The .458 SOCOM is a bulky big-bore cartridge capable of being fired from an AR-style rifle by simply switching the upper receiver. Introduced in the year 2001, this cartridge was designed for special operations and performed very well in that respect.
But is it a worthwhile cartridge for civilian use? Can a big caliber like this be justified with modern semi-auto sporting rifles? This and some more info about the .458 SOCOM are further in this discussion. So keep your eyes peeled.
An Overview of the .458 SOCOM
It all started in Mogadishu, Somalia. When the military was fielded against the local terrorist groups and was using the standard 5.56 NATO ammunition in their M16 rifles. The Somalis were using a local drug called Khat to curb their appetite and increase pain tolerance. Being high on drugs, it took multiple rounds to incapacitate those hostiles.
The United States Special Operations Command (SOCOM) especially the Rangers wanted a heavier harder hitting caliber that could bring down those charging belligerents in one or two shots. Research began and Marty ter Weeme of Teppo Jutsu and Tony Rumore of Tromix collectively came up with the design of the .458 SOCOM in 2000.
It uses a .50 AE rebated rim and bottlenecked parent case with a length of 1.575 inches (40 mm) and an overall length of 2.260 inches (57.40 mm). The available bullet weights for the .458 SOCOM include 250 gr, 300 gr, 325 gr, 405 gr, and 600 gr.
The initial and most important requirement put up by the SOCOM before the development of this cartridge was easy compatibility with the M4 and M16 platforms. Switching to this caliber only requires a quick swipe of the bolt and barrel. Additionally, regular 5.56 mags can accommodate .458 SOCOM rounds at one-third of their capacity.
The cost of ammo can range from $3 per round to a maximum of $4.5 per round. Being a ‘not-so-common’ caliber, and the high price of ammunition, the .458 SOCOM is widely reloaded.
This .458 SOCOM is very closely comparable to the .45-70 Government cartridge. In terms of range, ballistics, accuracy, and also price. As far as modern cartridges are concerned, it stands beside the .450 Bushmaster which is a slightly lesser priced round for similar applications.
Where Does the .458 SOCOM Work Best
The entire basis of the development and introduction of the .458 SOCOM cartridge was heavy punching power in close-quarter combat. It has the potential to propel heavy bullets (up to 405 grains) at supersonic speeds and decimating energy close to 3,000-foot-pounds under 200 yards.
The .458 SOCOM is mostly used as a subsonic and suppressed load. Due to their heavy weight, these bullets lose velocity and energy fast. However, it will still retain about 500 foot-pounds of energy at 500 yards. So if a shooter could calculate and square-off shots at such distances. The .458 SOCOM will be very effective.
The sheer power of this cartridge also qualified it as a viable big game hunting round. The high energy and options for bullet weights make it perfect for taking down big and dangerous big game at short or medium distances.
The .458 SOCOM can practically bring down any critter roaming the lands of North America. However, the range of engagement shall never exceed 150 or 200 yards. Bullets ranging between 250 to 350 grains will be the best for hunting.
Since the .458 SOCOM was developed as a close-quarters combat round with heavy stopping power. It is also a viable candidate for self-defense situations. But make sure you properly analyze your surroundings before using such a heavy round with deep penetration capabilities.
The fact that a .458 SOCOM can be easily used on an AR-15/M16/M4 platform with a simple swap of the upper receiver makes it a good alternative caliber choice. Especially when you get semi-auto capabilities with a lever-action/bolt action style caliber.
Some Shortcomings of the .458 SOCOM
The .458 SOCOM is a relatively new cartridge when compared with other more common options like the 5.56 or .308. This cartridge was designed for a specific purpose. Which was good stopping power in close-quarter combat.
This clearly implies that the .458 SOCOM is not going to be a versatile round. Especially with such a big caliber bullet that does not travel far enough without dropping.
A 350-grain bullet with a muzzle velocity of 2,000 fps shows a drop of about 50 inches at 300 yards. The significance in drop starts to show at 200 yards at almost 15 inches. Taking this fact into consideration. The .458 SOCOM is definitely not a long distance round.
There are far better options like the .308 or .300 Win that may be smaller but deliver good stopping power at long ranges. Obviously comparing a .30 caliber to a .45 caliber rifle round is an apples to oranges comparison. But I am only trying to give you an idea.
Due to its limited versatility and development as a specialized close range round for the special forces. The prices of ammo have soared up really high. The limited acceptability among firearm users and also the short scope of application add up to these high prices.
Buying ammo as pricey as $3.5 per round is not economical for plinking or even practice. Many cheaper options suit most wallets and are readily available on market shelves. That’s why most .458 SOCOM users encourage reloading for a more economical shooting experience.
Talking about expensive, a .458 SOCOM upper receiver can cost anywhere between $700 to $1,200. Many people won’t like to invest that kind of money on building a rifle that fires pricey ammo and will be used less often in the field. Just saying!
How to Take Advantage of the .458 SOCOM
The .458 SOCOM is an AR-compatible cartridge. So a lot of possibilities for customization already open up. Rather than buying a dedicated rifle for this caliber. You should look out for the best .458 SOCOM upper receivers out there.
This will definitely save you some money because the only thing differing in a .223/5.56 and .458 SOCOM AR are the BCG and barrel. The buffer spring, lower receiver, gas system, and rest everything is the same. Additionally, the .458 SOCOM rifle is not going to be used every now and then. So what’s the point of spending money on an entirely different rifle.
Although these cartridges can function normally with the regular .223 AR Pmags. It is always better to get dedicated .458 SOCOM magazines for better performance and also avoiding mixups. These mags feature a center feed follower and ensure reliable feeding.
Also, make sure that your state allows high-capacity magazines. Especially for hunting. As many states limit hunting rifle mag capacities to just five rounds.
The .458 SOCOM round was designed to work with a 16-inch barrel and a 1:14 twist rate. That also offers good maneuverability which is essential for close-quarter combat. Additionally, the 16 inches length is enough to pick out the maximum potential of this round.
A longer barrel won’t have much effect on velocity or overall performance. However, you may also want to choose a specific profile, fluting, or other features on a .458 SOCOM barrel.
Apart from all this, I think having a reloading kit for your .458 SOCOM ammo should be very important. Factory ammo is expensive, but reloading your own ammo can save you a lot of money. Allowing you to shoot and practice more. Alternatively, if you don’t like reloading and still want the .458 SOCOM. Be ready to shed some extra weight from your wallet.
Further Reading About .458 SOCOM
The .458 SOCOM is an interesting cartridge for combat and big game hunting. It can be seen as a semi-auto alternative to traditional lever gun cartridges. Looking at its features and pros, it is pretty much clear that it is suitable for only a few applications.
Clearly, there are many cartridge options available out there that can compete with it. The closest competition is the .450 Bushmaster. I suggest you read this article on the comparison of the .458 SOCOM vs .450 Bushmaster. This will help you get a better idea of which one to choose.
Both of these are easily compatible with the AR-15 platform and also quite identical to the .45-70 Government in terms of performance. While the .450 Bushmaster is a straight-walled case, the .458 SOCOM is a bottlenecked case.
Some states don’t allow hunting with bottlenecked cartridges. So you may want to choose one over the other for hunting.
As I already mentioned, reloading your own .458 SOCOM ammo is an economically viable alternative to buying factory ammo. If you are not already familiar with reloading. I suggest it is a good time to learn this art. There are many good reloading guides and videos out there to help you out.
A thorough reading of the ballistics of the .458 SOCOM will also help you understand the true potential of this cartridge. If you’re going to buy and use this, make sure you stay pre-informed about its potential.
The .458 SOCOM was designed to address the low hitting power of the 5.56 NATO ammunition at close ranges. This cartridge is literally a game-changer as far as big bore lever gun cartridges are concerned.
Since it allows you to use it in an AR-15 or M16 with limited changes. It is a great round for hunting big game and also self-defense. The ammo is expensive, so you may consider reloading your own.