44 Magnum vs 50 AE

Banana Ballistics • April 09, 2024

So, you got bit by the big bore handgun bug and find yourself debating between the 50 Action Express and the 44 magnum? While there is no denying that both are very powerful handgun cartridges, there are many differences between the 44 magnum and the 50 AE. In this article, we will be going over these differences as well as some similarities to help make your decision easier.

Physical Attributes

Stood side-by-side, there is no denying that the 44 magnum and the 50 AE are very different cartridges physically. Perhaps the most noticeable difference between these cartridges is their diameters.

Unlike its naming would have you believe, the 44 magnum is not truly a .44 caliber, as it uses 0.429-inch diameter projectiles. While this is a large diameter, the 50 AE is a true 50 caliber cartridge, using 0.500-inch diameter projectiles. This equates to an increase in diameter of just over 16.5 percent larger than the 44 magnum.

With its larger diameter, the 50 AE can be loaded with heavier projectiles than the 44 magnum, though the difference may not be as large as you think (at least with factory ammo). In terms of factory-loaded 50 AE offerings, bullet weights typically fall between 300 to 350 grains. When it comes to factory-loaded 44 magnum offerings, bullet weights typically range from 180 to 300 grains.

It should be noted that lighter and heavier bullet weight options exist for either of the cartridges, though they are typically much less common. With relatively heavy bullet weights traveling at healthy velocities, the 50 AE and the 44 magnum are well suited for hunting medium to large game.

Although the 44 magnum and 50 AE are very different in many aspects, they do share several similarities physically. Perhaps the most noticeable similarity is their case length and cartridge overall length. As surprising as it may be, the 50 AE shares the same overall case length (1.285 inches) and maximum overall length (1.610 inches) as the 44 magnum.

On top of these dimensions, the 50 AE and the 44 magnum also share the same rim diameter of 0.514 inches. With the same rim diameter and overall case length, both cartridges are useful in the Desert Eagle platform. In fact, converting a Desert Eagle chambered in either cartridge to the other cartridge, is a simple barrel and magazine change.

Though they share the same rim diameter, the 44 magnum is a rimmed design, whereas the 50 AE is a rimless design. Because of its rimmed design, the 44 magnum is especially useful/common in revolvers and lever actions, with the Desert Eagle being a rare example of a semi-automatic option.

While companies like Freedom Arms do chamber revolvers in 50 AE, its rimless design is almost exclusive to semi-automatic handguns, with the Desert Eagle being the most common example. It should also be noted that revolvers and lever actions chambered in the 44 magnum have the added benefit of shooting 44 special (parent case of the 44 magnum).

44 Magnum Underwood 245 gr FMJ (left) vs 50 AE Underwood 300 gr FMJ (right)
44 Magnum Underwood 245 gr FMJ (left) vs 50 AE Underwood 300 gr FMJ (right)

Power

Let’s face it: if you’re considering either of these cartridges, power is probably at the top of your list. Although the 44 magnum and the 50 AE share the same maximum pressure rating of 36,000 psi (at least with standard offerings), they are quite different when it comes to muzzle energy.

With Underwood’s 245 gr FMJ offering, the 44 magnum produces 1,144 ft/lbs. at a muzzle velocity of 1,450 feet per second. While this is a substantial amount of muzzle energy for a handgun, the 50 AE is even more extreme. With a muzzle velocity of 1,663 feet per second, Underwood’s 300 gr FMJ offering in 50 AE produces 1,580 ft/lbs. of muzzle energy.

This monstrous figure means that the 50 AE produces just over 38 percent more muzzle energy than the 44 magnum (at least with the loads referenced). This is a substantial increase in power, but we must remember that these are standard 44 magnum load offerings.

If your firearm can safely handle +P+ 44 magnum loads, such as Buffalo Bore’s 340 grain hard cast offering, the muzzle energy figures become very comparable to those of the 50 AE. In fact, this load produces 1,649 ft/lbs. at a muzzle velocity of 1,478 feet per second (7.5-inch barrel referenced).

This is just over 44 percent more muzzle energy than the previous 44 magnum load referenced and just over 4 percent more than the 50 AE. Realize, however, that these loads are very specialized for very specific 44 magnum chambered firearms. Also, recoil will increase substantially over standard offerings.

*Many 44 magnum chambered firearms are not rated anything above standard load designations. Always verify with the manufacturer that your firearm can safely handle any ammunition you intend to use.

Ruger Redhawk 44 Magnum Revolver
Ruger Redhawk 44 Magnum Revolver

Recoil

With a 38 percent difference in muzzle energy between standard load offerings, it would be easy to assume that the 50 AE produces considerably more recoil than the 44 magnum. While this is true when both are fired out of the same weight firearm, we must realize that these cartridges are typically found on different platforms.

Because of this, the 44 magnum recoil values referenced are based on a Ruger Redhawk 5.5-inch model (empty weight of 49 ounces or about 3.063 pounds). The 50 AE recoil values referenced are using a standard 6-inch Desert Eagle (unloaded weight of 4 pounds 5.8 ounces or about 4.36 pounds).

With Underwood’s 245 gr 44 magnum offering referenced above, the 44 magnum produces approximately 23.4 ft/lbs. of felt recoil. Looking at Underwood’s 50 AE load referenced above, we see that it produces approximately 30.4 ft/lbs. of felt recoil, or right at 30 percent more recoil than the 44 magnum.

While a 30 percent increase in recoil is considerable, we must realize that the difference would be even larger if both cartridges were fired from the same weight handgun. We must also realize that the 44 magnum produces considerably more recoil with max loads.

In fact, with Buffalo Bore’s 340-grain load referenced above, the 44 magnum produces approximately 37.6 ft/lbs. of felt recoil. This equates to nearly 24 percent more recoil than the 50 AE and almost 61 percent more recoil than the previous 44 magnum load referenced.

Based on these figures, it’s safe to say if you aren’t a fan of recoil, you won’t be a fan of these cartridges. If, however, you still wish to get one but don’t think that your wrists can handle it, handguns with built-in muzzle brakes can greatly reduce felt recoil. Choosing to shoot 44 special in 44 magnum chambered revolvers can also greatly reduce recoil, but realize that you will be sacrificing muzzle energy.

Magnum Research Desert Eagle Mark XIX 50 AE Pistol
Magnum Research Desert Eagle Mark XIX 50 AE Pistol

Cost

When it comes to cost, the difference between the 44 magnum and the 50AE is even more substantial than the difference in recoil. While neither one of these cartridges are considered cost effective to shoot, the 44 magnum is considerably less expensive than the 50 AE.

In fact, with standard load offerings, the 44 magnum can often be had for half (sometimes even less) the price of even the cheapest 50 AE load offerings. This is primarily due to the massive popularity of the 44 magnum, which helps to drive prices down.

This massive popularity also leads to the 44 magnum having considerably more options when it comes to factory load offerings, as well as more published reloading data. The 50 AE on the other hand, has very few factory load offerings, which can be difficult to find in some cases. When compared to the 44 magnum, reloading data can be hard to find and limited for the 50 AE as well.

Keep in mind that 44 magnum-chambered lever actions and revolvers have the added benefit of using 44 special ammunition. Although the 44 special is nowhere near as powerful and does not typically save money compared to the 44 magnum, it is another option if you’re in a pinch.

Which One Should I Get?

Although the 44 magnum and the 50 AE are both powerful big-bore handgun cartridges, they are very different overall. These differences can make for a difficult decision, so which one should you choose?

If you’re looking for power within a semi-automatic handgun, few cartridges do it better than the 50 AE. With 300 grain projectiles producing nearly 1,600 ft/lbs. of muzzle energy, the 50 AE is a force to be reckoned with. Realize however, that you will be paying for this force with both your wallet and your wrists.

Although standard 44 magnum loads are not quite as powerful as most 50 AE loads, they are considerably cheaper while producing less recoil. It should also be noted that 44 magnum chambered revolvers have the added benefit of using 44 special ammunition, which produces even less recoil.

Perhaps the first question you should answer, is whether you’re after a revolver or a semi-automatic handgun. Regardless of which way you decide to go, hopefully this article makes your decision easier.

--Banana Ballistics