it ideal for recoil-sensitive shooters.
If you are dead set on a big bore but do not like recoil, devices such as muzzle brakes, suppressors, and even adjustable gas blocks can help to mitigate some of the felt recoil. Even with these devices, though, it would be very hard to reduce the felt recoil of either of these big bores down to the level of the 350 Legend.
Which Should You Choose?
The 450 Bushmaster is a serious straight wall cartridge, capable of taking some of the largest game in North America. Along with its power comes a trajectory similar to the 350 Legend, making it a great option for anyone who can stand the recoil and doesn’t mind its limited magazine capacity.
For those who do not enjoy being punched in the shoulder and like some extra rounds in the magazine, the 350 Legend is a healthy compromise between power and recoil. Though it may not be the most powerful option on the list, the 350 Legend produces enough kinetic energy to be effective on many North American game animals at shorter ranges.
Although the 50 Beowulf is a capable big-bore cartridge, it does not offer any performance benefits over the 450 Bushmaster, nor does it offer the magazine capacity of the 350 Legend. For those that wish to say they own a “50 caliber,” though (not to be confused with a 50 BMG), the 50 Beowulf is a relatively inexpensive way to do so.
Ultimately, if you need a straight wall cartridge for the AR platform, it would be hard to go wrong with any of these options. Hopefully, the points talked about in this article make your decision a little easier.
*Trajectory and retained energy values were generated using a ballistic app with a reference value of sea level at 80 degrees Fahrenheit with 78% humidity.
Link to recoil calculator used: https://shooterscalculator.com/recoil-calculator.php
Link to 50 Beowulf velocity referenced: https://www.alexanderarms.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/Beowulf-300FTX-16in-Elk.pdf