How Effective Is the 338 Lapua Hunting Rifle for Hunting?

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The .338 Lapua is by far the largest and most commonly used caliber for long-range hunting today. Many long-range shooters have their favorite rifles, but a considerable gun culture camp settles for the .338 Lapua magnum cartridges.

Military snipers call the .338 Lapua round their death ray in the war against terror, mainly because of its laser-like trajectory. 

Let’s take a closer look at this effective round; explicitly designed for long-range shooting.

The Shadowy, Illusive .338 Lapua Magnum Cartridge

1986’s gun digest referred to a new .338 caliber rifle targeted at snipers and long-range hunters as ‘the mystery sniping cartridge.’ At one time, this round’s profile remained in the shadows, and later adopted as the .338 or 8.6 x 70mm Lapua magnum in 1987. 

This was a dedicated military sniper cartridge for rifles, serving as an intermediary between the then longstanding .50 caliber BMG and .308 Winchester. The .338 Lapua Magnum outclasses many other sniping rounds, and its use has since branched into long-range hunting.

It was developed in the late 80s by Nammo Lapua Oy, a Scandinavian defense contractor, and is popular with snipers in militaries across the globe. Rifles such as Accuracy International or those from Sako use the .388 Lapua as standard long-range performance rounds.

One specific purpose for the .338 Lapua design and development was to provide body armor and other barrier penetrating power at extensive distances. With its .338 caliber slug, this is nothing but a hard-hitting round.

Its massive knockdown power comes from 200 plus grains of bullet weight and the leveraging of velocities to equal lighter cartridges. Speed and weight of this round result in exceptional ballistic coefficients for sure long-range trajectories.

A British soldier using an AI rifle holds the longest sniper kill according to military sources. He chambered the .338 Lapua and took out two Afghani Taliban machine gunners. 

Typical muzzle velocities of 3,000 fps are necessary to efficiently fire the heavy 200 to 250 grain .338 Lapua, while match grades go up to 300 grains for enhanced long-range stability.

The Best Rifles for Shooting the Long-Range .338 Lapua?  

Rifles for the .338 Lapua Magnum cartridges were to serve as military sniper weapons during the 80s and 90s. However, due to widespread civilian acquisition, gun makers like Savage, Barrett, Remington, and Ruger have come up with bolt actions for the cartridge. 

I have come across bolt action hunting rifles for the .338 Lapua, including the Remington 700, Barrett MRAD, Ruger precision, and the savage 110. Some semi-automatics are available from Alexander Arms, DRD tactical, and Noreen that I’ve shot the .338 Lapua on.

This cartridge’s performance characteristics have had the public interested. Sadly, since its introduction, there has not been much hunting done in the US with this round. In long-range competition shooting circles, however, the story is much different.

Big and dangerous game hunters in North America and Africa have long relied on the .338 Lapua mainly due to its range and power capacities. 

A List of Compatible Rifles

Rifles in the market that I have tested their performance with the .338 Lapua cartridges include; 

Specifications of the .388 Lapua Magnum Round

The .338 Lapua Magnum cartridge is a large caliber bullet in dimensions, while its specifications are also significantly varied from other popular rounds of equal caliber. Its .416 Rigby or .338/416 parent case dwarfs that of a .308 Winchester cartridge, for instance, with a longer length and broader diameter.

Its casing material is also thicker, while a neck diameter of .372 inches means it can take heavier slugs than other rounds of the same performance. The .338 Lapua has a base diameter of .587 inches, allowing it to have double the case capacity of a .308 Winchester. 

The Lapua cartridge’s overall length is 3.681 inches with a case length of 2.724 inches, making its ballistics useful as a long-range hunting round.

Performance of the .338 Lapua Cartridge 

If I spoke of the .338 Lapua as being the cartridge bandied about having one-mile reach, I might go out of this article’s context. However, the cartridge appeals to shooters seeking to breach through dense material targets at a long-range as military sniping rounds.

If a rifle has the capability for a 1-mile range with the .338 Lapua, I contend that skill of the shooter and other environmental factors will come into play. This is regardless of how capable the rifle or cartridge is, as I found out while shooting the high case capacity .375 Snipe-Tac. 

The .338 Lapua meets the .50 BMG and .300 Winchester Magnum’s inherent performance, displaying a dramatic change in terminal capabilities. Its increased recoil should be weighed against a shooter’s personal preferences and outcomes, especially for game meat hunters.

My concern is that there are not enough improvements on ballistics or bore capacities to warrant a comparison between the Lapua and old Winchester.300. What you can do with one, you can surely be able to replicate with the other, plus both are tried and tested military workhorses. 

The .338 Lapua does deliver a heavy payload and gets the job done on the battlefield. But could this fad cause the cartridge to become a trap for hunters, or how effective are the .338 Lapua hunting rifles on the field? 

Civilian use for the .338 Lapua round has its limitations set at competitive shooting and long-range hunting. I must also factor-in weight of .338 Lapua rifles, especially when I am mountain hunting and expect to haul game meat home.  

Is this Your Ultimate Hunting Cartridge?

The round’s terminal impact has been referred to as overkill. Whatever that means for a hunter looking to do as much damage as to kill the animal instantly. Though romanticized due to its military exploits, hunters will be looking for much more. This includes critical factors that may be detrimental to their game. 

The Lapua is indeed too much for small to medium-sized animal hunting. Not too much that the results of your hunt end up in bits and pieces. But too much gun for something you can accomplish with a lighter caliber.

However, I will not tell you to put aside the .338 Lapua due to being over-gunned for the lean game. In matters of size and range you are shooting from, this might be the best possible cartridge. 

Hunters know that it’s pointless to have range reaching capabilities without a round that renders a fast kill. 

Ballistic Coefficient (BC) of the .338 Lapua 

You must match projectiles to the manner of the game that you intend to hunt. The .338 Lapua has efficient offerings. I have seen shooters tooting large .338 cannons, and novice hunters can get carried away by such hype. 

There are no magical terminal capabilities in the .338 bore. Owning a Lapua magnum firing rifle won’t guarantee the prize. This cartridge has had acronyms attached to its BC capabilities. Besides, reviewers are using tactical lingo to immortalize it on many gun forums. 

Much of what you can do with the Lapua has been done for decades by the .338-378s or .340 Weatherbys. This includes high impact velocity results on light and large framed game at long ranges.

If I shot the .338 Lapua at fps below 2600, however, the bore can lose hydrostatic shock creating abilities. This results in wounded game or slow kills in light framed and large game.

How Much Will this .338 Lapua Drop?

A drop in rifle muzzle velocity to say 2400 fps results in channel diameters similar to 8mm and.30 bores. With a low velocity .338 slugs, I am able to strike the foreleg or upper thigh of medium to large game.

I aim to impact essential tissue, bringing the animal down within 2 or 3 yards or limits its locomotive capabilities.

But this same velocity striking behind the foreleg, into the midsection area, may meet the resistance of the ribcage. This tends to cause a relatively small wound and allows medium to large game, including lean deer to escape.

I prefer to kill quickly, choosing the lighter grain bullet to heavy .338 calibers of the Lapua round. Due to the tough outer jacket of .338 caliber slugs, I’ve experienced energy retention and slow expansion even in lean game.

You must consider bullet design, wind drift, and shot placement for the flexible .338 Lapua. While care is paid towards the choice of rifle, bore wounding potential can be minimized on big game.

Traditionally, conventional .338 inch soft points are famous for terrible large, heavy game performance. The heavier, superior .338 allows the use of relatively faster forward chest shots at high velocity for closer ranges. 

Most Popular Rifle Accessories to Go With Your .338 Lapua

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Where the Popularity of the .338 Lapua Arises

I have spoken of the long-range capabilities that made the .338 Lapua a military sniper round of high repute. There’s a heavy following for this cartridge, despite its ban in many states for specific game sizes.

The 300 grain .338 Lapua has unfair ballistic advantages over other hunting cartridges. It puts to shame the common 6mm and 6.5mm Creedmoor. Such competition with reservedly recoiling and cheaply priced ammo sees only moneyed hunters taking out the .338 Lapua. 

Even using quality bolt action rifles, the .338 Lapua is insensibly powerful, difficult for most novices to master. Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of shooting top shelf .388 guns with the Lapua round. 

While delivering extraordinary performance, these rifles couldn’t justify the high base price for most hunters’ budgets. With a $5 a round tag, the .338 Lapua is expensive, simply because it can afford to be.

Pundits will tout the peculiar bolt face and the non-standard action of these rifles for a higher price. I consider that as a lame excuse in this age of advanced digital manufacturing.

Whereas the numbers of shooters that deliver an accurate shot a mile are few, fascination with the Lapua is misplaced. However, it’s understandable, seeing as the high per round cost puts .338 Lapua in the luxurious hunter’s cadre.

Compared to similar.30 caliber options, these bullets are double the price. Hand-loaded rounds are beyond most shooters’ purchase power. Hand loads use upward of 100 grains of powder, nearly double that of a .308 Winchester round. 

Another close resemblance of the.338 Lapua is hand-loaded .300 Win Magnum rounds containing 220 grains plus. The .300 Win magnum bullets cost less than 1/3 of the Lapua cartridge’s price, seeing as 25% less powder is used.

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