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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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.338 Sierra SBT Gameking for lungshots on Deer, dynamite. Inch and a half exit hole. Just make sure you don't hit solid meat, or Woops, looks like jelly. Nosler Partitions failed us 75% of the time on 30-06 and smaller calibers, why take a chance on .338 size critters. Speer Grand Slams never failed us in any caliber. Swift A-frames never failed us. Accubond never failed us. Hornady Interlock never failed us. Partition? junk! I agree with "beware of the one gun man". Favorite calibers, 338 Win Mag, 270 WSM, 223 Rem. They're all good. Just pick the right bullets.


Only 40 grains difference between the 210 and the 250. I bet that sets off the .270 shooters who sweat whether to shoot a 130, 140, or 150. I just load the 130 Barnes (only cartridge I use Barnes in) and shoot it at everything since accuracy is phenominal as is penetration.
I will comment on your statement regarding the "little" Partitions. Although I have had splendid success with this bullet in the .300 and .338 I have noted that results were less than spectacular in the .243, .270, or .280. Don't think I ever used them in the '06. I have shot a couple bulls with them in 7 Rem Mag, since in Wyoming you have to follow Les Bowman's lead at one time or another, with one dropping immediately but the other required a followup shot since it was rather long range and the bullet struck him high and too far back to be perfect placement). I witnessed one hunter shoot an antelope numerous times with 6 mm Rem Partitions and the buck still went well over 100 yards. The numerous exits looked much like all of the entrance wounds. I have a sixties vintage Sako Deluxe .243 that has killed over 40 deer and antelope (some shot by others who I had loaned the rifle to, some first time deer or antelope hunters). Most of these kills were one shot dead in their tracks with 100 gr. Sierras, Ballistic Tips (which I don't like much due to the devastating explosive construction and nature except for the .338 version), or 105 gr. Speers. On the other hand I twice have seen a friend shoot 170 class mulies at 40 to 75 yards with a .300 Weatherby Fibermark shooting Partitions and both animals ran off until we found them 200 to 500 yards out in the desert. Same findings as far as wounds go. I think the fast little Partitions simply zip on through the critter without slowing enough to open up properly due to their specific construction.

Ralph the Rifleman

Thanks Dave for mentioning the .338, again. This topic has been very informative with real life shooting/loading experiences mentioned!

retired waycar rider

Dave, I've lived within 20 miles of the Hornady factory ever since they opened their door, never seen any need to use anything else for loading and shooting any critter. Here in the high plains you have a wide choice of where to shoot your game, along the rivers, short shots, or in the pine ridge, long shots. we can shoot whitetails or mule deer in the same pastures in most parts of the state where I hunt so good old Hordany's do the job.--love the new SST's. Remember you owe the game you're shooting at the courtesy of a quick clean demise, so lots of time spent at the range is the thing to do.


Dave, I,ve often heard that when a dangerous animal starts a charge , even when hit it will continue the motion, perhaps the Elk had already started to the woods when hit and even though you got a good hit, it continued .. Often deer when hit are disoriented for a few seconds when hit and may even run in circles until it decides just which way to go. I have been lucky while deer hunting, never to have to track an animal or shoot more than one shot with my Rem. 700 in.308. All shots have been at close range,50-75 yds. here in the hilly country of Kentucky.

About shooting the .338 at deer, shoot it. Thats your business and if you are wanting to try one out, more power to you. That's the bueaty of having more than one Rifle. I lost a nice deer one time by taking an unfamiliar rifle to the woods, Didn't shoot at a nice deer once with a 6.5Jap because I really wasn't sure at 300 yds.. Waiting for deer to get closer and it just vanished. Had I took my .308 I would have taken the shot, knowing the charastics of the Rem. The bad part was, a friend warned me about taking an unfamiliar rifle that day.( Live and learn) Good subject, Keep up the good work...

Clay Cooper

About the Sierra 250 gr. Gamekings, practically every shot we made with them we had jacket separation. I shot a Caribou with a Sierra 250 gr. Gameking one hole in and two going out. I called Sierra back in 1990 and first was told no way but after the Bullet Tech found out who I was admitted it and said they where working on an adhesive/bonding agent that upon firing the heat would adhere the core to the jacket. However, the Sierra 250 gr. Gameking is one hell of a long range bullet I must agree!

Clay Cooper

Mr. Petzal, are you saying that you haven’t shot anything with a 338 yet? You disappoint me Sir
I was under the impression that all those Manufacturers would be sending you out on great hunting trips?? How can you talk up a product without first hand using it in actual situations?

Perhaps if you get enough trigger time especially on jack rabbits in New Mexico, you’d be taking those big bucks giving you the hoof! 338 on jacks? NASTY! NASTY! NASTY!
By the way, last season I was feeling abet sadistic and thinking of taking my 338 Win Mag out too

Dr. Killdeer

19 .338 rounds!!! Who carries that much ammo hunting?!?!?


Is this discussion limited only to the .338 Win. Mag? I am having a .338-06 built to be used as a foul weather white-tail rifle and a black bear rifle. Do I need that much horsepower for whitetails? No, my usual go-to is either a .257 Rbts. or a .308 Win. but I wanted something heavier for bad weather that would hit with authority assuming I do my part. It will be rifled to shoot 200 gr. Hdy. Interlocks and according to Gary Sitton, should be "a terror" for what I have planned for it. Too, as I get older, I find myself drawn more to heavy for caliber bullets so the 200 gr. .338-06 makes good sense to me. One of the best eastern whitetail hunters I ever knew swore by a .338 Win. Mag. because in his opinion it damaged less meat since the bullet expansion was not as great. He started with a .35 Remington, went to a .243, to a .30-06, finally to the .338.

Dick Mcplenty

On the subject of partitions in smaller calibers on smaller big game. Use light for caliber bullet weights. You end up getting a little more violent impact velocities under normal ranges,which makes the partition shed all of its front portion.Does some dramatic internal damage,but you're still going to have the normal exit wounds that partitions provide in most cases.

Del in KS

Nineteen rounds at one elk. Was that rifle belt fed or was he just fast at reloading!!!

Del in KS

Dick McPlenty, have you ever met Puss Galore or Lotta Fagina?

Black Rifle Addict

Concerning the .338/06 vs the new .338 Federal, is there much ballistic difference between the two? It seems that the .30/06 is the favored parent case of this wildcat cartridge, so why did federal base the factory load on the .308 case? Was their concern based on existing .338/06 rifles out there using factory loads fired in them, or a "shorter action is better" mentality?


I have never experienced the two hole exit of the Sierra 250 gr but have, in fact, found them in two pieces, or more, in bull elk shot at modest ranges. One such bull had an odd lump and a patch of white hair on his left shoulder. Upon digging into it I found a bit of arrow shaft and a broadhead against his shoulder bone. Amazingly it had healed quite well. Most of my utilization was in the late eighties or early nineties with this bullet so perhaps some of the ones I had were better bonded than the previous versions that you spoke of. Since then it has been Partitions or some 250 gr SBTs made by a local guy. The local guy produces beautiful bullets which appear to offer excellent performance. The problem is that bullet making is his hobby and he often works out of the country in the oil industry. This makes having a steady supply of good cheap bullets very questionable. They are similiar to the Partitions but with a higher BC. He continues to tell me that he intends to make some 300 gr .338 bullets but so far I have not seen the effort. Having never shot this heavy bullet I think it to be an interesting day at the range "just for kicks"...


I grew from the sub-30 cal deer rifles to the medium bores in some kind of natural progression like some other blogger-mouths. The medium bores became the major factor in my hunting after the smallest animal I was hunting was 300-lbs. Although I could kill elk and caribou [BTW I never thought caribou are easy to anchor] with 30 and 7mm bullets I liked the way 338 and 35 cal bullets overwhelm the animals. These big bullets are the only way to go when hunting the hairy mean stuff.

I guess the 200 and 210 grain bullets in 338 and 35 caliber are OK if you want to hunt deer, but I found nothing better than a good 225 grain bullet for 90% hunting. For the mean stuff I go with 250-grain bullets.

I tried the Noslers and have seen them used, and frankly I find they lack any real advantage over the mundane Speer, Serria or Hornady’s. I’ve yet to try the Barnes or Sirocco’s.

I’ve not found the recoil in 338 Mag or 35 Whelen to be a terror although none of these medium bores are plinking guns.

I insist a person “backing me up” on the mean stuff have *real* shooting experience under dramatic hunting situations to hold on the brown and put the bullet in it. Any “back-up” is to pull my butt out because I [we] was/were sloppy or unlucky. Hesitating, navel-gazing thoughts don’t mix with in-your-face situations. Recreation ends. You just grow old, real old…and wondering just what the hell are you doing [t]here.

With this in mind, given a choice in dramatic situations I want my 458 over my 35 Whelen. Big Bears, The Bug Grazers and Cats don’t accept apologies.


Concerning the 19 rounds shot at one bull, I once heard the same story about a local guy who I sort of knew. I had watched him shoot at a remote range in the desert one day. He had a new Ruger M-77 in .338 which he had won at the Elks Foundation dinner. It was one of those early models with the rather thin and light synthetic stock with virtually no recoil pad to speak of. My observation was that it was kicking the hell out of him with factory loads and his groups were pie plate of angle. Anyway after hearing the 13, 17, or 19 shot story depending on who was doing the telling I encountered him on the street one day. He replied that no in fact he had only fired eight times. The first bullet hit the bull's body somewhere at about 150 yards and it hauled butt. He continued to blaze away sometimes hitting somewhere and sometimes missing. After reloading a couple times to continue this process the poor bull finally gave it up. The guy went back to his '06 after that swearing that the .338 was not worth a whit for anything. Of course he had owned the '06 for about 20 years and could drive tacks with it. I think we all see the moral here.


For the life of me I cannot understand how people can be loyal to the Nosler Partition when it has proven time and again that it is not 100% reliable on game. If you want certain reliability, load the Swift A-frame, Swift Scirocco, Nosler Accubond, or the Barnes Triple Shock, or the Speer Grand Slam all are proven 99% reliable. Nosler Partitions are not. Period. They are the result of too much gunwriter hype. Believe me, my family has had to track too many animals and some of them were never found. Why would anyone want to take a chance. In fact I'll take a Hornady Interlock over any Nosler Partition for reliability. I consider partitions to be voodoo science. There demise is long overdue. I'd even take a Sierra Gameking over a partition, at least I'd know that jacket separation was pretty much inevitable. With the partition nothing is certain. It either goes straight through like someone mentioned or it blows the front core on contact and the rear core now destablilized, can go any direction. Very poor reliability in my estimation. I guess the 338 would kill an animal with just about any bullet out there because of it's raw power and authority, but this is certainly not true of lesser calibers. With so many good bullets on the market, why anyone would stoop to the partition is beyond me. It must be an addiction.

Del in Ks


In all your travels have you ever seen a .14 caliber centerfire? Ray Smith an old WWII navy diver and retired mechanical engineer was also a prairie dog fanatic. Ray built rifles in his basement in Overland Park Ks until his death a few years ago. He built my 6mmX284 win. While at his shop Ray showed me a 14 centerfire he made up. Ray said he wanted to see that P-dog turn to vapor thru his scope and he needed a gun with high velocity and low recoil. If memory serves he used a Rem Mdl 7 action and Shilen match grade barrel. He bought bullet making equipment from Corbin and gave me one of the jacketed HP bullets he made. It looked about the size of a no 2 pencil lead without the wood. Clymer made the chamber reamer. I think Ray necked down a 222 Rem. but not sure. Alas, the old timer passed before I got to find out how his new toy worked in the field. Must of been a smokin' fast bullet.

Del in Ks


I've shot critters from Caribou to coyotes with Partitions ranging from 6 mm to 358 cal. and never lost one yet. Last years big 8 pt MO whitetail went 20 yards and piled up after a 100 gr 2506 partition went thru both lungs. That was about the farthest anything has made it to date. However, because of better BC I expect to shoot Barnes bullets next fall.

Del in Ks


I've shot critters from Caribou to coyotes with Partitions ranging from 6 mm to 358 cal. and never lost one yet. Last years big 8 pt MO whitetail went 20 yards and piled up after a 100 gr 2506 partition went thru both lungs. That was about the farthest anything has made it to date. However, because of better BC I expect to shoot Barnes bullets next fall.


I own the .243/.257/.270/30.06/7remmag/.444 marlin; damned if I can tell much difference at resonable ranges, on the hand I would cry if somoene made me live with only one caliber of rifle. I'm glad we the freedom to worry about differences between all the different rifle calibers.


I would love to see your breakdown of all the different hunting bullets. For example what has been your experience with the Nosler Partition?

Clay Cooper

So you’re building a 338-06, KOOL! By the way, Barnes makes a 160 grain bullet in 338 diameter now. 19 rounds on an Elk? Talk about BUCK FEVER and/or sights are really off!!! Not going to go there? 338 Federal vs 338-06? I’ll pick the 338-06 over the 338 Federal any day and its test proven by golly!!! The only advantage of a 338 Federal is only if you want a sub range rifle and your recoil sensitive! You’ll have to really pump it up to get near a 06 case with more powder to match the 338 bore! That why we call the 308 a 30-06 short kind of like comparing 22 short to a 22 long rifle!

Clay Cooper

One more thing, if you cannot knock down a Caribou (BOO) with a 270 with a Hornady 130 grain soft point with one shot? You got a real problem shooter!


Clay, I thought about the .338 Federal/.338-08 but the '06 has been around much longer and should have all of the bugs worked out by now. I also think it would be the better round for black bear under less than perfect conditions or larger antlered game, hopefully one day. I already have a .308 anyway and was looking for something to fill a niche somewhere around it and my .300 Win. Mag. so I thought the '06 was the best choice. Too, I just like unusual calibers and don't know anybody else that has one.

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