When the Department of Homeland Security evaluates special tactical police units, one critical factor is the presence or absence of a .50BMG caliber precision rifle. At first blush, a .50BMG rifle may seem to be overkill in an urban or even rural environment, but there are certain situations when nothing else will do.
For example, subjects barricaded behind barriers that are impervious to smaller calibers can be defeated with a .50 caliber rifle. Situations where terrorists have taken over the cockpit of an airliner can be resolved only by using a .50 caliber rifle, since the windscreens of large aircraft are designed to resist impacts similar to those of smaller caliber bullets. In banks and other facilities where bullet-resistant glass is employed, only a .50BMG caliber rifle can eliminate threats. So while some might think of the .50 as unnecessary in law enforcement, the opposite is true.
While situations calling for a .50 caliber rifle may be infrequent, when they do occur, it is too late to have a tactical team precision marksman trained in the use of the big rifle. Unlike the famous LA shootout where officers borrowed semi-automatic rifles from sporting goods stores, .50BMG rifles aren’t exactly common, not even in gun stores. Moreover, if a .50BMG rifle is to be employed at all, the responsible team member must be trained in its use and maintain his proficiency so that when the worst happens, the team’s .50BMG rifle can be used effectively with little fear of legal repercussions due to lack of training or proficiency.
One of the most popular .50BMG rifles in military and law enforcement is the McMillan TAC-50. This rifle is in use by the US Navy, where it carries the designation Mark 15 and by many military forces worldwide. The TAC-50 is a combat-proven rifle that delivers pinpoint accuracy with the right ammo.
Another factor in the use of a .50BMG rifle is ammunition. Commonly available ammunition includes ball, armor piercing (AP), armor piercing incendiary (API) and plain match ammunition. Of the US military issue ammo, API is commonly considered to be the most accurate, although for law enforcement operational use, the incendiary effect must be taken into consideration. The Army has a match-grade round for its M107 rifles, designated the XM1022 and made by Lake City Army Ammunition Plant. The XM1022 is designed to ballistically match the Mark 211 round, but without the incendiary and explosive terminal effects of the MK.211. For most situations, we recommend match-grade ammunition that will defeat hard targets.
When it comes to rifles suitable for use against hard targets, the selection is limited. One of these is McMillan’s TAC-50, the subject of this evaluation. The TAC-50 is understandably a large rifle. When dealing with a cartridge that fires a half-inch-diameter bullet weighing as much as 750 grains, the rifle that shoots it is going to be big and heavy. The TAC-50 is nearly 60 inches in length with a 29-inch chrome molybdenum steel barrel, although the rifle can easily be taken down into two.
As tested, weight of our TAC-50 was 26 pounds including scope, mount and bipod, so this is clearly not a rifle that is going to be fired offhand from the standing position. In fact, there are very few rifles in this class that can be fired in any position other than some sort of supported position, usually prone, although the military has vehicular pedestal mounts for its .50 caliber rifles. The TAC-50’s weight is one factor that contributes to the lack of felt recoil, but more important is the rifle’s aggressive muzzle brake that counters recoil by essentially pulling the rifle forward as the bullet leaves the muzzle.
We fired about 50 rounds from our test TAC-50 during zeroing and testing, and felt recoil was surprisingly light, similar to a 12 gauge shotgun. While the muzzle brake is very efficient, there is quite a bit of blast to the side and slightly to the rear. One doesn’t want to be alongside this rifle when the shooter touches off a round. This is the case with just about all shoulder fired .50BMG rifles; all of them require an efficient muzzle brake to prevent dislocating the shooter’s shoulder.
The TAC-50 has some unique features that set it apart from many other .50BMG rifles. First, the TAC-50 is built to match specifications for optimum accuracy. The barrel threads and chamber are cut to the tightest specifications possible while still maintaining reliability. The barrel and bolt axis are perfectly aligned and the bolt face and action faces are absolutely perpendicular to the barrel axis. The action is pillar bedded into the stock and the fluted 29-inch barrel is fully free-floated over its entire length.
Fluting provides greater surface areas for improved cooling and weight reduction without affecting barrel stiffness. The recoil lug is surface ground on both sides and pinned to the receiver for a perfectly square mating between the barrel shank and action face. The bolt handle is extended for ease of extracting and is designed to clear large diameter optics commonly used on .50BMG rifles.
The bolt has spiral grooves so that any grit is held there rather than getting into the rifle’s action. The removable stock is fully adjustable for cheek rest height and length-of-pull (LOP).
For our test optic, we added one of Premier Reticles’ new Heritage 3-15x50mm tactical scopes, designed from the ground up as a tactical scope for the most demanding applications, such as our test TAC-50. The Heritage incorporates Premier Reticles’ patented illuminated Gen II Mil-Dot reticle with 11 brightness settings and a locking illumination dial for storage in the “off” position. Parallax adjustment is via a side turret that gives a sharp image focus from 50 meters to infinity and can be adjusted by the shooter without changing position on the rifle.
The windage and elevation adjustments feature Lever-Lock dial retention for re-zeroing without using special tools. Adjustments are in 1-milliradian per click for a total of 77-MOA elevation with a single turret turn and 55-MOA windage on a single turret turn. The 34mm Heritage scope tube is constructed from a single 6061-T6 aircraft aluminum tube. Premier Reticles Heritage scopes have a lifetime warranty.
Current US Marine Corps standard night vision optic is Optical Systems Technology Inc’s AN/PVS-27 Magnum Universal Night Sight (MUNS). The AN/PVS-27 mounts on any MIL-STD-1913 rail ahead of the day optic eliminating the need for illuminated reticles.
The MUNS incorporates a fully Mil-Spec Gen III+ Pinnacle image intensifier tube. Autogated NVS automatically adjust to incoming light, eliminating “halos” and “blooms” around high contrast objects. The f/1.0 lens gives a bright sharp image in starlight and gathers twice as much light as the other OSTI military NVS, the AN/PVS-22 Universal Night Sight (UNS).
The AN/PVS-27 can be used against targets at 1.5 times the distance of the PVS-22. The MUNS can detect a vehicle in starlight at an incredible 3150 meters (just under two miles) and a human at 1350 meters (almost a mile). The MUNS mounts and dismounts without tools via LaRue Tactical QD lever mounts. The MUNS incorporates OSTI’s proprietary and patent pending Shock Mitigation System (SMS) that can reduce the weapon’s induced shock applied to the image intensifier by up to a factor of ten without any additional boresight error.
This significantly increases the service life of the intensifier and allows the night vision weapon sight to be used on any .50 caliber bolt-action weapon such as the McMillan. The on-axis shock produced by the McMillan without a muzzle brake is nearly 2000 g’s, which exceeds the image intensifier manufacturer’s (ITT Night Vision) maximum shock specification. The SMS reduces the shock level to be in warranty compliance even for large bore weapons of this type. Besides being arguably the most effective image intensification weapon sight on the planet, the MUNS can also be used as a handheld night vision optic or used in conjunction with a spotting scope.
The TAC-50 is a conventional bolt-action rifle in the sense that it has a reciprocating manually operated bolt with two forward locking lugs and a safety lug that is integrated into the operating handle. The extractor is Sako type, the ejector is the plunger type. Our TAC-50 placed every spent casing in a small pile about 5 inches from the right of the rifle. Ejection was positive, the spent casings literally fell off the rifle and dropped to the ground. The receiver’s top surface is fitted with a 30-MOA MIL-STD-1913 rail for mounting optics. The trigger breaks at 3 pounds with zero creep or backlash and is fully adjustable. The buttstock, which is adjustable for length of pull (LOP), can be removed to simplify transportation. The cheekrest is fully adjustable for height as is the buttstock.
Shooting the TAC-50 was a real pleasure. We tested the TAC-50 at 100 yards because in law enforcement scenarios engagements at distances beyond that will occur rarely, if ever. The aggressive muzzle brake combined with the rifle’s weight reduces the .50BMG’s felt recoil to approximately 12 gauge level. Like any rifle having such a device, however, it is not advisable to be alongside when the cartridge is touched off and the muzzle brake does its job by diverting gases to the side and rear. The blast is not particularly noticeable to the shooter, who is directly behind it, but when on the range, the TAC-50 shooter should be careful to choose a firing point with vacancies on both sides of the rifle.
The TAC-50’s single-stage trigger broke at 3 pounds and had absolutely no creep or backlash. The TAC-50 was extremely accurate and delivered MOA from the very first shots fired. We tested the TAC-50 with Anthena AP2 armor piercing match (1.25-inch group), Extreme Shock (Mullins) Match (1.4-inch group) and Summit Match (1.5-inch group). Bear in mind that each of these bullets is a half-inch in diameter, so group size center to center is relative. We didn’t chronograph our test ammo because .50BMG muzzle blast would almost certainly have damaged or destroyed our chronograph.
GI ball in either M8 or M33 is notoriously inaccurate. We advise against using it, not even for practice because it has different ballistics from whatever match-grade duty ammo the agency authorizes. Like anything else, when it comes to ammunition, use only the best available. Remember that your rifle is only as good as the ammunition you put through it. All of our match grade ammo delivered good results. The Anthena AP2 armor piercing is expensive and no longer being imported.
We say unfortunately because as far as we know, it was the only match grade AP round available. The US Army has developed the XM1022, a match-grade ball round for use with the M107 anti-materiel rifle. The XM1022 is ballistically matched to the Mk211 Mod 0 HEIAP (High Explosive Incendiary Armor Piercing) round. The XM1022 uses a match-grade bullet similar to that of the Anthena AP2, but without the armor penetrator. This round is not commercially available as of this writing.
That said, any .50BMG match round is going to deliver terminal ballistics, which completely overshadow those from any other shoulder-fired rifle. When the tactical situation calls for a .50BMG, just about any match round is acceptable because armor steel will almost never be encountered in a civilian or law enforcement environments.
The McMillan TAC-50 offers the competitive or law enforcement shooter an accurate and reliable .50BMG rifle at a cost that may be considered somewhat pricey for a bolt-action rifle, but considering the TAC-50’s features, the cost seems reasonable. The TAC-50 is rugged, well made, well finished and accurate, although like any .50BMG rifle, it is on the heavy side.
We tested a McMillan MCRT .308 rifle nearly two years ago and the TAC-50 continues the McMillan tradition of high quality and rock solid reliability. Since the TAC-50 is in widespread use by the Special Operations community with the designation Mark 15 along with numerous military forces worldwide, it clearly meets the highest military requirements for accuracy and reliability. For law enforcement, it doesn’t get any better.
When the Department of Homeland Security evaluates special tactical police units, one critical factor…
by Mike Detty / Feb 20, 2009