The 1950s were the heyday of the magnum cartridge, with numerous new magnum cartridges being unveiled during that decade. Some have faded back into obscurity, while others remain with us. Among the latter is the .338 Winchester Magnum, a cartridge that has become the standard by which other North American big game cartridges are measured.
The .338 Win. Mag., like many modern magnum cartridges, is derived from predecessor cartridges. In this case, the .338 Win. Mag. is a shortened .375 H&H Magnum necked down to accept .338”-diameter bullets. The case length is optimized to keep overall cartridge length the same as the .30-06 Springfield, allowing the .338 Win. Mag. to be chambered in standard-length rifle actions rather than magnum-length actions.
Until the development of the .338 Win. Mag., .333” bullets were the most popular and available medium-bore bullets, thanks to cartridges such as the .333 Jefferey and the .333 OKH. With the introduction of the .338 Win. Mag., a market opened up for .338”-diameter bullets, one which continues to grow to the present day.
The .338” bullet diameter allows for much heavier weight than .308”-diameter bullets, and many popular .338” bullets offer the same bullet weight as the larger .358”-diameter bullets, with the .338” bullets then offering better sectional density. That combination of heavy weight and high sectional density makes for a bullet that penetrates well through heavy fur and tough bone found on big game such as moose, elk, or brown bear.
Many professional guides and hunters will choose the .338 Win. Mag. as their minimum caliber to pursue bears and large game in the northwest United States and in Alaska. And as an all-around hunting cartridge, the .338 Win. Mag. is hard to beat.
The .338 Win. Mag. is capable of pushing 180-grain bullets to 3,100 feet per second, 250-grain bullets to 2,650 feet per second, and 300-grain bullets to over 2,400 feet per second. Muzzle energy approaches 4,000 foot-pounds, which is capable of taking any game in North America. The .338 Win. Mag. is also popular as a hunting cartridge in Africa in areas it is allowed, as it is a fine plains game cartridge and can also be used to take the big cats.
As with many larger and more powerful cartridges, the drawback is the cost of ammunition. When you can find it in stock, ammunition for the .338 Win. Mag. generally starts at around $2.50 a round. During the current ammo crisis, the only ammunition available starts at around $6 a round. That means that handloading is going to be necessary if you plan to shoot the .338 Win. Mag. with any volume.
Availability of ammunition in a survival scenario will also be a concern. If you live in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, or other areas where big game is hunted, you may be able to find .338 Win. Mag. ammo at your local gun shop or Walmart. In other areas of the country, you might not be so lucky.
Location may then influence your decision as to whether or not a .338 Win. Mag. is right for you. If you’re in an area where you expect to encounter large dangerous game, and where long-range power might be necessary, then the .338 Win. Mag. could be a survival cartridge for you. Otherwise you might want to think about some of your alternatives.