Barrett .50 BMGs
30 Years Of Awesome Firepower.
Any review of a Barrett rifle chambered in .50 BMG must be careful not to slip into excessive hyperbole. What am I talking about? It’s not the obvious, based on the extreme power inherent in the .50 BMG cartridge the various Barrett rifles harness and offer to the individual rifleman. I am speaking of the different layers of success typified by the Barrett .50 BMG’s creation in terms of the company’s eventual success, an “amateur’s” boldness in bucking the norm by challenging conventional thinking, and an individual’s plain ole gumption for refusing to take no as an answer, believing his product was a better answer; with this conviction, he was rewarded both in terms of worldwide military procurement and recognition of his peers.
The Ronnie Barrett saga is a thing of legend: one man’s vision comes to represent a whole new class of weapon that harnesses the brute power of the Browning .50-caliber round. Let’s put this into perspective with this factoid discovered when researching this article. In the last 100 years, only seven individuals have invented firearms adopted by the United States military: John Browning, John C. Garand, Eugene Stoner, John Taliaferro Thompson, Melvin Maynard Johnson Jr., Eugene Reising, and Ronnie Barrett. The first three referenced had their designs perfected and mass-produced by either the US government or another manufacturing company. With the exception of two of Stoner’s designs that were bought for limited use from Armalite, Barrett is the only one of the group to create, manufacture, market and mass-produce his firearms for the United States government.
The Barrett rifles evaluated belong to C.R. Newlin — owner of Echo Valley Training Center (EVTC).
I acquired four different Barrett .50 BMG rifle models to help illustrate how far Barrett has evolved the individual-use .50 BMG rifle. John Browning’s .50 BMG is known for its power. Anecdotal history has Browning creating the .50 BMG by scaling up the .30-06 service round at the behest of General Pershing. The purpose of the .50 BMG was to serve in both an anti-aircraft and anti-vehicle role with the advent of first tanks and armored cars on the battlefield at the end of World War I. Browning’s .50 BMG, typified by its chambering in the M2 “Ma Deuce,” had always been thought of as a crew-served weapon or something better fitted to a vehicle or similar platform in order to tame its power since its introduction after WWI, long before Barrett erupted on the scene in the early to mid-1980s.
Barrett Firearms Manufacturing, based in Murfreesboro, Tenn., was founded in 1982 and was centered on Ronnie Barrett’s idea of a shoulder-fired .50 BMG rifle. While many are familiar with the Barrett story thanks to several documentaries and articles that have been featured since 1982, I will give a brief synopsis of first Barrett .50 BMG based on archive interviews from Ronnie Barrett himself. Ronnie was a professional photographer and artist who wanted to create a shoulder-fired rifle chambered in .50 BMG. He had no prior experience in manufacturing or as an engineer. He hand drew the design for what was to become the Barrett semi-automatic .50 BMG rifle. When he took those drawings to machine shops in the area they laughed at his ideas. Instead of giving up, he decided to manufacturer his idea himself.
This leads us to the adage of “if you want it done right, do it yourself.” This might be the unofficial motto for Barrett’s ranging AR-type rifles, precision bolt rifles chambered in calibers other than .50 BMG, and a stable of .50 BMG models. The four different Barrett models I was able to use — the 82A1, Model 99, Model 95 and the 82A1 CQ — all belong to C.R. Newlin — owner of Echo Valley Training Center (EVTC). EVTC hosts numerous training entities with hundreds of students passing through every year. This is in an ideal spot to evaluate what weapons and gear work — albeit chest rigs, holsters, ammunition, night vision, optics, suppressors, etc. I find it very indicative that C.R. has invested into four different Barrett .50 BMG models. He reports each Barrett model features specific characteristics attracting potential customers, yet all maintain access to the .50 BMG chambering. This allows for an end user to tailor needs and budgets per particular Barrett model best suiting a department, agency, unit, or individual’s mission requirement. I have taken numerous training classes, including precision long-range courses, with C.R. over the years and respect his insights and thank him for the numerous opportunities provided in handling his Barrett rifles over the years.
Can you say muzzleblast?!
Barrett’s quality and attention to detail provide accurate, rugged and
reliable weapons that wring the utmost performance from the .50 BMG.
In The Beginning
It is only fitting to begin with the Barrett model that started it all —the 82A1. Ronnie Barrett’s instincts as laid out on his kitchen table proved very keen in making sure the Barrett 82A1’s construction was aimed toward durability and reliability in the tactical arena. The rifle is fed from a 10-round detachable magazine. Reliability is something that can’t be compromised with a tactical rifle, no matter the caliber. The Barrett 82A1 rifle is fitted with a dual chamber muzzlebrake at the end of its 29″ barrel to help reduce felt recoil. Muzzleblast is a unique experience for the uninitiated; directly behind the rifle is the best place to be to avoid the blast backwash. The muzzlebrake, combined with the 82A1’s operating method of the barrel recoiling for a short distance, approximately 1″ toward the receiver against large springs with every shot and overall weight (over 30 pounds), makes the Barrett 82A1 surprisingly manageable in terms of recoil. My unscientific opinion is recoil is lower than a 12 gauge with the M82A1. The M82A1 measures 57″ long. It is usually disassembled into upper and lower segments for transportation. The M82A1’s size makes it more of a fixed-position platform perfect in an over watch role, especially with its extended effective range.
Barrett’s first conventional military success was the sale of about 100 M82A1 rifles to the Swedish Army in 1989. World events then transpired to give Barrett a major impetuous towards success in 1990, when the United States armed forces purchased significant numbers of the M82A1 during operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in Kuwait and Iraq. The United States Marine Corps initially bought about 125 rifles, and orders from the Army and Air Force soon followed. Barrett M82A1 rifles have been bought by various military and police forces from allied/friendly governments such as Belgium, Chile, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Jamaica, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, United Kingdom and others.
The Barrett .50 BMG’s tested had an assortment of scope models mounted,
ranging from a Sprinfield Armory on the M82A1, Leupold Mk4 on the M95,
Bushnell on the M99, to a Trijicon on the M82A1 CQ. Barrett scope rings
are the preference based on experience of other scope rings failing.
The recoil force physics of a .50 BMG are like no other shoulder-fired
The Barrett M82A1 aesthetics instills a certain sense of professionalism and purpose. The purpose is long-range accuracy and power allowing for one rifleman to dominate his space on the battlefield against a myriad of targets. The rifle is a tactical weapon with an effective range unsurpassed by other shoulder-fired weapons. All of the Barrett .50 BMG rifles offer unique capabilities thanks to being chambered in the .50 BMG, which is experiencing a renaissance of sorts with many specialty rounds being developed and brought to the field. Barrett quality and attention to detail in providing accurate, rugged, and reliable weapons wrings the utmost performance out of the .50 BMG capabilities.
As mentioned previously, the other Barrett .50 BMG rifles accessed for this article, besides the M82A1, were the M95, M99, and M82A1 CQ. Other Barrett .50 BMG rifle models are available outside of these four such as the M107A1 and M107 CQ. The M95 is a bullpup design with the bolt action behind the trigger group. It is fed from a 5-round detachable magazine. In 1999, the US Army initially chose the M95 for its anti-material rifle role; the Army eventually decided to go with the Barrett semi-automatic M82A1 instead of the M95 after further consideration. The Barrett M95 is in use by 15 different nations as well as various LE entities around the world. The foregoing of the semi-automatic action in the Barrett M95 allows for a more compact platform in terms of 23 pounds of weight and 45″ length even while maintaining a 29″ fluted barrel. The M95’s three locking lug bolt is amazingly smooth considering the mass involved in working the action while chambering a .50 BMG round.
The Barrett M99 is aesthetically similar to the M95, as it is also a bullpup design. The Barrett Model 99 rifle was introduced in 1999. The M99 is marketed as an inexpensive, all things being relative when compared to the M82A1 and M95, yet extremely accurate .50 BMG rifle. M99 is intended as a long-range target or sniper rifle for applications where rate of fire is of less value than the accuracy. The Barrett M99 is a favorite in long-range shooting competitions. It was used in 2001 to set a world record in the 1,000-yard .50 BMG class by recording the smallest group of 5 shots, measuring only 4.09″.
While externally similar to the earlier Barrett M95 rifle (except for lack of detachable magazine) the M99 differs from its predecessor in many aspects. It is a single-shot weapon; after each shot a fresh cartridge must be manually loaded into the receiver opening with spent case ejected when the bolt is opened. The bolt has 15 lugs instead of the three lugs on the M95 bolt. Third, the 1-piece receiver is made from aluminum alloy, instead of the 2-part stamped-steel receivers found on the Barrett M82 and M95. The M99’s heavy barrel is equipped with one of Barrett’s efficient muzzlebrake designs. Following a similar pattern of the other Barrett .50 BMG rifles, the M99 rifle has an integral M1913 Picatinny rail installed on its upper receiver for scope mounting. M99 rifles are equipped with the detachable folding bipod with adjustable legs. The M99’s barrel is a heavier contour than its stable mates to better ensure repeatable accuracy. The M99’s chamber area is encased by the thick-walled aluminum extrusion of the receiver, resulting in unparalleled safety for the shooter. The bolt is machined from a single piece of shock-resistant tool steel. The M99’s 32″ barrel gives the rifle an overall length of 50″ and a weight of 25 pounds.
The Barrett M99 is aesthetically similar to the M95 as it is also a
bullpup design. The M99 is intended as a long-range target or sniper
rifle for applications where rate of fire is of less value than the
accuracy. The Barrett M99 is a favorite in long-range shooting competitions.
Last But Not Least
The last of the four Barrett .50 BMGs evaluated was the M82A1 CQ. It shares a lineage back to the M82A1 with important evolutionary tweaks. The M82A1 CQ is 9″ shorter in overall length (all in the barrel) and 1.25 pounds lighter than the M82A1. The story behind the CQ’s development goes that the Coast Guard needed a .50 BMG rifle for drug interdiction. The specific application involved Coast Guard watercraft or helicopters having to deliver accurate fire to stop high-speed drug runners. The favorite method was a large .50 BMG round into a motor compartment. The power of the .50 BMG combined with accurate semi-auto fire from a Barrett was the perfect choice for this mission. The full-size M82A1 was difficult to handle in small boats or helicopters, and made tracking fast-moving targets problematic. When faced with these challenges, Barrett responded by developing a carbine version of the M82A1—the M82A1 CQ. The shorter 20.6″ barrel wasn’t the only change. Since the M82A1 CQ was developed for marine operations, corrosion protection was one of the foremost goals of the Barrett design team. The barrel is chrome lined. The muzzlebrake was modified slightly as well. The M82A1 CQ measures 48.6″ long and weighs 29 pounds. C.R. is unequivocal in stating the M82A1 CQ is his favorite among the four Barrett’s tested. He feels its relatively compact size compared to the M95 and M99, while maintaining semi-auto firepower, makes it the most potent of the Barrett rifles.
The Barrett .50 BMG’s tested had an assortment of scope models mounted, ranging from a Springfield Armory on the M82A1, Leupold Mk4 on the M95, Bushnell on the M99, and lastly a Trijicon on the M82A1 CQ. Barrett scope rings are the preference based on experience of other scope rings failing. The recoil force physics of a .50 BMG are like no other shoulder-fired centerfire rifle. A stock of surplus .50 BMG was available for orientation, with an emphasis placed on Barrett and Hornady .50 BMG ammunition obtained specifically for this article. The Barrett-branded ammunition features a 661-grain FMJ round and the Hornady 750-grain A-Max bullet. The A-Max’s high ballistic coefficients really has come into its own at ranges beyond 900-plus yards.
As stated before, each of the rifles have been handled at various times over the years. However, the review definitely revived interest with all four being brought out for side-by-side evaluation. We started at Echo Valley Training Center (EVTC) by verifying 300-yard zeros for each. The work up at EVTC was done in preparation for much longer range work in mind. EVTC has access to various offsite locations where up to 2,000 yards are available. This is a rare commodity, especially outside of any military-controlled property. Evaluation at EVTC spanned several sessions. While not expecting sympathy, rounds fired per session were kept at a minimum in order to maintain objectivity and to ensure each round fired was given its best chance of success. EVTC has fixed dug-in firing positions, which proved perfect for this evaluation. The shooter can remain standing while maintaining the Barrett rifle firing from off the ground, stabilized by a bipod. This proved easier for managing recoil, compared to lying behind the rifles in a more traditional prone position. While muzzleblast is impressive with the Barrett rifles, recoil is not excessive, with this caveat: this is no beginner shooting platform. As expected, the fixed-action M95 and M99 Barretts did come back harder than their semi-auto counterparts.
The Barrett M82A1’s aesthetics instill a sense of professionalism and purpose.
The long-range accuracy and power allow the rifleman to dominate his space on
the battlefield against a myriad of targets. Photo courtesy of Barrett.
The Barrett M95 is in use in 15 different nations, as well as various other
LE entities around the world. Foregoing the semi-auto action in the M95
allows for a more compact platform, in terms of a 23-pound weight and 45″
length, even while maintaining a 29″ fluted barrel. Photo courtesy of Barrett.
Minute Of Engine Block
Each of the Barrett rifles exceeded our expectation in terms of accuracy. The phenomenon of the large .50 BMG rounds going to “sleep” after traveling some distance down range was encountered. Accuracy levels at 100 yards was often improved upon at 300 yards. Let me explain. A 100-yard group measuring an overall dimension of 2″ was often followed by a 300-yard group measuring only slightly larger than 3″. One would expect the 2″ group at 100 yards to generate a 6″ group at 300 yards. This was not the case at all. In short, “minute of engine block” is well within the Barrett’s capabilities at mind-blowing distance. Remember, the military uses the Barrett .50 BMG, whatever specific model it may be, as an anti-material weapon. Yes, rounds on enemy personnel have happened, especially in current theaters of operation in Iraq and Afghanistan, but this is not the primary mission role of the big Barrett rifles.
The longer the Barrett .50 BMG remains in service, the more varied its mission roles become. The uniqueness of the Barrett weapon platform continues to allow its users to explore new applications. The M82A1 totally satisfies the US military labeling of it as a “Special Applications Scope Rifle” (SASR). For example, I was relayed a story of Barrett rifles used in over watch of vehicle check points featuring an Aimpoint red dot in lieu of a traditional high-magnification scope. Putting a dot on a non-complying inbound vehicle’s engine compartment is easier to achieve with a red dot compared to a limited field-of-view magnified optic. Nothing will switch off a motor like a .50 BMG bullet leaving the muzzle at 2,700-plus fps.
Many feel the utility of what Ronnie Barrett started in 1982 with his .50 BMG rifles has yet to completely evolve. The long-range potential of the .50 BMG mated with a Barrett rifle is what most associate with the combination. Performance at the EVTC off-site location certainly proves this point, with amazing hits at 1,500-plus yards. Once zeroed, both in terms of windage and elevation based on conditions, hits on man-size targets were more than feasible for an amateur like me at nearly 1,000 yards. It certainly seems like Barrett isn’t willing to rest on their laurels and will continue to evolve its product line with improvements in materials and manufacturing techniques. Developments in .50 BMG ammunition are keeping pace with the rifle components of the platform. This serves to wring even more range and lethality from any of the Barrett .50 BMG rifles. Barrett is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the M82 this year; do not be surprised if the Barrett .50 BMG rifles are still around to mark a 60th anniversary.
By Todd Burgreen
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