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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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Clay Cooper

Hey Walt
You say “Good hunters don't HAVE to shoot long distances and you enjoy your 40 foot shots”. That’s OK and all due respects Sir I’m impressed but I have listened to this from hunters every year coming to Alaska. YA’MAN! I’m from Wisconsin and I don’t shoot over 50 feet! You should have been with me in Alaska 1986-90 and watch these guys come back to the range mad as hell and they had one thing in common to say, “HEY COOP I NEED SOME HELP, WHATS THE BEST GUN!” My number one choice for serious reach out and knockem down John cartridge is the 338 Win Mag!!! Besides, I like to see someone dash across that tundra to get a 40 foot shot! BEAR BAIT! YUM! YUM! I like my distance I do!!

Black Rifle Addict
You ask me, How many 300 yard shots have you taken at brown bears lately? I’ll answer that question this way. I young Sergeant came into my office the first Wednesday before the first weekend of August of 89 and asked me the same thing. My office was the central meeting location for all the hunters going to Taylor Mountain and fly in hunts etc. for Black Bear (Brown and Grizz opens Sept 1st), Caribou and to finalize their plans and get all their equipment lined up including range time after hours that I offered one on one, assistance. My reply, how many State and Regional High Power Championships have you ever won Sir? The office busted into laughter and he walked out in a huff. By the way the young Sergeant shot and wounded a nice Bull caribou and knocked down stone deed three cows behind it with a 375 H&H.
So now I’ll answer your question Sir.
During my 4-year tour (1986-90) at Eielson Air Force Base Alaska, I've been asked how many bears have I taken. I had hundreds of chances. I had my crosshairs on many with a round in the chamber of my 338 Win Mag with Nosler 250 grain partitions loaded at 2800 fps and a harvest ticket in my backpack. An easy one shot clean kill everyone. I never pulled the trigger though.
Why you ask?
The beauty and respect of one a Hunter to the other (the bear) perhaps? Most of all the cost of having it mounted I couldn't afford and I knew in the back of my mind that if I did pull the trigger, the hunt was over. I wasn't ready for the hunt to end, never. I wanted more days to hunt, just to be out there. Even if I came home empty handed, it didn't matter. The awesome power, to watch a Grizzly role rocks the size of my ATV like a basketball, hunting for rodents. I never have taken a bear until I moved back to Arkansas.
Most of all, being alone on a mountain ridge, setting on a giant rock overlooking the endless landscape where perhaps no man has ever walked.
To watch a snow flurry on a far mountain ridge and feel the Lord setting next to me enjoying what God has made.
I may have come home empty handed,
but my mind is full of awesome memories
it is a experience, I'll never forget!

I ask you my Friend Black Rifle Addict this, is this what hunting is really about?

Check out the 416 Barrett it outperforms the 50BMG at 2500 yards as a sniper rifle!

WA Mtnhunter


You are correct in stating that a .35 Whelen is comparable in bottom line effectivity out to 250 yards or so. The longest shot I ever took with my .35 Whelen was 264 yards, and it penetrated about 40 inches of elk before exiting! I try to hold my shooting to less than 300 yards, so the whomping magnums are of little utility to me.


The .338-06 is also a fine cartridge for North American game. I have seen the results!

Clay Cooper

By the way, my 338 Win Mag is a Browning A-Bolt Hunter topped with a Leopold Vari-X II 3x9 and I use a 1 1/4 military sling the same way I shoot High Power Competition and that’s how I make those long shots!

Clay Cooper

WA Mtnhunter
Listen my Friend; I don’t have a problem with those that shoot 35 Whelan or 338-06’s at all. You just have to find a rifle and cartridge combinations to match you’re shooting skills and the variety of terrain your hunting! I chose the 338 Win Mag for its long range performance over other Alaskan cartridges. It’s close to the same trajectory of a 30-06 165 grain bullet with tremendously more energy and larger wound,hydrostatic shock damage. I don’t recommend a 338 cal for anything smaller than Elk!

Dick Mcplenty

I've had the good fortune of being in on over 500 elk kills over the past 30 years on 3 seperate ranches here in wyoming and one ranch in montana. I've seen every caliber in the spectrum used from .243 to 458win mag. And even a few more exotic calibers.

The bottom line is with todays bullets you'd be hard pressed to find any differance in actual killing performance from .270 through .375. A marked differance in killing power and reaction of the animal shot becomes apparent when you hit the .40 cal and larger. I've seen some of the most dramatic kills on bull elk with the anemic 150gr partition fired from a .270.A load that some would have you believe will bounce off an elk,let alone kill it. Because of all of the rhetoric about the mighty .338 in the press over the past 20 years,I've seen probably close to 100 elk killed using the .338 win mag and its various .338 off spring.I've yet to see it kill elk any better then a host of smaller calibers. With 250 gr bullets the .338's greatest virtue is it has the ability to penetrate an elk length wise with standard cup and core bullets,which was why elmer praised it.However I've seen the same performance level in the standard 175 gr 7mm bullets,along with 200 gr bullets in .30 cal..

A couple years ago Rifle magazine published stats from a scandic moose study concerning caliber versus killing ability. They compiled 6.5 mm through 9.3 mm data and the end result was the reaction of moose when properly hit,fall over dead regardless of caliber.

Jim in Mo.

On a different note. Now that S. Africa has lifted its ban on elephants it would seem to make economic sense to allow hunters to pay for culling the herd rather than doing it in-house with management people.

WA Mtnhunter

Clay, I totally agree. I would probably take a .338 or .358 flavored magnum if I were hunting Alaska. I just commented on the .35 Whelen matching my hunting skills (I can almost always get inside 300 yards) and my shooting ability ( I can always hit a 12 inch target at 300 yards).

I readily admit that I am not a long range shooter anymore. I recognize my limitations (I hope). Once upon a time, I didn't mind taking long shots at light infantry pop-up targets of opportunity. :-)


2 questions:
1) WA Mtnhunter, what part of Washington are you in? I'm in Vancouver and hunt Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

2) I've never had the chance to shoot the 338 though I've been both encouraged and warned about it: "no need for any other gun..." & "better get a steel plate for your eyebrow..."

When the marketing of the 325 extolled its ballistics as identical to the 338 I thought I'd consider it for my next long range hunting rifle. As I've perused the comments though, I don't think it has been mentioned once! After several years does it still have no track record? Or is it just no good?

Black Rifle Addict

I am not questioning your shooting ability here, it's your ability to recommend a bullet/caliber without having taken a specific game animal with it. As for passing up a shot on a grizzly, I respect your reasoning for not taking it, but I would have to say most hunters would do 6 months hard labor to have that chance.
I have also read once that most guides carry a 30/06(maybe with the exception of brown bear guides?)What did the guides in Alaska carry as a general rule?

WA Mtnhunter


I live in the Mount Vernon area and gave up elk hunting in WA since there are more elk hunters than elk on the east side and I don't like hunting in a wetsuit on the west side!

I got rid of my .338 Win because that rifle didn't shoot particularly well and the felt recoil was more than I wanted to put up with. At the time, my only other rifle was a .308 Win.

As for the .325 WSM, it might be a good rig for a one rifle guy. Although I have seen some numbers that make me a little suspicious of the ballistics claims, I think time will tell. I also don't think the recoil will be noticeably lighter than a .338 WM. I like to shoot my "service rifles" and if the recoil is too stiff, I won't practice enough to suit my standards. I might buy a .325 WSM if I found a deal on one in something other than a Japan made rig.


By the time I see this blog, here in Alaska, the subject matter has been pretty well (thrashed, trashed, bashed, you pick). I will only add that I bought a .338 M70 in 1960 - they were just out then - and named the Alaskan. It immediately went to AK with me and served me as a personal weapon, including a backup gun, very well for many years. Those years included guiding a lot of clients for the world's biggest bears - the polar bear of the western Chukchi Sea and the Ursus Gyas brown bears of the SW end of the Alaska Peninsula. I never felt undergunned. One thing that has not been mentioned is the original factory load in 300gr soft point. For its vintage it proved to be an excellent load in both penetration and expansion. 300 gr bullets are available today in both soft point and solid I believe. My .338 now rests in my rack, mostly, with its scars and stories.


WA Mnthunter,

Looks like we're at opposite ends of the state! I only started hunting 5 years ago here in the Pacific Nothwest so I don't know any better than to hunt in the rain!!

Carney Layne

Corn Boy

I use a 50 bmg for everything bigger than my mastif. I figure with 1 shot I can drop the game and cut fire wood for the nite. A win win for me anyways. Anything under a 100yrds I try to spook just to give it a chance.


I see everyone replying to this blog and other blogs in the past about shooting whatever caliber it is and making the statment
"I drop them in their tracks".
I say BS, It all depends on shot placment,bullet travel and bullet performace. Make that perfect Shot weather it be a Heart, Neck or Head shot and a small caliber will drop them in their tracks just as well as a 338 or whatever else.

Mike Reeder

I have no doubt that a properly placed bullet from a .338 will mow down nearly everything you shoot with it. So would a bazooka. If someone wants to use a .338 on elk, moose or bears, and can shoot it (and that's the relevant clause) more power to them, although it strikes me that using one on deer would be the hunting equivalent of sado-masochism. I simply don't see much that a .338 will do that a 30-06 loaded up with good 180-220 grain bullets won't do with far less damage to the person on the back end. It seems like an awfully big tradeoff in order to gain .030 in bullet diameter. If the trade includes fewer shots fired in practice due to excessive recoil then it's not much of a trade, unless you're throwing lions into the equation.
Exactly how many degrees of dead are there?


as to the .325 WSM I say as always that the short mags are a passing fad for which factory ammo will dry up fast and brass will be in short supply soon too. Some of them now rely on powders not available to the handloading market for the 'magnum' velocities. For my money stick with the tried and true.


My .338 is a BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle). It was muzzle heavy, and I have long arms. So I lengthened the stock and put in a 10 oz. mercury capsule. Now the recoil is nothing. It is a well balanced rifle that swings like a double barreled shotgun, and the sight picture is perfect with the fixed-four-power scope. Drops large boars in their tracks, but my 30.06 would not do that. With the 30.06 they would trot away for ten to fifty yards before falling down to die. So now I have a lethal repeating rifle with negligible recoil, a deadly combination.


More from a .338 lover...back to the charging grizzley, it is very difficult to gain precise shot placement while you are peeing you pants and smelling the grizz's breathe. I guarandamntee you that a 250 or 300 gr from a .338 Win will come closer to stopping the charge than any '06 (and yes I have an '06 that I bought in 1970 and have used it a lot). That said for less than adequate shot placement I move along to exact shot placement. In Wyoming or Montana we are often faced with little timber and lots of open spaces. A typical scenario is you spot your bull just before dark near the end of shooting light. Your option is to walk away for another day (unless it is the last day of your life or the season or you have to go back to work) or take your time, range the bull, and shoot. Out to 500-600 yards a carefully placed .338 bullet of adequate design, velocity, and weight is extremely effective. Insofar as the continueing hullabaloo about the recoil of the .338 go back and see what my kid could do with it when he was 15. Stop by and visit so you can watch him shoot it now at 17 years old and he will throw in a few rounds of .416 Taylor to boot. He is no different than you guys who don't like the recoil except that I have trained him to handle it since he was ten or so. Again on a trap tourniment weekend he will fire probably 600 rounds of AA in two days. Don't take this to sound like bragging but merely a testament that if a kid can do it so can you. I have not seen 500 elk killed but have shot or witnessed the demise of a 100 or so. Many calibers and cartridges will work but I believe the topic of this blog is NOTHING WORKS BETTER THAN A .338, not will also work or is almost as good as, etc. Again short range or long as far as I am concerned I keep going back to my old .338 (but like others I use lots of other cartridges on some hunts just because I want to like Dave and his 6.5). As far as Clay's comments on whether to shot or not I certainly respect his comments and agree with his philosophy. I also feel that his statements regarding what most hunters feel is a relatively long range shot is perfectly within reason for those with the right equipment and level of expertise. You ain't changing my mind.

Mike Reeder

Not to argue with johhnydwson, because I think his experience with hogs points out the folly of judging the efficacy of particular calibers based on relatively small anecdotal evidence. All I know is that I've shot maybe a dozen or so hogs over the years and never had one go more than a couple of feet after being hit with 139 grain bullets from a 7X57, 130 grain bullets from a .270 and 180 grain bullets from an '06. In fact, as I've mentioned here before, about the most impressive kills I've ever had on anything with anything involved a couple of hogs shot with my little 7mm. They went down so fast they didn't even twitch. My son did have a smallish one run about 30 yards after being hit a bit back in the lungs with a 100 grain bullet from a .243, but I draw fewer conclusions about the bullet or caliber than I do about the nature of all kinds of game to do all kinds of peculiar things after being hit by otherwise lethal blows.

Black Rifle addict,

During my 4 years in AK I carried a Rem mod 700 classic in 350 Rem mag and Leupold VXIII 1.5x5 scope. (think ballistic twin to the Whelen with a short action). Both my friends that were guides carried 375 HH bolt guns. The reasoning is if they have to shoot it could be a very bad situation with quick kill necessary. Unlike Johnny nobody carried anything but a bolt gun. semi-autos pumps and levers sometimes jam. I knew a CWO that experienced a charge on Afognak. He and another guy emptied a 300 Win and a 375 into a big boar. The last shot at point blank range. The hide was shot full of holes. The amount of punishment a bear can take once angered is amazing. Probably more hunters carried 338's than anything else. Lots of people carry too much scope and/or a cheap scope both are mistakes.

Gerald Keller

Weatherby was making rifles and ammo in 338-06,and still do as far as I know.Mine is built on a 1909 Argentine Mauser.I've been using the Barnes 185gr. Triple-Shock.Plenty of penetration and flat shooting.I want to try their new 160gr.Triple-Shock as soon as I can get a box or two.I'll load them in the 338 Federal as well.They should be great for Caribou,Muleys
and just about anything else.I have a 338 Mag. as well and used it for Elk,but the 338-06 would have killed the Elk just as dead.


You guys shoot your .338,s,.375,s and your .416,s, I'll stick with my trust, low recoil, easy to find .308 on deer size animals.. One shot, no tracking ETC... I would like to have a .270, but I still would use my .308 Win.


In fairness to your .308 I will say that I have a .270 and 2 x .280s but actually prefer my 7 mm-08 on deer sized animals. If it was a .308 I would be just as happy (have owned a few in the past). However none of them are a .338 and in these mountains I sometimes don't know if the smaller cartridge will be enough. They probably would suffice in most instances but you never know until the circumstances are revealed then you use what you have with you. The .338 just seems to fill my purpose better than most.


Ishawooa, I like the .308 probably because I'm used to it.. A lot of the hunters here use the 7mm08 and I would like one myself.. I just don't like extreme calibers for deer here in Ky.. Heck, I'd like a .270., want a .223, like a 22-250. Even bought one of those 7.62x54R the other day. Haven't shot it yet, We are expecting 2-4 inch of snow tonight and tomorrow. If it does, may get the 4wheeler out and just go shoot something. Got a new .204, shot enough to zero., wanting to shoot it some. Like my new .17 HMR. I just like to shoot. I don't really need a .338, but wouldn't turn my head on a good deal. I'm looking for another Mauser in 7mm to tinker with this winter, but now I'm working on my fishing gear.


Ishawooa, my unit (ARMY National Guard) here locally are leaving out for parts unknown on Monday, I guess I'll go down and see them off. I do know where they are going but shouldn't say. They will be gone for a year. One boy I know well has either sold his bird dogs or some one else is going to take care of them.. I hate to see them go.

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