In the world of long-range shooting, there are many legendary cartridges. While the reasons behind the legends differ, they all share a mystical status among shooters. 

One of those cartridges is the .338 Lapua Magnum. Today we will take a hard look at the Lapua and what makes it so desirable.
 

Table of Contents

A Condensed History
What Sets It Apart?
33 And Me
Handloaders Love It, Too
Bullets 
Barrel Twists
Does It Deserve Legend Status?

A Condensed History

 

Sniper rifles in .338 Lapua Magnum
A handful of some of the world’s best .338 LM rifles at a military trial. (Photo: Jeff Wood/Guns.com)


Often, it’s a particular story or mission that highlights a particular cartridge, or the firearm it is most famous for – like the .308 Winchester in the M24, or the SOCOM Mk13 rifle chambered in the .300 Win Mag. As stories are told and reputations made, the shooting public is keen to appreciate a good performer, and before long it becomes a legend.

As technology improves, it takes less and less time for products to improve and be implemented. The .338 Lapua Magnum (LM) has been around a relatively short time compared to most others, and yet it is renowned for its prolific use as a sniper cartridge. Even video gamers who’ve never held a real firearm in their life know that if you are going to get a sniper rifle, get the .338.

The .338 LM was developed in tandem with Finland's Lapua/Nammo and British riflemaker Accuracy International. Based off the .416 Rigby case, with some additional improvements to safely operate at higher pressures.

 

Finnish Army 8.6 Tarkkuuskivääri 2000 rifles
The Finnish military, a service with a strong sniper tradition, was one of the first to field the .338 Lapua, and its precision marksman have been using the round for a quarter century. (Photo: Puolustusvoimat/Finnish Army) 


 

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What sets it apart?

 

Desert Tech SRS and Barrett MRAD rifles in .338 Lapua Magnum
Rifles like the Desert Tech SRS and Barrett MRAD are ideal for the big Lapua. (Photo: Jeff Wood/Guns.com)


While the mighty .338 Lapua has many things going for it, perhaps the most notable is its power. With a .33-caliber bore, larger bullets can be fired than typical .30-caliber sniper cartridges like the .300 Win Mag or .308 Win. Not only are they bigger bullets, but they are heavier and carry their energy for much farther, both good traits for long-range accuracy and lethality.

But the mighty Lapua also offers accuracy with its power. With quality components and an adequate rifle, the .338 LM is easily capable of shooting .5 MOA or better. For many of the years it has been commercially available, it has been offered in many of the best sniper rifles ever produced, such as the Accuracy International AXSR, the Desert Tech SRS M2, and the Barrett MRAD (Mk22). Recently, it has been offered in more affordable rifles from manufacturers like Ruger and Savage.

The Ruger RPR in .338 LM has lowered the entry price for shooting the big Lapua. I’ve been shooting the .338 for a few years now in various platforms, and despite not lusting after the Lapua like many, I cannot dispute its impressive performance. Today, I’ll take you down a .33-caliber rabbit hole.
 

33 and Me

 

Shooting the Desert Tech SRS M2 in .338 Lapua Magnum
My Desert Tech SRS rifle and the .338 LM cartridge make an impressive and accurate combo. (Photo: Jeff Wood/Guns.com)


I’ve been shooting the Desert Tech SRS for over a decade now, and the rifle was built for the .338. I’ve made some impressive shots with it over the years, surprising even myself. That’s not meant to be boasting – I’ll explain.

The significant power of the Lapua can be a lot to handle, and for those of us accustomed to shooting short-action cartridges, the recoil and muzzle blast from the .338 can be unwelcome. Yet, nearly every time I shoot the .338 for accuracy, I find myself so pleased that I ask myself why I don’t shoot it more.
 

Target with .338 Lapua Magnum bullets
Accuracy is no joke with the .338 LM. (Photo: Jeff Wood/Guns.com)


The .338 gets such an impressive bark from the 100-ish (give or take) grains of powder that it runs on. These large powder charges push 250- to 300-grain bullets to over 2,500 feet per second, which is where all that power comes from. Loading the Lapua can lower the cost of ammunition like most others, but it still hurts to watch a pound of Retumbo disappear so fast.
 

Handloaders Love It, Too

 

.338 Lapua Magnum handload casings
Reloading the .338 LM can be very rewarding. (Photo: Jeff Wood/Guns.com)


It is an easy cartridge to load for, and handloaders will find everything about it familiar – except volumes and prices, perhaps. Components are not as hard to find as they once were. Even American Eagle is making .338 Lapua cases now, though I greatly prefer the higher quality ones from Lapua, Peterson, and RUAG. If you are going to shoot this this thing, you may as well do it right to maximize the performance.
 

Elk shot with .338 Lapua Magnum bullet
The .338 LM is well-suited to large Rocky Mountain game. (Photo: Jeff Wood/Guns.com)


Seeing as I am no sniper, most of my experience shooting the .338 has been in recreation, hunting, and a little bit of military demonstration. The same attributes that make it a good long-range sniper cartridge also make it an excellent long-range hunting cartridge. We have used it over and over for outstanding downrange performance on large Rocky Mountain game like elk and moose.

The significant power of the .338 LM makes it an easy choice for hunting big animals or any animal that is far away. Sure, it is more than is necessary for many animals, but they certainly aren’t going to get up and ask you about it.
 

Bullets

 

.338 Lapua Magnum ammunition
Desert Tech makes a 300-grain .338 LM bullet. (Photo: Jeff Wood/Guns.com)


The big Lapua works best when shooting 250-grain or larger bullets – not that it won’t do well with smaller bullets. It’s just that you won’t get the full performance. Most of the factory ammunition I am familiar with is usually using a 250- or 300-grain match bullet, and they are typically either Sierra Match Kings or Lapua Scenar bullets. 

Of course, there are others from companies like Hornady and Berger. The .338 caliber enjoys a great selection of bullets, so you’ll always have something to choose from. 

Technological advances haven’t skipped over the .338, either. You can get some extremely high-performing, lathe-turned solid bullets in .338 from companies like Warner Tool and Cutting Edge. These monolithic solids are lighter than typical lead-core bullets and come with a much higher ballistic coefficient. These two qualities allow them to be fired faster and fly better than traditional bullets, but it certainly comes at a cost.
 

Barrel Twists

 

PGW Timberwolf rifle in .338 Lapua Magnum
The PGW Timberwolf is a popular .338 LM sniper rifle. (Photo: Jeff Wood/Guns.com)


It’s important when configuring your rifle to ensure you have enough barrel twist to stabilize the bullets you plan on shooting. Modern projectile development seems to be favoring faster barrel twists, particularly as we continue to discover the value of added gyroscopic energy. 

This is part of the reason I recommend a faster-twist barrel than has been traditionally used, regardless of caliber. The common 1:10 twist you see in many .338 LM will work, though I prefer something a little faster like a 1:9.5 or 1:9 twist.

Most .338 LM rifles use full-length barrels around 26 inches long. Some are longer, and a few are shorter. Getting the most out of your .338 typically means taking it to the highest velocity possible, and longer barrels are the way to achieve that. I have had some experience shooting shorter barrels that some would argue are too short. But even with barrels as short as 18 inches, the .338 LM is still impressive and very useful.
 

Does it Deserve Legend Status?

So does the mighty .338 Lapua deserve its legendary status? I would argue that it certainly does.

As far as commercially available cartridges that can produce results like the Lapua, few others rival it. You can go almost anywhere in the world, and if someone is shooting great distances, they probably have a .338 LM. 

The accuracy of the cartridge is as good as any, and it carries over 1,000 pounds of energy to targets as far as a mile away. All this can be done with either the finest sniper rifles available today, or with an affordable rifle you can buy right here on Guns.com.

If you have an itch to try the fantastic .338 Lapua Magnum, my recommendation would be to scratch that itch. Just keep in mind the costs and attributes we’ve outlined here today and get a legend of your own.

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