.338 Federal


Federal’s Efficient .338 By Ron Spomer   Ron Spomer Outdoors - 338 Federal & Friends Are you leery of painful magnum recoil? Wish you didn’t have to carry a 10-pound rifle with a barrel longer than your leg? Shocked by the price of a box of new Super Magnum ammo? Try the new 338 Federal. (Photo, L. to R. 308 Winchester, 338 Federal, 30-06 Springfield, 300 Winchester magnum.)   Rifle and ammunition manufacturers have been creating and christening centerfire rifle cartridges since 1860. The 40-70 Sharps, 30-30 Winchester, 300 Savage, 222 Remington, 270 Weatherby, and even a 204 Ruger. But no Federal. For 80 years this Minnesota company has been loading everyone else’s cartridges, but never its own. Until now.   Shake hands with the 338 Federal. It shoots flatter and harder than a 30-06, produces more muzzle energy than a 7mm Remington Magnum, and recoils less than a 30-06. It will handle not only whitetails, but black bears, elk and moose as far away as anybody is likely to hit them. And it does it with a compact, super-efficient package.   There’s nothing earth-shaking about this new cartridge. It was probably created more than 40 years ago by a wildcatter (basement handloader) who stretched the neck of the 308 Winchester case to fit a .338 bullet. Changing neck size is standard procedure for iconoclasts who refuse to settle for what big manufacturers offer. Thus the 308 Win. was necked down and up to become the 243 Win., 260 Rem., 7mm-08 Rem., and 358 Win. Why it took so long to legitimize the .338 version remains a mystery, but Federal has finally done it.   But why? In a market saturated with highly successful standard cartridges like the 270 Win. and 30-06, plus belted magnums, long magnums, short magnums, and super short magnums, who needs a 338-08? Well, maybe you do.   This little powerhouse fits a classic short-action, which means it cycles faster than the 30-06-length cases. The case is narrow, so more cartridges fit into a magazine/clip than do fat, short magnums. Guns built around such small cartridges can be made smaller, lighter and more responsive than magnum rifles. They’re more fun to carry and shoot.   Then there are the ballistics. According to Federal ballistics data, the 338 Federal pushes a 180-grain Nosler AccuBond from the muzzle at 2,840 fps to produce 3,223 foot pounds energy. That’s about 300 foot pounds more than the .30-06 shooting a 180-grain slug and 116 foot pounds more than a 7mm Rem. Mag. with a 160-grain bullet. The 7mm will retain more energy past 100 yards and shoot flatter, but the 30-06 will not. Believe it or not, a 180-grain bullet from the smaller 338 Federal cartridge will drop a half-inch less than a 180-grain from the 30-06 at 400 yards. Surprisingly, it drops only 1.5 inches more than the big 338 Win. Mag. at 300 yards when both fire the same 210-grain bullet. The little Federal achieves this with considerably less powder, too, and that means less recoil. In same-weight rifles of about 7 pounds, a 338 Win. Mag. will kick up 36.1 foot pounds of shoulder smacking recoil. The 338 Federal hiccups just 24.2 foot pounds. About the same as a 30-06.   To prove all this to myself, I shot a Montana bull elk from 275 yards with a 338 Federal. The single 185-grain Barnes Triple Shock X dropped the bull in its tracks.   Efficiency experts, new shooters, folks with shoulder, back or neck injuries and anyone who dislikes recoil should welcome this softer-recoiling new round. In compact, mild recoiling rifles, it produces performance equal to some of the most proven, popular big game cartridges in America.   # # #

13 thoughts on “.338 Federal

  1. Good to read your comments, Ron. I just aqcuired a Tikka T3 stainless in 338 Federal. I’m pretty excited about the rifle and the round and am anticipating a lot of fun working up some loads for it. FYI – we share a mutual friend. I was on a caribou hunt in Northern Quebec with Johhny Musachia in 2008. Johnny is quite a character and as you might suspect, a good time was had by all.

  2. I think this round would be just the ticket for African plains game up to and including Eland out to 300 yards or so. It might kill on both ends in the Kimber lite models but with a rifle weighing in at 7.5 pounds including scope the recoil should be very manageble.

  3. Has anyone chronographed the Federal ammo and if so do your results track closely with Federal’s published ballistics?

    Thanks to all.

    Dave Krug

  4. I purchased a Ruger bolt with wood and satin blue/black metal on company close out and mounted a Leupold 1-4x in low rings. Good price and nice looking piece of equipment with good balance and feel. I bought the rifle as a backup and thought the 338 Federal would be fine for much of my hunting, which is mostly deer and elk in western forestland.

    A variety of factory ammunition was tried and it all shoots well, accurate and clean burning. I loaded a couple of boxes of cartridges using 2000MR and Speer 200 grain bullets using Speer online data; easy to load and also burns clean and is accurate.

    It’s an easy and pleasant rifle to shoot and while I haven’t bagged an elk with it, I have no doubt it will perform. I have killed several elk with lighter bullets and about the same or less energy.

    I am shocked the arms companies have dropped this caliber from their inventory. What are they thinking? Hunters who actually use the cartridge will love it.

    • You are right, Don. The 338 Federal is an outstanding cartridge. Just not flashy enough for most hunters. Manufacturers play to the numbers. Apparently too few folks bought the 338 Federal to justify continued chambering. But demand can always inspire renewed production, and gunsmiths can always barrel existing actions for this well-balanced round. Enjoy yours.

  5. I used a Sako 85 grey wolf for kudu 150 yds, blesbuck 300 yds,gems buck 100yds, impala 100yds times two
    Kudu cow used federal 185 TSX factory all one shot kills except first running impala.
    Only recovered 2bullets one from kudu cow and one from kudu bull perfectly mushroomed

  6. I bought a stainless Ruger Hawkeye M77 in .338 Federal. My first hunt with it in 2011, I took a fork-horn whitetail on the last day of the late season hunt in NE Washington state, using a Speer published hand load. A 75 yard shot to the right front shoulder dropped it in its tracks. Last year, I had a repeat with a large 4×5. From here forward, the .338 Federal will be my go-to rifle. I would not hesitate to use it on elk or moose.

  7. I too have a Ruger M-77 Hawkeye stainless with composite stock and I’m absolutely in love with both the rifle and the chambering. I am using the Speer 200-grain bullet with published Speer loading data giving me an honest 2600+ fps. I have taken several big Kansas white tail bucks and does with this combination at ranges from 40-yards to as far as 140-yards and it performs great! This past year I shot a mature buck at only 40-yards (my closest shot yet with this cartridge) and I was expecting to find significant tissue destruction but much to my surprise there was very little, as they say “you could eat right up to the bullet hole”. I probably didn’t lose more than a pound of meat. The shot clipped the front top of the left shoulder and exited low through the ribs on the opposite side (I was shooting from a tree stand). The only strange anomaly I’ve experienced with this rifle/cartridge is that the 200-grain Federal Fusion rounds shoot a full 6-inches higher than my hand loads at 100-yards. Velocity alone cannot account for this difference as the velocity is not all that much different. I also load for a number of different center fire cartridges and I’ve never encountered such a difference before. This is really not a problem for me since my hand loads consistently group at 1-inch or a little less at 100-yards. With 5-shot groups all bullet holes are always touching forming a ragged “rat hole”. Needless to say that I have no complaints about the accuracy of my rifle or the cartridge. It’s true what is said about the recoil too, very mild and tolerable and I would highly recommend it to anyone who might be sensitive to recoil. Stainless steel, composite stock, light weight, short and handy, light recoil, what else could one ask for?
    By the way, I also load and shoot a 338 Winchester Magnum, as well as a Ruger #1 in 45-70 with Nosler 300-grain partitions (no longer available) over a maximum charge of Reloader #7 for 2400 fps and this little 338 Federal kills large deer just as authoratively.

    • Tom, the 6-inch point of impact from that Federal load is a bit out of the ordinary, but not unprecedented. There’s just something unpredictable about barrel vibrations/oscillations and timing no one can fully predict. I’m guessing this particular load releases from the muzzle when it is moving upward, thus “flinging” the bullet higher than normal. Glad to hear you’re liking the 338 Federal.

  8. I would certainly not like to see any manufacturer give up on the 338 Fed.. I personally have been privileged two take two nice Mo. bucks and a Wyoming pronghorn. My grandsons have had equal success with the same rifle. This rifle is a Kimber 84M classic scoped with a Leapold Ultra-Lite. Most were taken with 200gr. bullets Speer HC and Hornady pushed by 47gr. Varget. Ranges varied from 50yds. to 250yds. I have consistently shot 1in. groups with this rifle and I am considering rebarrelimg a short action Savage to the 338 Fed. It’s a winner. Hope to see you at Deer and Turkey Classic and or the Convention.

  9. I have been hand loading the 338Federal for 6 months now, in a Sako Black Bear rifle. I also found that factory ammo would shoot high, in my case a good 8 inches higher. Only ADI’s 8208 powder gave the same POI with 2MOA accuracy the same as the Factory rounds (200grn bullets only). 2000MR, AR2208 and AR2206H all delivered 1MOA with 200MR the most consistant, but all shoot low. I am trying 748 next. Velocity is around 100fps less than factory rounds out of this rifle.

    • John, Some rifles shoot to radically different different points with small changes in bullet type, powder or primer. No big deal. Just work up the load you like, zero for it and go hunting. If you wish to change loads, just re-zero. You can play with stock bedding to try “fixing” the rifle’s inconsistency. This may or may not work. Happy fiddling. Ron

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