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February 25, 2008

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Nothing Works Better than a .338

Once in a while you hear your exact thoughts repeated to you in just the words you would have chosen yourself. A couple of weeks ago I was speaking to a geezer of taste who had done a lot of hunting, especially in Africa, and we swapped war stories, working through the
roster of cartridges. Then he said:

"I never had anything work as well as the .338. If you have a good .338 and you can shoot it, you'll never have to track anything. Pull the trigger and it'll be lying right where it was standing."

This has not only been my experience, but it's just the way I'd say it. I dislike attributing magical qualities to cartridges, but I've shot everything from prairie dogs to elk with a .338, and taken it to Africa and shot lots of stuff there, and only one animal has ever gone  anywhere after being hit with it, and that was an elk that traveled 100 yards and was deceased when we found it.

The .338 is loaded with bullets of 200 to 250 grains, and the favorite these days seems to be the 225-grain slug. It's a good compromise, but I believe that the 200-grainers are for deer, and that the 250 is the best of all. What you get with a tough bullet in this weight is tremendous, straight-line penetration. You want to break an elk shoulder? Consider it done. Do you wish to pound a puku (which is a tough African antelope about the size of a small elk)? No problem, as the young folks say.

If you're crazed for high velocity and the .338's modest numbers are not enough for you, there is always the .340 Weatherby and the .338 RUM. Elmer Keith may not have been right about everything, but he was right about the .338. If you want stuff to drop, here's your cartridge.


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WA Mtnhunter

Anything a .338 can do, a .358 will do better! A .35 Whelen 225 TB slug will break both shoulders on a bull elk and pass through. None of those fragmented bullets under the hide!

Just my opinion... No science implied.

Blue Ox

.338 is a good strong caliber, of that there is no doubt.
But I'd rather go with a .375, especially while in Africa.
To each their own.

Dr. Ralph

I guess I'll join the bash Dave/Elmer/.338 club and say everything I shoot with my ought-six is laying exactly where it was standing an instant before... with significantly less recoil.

To make matters worse for the Dave/.338 camp my singular eyewitness account of a deer being shot with a .338 was hit directly in the chest from head on at about 20 yards and ran over 100 yards straight to the bottom of the steepest hill in Tennessee and halfway up the other side! Good thing there were two of us because the thing would have stayed there if I was alone. To the cartridge's defense there was a two foot wide blood trail... tough buck.

Chad Love

I have no experiecne with a .338 so I'll suspend comment.
I will say that I love my .375 H&H and I can't think of a better two-gun battery (for me) than that and a 6.5x55.


I have used lots of calibers/rifles in the Rockies for the last 27 years. The only one that has never failed to drop an animal with one shot is my old custom .338 Win with various bullets. I wish I could say the same for my '06, several versions of 6 mm and 7 mm, and 300 mags but it just ain't so. If you look back at some older blogs you will see where I stated that there is a great void between .300 and .338 when it comes to absolute reliability in having confidence in a one shot kill. Based upon personal experience it would take a strong arguement to change my mind. The .338 works well up close or at long range regardless of the case version. As for .358 and .375 I am certain that they are as good or better but so far the .338 is my choice.

Ralph the Rifleman

The .338Win mag is a time proven cartridge, but it does have limits.
You mention different bullet weights for deer, but would you really use a .338 for deer unless you were on a mixed bag hunt of some kind, maybe?
Anywho..what would be your minimum/maximum pray you would use the .338 as your main battery?
ps-WA Mtnhunter I'm with you on the .35 Whelen getting the job done!

John B

I had a .338 once, but never got a chance to hunt with it as some slime bucket broke into my house and stole it along with many other essentials of life. Unfortunately for both of us he got the rifle but I still have the bolt. He must have had a hard time trading that one off to the local drug dealer.

Dr. Ralph

If I hunted Alaska, Africa, Rocky Mountains or anywhere you are likely to encounter an animal over 400 pounds on the hoof on a regular basis I would carry more gun than my 30-06... I don't. O'Connor wanted to know where all those armour plated Elk were that his Model 70 .270 couldn't drop. He never found any. One more time all together... Roy Weatherby even admitted it BULLET PLACEMENT IS EVERYTHING. For a mad bear or Africa I want more gun than a .338 and for just about everything else I want less gun...


Does this mean that maybe somebody besides just A-Square will build rifles chambered for the .338-06? Nothing against A-Square; they make great rifles and ammo; but if the .338-06 is ever to take off, some of the big name rifle makers are going to have to jump onto the bandwagon. Or am I the only person who has a fondness for this load?


When I read about the .338 win mag all I hear about is how punishing the recoil is. In comparison, what shotshell/slug would a .338 compare best too for recoil.

Chuck Hawks has good info on rifle recoil but not much for slugs/shotshell. I ask because most of my hunting in Illinois revolves around slugs and shot shells.

Matt in MN


From Chack Hawks recoil table:

.300 win mag 180 grain, 8.5 lb rifle = 25.9 ft lbs recoil

12 gauge 1 1/4 ounce slug, 7.5 lb gun = 32 ft lbs recoil

I would imagine these are for average velocities in facory loads.

Matt in MN

opps, that was .300

I only see numbers for the .338 ultra mag. 8.5 lb rifle, 250 grain slug = 43.1 ft lbs

so I'd guess the .338 win is somewhere slightly above the 12 gauge slug


.338- outstanding for elk, painful on the bench


I’m a 35 Whelen owner and user, but I have to admit the 338 bullet is superior. If it wasn’t we’d all be talking about the 358 Norma Mag. The 338 Mag is a beautifully designed cartridge.

I almost built this Mauser 35 Whelen in 338-06. I was lazy in my research. I easily found 35 Whelen loading data. This wasn’t so in 338-06 at the time.

I preferred the 35 Whelen and 338-06 over the 338 Mag and 358 Norma Mag since I like 22” barrels’ handling. The Mags all seemed to sport 24” and 26” barrels.

Dave Petzal

To Ralph: Took a .338 to Maine last year for whitetails. Very, very tough country to track in without snow on the ground, and if I did shoot one I wanted to do lots of damage right up front. Use Nosler 200-grain Accu-Bonds at 2,850 and you will will set them free.


As I have mentioned in a previous blog entry my kid started shooting my .338 (9.5 lbs loaded and scoped) when he was 15 and about 120 pounds. Yes he has shot a lot in his few years but he went through 20 rounds from the bench that day and has shot hundreds since. The rifle has no brake and is a McMillan stock with a Pachmyer Decelearator, all eighties vintage. If this kid (his current favorite is a custom 7 mm Ultra and I won't get into his long range shots because most of you probably would figure I'm lying anyway) can shoot and enjoy the .338 so can others who take the time to learn to deal with recoil. Oddly enough the 250 grain bullet works as well on deer or antelope as it does on elk, moose, or bears. Cactus Jack used lots of calibers other than the .270, just read his books. Given one rifle (here we go again on that beat to death horse) I would just keep my old .338 Win. I recently visited with my local riflesmith about opening it up to an Ultra. He can do the job plus add a brake for the much larger cartridge. After going home I begin to think what I would use the .338 Ultra for that the .338 Win could not do. For my purposes the older round is fine so I canceled the conversion.

WA Mtnhunter

I have to admit my first comment was biased on my part. I could not tolerate the .338 Win Mag at the bench. Maybe if it had been something other than a 1989 or so vintage Winchester M70, it would not have required so many rounds at the bench to attempt to get it zeroed (Just before it went back on trade-in).

The .35 Whelen is "good enough" for my uses, so the .338 WM is not worth the increased recoil to me. I shoot 3 1/2 in. 12 ga. loads thru a M870 Rem. pump gun all season long for geese and unless I've knocked a few screws loose, it has nowhere near the felt recoil of that Win M70 .338 WM.

John R

I have to agree w/ Dr. Ralph in that bullet placement is everything. As far as cartridges are concerned everybody has a favorite and everybody has an opinion. I suppose we can all agree that our preferences are opinions.


For those of us who cannot afford to hunt in Africa or dont care too, the trusty .30-06 is what I'll carry for Elk, deer, and black bear

Dr. Ralph

Matt/Jay... Chuck's recoil table gives the .338 Win 33 ft/lbs and also includes a recoil velocity table that gives it a 15. This is very high considered to other cartridges and tells you how fast that rifle is moving back, not just how hard.

For comparison the '06 rates 18 recoil energy and 12 recoil velocity and a 12 gauge shooting a 2 3/4" shell with a 1 oz. slug only 17 on the recoil energy table... about half a hard as a .338 will hit you. Just for the record those masochists will enjoy hearing that the .338 RUM with a 250 gr. bullet will produce 43 ft/lbs of recoil energy and a .460 Wby. Mag right around 100. OUCH!


Well, as long as we are on the subject, i will put a questions to you all. I have been looking at a long range rifle. ok mostly it just going to be to make me feel good, and see if i can hit at a 1000 yards and more than likely use it for deer in SD. the 2 i have looked at were the 300 RUM and the 338 Lapua Mag.
The 300 as my dad has a sako in that and it shoots 4 inch groups at 600 and a deer hasn't walked away from it yet.
The 338 because i was told it was the ultimate 1000 yard cartridge byt the owner of Tac Pro down in TX. he seems to Know it pretty well as he teaches long range shooting and doesn't talk alot of BS near as i can tell.
So, opinions, experience, or anyone's 2 cents?

Steve C

"If you want stuff to drop, here's your cartridge"

No argument. But the same can be said for a dozen other cartridges. In which case, what makes the .338 unique?

Dr. Ralph

In reality a lot of factors come into play, weight of weapon etc... I added a link when you hit my name that has a recoil energy and recoil velocity calculator. Play with it if you really want to know how much punishment your favorite load/weapon are doling out.

Walt Smith

Sorry Dave, but you can throw all the balistics you want but you'll never talk me out of my trusty 30-06 for any size game. From red squirrels to any other critter on the north american continent they all fall to the 180 grain fail safe. Besides, you can't find any .338's at the Outpost in Iron River, MI. anyhow!!


Walt Smith
Hey I stop there! Please don't denigrate that establishment! LOL.

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