Evan Whildin, Vice President of Action Arms, Ltd., developed the .50 Action Express cartridge in 1988, with the goal of pushing the performance of a semi-automatic pistol far beyond the limits that had so far been reached – and he was remarkably successful. The .50 AE launches a 325 grain Hornady bullet at 1,400 feet per second out of a six-inch barrel, and muzzle energy exceeds 1,400 foot pounds. If that's not impressive enough, the bullet is still traveling 1,138 feet per second and carrying 930 foot pounds of energy at 100 yards. That means a .50 Action Express round at 100 yards has more than double the energy of a standard .45 ACP round at the muzzle! The .50 AE is available in many bullet types, including JHP and SP.
The hunting applications for this much power are pretty obvious. Even though the .50 AE is not as popular a choice as other cartridges, it is more than adequate for all game animals in North America. It is often used for defense against bears, and as a backup handgun for long gun hunters with dangerous game. The Magnum Research Desert Eagle handgun is the most common platform for the .50 AE.
Handguns chambered in this cartridge are heavy, however, so the .50 AE never gained widespread adoption in action shooting sports. Metallic silhouette shooters are more likely to be seen shooting this cartridge, as they prize heavy bullets and high velocities.
While the .50 AE would seem to be the ultimate personal-protection cartridge, the weight and size of the required handgun is too much for most shooters. The large, heavy gun cannot be carried or deployed efficiently, reducing its effectiveness in a self-defense situation. Additionally, the recoil is more violent than a .44 Magnum, which makes follow-up shots much more difficult. Engaging multiple targets with the .50 AE is nearly impossible.
The choice of the .50 AE is a great one for the person who wants to shoot a unique, large bore handgun cartridge that kicks like a mule. It also makes a good sidearm for anyone in the backcountry who needs the ultimate defense against dangerous animals.