As shooters and ammunition companies continue to learn more and more about ballistics and how to shoot more accurately at long range, more cartridges are developed to enable shooters to shoot at long range. The ability to shoot accurately at ranges out to 1,000 yards or more is important not just to target shooters, but also to militaries, who are always looking for a way to achieve greater standoff capabilities. And while existing cartridges such as the .300 Winchester Magnum, .30-06 Springfield, and .308 Winchester have been used in many cases to extend the ranges and capabilities of shooters, they still occasionally leave something to be desired.
Enter the .338 Lapua Magnum, originally developed in the early 1980s. The .338 Lapua Magnum was developed as a long-range sniper cartridge capable of firing a 250-grain bullet at 3,000 feet per second and penetrating five layers of military body armor at 1,000 meters. The cartridge was successful in achieving its aims, and has gone on to become perhaps the long-range cartridge by which all others are judged.
The .338 Lapua Magnum fires a 250-grain bullet at 3,000 feet per second, or a 300-grain bullet at 2,800 feet per second, resulting in about 5,000 foot-pounds of muzzle energy. That provides about a 25% increase in muzzle energy over competing sniper cartridges such as the .300 Winchester Magnum. And because the .338-caliber bullets are more ballistically efficient than .30-caliber bullets, they retain far more energy at longer ranges.
The major disadvantage to the .338 Lapua Magnum is that it requires a dedicated platform. Because the case is larger than many and the pressures are so high, bolt thrust is also high. Attempting to rechamber a standard long-action or even magnum-action rifle to .338 Lapua Magnum is not safe.
Thankfully, many rifle manufacturers do manufacture special platforms for the .338 Lapua Magnum. And because the .338 Lapua Magnum has already been around for over three decades, the options available to shooters are numerous. While militaries may spend thousands of dollars on specialized sniper rifles, options available to civilian shooters can be found for as little as $1,000-1,100. There are even companies that manufacture bolt-action AR-15 uppers chambered in .338 Lapua Magnum.
Rifles chambered in .338 Lapua Magnum are necessarily heavy, to soak up the recoil of such a massive cartridge. Barrels are long, to wring out every last bit of velocity from the cartridge, and are often fitted with muzzle brakes to further reduce recoil. The rifles are often intended to be used in static shooting positions, not dragged through forests for hunting.
Ammunition is also expensive, with the cheapest ammunition coming in at around $2 per round. For many shooters that’s manageable, since they’re not going to want to shoot more than a dozen or two rounds per range session. But while ammunition may be easily available from online retailers, it isn’t the most common ammunition to find at your local gun shop or big box store.
If you have the need for the range of a .338 Lapua Magnum, and you’re willing to stock up on ammunition or load your own, the cartridge can be a useful addition to your survival armory. Otherwise you may want to stick to other cartridges that may be more practical.