For medium to large and dangerous game, it is a favorite. Why?
I’m not about to rewrite history or even to research it, but at least since Elmer Keith, with friends, came up with the .333 and used it successfully on some large and dangerous critters, .33-caliber has found a solid niche for “large and dangerous critters”.
And since Winchester presented the .338 Winchester Magnum for large and dangerous Alaskan fauna in 1958 (based on the .458 Winchester Magnum of 1956, necked down to .338″), it has proven to not only be timely but exactly what many hunters were looking for in not only hunting big and nasty Alaskan game in very challenging environments, but universally large and hazardous creatures.
.338 magnums have been one of my personal favorites, starting with a few .338 Winchester Magnums, and finally with a .340 Weatherby Magnum. And today, they still hold a lot of respect on my part.
<Sako must have gotten feeback from owners of their FS in .338 Win that the two-piece stock in the forearm couldn’t withstand the recoil longterm as this one (much later) has a one-piece FS. Otherwise it is nearly identical to the one I had owned.
The very fact that several other .338 magnums have appeared on the scene since Winchester’s, is proof positive that Weatherby and Nosler, et al, have chosen to “get in” on the action (pun intended – sort of). Research by those companies has confirmed that sales would be profitable. And that meant that many potential buyers were – and still are – looking for a powerful medium magnum despite negative press to the contrary.
Frequently, when I get a report on a favourite theme for the week, other than the .45-70 vs the .450 Marlin, the .338 Win is most popular. So, I’m writing again on .338 magnums as it seems that’s what many readers are interested in – the .338 Win in particular. I suspect some of this newfound interest in .338 magnums is due to newer hunters and handloaders rediscovering these cartridges, and especially the newer ones. An old adage says: “What goes round, comes round”, not originally intended in this sense, but it fits. Some want to discover and experience history: “Why was (and is) the .338 Win Mag so popular, and why is it so criticised today by our grandfathers who thought, and think, it was unnecessary?” That kind of questioning is not doubt but curiosity! And curiosity most often doesn’t “kill a cat”, but in this application it’s “I must try one of those”. It has largely replaced the .30-06 for dangerous Alaskan fauna. But with today’s proliferation of premium .338-cal bullets from 160gr to 300gr, a valid argument could be made that there’s really no need for anything else – did I really say that? – unless one makes regular trips to Africa for their mega fauna of the dangerous sort. But even then, where legal, it’s plenty for the lot of them using appropriate projectiles. If the 9.3 x 62 is sufficient, then so also would be the .338 Win Mag, except for the distinction in caliber which slightly favours the 9.3 x 62.< This one is also offered by Sako in .338 Win Mag, plus .375 H&H.
I’m a huge fan of powerful mediums, but IF I were to return to a .338 magnum as “my medium”, it would likely be the original Winchester version. As much as I liked the .340 Weatherby, it was reserved for special operations. It wasn’t deemed an “all purpose rifle”. A .338 Win Mag could easily become that in a relatively “light-‘n-handy” rifle using 160 to 210 grainers for most “things”, and 250 to 300 grainers for heavy and/or dangerous game…. though some choose the 210gr Nosler for “everything”! A friend did that on a big black bear at 3000 fps!
In my first .338 Winchester Magnum, a Sako FS with a 20″ barrel, I could still make factory specs from handloads. I loved that rifle, except it had a serious flaw in the two-piece stock, that had to be replaced by a fiberglass one as the forearm in two pieces wouldn’t hold “together” under maximum recoil . Other than that, it was handsome, powerful and handy. Finally, it was swapped (with both stocks) for a nearly new .375 H&H, M70 at a rifle show, with no cash exchanged. I thought that was “just” compensation for the loss of a rifle I’d “fallen in love with”. But, as it turned out, I never “loved” the M70 in .375 H&H! It was too heavy and bulky without much, if any, improvement in ballistics, and not nearly as handsome!
In the Sako FS I’d tried about all available bullets except the Partitions that I considered too expensive. Nevertheless, it went on a moose hunt to Northern Ontario that proved to be a very wet one! And the two-piece stock soaked up water like a sponge. I had to disassemble the stock, remove it from the rifle, and wipe water from inside and out, letting it dry over nights. The load it liked most was the 250gr Sierra SBT at ~2700 fps. But after the various dismantlings, I had zero confidence in its accuracy. Later, when the inletted metal strap that held the two-piece forend together broke, and the nose cap (held on by a short wood screw) fell down over the muzzle at the range, I decided it needed a new stock, so purchased a fiberglass Carlson – which cracked under recoil! That was replaced under warranty but I’d “had it” with that rifle! It was traded at a “shot show” for the .375 H&H. But in my spirit I was still mourning the loss of that .338. I’d kinda fallen in love with that cartridge-caliber. I thought it ideal for my personna, style and needs.
There were several reasons for choosing the 250gr Sierra for the moose hunt: It shot best from my rifle – highest velocity and best accuracy. Secondly: It had the highest BC of any 250gr at .587 from 2300 fps and above, which I thought was important since I wasn’t familiar with the area of the hunt and didn’t know possible ranges that might be called for in taking a shot. Third: It was highly recommended by Sierra at “full throttel”, even from a .340 Weatherby, due to the tapered .05″ jacket shank and .027″ mouth. Then, as mentioned, it was much cheaper for developing a load, and for practice, than Nosler Partitions. That was back in the mid 1990’s.
Several years had passed, and several trades and purchases, when I decided to get a .340 Weatherby. Again, the purchase of any Weatherby rifle was an expense I really couldn’t justify. So the plan was to purchase another .338 Win Mag and rechamber it to .340 Weatherby. I’ve told that story enough times already, so I’ll not reherse all the details again. The rifle was a new .338 Win Mag by Browning in the A-Bolt, SS, lefthand with a 26″ barrel. An ideal candidate for becoming a .340 WBY.
But as a .338 its ballistics were surprising: 2840 fps from the 250gr Hornadys. I had second thoughts over having it rechambered. That from 74 grains of RL19 and very accurate! Hmm… Anyway, I decided to go ahead with the intended project and never looked back. I kept that rifle for 10 years as a .340 and during that period it fired the 250gr Partition at an average-corrected MV of 2997 fps, and 1.25″, three shots at 100 yards. That was plenty good enough for a bull moose at 165 yards. As it turned out, that rifle as a .338 Win Mag would have done the same thing.
In the meanwhile, our son, Phil, purchased a Rem 700 Mountain Rifle in .338 Win and took it on that same moose hunt, loaded with the Hornady 250gr Interloc SP at 2735 fps from a dose of IMR4831. He finished off the moose with that – and the Hornady bullet did its job. I had a hand in the development of that load.
So after considerable experience in handloding three .338 Win Mags and one .340, I might be qualified to offer some suggestions and make a couple of recommendations.
My FIRST would be that a .338 Winchester Magnum has a deserved reputation as a Medium Magnum. It is highly respected in Alaska for their big bears and extra large moose. That in itself should errase any questions over its suitability for comparable creatures world wide.
< Ted’s Yukon grizzly. He used his 9.3 x 62 and a 270gr custom bonded bullet. Any good medium that makes 4000 + ft-lbs at the muzzle with a heavy bonded bullet should accomplish the same thing – including a .338 Winchester Magnum.
My SECOND would be that a .338 Win Mag should have a barrel length of between 23″ and 26″. Why? To get best ballistics while keeping recoil manageable. A 20″ might be handier under certain conditions, but ballistic potential can’t be attained for that cartridge, and both recoil and noise level will be accentuated.
My THIRD, and last, is that as a MEDIUM MAGNUM there are more options available in .338-cal bullets than for any others – suitable for small, medium, large and dangerous game, making it one of the best choices of a handful for a one-rifle travelling hunter after a variety of “trophies” from small to large and dangerous. And that is especially true for the handloader.
Sure, there are more powerful MEDIUM MAGNUMS, but, in my view, none as all-around friendly when we take into account recoil, economics and availability of rifles and components. Check out cost and availability of Weatherby’s rifles, loaded ammo and brass for handloads, as well as Nosler’s and any other pretender to the .338 magnum crown! Oh yes, there’s the Lapua and RUM… If you can find ammo and/or components. Make an honest evaluation based on costs and availability of rifles, ammo and components. I turned down a nearly new .338 RUM in favour of a 9.3 x 62 due to an honest comparison, and the fact that it’s ballistics were similar to my former .340 WBY. The difference in recoil between the two while a simple .338 Win Mag and after it became a .340 WBY was 42 vs 54 in foot-pounds of energy, or about 29% increase of the 340 over the .338.
But… YOU intend to shoot mega fauna farther away than the effective reach of a .338 Win Mag? Tell me about it! The 250gr AccuBond has a .575 BC, and at up to 2800 fps will still make 1862 fps/1925 ft-lbs at 700 yards – enough for a 1000 +lb animal… IF YOU CAN HIT IT IN A VITAL PART! No? Not as large? A 250 lb deer, you say? The vitals are within an 8″ circle… Once you get set up for the shot, with all calculations in place – in a dead still wind – will that deer be waiting on your next move? Oh! And you wounded it? Then what? Oh… but you intend to get the Lapua version of a .338? That might work to 750 yards… all conditions perfect… except the shooter? I see…
<That was about 400 yards from where I took this pic to the farthest trees on the horizon, in Northern Ontario on a moose hunt. There was lots of both bear and moose sign in the whole area, but we were a week too late. Other hunters had been in the area the previous week. And someone wants to shoot something (not you or I, of course) at nearly twice that distance? Really!
Till the next…