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February 27, 2008

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The .338 for Deer, and Other Bad Craziness

A number of you on the previous post asked what was I doing with a .338 in the Maine whitetail woods when I have been yowling the praises of the 6.5 Swede and the 7mm/08. Two reasons: First, I was looking for an excuse to use the .338, which had never been away from home. Second, as I said, tracking in Maine is very difficult when there's no snow on the ground. The last whitetail I killed up there moved less than 75 yards from where it was hit, but it took myself and another, much more skilled, tracker a couple of hours to find it, crawling on our hands and knees. What the .338 gives you over smaller cartridges is more internal damage and a big enough exit hole on the far side that you get a decent blood trail instead of a drop every 12.2 yards.

As for killing power, I direct your attention to the comments of Mr. Dick McPlenty on the previous blog, whose command of the facts and logic are nothing less than sublime. He is correct that there is little, if any, difference in killing power (provided the bullet goes where it should) between cartridges, and that strength of modern bullets has pretty much blurred whatever difference they may have. (I knew of an African PH who used a 7x57 Mauser as his backup rifle. He claimed he got the same penetration as he did with a .375 H&H, and that he could get off four aimed shots in the time it took to get off two with the .375.)

One of the worst cases of losing a game animal I ever saw happened in New Mexico in 1977. A hunter I ran across had flung 19 .338 rounds at an elk that probably would have made B and C, and hit it at least several times. He started shooting at around 400 yards when the bull was out in the open, but the animal made it into the timber and was never found.


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Sure, if you want to use a .338, why not? However, as you pointed out, it's hardly needed and alot of guys really can't handle the recoil and blast. I use a 7X57 and a 257 Robert for most of my hunting and they have done just fine for everything Wyoming has to offer. For deer-sized animals, I have found out that bullets that open up quickly do better at anchoring animals quickly than those that "penetrate.


I can't remember who said it but here goes... A .375 H&H in the guts is a hit in the guts... period! There is no substitute for a well aimed and placed bullet.

I too have encountered that odd animal over the years that for what ever reason did not wilt and ground itself after a well placed shot.

Dave, you said it your self a month or so ago while discussing why you don't like to pull the trigger on a game as animal as much as you once did. The Game animals we hunt work hard to live in their world and are very tenacious of life.

I hunt in the south in areas where a long shot is 75 yards. If an animal (deer or hog) makes it to cover or to water, it becomes a very long day indeed. I would like modify Ruark's famous recommendation, "Use enough gun for the place and animal you hunt"!

John B

In the end, it all boils down to shot placement and proper bullet selection and performance. I once took a broadside shot at a small black bear with my .375 but instead of breaking down his shoulders I took a lung shot. There was no bullet recovery as I saw it kick up dirt on his far side and I can only assume that there was little expansion. Although he was dead on his feet and didn't know it he almost ran over me before falling dead.
Does the fact that he didn't go belly up at the sound of the muzzle blast make the .375 inadequate for black bear? Of course not; for that caliber, with a 300 grain bullet it was just bad bullet placement on my part.


I hate being the first guy to comment but here goes anyway. Insofar as the McPlenty theory on all modern bullets of various calibers are more equal than in the past...maybe but certainly not equal. No doubt the 7x57 will penetrate with the efficiency of the .375, my .357 will penetrate about the same or better than my .44 mag or hot .45 Colt. From actual field experience I know which I would prefer and it ain't the little guy. Same goes for my .22-.250 (yep I know a guy who shot a nice bull once with this round for a one shot kill additionally read up on what P. O. had to say about the matter) versus .338 on elk, etc. Using the modern bullet rationale maybe the PH should consider a BAR in .243 and really blast the critter a bunch of times or maybe even a nice DPMS. I understand your desire to utilize the .338 on Maine deer. I have done the same thing on whitetails, mulies, and pronghorns just because I wanted to see what would happen (plus a little load testing plus Elmer shot a goat in Wyoming back in the seventies with his .338 and at the time I thought it was not kosher but later gave it a try anyway).
There are all sorts of stories on the tremendous successes of various cartridges and bullets but also a vast array of yarns concerning miserable failures of the same rounds. Usually the circumstances and the shooter's abilities are the variance.
I have a couple friends here in Wyoming who have elk hunted togather for over twenty years. One uses a Model 700 in .243 with factory loads and the other has a No. 1 in .375 H & H with his handloads. They argue all the way to the mountains about which is the best elk cartridge. They argue all the way home a few days later...each with his bull in the back of the pickup. Use what works for you.

Matt in MN

Mr. Dick McPlenty? lol

Steve C

Every cartridge made falls into a category of anything from overkill and not enough depending on; 1) the species and 2) the situation.

A 7mm (along with several others) is capable of successfully killing every land animal on earth given the proper bullet and placement, and allowing enough time for this to take effect.

"Margin of error" seems to be the key words here. Every hunter would like to believe they shoot in the field the same as they do on the range. This is sometimes not the case and that's where margin of error can help. But it's also where some hunters take a shot where they have no business doing so.

Steve C

By the way, I only shoot a 280 Remington and would feel 100% confident in taking any elk alive given the proper shot. For me that equates to a) broadside or similar at b) 200yds or less c) with the proper bullet for those conditions and d) plenty of daylight left for tracking. If a B&C elk was at 250 yds quartering away, I take no shot. My rules.

Different rules for a .338.


I have two .280s, eighties vintage Sakos and agree with what you say in both entries for the most part. The problem I often encounter is that the elk does not meet the criteria you specify. Thus I find myself reaching for a rifle/cartridge that I feel is more appropriate for long range encounters but can still stop a charging grizzley (some days it seems we have more griz than elk in Wyoming). This is where my .338 fits. And yes I do have a lot of rifles which I have purchased or had built from 1970 to 2006. I state this so you guys will not think that this ishawooa guy is totally full of shxx. All my guns have been shot...a lot...at many things and a fair number of animals.


I believe I have read enough on this thread and the previous one to make a courageous pronouncement: I have determined once and for all the absolute best caliber to take hunting. It's the caliber that your favorite rifle of the moment is chambered in.

Scientific analysis holds very little sway in most of our choices for a sporting arm. We cling to a particular firearm for one of a variety of reasons: perhaps you pulled off a remarkable shot with it once; perhaps it's a rifle that Grandpa gave you when you were nine; maybe it's just so danged purty. Regardless, we rarely choose our weapons by consulting the ballistics tables and comparing empirical data on bullet penetration and expansion.

I'm no different. I have two rifles that I use almost to the exclusion of all the others. I kid you not: these two are the right and left arms of the ungulate Angel of Death. To me, that is. To someone else, they may seem more effectively used as boat paddles.

Be honest: how many of you will spend at least a day or two afield this year carrying an old .30-30, ballistics and "killing power" be damned? Yep, me too.

dick mcplenty

I'm glad you agree with my findings on calibers dave.

Elk and antelope tend to bring out the worst in hunters when being shot at.

You'll find that hunting elk on public lands usually falls under two areas. Elk up close and elk on the run at longer range. I do believe that the .30cal and larger bullets have an edge in that wound channels are larger and provide more blood trail. The .338 does leave a great wound channel and subsequently a good blood trail in most cases.But all of this is moot,if you place your shot correctly in the first place.

Elmer Keith is always sited as using heavy caliber/bullet combos in an effort to overcome bullet failures due to poor design and technology.However,elmer had access to partitions just like everybody else since 1949.He pimped the .338 and larger calibers because it was his reputation to do so,not because they were the only logical solution to big game hunting.

Steve C

It would be interesting how people arrived at their first big game rifle.

I think hunters select their first rifle (and cartridge) based on "emotional" criteria as opposed to some kind of scientific analysis.

I had money in my pocket when I went looking for a Marlin 336 in .375 Winchester in 1979. Not finding one, I "settled" for a Mod 70 Winchester in 25-06 (mfg 1977). Polar opposites.


Your perceptions are without a doubt applicable to almost everyone. Here is my .30-30 tale.
In about '69 or '70 I wanted a new rifle but didn't have the money so I "settled" for a 1957 vintage like new M-94 in .30-30. As the years passed and the gun safe filled the M-94 got shoved to the back. One day I mentioned to a fellow that I had this old gun and he offered enough money for it that I could buy another Leupold Vari-X III. Well last year my kid (yep the trap shootin, magnum loving, long range expert) decided that he would forgo the magnums and .270/.280s and wanted to shoot his deer with an open sighted .30-30. Of course mine is gone and I refuse to pay the price that folks want for good ones today. So yes whatever you have that brings you confidence is the "best choice" except when you want to try something different.


The "deadest" I ever kilt one, was in 1979. I had loaded some Sierra 90 gr FBHP in my .270 Win on a whim. Opening weekend of deer season, I couldn't find the box of 130 gr SPBT I had loaded for the trip. In desperation, I shot 3 of the 90's and was surprised at the accuracy, lowered the crosshair a bit and went hunting!
He stepped out at approximately 125 yards. I had the 3X9 Leupold cranked up to 9 and he stopped broadside. I rested the rifle on the window sill of the blind and squeezed a round off.
That was the FIRST time I actually saw what happened to the deer before recoil destroyed the sight picture! WOW!
As long as my old .270 keeps punching 'em dead, that's what I'll shoot!



You (blog folks!) keep talking about the .338 Win Mag.
I loaded a butt load of .270 Win with the 160 gr Nosler Partition for a trip to Colorado. Probably popped 5 caps out of 50 rounds the entire trip and those were at the range!
Time, work, and store being what it was, I decided to just shoot those come white tail season in E. Texas. They kill muley's and elk, why not whitetail?
The little buck stepped out at about 50 yards. When the gun went off, he turned and ran straight at me, just like he'd never been touched! When he turned broadside on seeing me, I punched him again!
There were four exterior holes, each and every one .277 in diameter! Those heavy bullets did not open up!


Dr. Ralph

I'd have to agree with Dave and say McPlenty is full of facts and logic and from where I stand Low Recoil is also a newcomer with Plenty O'Wit. I also am amazed at the growth of this site. Not only in numbers but in the quality of personnel. We are becoming a think tank of the first magnitude.

Different bullets are intended for different purposes and matching them to your particular hunting style is now the ennui du jour. Ballistic tips open rapidly and cause massive damage... but not out of a .338 on a gopher. A-Frames will go through everything including the tree behind your big buck. We are a culture overwhelmed by technology even when we try to return to our hunter gatherer roots. O'Connor lamented the slower opening deeper penetrating loads and I'm with him. Give me a little less edible meat and an animal that crumbles in its tracks every time. I don't take many shots over 50 yards because you can't see any farther than that in the woods here, tracking is near impossible and someone else will tag your buck 200 yards away. I'm going to write it just like last time in all caps... BULLET PLACEMENT IS EVERYTHING. I looked for a gut shot 150lb probably 90 field dressed doe for three hours once that my in law shot with a .375 H&H Magnum. Bigger is not always better, ask any of my old girlfriends!

Dr. Ralph

P.S. Let's all give Chev Jim a standing ovation for his Dickens send off... ghost of bruised shoulders indeed!

Dale M

Who the heck put together the current hunting rifle test (Test Your Whitetail IQ?) Correct answers such as "try a Texas brain shot" on an unwounded, unalerted deer?

You've never shot your rifle at 350 yards and you're not sure how much the bullet drops out there but the "correct" answer is "hold on the hair and pray"?

Contrary to the author of that test I've also known shooters who were very good target shots but poor game shots. It was undoubtedly something psychological, but nevertheless such things happen.

Where has the author of that test been???


Disturbing is what I find this kind of thinking to be. I'm with Bubba - just let me have one good rifle that I can shoot. To think that you need a different rifle for every situation is baffling. How many do you guys carry with you in the field? I am in no way saying that you should use the same rifle for elephants as you do for squirrels - but come on, do you really need 4 or 5 different rifles/calibers to hunt deer/elk/hogs? With the range of bullet weights out there for just about every caliber, I just don't see the need in having specific rifle, caliber, and load for every possible situation! If you need this, maybe you aren't as good a shot as you think you are. While learning to shoot I was told "Learn to shoot what you've got! It's plenty of gun!" They were talking about an old single shot .22. I must have shot that thing a couple hundred thousand times in my life. Took untold numbers of rabbits, squirrels, unfriendly and unowned dogs, coyotes, turtles and snakes (yes - snakes) with it. After learning to shoot it, not having it tuned/bedded/scoped/trigger job/and anything else you could think of, I could hit anything I could see with plain old ammo from the local store. I've seen my Grandfather drop a running coyote at nearly 1/4 mile with his 30-30 using open sights. Point being, spend the time on the range, know your firearm, place your shot well and have fun. Learn to shoot, learn shot placement, and when in doubt let it walk away. Just my own rant. Seems to me that I remember something like "Beware the man with one rifle"


MidnightBanjo makes an excellent point. It bewilders me that someone will spend stacks of cash on the rifle of their dreams, and then buy one (ONE!) box of the cheapest ammunition available. Odds are, half of that box will still be unfired when deer season rolls around.

Of course, the natural progression is that when a deer presents itself for a shot, our thrifty hunter whiffs and then (all together now) blames the rifle. "Dadgum them danged ol' Rugers anyhow! I gotta get me a Remington!" Of course, any shots that I may have missed truly WERE caused by faulty weapons.

It occurs to me that a good living could be made by following shooters who have firmly established bad habits or are allergic to practice, and offering to buy their rifles at a deep discount when they miss a shot.

Chad Love

No, no, no. You got it all wrong. It's "Beware the man with many rifles in one caliber."

You have to have a back-up. And then a back-up to the back-up. And then a loaner for friends. And then you have to have a couple for each of your unborn children. And then a couple spares buried out in the back yard just in case.


MN Banjo, LowRecoil, ChadL

I have several (3) different rifles that I use for different situations.
1. .270 Win - deer and anything else
2. .30-30 Win - feral hogs and anything else
3A. .22 Hornet - turkeys and anything else
3B. .22 LR - varmints around the house and anything else
If one of the above won't get the job done where I hunt, guess I'll just have to change hunting areas!
The three of you slammed this one.
Give me one gun that I can shoot comfortably, shoot well, and enjoy shooting!
Everything else is just gravy!


Dick Mcplenty

Well dave after reading this blog again,I've got to wonder just how much experience you really have with the .338win mag.And you call me sublime.

I've carried a .338 win mag for 19 seasons.Its greatest virtue,is its chambered in a left handed model 700.I've used it on deer, elk and antelope,it usually kills a bull elk,cow or calf elk and at least a mule deer buck and at least three doe whitetail a year.Not to mention being being used by other hunters at least a couple times a year on like animals.
I've used just about every bullet combo available. I've settled on 250 gr partitions for everything.Which as far as I'm concerned is the only bullet needed in a .338 win mag. Not 210 gr bullets because they recoil less and you can still lay claim to using a mighty .338.

Dave you stated that you chose the .338 on those maine whitetails for "Interal Damage" and "Big enough exit wound for good blood trails" not a drop every 12.2 yards.

Well dave I've used the 200gr bullets from speer,hornady,nosler and a couple others on deer. The nosler ballistic tip in .338 uses a heavy jacket and is designed around the same 60% weight retention that partitions and accubonds are. The end result is no more damage and in a lot of cases even less damage to a deer then any other .277,.284,.308 bullet driven at like speeds.Partitions are really disappointing in .338 on deer if you're hung up on getting a large exit wound.The 210gr partition tears things up internally,but usually sheds all the front portion and peals back the petals flush with the sides of the bottom portion of the bullet,leaving you with a standard exit wound of a .50 cent piece.Which is the same exit wound size that can be had with any of the smaller calibers.

In fact its been my finding that on deer any of your heavy for caliber ballistic tips in .308 down to .277,tear things up better or at least as good and leave as good or better exit wounds on deer,as anything you can fire from a .338 win mag.
I've seen 165gr corelokts out of an aught six leave incredible results on deer and they're cheap.

If you don't want to track deer use shoulder shots or use non premium bullets(ones actually designed for deer) through the ribs.

Just as a side note dave,you owe it to yourself to discuss the .338 win mag with one of your fellow writters John Barsness. I've talked to him at length and his findings with the .338 are very similar to my experiences.


Well done and reasonably stated. Personally in addition to the 250 gr. Partitions I have had unbelievably good success with simple ole Sierra 250 gr. Gamekings. Thinking back over the last few bulls I am not certain that one was superior to the other except the Sierra does come apart more readily as expected. I have made numerous one shot kills out to 325 or so with both of these bullets. I admit to having purchased a box of 225 gr. Partitions for experimentation in flattening out the trajectory. Two years have passed and those tests have not yet been done due to other projects at the range and in the field. Maybe one day. I noted that you did not mention that particular weight and wondered if you feel as I do. The loss in weight is not worth the potential for modest trajectory improvement. Oh well I can always sell or trade them and keep on shooting those 250's.

Dick Mcplenty

Mostly its called mental masturbation. I've ran the 210's and 250's in the past because in my rifle they've shot to within less then an inch of each other with the same sight in. Then after shooting a number of animals with both and not seeing any advantage on smaller big game with the 210's,I simply stuck with 250's since I want performance on elk,which the 210 is no slouch.I use a rangefinder and a multi dot reticle.I don't shoot beyond 500 yards and honestly seldom need to shoot beyond 250 yards.With my set up the 250gr bullets work on antelope just as well as elk.

The whole attraction to 250 gr bullets in .338,along with 175gr bullets in 7mm and 200gr bullets in .308,is penetration,even if you use standard cup and core bullets.Elmer was on to something with 250gr and 300gr bullets at modest 2600 to 2700fps velocities. They hold together even if they aren't premium and they usually exit. With premium bullets perfomance differances are really blurred. In comparing the 210gr partition to the 250gr partition,we're talking as much differance in lead or weight as a .22lr(40grs)and we're expecting to see earth shattering differances.Ain't going to happen.

If it weren't for cheaper nosler 2nds(which aren't really cheap anymore,since they got greedy) I'd be shooting sierra or hornady bullets.I'm cheap.I still don't see the greatness in firing dollar bills at animals,each time I pull the trigger.

Chad Love

Dick, I just have to ask: Is that your real name or a handle? Because if it is your real name your parents had either a savage sense of humor or a colossal naivete...

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