50 AE vs 9mm Ballistics & Uses – 2023 In-Depth Comparison

The 9mm Luger has been, and still is, the most popular handgun cartridge in existence. Developed in an era when firearms were transitioning to semi-auto and full-auto designs, this cartridge has stood the test of time and technology and is still going strong. This is a comparison between a venerable cartridge against a rather obscure but peculiar handgun cartridge – the .50 Action Express. 

Superficially, the 9mm looks like a slim and perfect round, whereas the .50 AE looks more like a ‘handgun howitzer shell’ where a .50 caliber bullet has been tried to be fired from a handgun. Contrary to the common beliefs for big and small caliber handgun rounds, the data reveals some interesting facts. Although it may seem to be an uncommon comparison, the findings will surely baffle your mind. 

TL;DR: 50 AE vs 9mm

A quick read for you about the pros and cons of these cartridges. 

50 AE

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9mm

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Pros

50 AE

High damage and high penetration

Flat trajectory and heavy power even at 100 yards

Most powerful semi-auto handgun round in existence

High stopping power and very effective in the right hand’s

9mm

Offers significant penetration

Wide range of ammo and gun options

Ammo is very cheap and easily available

High capacity mags even in small frames

The most popular handgun round in existence today

Lightweight, easy to control and accurate at short range

Can be used in handguns or carbines. Works great with suppressors

Cons

50 AE

The handguns are not concealable

Large, heavy and expensive guns and ammo

Heavy recoil. Not easy to control for most people

9mm

Low energy and not very flat trajectory

Prone to overpenetration in some cases

Low stopping power and requires multiple rounds for effect

Best For

50 AE

The .50 AE is great for target shooting, range use, and against bears as a defense gun. Only good for self-defense if you are proficient with it.

9mm

The 9mm is the ultimate round for EDC and CCW. The perfect round for self and home defense, and some small game hunting.

50 AE Overview

The .50 AE (AE stands for Action Express) is a rebated rim, big caliber, handgun cartridge. It was designed for use in the famous Desert Eagle Pistol in 1988 by Evan Whildin of Action Arms. It is a .50 caliber handgun round designed for a semi-automatic pistol, and it is one of the most powerful handgun cartridges in production today, and also the most powerful for semi-auto handguns. 

The only cartridge more powerful than this is the .500 S&W Magnum, but it is only available in revolvers. Interestingly, the .50 AE is a .50 caliber bullet, the same as a .50 BMG, with the same diameter. However, they are exceedingly different in terms of applications. 

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The AMT Automag V was the first handgun chambered for the .50 AE, and the Desert Eagle is the most popular handgun for this cartridge. The original diameter of the bullet was 0.510 inches, which was shredded down to 0.500 inches to comply with the legal minimum regulations for a non-sporting round according to BAFTE. 

The .50 AE is mostly used for range use and also as a possible self-defense gun against big game animals. 

9mm Overview

The 9mm is probably the last handgun cartridge that will need a formal introduction. The 9x19mm Parabellum, also known as the 9mm Luger or simply 9mm is a rimless, tapered firearms cartridge mostly used with handguns today, and sometimes used in submachine guns. 

It was designed by the famous Austrian firearms designer Georg Luger in 1901 for the P08 pistol. It is an improvement of the 7.65x21mm cartridge, which itself was an improvement of the 7.65x25mm round used in the famous Borchardt C-93 pistol. 

Photo credit: americanrifleman.org

This round was adopted by the German military in 1908 and gained extreme popularity during WWI. In fact, the round was used in a very large capacity in handgun and submachine guns in WWII and is undoubtedly the most popular handgun cartridge today. It is also the official sidearm round for the NATO forces. 

Due to the shape of this round, the 9mm allows for flat magazines and more capacity, while also delivering optimal ballistics for a wide range of applications. It is the same in caliber as a .357, and .380 auto. 

50 AE vs 9mm: Cartridge Specs

Here’s a quick peek into the dimensions and specifications of these cartridges. 

50 AE9mm
Bullet Diameter.500 in (12.7 mm)0.355 in (9.10 mm)
Neck Diameter.540 in (13.7 mm)0.380 in (9.65 mm)
Base Diameter.547 in (13.9 mm)0.391 in (9.93 mm)
Case Length1.285 in (32.6 mm)0.754 in (19.15 mm)
Overall Length1.610 in (40.9 mm)1.169 in (29.69 mm)
Case Capacity51 grains13.30 grains
Max Pressure (SAAMI)36,000 psi35,000 psi
Typical Casing MaterialBrassBrass
Typical Bullet Weight (gr)300-350 grains115-147 grains

The .50 AE is a .50 caliber handgun round that fires a .500 inch diameter bullet. The case of this round is massive, especially when compared to the 9mm. The 51 grains capacity allows it to hold the amount of powder comparable to a rifle, which indeed is much needed when it has to push 300-grain bullets to a distance. 

The round comes with a rebated rim that matches the rim diameter of the .44 Remington Magnum. Hence, a Desert Eagle chambered for the .44 Rem Mag can be easily converted to a .50 AE by just swapping the magazine and the barrel. The OAL of this round is 1.6 inches, which is almost half an inch more than the 9mm. 

Interestingly, both these rounds are loaded to similar pressures with a difference of only 1,000 psi. The 9mm is also available in +p loads that are loaded at higher pressures for faster velocity. The 9mm round fires a significantly smaller 0.357-inch diameter bullet and has almost four times lesser case capacity. The 9mm also fires lighter rounds in comparison, which usually weigh between 115 and 147 grains. 

As far as the dimensions are concerned, this does seem to be apples to oranges comparison. However, the exact performance of these rounds will be closely evaluated in the upcoming ballistics and stopping power sections. 

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50 AE vs 9mm: Ballistics

This section will describe the ballistics of these two rounds for a more refined comparison of their performance. This section for ballistics will cover three major characteristics which include trajectory, velocity, and kinetic energy. 

These characteristics help us determine the accuracy of a round, and its suitability against different types of targets, like specific game animals or objects. The data has been collected using the most common barrel lengths, ammo and distances for a general idea. 

50 AE vs 9mm: Trajectory

I have compiled data regarding the trajectory of .50 AE and 9mm bullets out to a distance of 125 yards. While practically, you wouldn’t have to shoot that far, but it still gives you an idea of the capabilities. Both these rounds were zeroed at 25 yards. 

50 AE

6” barrel/BC 0.155/300 gr
Fusion Soft Point
6” barrel/BC 0.186/325 gr
Jacketed Hollow Point
6”  barrel/BC 0.200/350 gr
Jacketed Soft Point
25 yds: 0 “ Drop25 yds: 0 “ Drop25 yds: 0 “ Drop
50 yds: 0.1 “ Drop50 yds: 0.4 “ Drop50 yds: 0.3 “ Drop
75 yds: 0.5 “ Drop75 yds: 1.5 “ Drop75 yds: 0.8 “ Drop
100 yds: 4.1 “ Drop100 yds: 2.8 “ Drop100 yds: 3.3 “ Drop
125 yds: 8.2 “ Drop125 yds: 6.5 “ Drop125 yds: 7.4 “ Drop

9mm

4.49” barrel/BC 0.120/115-grain
FMJ
4.49” barrel/BC 0.150/124-grain
JHP
4.49” barrel/BC 0.200/147-grain
FMJ
25 yds: 0 “ Drop25 yds: 0 “ Drop25 yds: 0 “ Drop
50 yds: 0.9 “ Drop50 yds: 0.9 “ Drop50 yds: 1.4 “ Drop
75 yds: 3.7 “ Drop75 yds: 3.8 “ Drop75 yds: 5.2 “ Drop
100 yds: 8.7 “ Drop100 yds: 8.8 “ Drop100 yds: 11.5  “ Drop
125 yds: 16.1 “ Drop125 yds: 16.1 “ Drop125 yds: 20.3 “ Drop

The data above may feel hard to believe, because it seems that the .50 AE outweighs the 9mm in terms of trajectory by a significant margin. The 9mm bullets show an average drop of about 1.1 inches at 50 yards. Whereas, the .50 AE round with their heavy 300-325 grain bullets show an average drop of just 0.3 inches at 50 yards. 

Moving further out to a 100 yards, the .50 AE is almost thrice as better than the 9mm in terms of trajectory. What’s interesting to see here is that a heavy .50 AE bullet drops an average of seven inches at 125 yards, but a 9mm round dips to almost 17 inches on average at that distance. 

Taking into account the fact that both these rounds are loaded at similar pressures, the slightly higher pressure, weight and longer barrel of the .50 AE can be said to affect the trajectory. The larger case capacity is also a factor that affects the trajectory. So overall, the data shows us that the .50 AE will be a more flat-shooting round out at any range. However, you need to have iron palms to handle such heavy handguns and strong arms to tame the recoil. 

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50 AE vs 9mm: Velocity & Kinetic Energy

Take a look at the data for the velocity and kinetic energy characteristics of these rounds out to 125 yards. .

.50 AE

6” barrel/BC 0.155/300 gr
Fusion Soft Point
6” barrel/BC 0.186/325 gr
Jacketed Hollow Point
6” barrel/BC 0.200/350 gr
Jacketed Soft Point
25 yds: 1,451 ft/s, 1402 ft.lbs25 yds: 1,397 ft/s, 1,407 ft.lbs25 yds: 1,342 ft/s, 1,399 ft.lbs
50 yds: 1,361 ft/s, 1,233 ft.lbs50 yds: 1,324 ft/s, 1,265 ft.lbs50 yds: 1,279 ft/s, 1,270 ft.lbs
75 yds: 1,278 ft/s, 1,088 ft.lbs75 yds: 1,258 ft/s, 1,142 ft.lbs75 yds: 1,221 ft/s, 1,158 ft.lbs
100 yds: 1,205 ft/s, 967 ft.lbs100 yds: 1,198 ft/s, 1,036 ft.lbs100 yds: 1,169 ft/s, 1,063 ft.lbs
125 yds: 1,142 ft/s, 869 ft.lbs125 yds: 1,146 ft/s, 948 ft.lbs125 yds: 1,124 ft/s, 982 ft.lbs

9mm

4.49” barrel/BC 0.120/115 grain
FMJ
4.49” barrel/BC 0.150/124 grain
JHP
4.49” barrel/BC 0.200/147 grain
FMJ
25 yds: 1,106 ft/s, 312 ft.lbs25 yds: 1,095 ft/s, 330 ft.lbs25 yds: 976 ft/s, 311 ft.lbs
50 yds: 1,048 ft/s, 280 ft.lbs50 yds: 1,049 ft/s, 303 ft.lbs50 yds: 953 ft/s, 293 ft.lbs
75 yds: 1,001 ft/s, 256 ft.lbs75 yds: 1,010 ft/s, 281 ft.lbs75 yds: 933 ft/s, 284 ft.lbs
100 yds: 961 ft/s, 236 ft.lbs100 yds: 977 ft/s, 263 ft.lbs100 yds: 914 ft/s, 273 ft.lbs
125 yds: 927 ft/s, 219 ft.lbs125 yds: 948 ft/s, 247 ft.lbs125 yds: 896 ft/s, 262 ft.lbs

Heavy rounds in handguns are mostly considered to have subsonic performance. However, that is absolutely not the case with the .50 AE. Even with their heavy 300-325 grain bullets, these rounds can hit as high as 1,600 fps at the muzzle, and maintain their supersonic velocity out to 125 yards with lightweight 300 grain bullets. 

On the other hand, the 9mm is also a supersonic round, but the low weight does not allow it to maintain those speeds for very far. In fact, the heavier 9mm rounds are mostly subsonic and have been found great for use with suppressors. This slower velocity is also a reason for the not-so-flat trajectory in comparison to the .50 AE. 

Moving on to the energy characteristics, it is presumably obvious that the bigger and heavier .50 AE rounds will carry more energy downrange. In fact, the energy values for the .50 AE match those for many .22 and .30 caliber rifles. For example, a .50 AE round carries an average of 1,400 foot-pounds on average at 25 yards. To give you an idea, it takes 1,500 foot-pounds to kill an Elk. Additionally, the .50 AE round carries an average of 1,000 foot-pounds at 100 yards, which is the legal minimum to kill a deer. 

The 9mm is way behind than the .50 AE in terms of energy, and I am not downplaying it in any manner. That’s because it was meant to be this way, and the humongous power of the .50 AE comes at the cost of a heavy recoil. The 9mm has about 310 fpe at 25 yards and about 250 fpe at 100 yards. Both these values are enough to kill or maim a two-legged hostile. 

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50 AE vs 9mm: Stopping Power

The stopping power of a bullet is the measure of how quickly and effectively it can dispatch a target. The fewer shots are needed to kill or incapacitate a specific target, or piece armor, the more stopping power a bullet will have. 

50 AE vs 9mm: Momentum & Sectional Density

Science has told us that the two most absolute metrics to measure the stopping power of a bullet are its momentum and sectional density. The momentum of a moving object is the product of its mass and velocity, and it describes the level of energy transfer delivered by a moving object upon impact. 

The sectional density (SD) of a bullet is the ratio of its mass to its cross-sectional area. This value defines the amount of penetration, so the higher the SD, the more penetration will be caused by a bullet.

50 AE

6” barrel/BC 0.155/300 gr
Fusion Soft Point
Sectional Density: 0.171
6” barrel/BC 0.186/325 gr
Jacketed Hollow Point
Sectional Density: 0.186
6” barrel/BC 0.200/350 gr
Jacketed Soft Point
Sectional Density: 0.200
25 yds: 62 ft.lb-s25 yds: 64 ft.lb-s25 yds: 67 ft.lb-s
50 yds: 58 ft.lb-s50 yds: 61 ft.lb-s50 yds: 63 ft.lb-s
75 yds: 54 ft.lb-s75 yds: 58 ft.lb-s75 yds: 61 ft.lb-s
100 yds: 51 ft.lb-s100 yds: 55 ft.lb-s100 yds: 58 ft.lb-s
125 yds: 48 ft.lb-s125 yds: 53 ft.lb-s125 yds: 56 ft.lb-s

9mm

4.49” barrel/BC 0.120/115 grain
FMJ
Sectional Density: 0.130
4.49” barrel/BC 0.150/124 grain
JHP
Sectional Density: 0.141
4.49” barrel/BC 0.200/147 grain
FMJ
Sectional Density: 0.167
25 yds: 18 ft.lb-s25 yds: 19 ft.lb-s25 yds: 20 ft.lb-s
50 yds: 17 ft.lb-s50 yds: 18 ft.lb-s50 yds: 20 ft.lb-s
75 yds: 16 ft.lb-s75 yds: 17 ft.lb-s75 yds: 19 ft.lb-s
100 yds: 15 ft.lb-s100 yds: 17 ft.lb-s100 yds: 19 ft.lb-s
125 yds: 15 ft.lb-s125 yds: 16 ft.lb-s125 yds: 18 ft.lb-s

Let us look at the SD values and understand the level of penetration each of these rounds has to offer. To give you an idea, an SD of 0.230 to 0.260 is suitable for hunting deer sized game, an SD of 0.261 to 0.280 is good for big game, and anything more is good for bigger dangerous game animals. 

The .50 AE always offers better penetration compared to the 9mm with any bullet weight. The reason is the heavy bullets, and the higher speeds also play a part here. The 9mm offers considerably lesser penetration, however, it is still capable of penetration tissue and armor to a significant extent, as found in FBI tests. In fact, it has better penetration than a .45 ACP, and also better controllability. 

The momentum is the product of the mass and velocity of a moving object. Since the .50 AE is a significantly heavier and faster bullet than the 9mm, it always carries more momentum and will always be more destructive. 

The data clearly elaborates that the 9mm is nowhere close to the .50 AE in terms of momentum. For example, at 25 yards the .50 AE has almost 3.5 times more momentum than the 9mm rounds. This means that the .50 AE can be used against charging dangerous wildlife with a definite chance of more damage with the high stopping power. 

50 AE vs 9mm: Use Cases & Effective Range

After understanding the ballistics and power of these rounds, let us see what these rounds are actually suitable for in real life situations

Target Shooting

While the 9mm is a favorite round for many people to use at target shooting events, the .50 AE mostly finds its use as a novel, range-fun cartridge. The .50 AE is used in metal silhouette shooting for the most part and is often a show-off cartridge at the range.

Competitions

The 9mm is a primary round for many competitive shooters using handguns. It is widely popular in USPSA competitions and even has events at the Olympics. Many 3-gun competition shooters prefer this round for its easy recoil and high controllability. On the other hand, the .50 AE is never used in competitions because it cannot be. Maybe you can give the .50 AE a try for competitions if you have ‘popeye hands’ with the power of spinach. 

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Small and Medium Game Hunting

The 9mm is a good choice for varminting and hunting small game animals within a suitable range. It can easily take down small game and can work on animals like coyotes or prairie dogs with the right firearm setup. The 9mm is also a viable cartridge against deer within 100 yards and with the right load, and it also surpasses the legal minimum caliber requirements in all states. It can take down a deer, but I will never suggest you take that chance. 

The .50 AE is clearly overkill for small game animals, and as far as medium-sized game are concerned, you will have to have a lot of practice and accuracy to make it work. Certainly, there are a ton of better alternatives for medium-sized games compared to 9mm and .50 AE. 

Big Game Hunting

The 9mm is not suitable for dealing with big game animals, whether it is hunting or defense. On the contrary, the .50 AE is an exceptionally suitable handgun round for handling big game animals, especially charging dangerous game. You might have been told many times that a 10mm Auto is a great round for defense against bears. Well, a 10mm Auto carries only 400 fpe at 25 yards, and the .50 AE carries 1,400 fpe at the same range. 

However, it is also important to remember that you have to be proficient with using the .50 AE in such situations. Cartridges like this and the .44 Rem Mag, advertised for such roles have heavy recoil and come in large handguns. 

Self Defense

The 9mm is the most owned civilian cartridge of today, and is widely used for EDC and CCW for self-defense. It is the first choice of many police departments and also the military due to the controllability and high magazine capacity that can be achieved in small frame handguns. Whether it is outdoors or at home, the 9mm is the perfect self-defense round. On the contrary, the .50 AE is not great for home defense, and even outdoors, you have to be very sure that you can handle it without faltering. 

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50 AE vs 9mm: Costs, Availability, & Compatibility

The costs, ammo availability, and possible options for these cartridges will help you make the right decision.

Cheap and Abundant vs Wish You Good Luck

The 9mm Luger is exclusively abundant in the global or the American market. If you find a gun shop and it doesn’t have a 9mm, it probably isn’t a gun shop. The ammo is dirt cheap and can be found for as low as 30 cents per round, and the max it can go is $2 per round for the most ultra-premium +p ammo. However, being popular also means that the 9mm will fly off the shelves and swell in price in times of panic buying as we saw during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The .50 AE is among the least popular rounds on the market. Although it has been approved by SAAMI, there are slim chances that you’ll find ammo easily. Even the leading ammo suppliers don’t carry .50 AE ammo, so you should prepare yourself for that, and probably buy some reloading supplies. The price starts at $1.7 per round and goes up to $3.5 per shot. 

A Ton for the Options vs Just One for the Options

The 9mm is available in a plethora of different handgun options ranging from Glocks to S&W’s, and every small and big brand you can find. There are handguns, conversion platforms, and even semi-auto carbines dedicated to this caliber. On the other hand, there are only five handgun options for the .50 AE, and the Desert Eagle is the most popular and available. 

Bottom Line

The .50 AE was developed as a novel handgun cartridge, and seen as a possible alternative to the .44 Rem Mag and .500 S&W Magnum. It is the most powerful semi-auto handgun cartridge in existence today and carries energy comparable to that of a rifle. The 9mm Luger has been going strong since its introduction 120 years ago and is the most popular handgun cartridge among civilians and militaries of the world. 

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The 9mm Luger can do some hunting, it is perfect for EDC and CCW and an unbelievably ideal handgun round for home defense. The low recoil, small handgun size, and ability to accommodate a large number of rounds in the magazine are phenomenal. Whereas, the .50 AE is mostly used for silhouette shooting, and sometimes as a defense gun against dangerous big game animals like bears.


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