Behold the .510 Beck.
Every year, somebody at SHOT comes out with a new freak round that’s supposed to do something that’s never been done before. We’re not naming any names, but some of these .396MiniBigBlock options that involve necking down a .458 Lott and giving it the base of a .577 Snyder and adding a belt at 7mm Remington Ultra Magnum height…guys, give us a break. Also, if you build the .396MiniBigBlock, give us royalties. We need the money.
This year’s big-news crazy bullet is the .510 Beck. And we’ll admit, our initial reaction was the usual eye-roll. It’s a .50 calibre round, that fits in a .308 Winchester action, and uses a .308 base on the brass. But why do you want to shoot 700 grain projectiles out of a gun built for .308? Who cares if you can get a .50 into an AR-10?
It turns out that the big interest is from police marksmen, and once we heard the explanation, we had to agree, the .510 Beck might be something different than the usual flash-in-the-pan factory wildcats. And here’s why: it works really, really, well, at something we’d never considered. This is a hostage rescue round.
But let’s go back a step or two. The .510 Beck is a straight walled cartridge, designed around the .308, and specifically engineered to work in the AR-10. The straight walls of the cartridge, aside from allowing the use of the .510 Beck in several US states with restrictive hunting regulations, make it easy to reload. They also give the Beck a very shotgun-like recoil impulse, which should have surprised us less than it did: the .510 uses bullet weights ranging from 327 grain penetrators up to 710 grain mechanical-expansion subsonics.
Why are those weights significant? Consider the shotgun slug: a straight-walled round with a bullet somewhere in the approximate range of one to one and a half ounces. A 710 grain bullet is roughly 1.6 ounces; a 327 grain bullet is three quarters of an ounce. A Remington 870 weighs, generally speaking, seven or eight pounds; an AR-10 with an optic and a full magazine could easily weigh nine or ten pounds, even if the base gun was a relatively light AR-10 like the DPMS G2.
The .510 Beck, then, shouldn’t surprise you when you find out the recoil feels very similar to a 20 gauge shotgun. It’s there, all right, but it’s a shove, not a smack. You could shoot a lot of it without hurting anything but your wallet.
And that brings us to who wants to shoot it, and the answer is indeed police marksmen. Not only will they not have to buy their own ammunition (thankfully, because we want them to be great shots with lots of practise), but they’re also shooters who make high stakes shots, at relatively short ranges, on targets with extremely limited exposure.
Let’s consider the classic hostage rescue problem: the target is thoroughly obscured behind a victim, and is actively trying to limit their exposure. They’re almost invariably armed, and pointing a weapon at the victim. The police marksman, then, is faced with a serious problem: can the hostage taker be disabled, even when they are almost entirely hidden behind an innocent victim?
There are only two ways to instantly render the hostage taker neutral: massive central nervous system disruption, preventing them from being able to carry out an attack on a hostage, or massive physical disruption to achieve the same goal. Central nervous system disruption requires head or neck exposure and hostage takers may well be minimizing that exposure intentionally; it may also be that angles presented to the marksman limit the exposure incidentally.
The remaining option is physical disruption of the limb controlling the weapon, and that is where the .510 Beck may provide a significant advantage. The 710 grain subsonic round, with its mechanical expansion design, presents a massive destructive face to the target which may allow for sufficient tissue disruption to reliably disable a weapon arm even if the only exposure is the target’s shoulder. Discussions between Calibre staff and police marksmen at SHOT Show 2016 repeatedly turned to this option, and we’re looking forward to seeing how testing progresses on this front.
Should the monster round see adoption by specialist law enforcement units, it’s likely that the round has a brighter future than many of the niche rounds that get introduced, only to disappear before the following year’s pilgrimage to the Sands Expo Center.
Certainly Beck Defense, the creators of the cartridge, have made excellent decisions in regards to industry partners in the support of the new round: Starline Brass has been brought on board to manufacture the cases, and Lancer has developed a 7-round magazine for the AR-10 which feeds with satisfying smoothness.
And our own experience shooting the mighty fifty was almost intoxicatingly fun. The sheer joy of blowing steel targets off their stands at 100 yards at Boulder City range was enough to risk the wrath of the range staff, who’d grown tired of replacing them, and the realization that some of the bullets were only losing 30 feet per second over that distance made us think that, tactical applications aside, this could be the ultimate brush-bucker round for going after moose.
We’re not making any guarantees, but we sure hope this round catches on. The fun factor alone is just too hard to ignore.