Low Pressure, High Stopping Power: 50GI Cartridge

By Oleg Volk

Handguns are almost always weaker than rifles, yet defensive fighting usually happens so close that stopping power is paramount.

Unfortunately, few of us can carry long guns legally, and such carry would not be very comfortable. The solution has long been to use the most powerful handgun that’s still practical for unsupported firing, starting with the .476 Eley, .455 Webley and .45Colt revolvers. Guncrafter Industries pistols in 50GI improve on those with a .50-caliber bore, the largest legally possible without National Firearms Act paperwork. The rebated rim allows a 45ACP-sized breechface, while the blown out straight-walled casing accommodates much larger bullets than John Browning’s brainchild. The portly projectile loaded into a rebated rim case has an impressive frontal area, 23 percent wider than .45 ACP, and boasts 1000fps velocity–15% higher–for the same 230-grain bullet weight. Actual measured velocity was very close from a 4.5-inch Glock barrel and higher from 5-inch and 6-inch M1911 barrels. For antipersonnel use, a wide range of highly expansive all-copper hollow points from 185 grains to 275 grains are available, all alleged to provide massive tissue displacement. Light for the caliber, 185gr stops at 9 inches in 10% ballistic gelatin, but makes an even wider path. The expanding bullets are all optimized for thin-skinned humanoid foes, with the 230-grainer making holes a foot deep and almost an inch wide. For hog hunting use, slower but much denser 300-grain bullets are available. At 700fps, this heavy FMJ load is on the same power level as 44 Special–a mild, easy shooting round that penetrates deeply even through gristle plate and works well for rapid second and third hits if necessary.

50GI is a low-pressure caliber along the lines of the classic .455 Webley. At the same pressure as 45ACP, it’s easy on the shooter and gives equally quick follow-up shots that are difficult with 50AE or 50S&W. While less energetic than a hot 10mm auto load, the 50 GI is more efficient by not having to use as much of the kinetic energy to expand the projectile. Muzzle flash is minimal with all loads, further improving repeated hit probability in low light. The 50 GI accomplishes all that with the pressure of only 15,000 pounds per square inch, which ensures easy extraction. With the 6-inch barrel, especially, it gives much-reduced muzzle blast compared to other powerful defensive chamberings intended to supplant .45 ACP. The case has a rebated rim like the .50 AE and seven cartridges ?t a regular 1911 magazine well. Fired brass can be reused quite a few times.

Guncrafter Industries make several M1911 type pistols in 50GI, with the longslide Model 4 being the $4,100 flagship. While its overall weight is only a couple of ounces more than a regular M1911, the slab-slide gun handles much better both before and after the shot. Its long sight radius and superb trigger routinely produced 7-shot groups inside an inch at 10 yards, ragged holes smaller than the size of the expanded bullet! Recoil was the same as with a standard .45 ACP Government model, and the pistol could be fired that accurately at the rate of about a shot per second. Even more impressively, Model 4 gave one inch dispersion at 10 yards with all four loads. The sights as supplied were regulated for 230-grain HP and 300-grain JFP ammunition, with 185-grain HP hitting slightly lower and a 275-grainer an inch higher. The combination of plain rear sights and tritium front worked well in moderate light, with the eye focusing on the vial with ease. With the long slide providing a nice forward balance, the sights returned on target readily. The pistol is available in a wide variety of ?nishes and with various sight options. The fit and finish of Model 4 is superior to most custom pistols I’ve seen and brings to mind the expression “jewelry that also shoots bullets.”

Magazines drop free when empty. The pistol has just enough roughness to stay firmly in hand, not enough to abrade skin. It’s expensive but worth the money. Accessories and ammunition aren’t cheap either: magazines are $50 each, and cartridges are $30 to $50 per 20-round box. Guncrafter Industries makes a matched 45ACP slide available, so “sub caliber” practice may be conducted cheaper with the more common ammunition. They also make 50GI conversion slides for Glock 21 as the budget alternative to the 1911 platform. At $595 to $660, they provide a more economical 50GI launch platform. Extended Glock barrels are available. While they add only a bit of velocity, they allow porting to reduce muzzle flip or threading for sound suppressors.

Holding 10 rounds in the slightly extended specially designed magazine or nine rounds in flush fitting one, this conversion gives up some capacity relative to 45ACP for the greater punch per shot, but still holds more shots than the 1911. Depending on the load, the degree of muzzle flip with the Glock conversion is again either minimal or slight, definitely on par with 45ACP experience. The one downside to the Glock conversion relative to the superb 1911 longslide was decreased accuracy. My 9-shot groups from standing at 10 yards were no better than 2 inches, adequate for defense but not match grade.

Since 50GI ammunition remains expensive, the expectation is that shooters train primarily with similarly handling 45ACP uppers and carry 50GI uppers. Given the similarity of the shooting experiences between the two calibers and the excellent reliability of the conversions, that’s a valid approach. Unlike the more energetic cartridges, like 10mm Auto and 44Mag, 50GI doesn’t wear out the shooter in training and is relatively sparing on unprotected hearing in subsonic loads. A high-performing caliber optimized for self-defense, it gives more than just bragging rights–the improved terminal performance of each shot gives greater confidence in stopping aggression quicker than with smaller calibers.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V21N5 (June 2017)
and was posted online on April 21, 2017


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