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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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Chev Jim

All kidding aside, I think it's perfectly all right if someone wants to hunt deer with a .338 magnum, or a .416 for that matter. It's really a matter of what rifle in your rack do you trust more than any other, that you feel most comfortable with, that you believe could get you out of a pinch with an enraged moose or grizzly. I remember moving up to a .300 Weatherby when I didn't feel that the .270 Winchester killed quickly enough. It wasn't the caliber, though--it was the bullets. Back in the late 1960s, I was shooting Hornady 130-grainers with fairly heavy jackets. I shot a 10-pointer about 20 yards away, with the first shot going just below his eye--I couldn't see his body behind the tall grass! He got up and I shot him four more times. He ran only 30 yards before collapsing, pumped up with adrenaline as he was, but I had expected those bullets to put him like they were death rays! I also didn't really like my rifle, which was a post-64 Model 70. I was young, and nobody at the gun club told me that the Model 70 line was undergoing radical revision. It was about a two-MOA rifle for the most part, was ugly, and the bolt was very stiff to work. With proper handloads, you could squeeze one-inch groups out of it. My "go-to" rifle now is a Model 700 Remington Mountain Rifle in .30/06, which I love because of its light weight, its looks, and its accuracy--it will shoot half-inch groups with most ammo at 100 yards. I have a Model 70 in .416 that I hate, because of the stock inletting around the barrel. I plan to get this fixed. I think guns are like cars--you love some because they're so reliable, and you hate others that have become "repair shop queens." So, yes, I think it's OK to take any adequate caliber to the game fields, although I prefer to match the rifle to the game, and save myself any unnecessary punishment. We know our Dave P. does it because he simply wants to do it--not because he thinks anything less than a .338 is inadequate for deer--and because the ghost of Elmer Keith probably filled his bedroom with cigar smoke!


I shoot 6.5 Swede and 30-30 in PA, have only had to look for 3 deer, and they were within 75 yds of where they were hit. Aim true and they drop like a rock, of the 3 I had to find one was hit a little to far back, went thru liver and gut. One was hit thru the back of both lungs just ahead of the liver and passed thru. And the last was hit with a snap shot (yes I should have aimed better but it was in thick brush and running, now or never thing) thru the guts and lodging in the far side back leg, ruined a lot of the ham with that shot!
If you sever the spine or take out the heart and lungs they don't go nowhere!


Chev Jim:
I wish you had not brought up the Rem Mt rifle. Just last night I was thinking about the one that I purchased probably the first year they hit the market. It was a .280 and had all of the qualities that you described and was exceedingly accurate. A few years went by and I managed to buy a couple other .280's that were "purtier". I let the Mt Rifle go on the trade. What I did not consider was the extra weight of the two new rifles, they were no more accurate than the Remington, but the serial numbers were only two digits apart. Big deal. Today I would probably trade both of them for the little Remington.
I sure miss that rifle...again the gun trader's lament.

Dave Petzal

To Clay Cooper: No, I meant that particular rifle. I got my first .338 in 1976. In NA, I've killed whitetails, mule deer, elk, black bear, caribou, and prairie dogs with it. If you want to consider the .340 Weatherby a .338 on steroids you can add moose to that list. Took a .338 to Africa in 1987 and took a dozen antelope of various types plus several crocodiles.


Just like I said in the other Blog "It all Depends"


Where do you hold on a croc? Can one expect to make a "Texas heart shot" on this animal with a .338 and a properly constructed bullet? What is the next step if the wounded but enraged critter makes it to the water? I suppose I have not watched enough Outdoor Network crocodile hunts although I vaguely remember a few. Obviously I have never encountered one in Wyoming but have seen aligators in Mississippi. Would a 7 x 57 with a modern bullet accomplish the same outcome? As I remember Crocodile Dundee packed a .303 SMLE and a huge knife. Please enlighten.


SteveC,I think what some on this blog are gettig at is as you say enough light to track, This of course does not always present itself, so they shoot something to prevent tracking due to light and terrain conditions.. Useing enough bullet weight but not really overkill(There,s that word again)...

Dr. Ralph

The problem, as I see it, is that bullets made and loaded in the .338 caliber are not intended for animals that weigh less than 300 pounds. Their jackets are thicker, they open more slowly and they don't do a hell of a lot of damage on less than abnormal sized white tails. I have killed white tailed deer with more than a dozen cartridges and 150 grain Nosler Ballistic Tips out of an 06 up to 125 yards and possibly farther if I could just find somewhere to shoot one from those distances make deer drop... now... and are deader than the ghost of bruised shoulders past.



Ya put a 338 hole through an animal, it goes down.

Europeans and African hunters for the most part believe in "solid" bullets that go through an animal for that reason. Of course, these hunters are excellent trackers or they have pro trackers with them.

I hate to write this, we American hunting types, in comparison, are too range and ATV bound for our own good. We want "shots" in lieu of learning good hunting skills.

Dick Mcplenty

I've never seen a partition fail EVER and I've seen hundreds of deer elk and antelope shot with the partition. There's no voodoo science to them at all.The front half of the partition is no differant than any other bullet and is softer then the bottom half and in many cases softer then other cup and core designs,which does nothing but insure even better exspansion.Nosler claims full exspansion down to 1900fps impact velocities.But I've recovered partitions from dead elk that had impact velocities down in the 1600fps range,and the exspanded recovered bullets were nearly double original diameter...

Trying to contribute bullet failure to animals that you didn't recover,is meaningless. There's too many variables present to even begin blaming the bullet.

I've seen whitetail doe's run 300 and 400 yards with softball size exit wounds.If I hadn't recovered these deer,should I have blamed it on bullet failure?


Del in Ks
I'm glad you haven't had the same experiences with partitions that we did. When these failures happened to us was in the 70's. After paying premium prices to hunt out of state deer, antelope, and elk, we were pretty disgusted with their performance.
Three years ago all I could find at the time for my 6mm Rem was Fed 100 gr partitions, so I thought well maybe they've improved by now, so I bought them. I then shot a forked horn through the heart, it turned and started going up the hill. So I shot it in the rump right alongside the tail. That second shot stopped it, but it was still poor performance. It made a fist sized hole next to the tail and the rear core only penetrated 6 more inches. In the following 2 years I shot 100 gr Hornady Interlocks and killed 4 bucks, one shot each, breaking at least one shoulder bone and destroyed the lungs on each one with complete penetration. None of the last four went more than 10 yards and had trouble getting that far. The Interlocks did not separate from the core. All, including the one shot with the partitions were less than 100 yards. I'm glad the partitions work for you, but you couldn't pay me to use another one. I could go on and tell you more stories like this but it's not necessary. Thanks for the feedback.

phil graver

The only time i ever used a .338 was when i hit the Mich elk lottery. My .257 Roberts seemed a bit small, so i borrowed Joe's .338. i practiced and it worked great. The 4x5 dropped in his tracks from two shots about 6 inches apart. At the first, thru the heart,right where the DNR said to shoot,it flinched. At the second,higher in the shoulder, it sagged to the ground where it had stood. i like .338s!

Bernie Kuntz

I am surprised at the negative comments about Nosler Partitions. My experience with the bullet, going back 45 years, does not coincide. I have shot animals ranging from pronghorns and deer to grizzlies, Alaskan brown bears, bison, black bears, black wildebeast, elk, Shiras and Alaska/Yukon moose and never have had a failure. This includes cartridges ranging from .25/06 to .375 H & H. I also am a Hornady fan--the "old-fashioned" spire-point is a terrific bullet. Never have had one fail me. I use a few other brand of bullets but 95 percent of my handloads are Nosler Partitions and Hornady Spire-Points, now I think they are called Inter-locks. Manufacturers can make all the new-fangled super bullets they wish, I remain an old "throw-back" and will stick to what has worked for me for the last 45 years.


Another cartridge that suffered from market failure and a lack of adequate bullets which about equaled the .338 is the 8 mm Remington. Its offspring, the 7 mm STW and the 416 Rem, offer sterling performance in their own right. In fact the 8 mm still has a small following of very satisfied shooters. I saw a near mint M-700 not to long ago which I dearly wanted to buy. There was no way the owner would sell it because he shot fantastic groups at the local range. Unbelievably he was not a hunter. No doubt this is why the appearance of the old rifle was exceptional. In typical Big Green fashion it is too bad the big 8 never caught on. Someone once told me that they work extraordinarily well on crocodiles but I cannot vouch for that statement.


Although not common, the .338-06 is not a wildcat. It was presented to SAAMI by A-Square, and sudsequently, accepted as a standard caliber in 1998. It is currently loaded commercially by Weatherby and Nosler and possibly others. Weatherby made rifles chambered for the round for a time, but have discontinued, although there are rumers they intend a limited run.
I just acquired my second rifle in .338-06, and can speak from experience of the rounds effectivness. It ROCKS!!. I will use on a far northern hunt this fall and (if I survive), will be able to tell you more about what it's performance was on the larger game of north America.
On the .338 Win.: I baught my first one in 1966, a pre'64 win. Alaskan. That was the only rifle that ever hurt me to shoot. It took me over a year to recover from the flinches, and when I sold it to a friend I insisted he shoot it several times before he baught it. He loves that rifle and shoots it often, and is amazingly accurate with it. It just plain didn't fit me, so it hurt. I'm happy for both of them, but, I wouldn't take it back as a gift. On the other hand, I baught a Rem.700 custom shop .338 Win. last summer, planning a northern hunt, and put it in a Hogue stock equiped with their mushy recoil pad, and sighted it in over a Lead Sled, then proceded to shoot in varying hunting positions. Load, hot (69gr.IMR4350,Hor.225gr. bullet).
I ran 34rnds. through it the first day, and felt no more abused than I would with my '06, and, by the way, that rifle shoots,prone I put [email protected] with the 5th streching the group to 1.25 in.
On the designer bullets, all of them: I will start shooting them when we are presented with designer animals to shoot. I have not found a need to spend 1-2 bucks on every shot I fire. If thats your choice, that's fine with me, but I don't intend to do it. Yes maybe I'm cheap, but I'm happy this way.


Wow , I'm amazed at your choice of convenience over skill. I can't track so I'll use a different bullet so I can mess up this animal internally and make it bleed more so I can find it easier. Hey heres and idea, why not just buy a .50 caliber machine gun. That way even if it does survive the initial shock of getting shot and the injuries it sustains and runs into the shrubbery you can just shoot down all the trees and bushes so it can't hide no more. Its bad enough that people have altered the natural odds by using firearms but teaching people ways to make it even easier for people is just sick. I guess its "give me convenience or give me death" for a lot you people, grow some balls and hunt using your own strength and smarts.


Hey Dave Petzal, Post some more pic's of the S/W I-Bolt you wrote about in this Month's F/S magazine... You didn't show a good shot of the rifle... very Interesting.. Keep up the good work.
Gary Smith (sarg)


Dave, sorry, I forgot to comment on the good info, teaching women how to hold their Rifle, placeing the elbow closer to the body. This would also apply to men. In the Army, we would place the elbow on our ammo pouches on our web belt for a steady hold. really help control wobble... Good job, keep it up....
Gary Smith(sarg)

Chev Jim

I know how Ishawooa must miss that Remington Mountain Rifle! I think this is one of the best rifles ever built. It's light, quick handling, and highly accurate. Yes, it's a push-feed action, but it has never failed to push and feed! Mine is in .30/06 and it will do .5- to .75-inch groups at 100 yards for three shots. I bought it at a Rod and Gun Club in Germany and it came from the factory with a less than three-pound trigger pull! Luckily, it wasn't affected by any recalls for faulty trigger or safety mechanisms. I topped mine with one of the LAST Weaver 2X-7X variable scopes, one of the El Paso ones, which is set in Redfield rings on two-piece bases. By the way, I found a great way to repair any scratches you got on a polymer finish: I use a little auto wax on terry cloth to polish out the scratch. The finish is a little shiny from the polishing, so I get a cotton ball, dampen it, and lightly dip it into some pumice dust. I gently polish the finish where the auto wax was applied, and then I have restored the finish to its original, satin finish! If you don't live near a volcano, you can probably get the pumice dust from your wife! I couldn't trade this Remington for anything. When you get older, you will tend to appreciate the lighter rifles a lot more, and you'll see that old Jack was right about most factory rifles being too heavy. It's not such a big deal if you're on horseback or you have a gun bearer, but still hunting with a heavy rifle gets tiring pretty quick!


[Sob! Choke!] I too had one of the first Remington Mountain Rifles in 7 x 57.
Like a dummy I traded it in on a 220 Swift [sob]. The Mountain was what previous bloggers claim. Mine would put 140 and 160 grain handloads into an inch. It would clover leaf 115-grain hollow points for woodchucks at 3015 fps [choke].

Sob! It’s Karma. Bad Karma!


Chev,Mark, Don't get me crying over the ones I let get away,, Can't go back and pick them up.. I sold one of the nicest Mauser in 7x57 get away. Sold it for $85.00. I still cry when I think of it..


Don't like for bullets to exit..


Denny must be stern fellow and hunts with a stone-tip’d spear and an atlatl, wearing animal skins.

That’s a bit too far the other way on the argument, Guy.

WA Mtnhunter


I have to disagree with you on the bullet exit situation. As an ol' Sarg you know how long something survives with a sucking chest wound.

A bullet that will penetrate the animal leaving a good wound channel through vitals will result in vittles every time. A solid hit with exit above the diaphram will collapse lungs. A bullet with a small diameter entry and exit wound won't provide enough "ventillation" to collapse lungs and provide a good blood trail. If one uses a small diameter rapidly expanding bullet, the shot placement better be where vital organ destruction is complete. Else get out your tracking gear.....


Wamtnhunter, Not all sucking chest wounds do not have an exit, but what yousee is actually the entrance wound usually from shrapel( didn't spell that right did I?) A sucking chest wound is where something has entered the lungs.

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