The 338 Federal Cartridge - Something to Get Excited About

With more punch than the 7mm Rem Mag, the 338 Federal promises great performance

338 Federal Cartridge
338 Federal Cartridge. Photo courtesy of Federal Ammunition

There is nothing new under the sun.

There is much truth in the quote above, especially when it comes to centerfire rifle cartridges. Many would have you believe that the most recent rifle-cartridge craze, the short magnums, are all new - though wildcatters have been "playing" with them for years. The cartridges themselves offer performance that's almost as good as long-established commercial cartridges that are both easier to find and easier on the wallet.

Meanwhile, such "new" cartridges leave me feeling stodgy and pessimistic, because I find they give me little of interest to read or write - or even think - about. Then, something comes along like the 338 Federal.

Announced only four days before I originally wrote about it, this cartridge features a 308 Winchester case necked-up to .338 caliber, and it got me excited. For one thing, I have always preferred larger-diameter bullets for hunting big game. For another, this cartridge promises to push larger bullets of comparable weight faster than the 308's standard 30-caliber bullet. Reminds me of a 4 Non Blondes CD: Bigger, better, faster, more!

Now, although it is getting me cranked up, the cartridge itself is not new. Wildcatters (those who experiment on their own with cartridges) have been shooting such ammo for years. What is new is that Federal Cartridge Company is making it a commercially viable cartridge, and are working with veteran rifle-maker Sako to bring it to the masses - which means us.

A commercial cartridge has many advantages over wildcats, such as the availability of loaded ammo, components, more widely-available (and generally better-tested) loading data, and rifles readily chambered for the cartridge. Federal predicts product in this chambering to be available by spring of 2006.

Federal says the 338 Federal will be "the only modern .338-caliber load that isn't a magnum configuration. It gives big game hunters a larger diameter bullet for more weight and overall energy on target—without magnum recoil." For those of us who aren't recoil-shy, the advantage lies in the ability to use a larger, more-effective bullet in a smaller package, at velocities more suitable for hunting whitetail deer. The 338 Winchester Magnum, long the standard by which 338 cartridges are measured, is a great cartridge, but even I must admit it's a bit much for deer hunting. Rifles and ammo for this caliber are longer and heavier, and of course there is the question of recoil for those who are sensitive to it.

Following the current trend toward shorter cartridges, the 338 Federal relies on the case that has long been a mainstay of short-actions for big game hunting, the 308 Winchester. For those who love short actions, the 338 federal will not disappoint.

In the game-getting department, Federal says, "The 338 Federal offers hunters more muzzle energy than a 30-06 Springfield — equaling that of a 7mm Rem Mag. It’s a non-magnum offering that boasts magnum energy." I like it already. But because I'm not a big fan of energy as a measure of game-taking performance, let's look at some TKO (Taylor KnockOut) numbers.

- 7mm Rem Mag..175-grain, TKO 20.3, 3180 ft-lbs, 2860 fps
- 338 Win Mag.......200-grain, TKO 28.5, 3866 ft-lbs, 2950 fps
- 30-06 Spg............180-grain, TKO 21.4, 2915 ft-lbs, 2700 fps
- 30-06 Spg............200-grain, TKO 23.1, 3060 ft-lbs, 2625 fps
- 308 Win................180-grain, TKO 21.7, 2743 ft-lbs, 2620 fps
- 308 Win................200-grain, TKO 21.7, 2690 ft-lbs, 2461 fps
- 338 Federal.........180-grain, TKO 24.6, 3200 ft-lbs, 2830 fps
- 338 Federal.........210-grain, TKO 26.7, 3224 ft-lbs, 2630 fps
(TKO and energy at muzzle)

As seen above, the only cartridge in our example that surpasses the 338 Federal is the extremely good 338 Win Mag. In terms of both TKO and energy, nestled just below that unquestioned leader is the 338 Federal. The smaller-diameter 7mm Rem Mag, even with the heaviest bullet available for it, is at the bottom of the heap as far as TKO - and even if you love bullet energy, the 338 Federal has it beat.

Something tells me I'm not through loving this cartridge yet.

- Russ Chastain