The 338 Lapua Magnum, the pinnacle of long-range performance…. Or is it? The 338 Lapua has been around since 1989 and has earned a reputation for being a stellar long-range cartridge. 1989 however, was over 3 decades ago and many advancements have been made in terms of bullet designs since then. With all these recent advancements, is the 338 Lapua losing its edge over smaller diameter bore sizes?
How Far Can The 338 Lapua Shoot?
Being that the 338 Lapua is known for its long-range capabilities, it seems fitting to address its maximum range. Obviously, its maximum range will vary based on the shooter, rifle, and gear, but for the sake of this article we will be addressing its maximum supersonic range.
Supersonic is a term used to describe anything above the speed of sound. This value can vary depending on atmospheric conditions and altitude, but in this article supersonic will represent any value over 1,125 ft/s. The 338 LM has been used to make shots well past its supersonic range, however the transition to transonic/subsonic (lower than the speed of sound) can be erratic depending on a bullet’s design.
So, how far is the 338 Lapua’s supersonic range? The answer is that supersonic range can vary widely depending on the bullet type. Lighter bullets like the 250 grain Sierra MatchKing (a popular choice for the 338 LM) can be driven at much higher velocities than heavier counterparts. Although they start at higher velocities, light bullets do not possess high ballistic coefficients compared to heavier counterparts.
Often, this means that light bullets do not have as far of a supersonic range. A 250 grain Sierra MatchKing for example, with a G1 ballistic coefficient of 0.587 and a muzzle velocity of 2950 fps, will have a supersonic range of right around 1600 yards. A 300 grain Sierra MatchKing on the other hand, with a G1 ballistic coefficient of 0.768 and a lower muzzle velocity of 2700 fps, has a supersonic range of around 1850 yards.
Although these figures may seem impressive, the Sierra MatchKing is a relatively old design that cannot compete with the ballistic coefficients of many modern bullets. Without getting into custom machined monolithic bullets, just about the highest ballistic coefficient currently available in the .338 bore size is the Hornady 300 grain A-Tip.
With a monstrous G1 ballistic coefficient of 0.863 and a muzzle velocity of 2680fps, this extends the supersonic range of the 338 Lapua to around 2060 yards. That is 300 yards further than a mile (1760 yards) where the bullet is still carrying approximately 843 ft/lbs. of energy. Those are some impressive figures, but how much better are they than some smaller diameter magnums?
338 Lapua vs 300 Win Mag
In terms of long-range magnums, one of the biggest comparisons is between the 300 Win Mag and the 338 Lapua. The 300 Winchester magnum was introduced in 1963, which is over 25 years before the 338 Lapua. Over the years the 300 Win Mag has gained an excellent reputation in the hunting community, as well as a great reputation in long range engagements as well.
One of the most popular long-range offerings for the 300 Win Mag, in terms of factory ammo, is the 190 grain Sierra MatchKing. With a G1 ballistic coefficient of 0.533 and a muzzle velocity of 2900 fps, the maximum supersonic range of this 300 Win Mag load is approximately 1400 yards. This figure is nowhere close to the maximum range of the 338 Lapua. However, the 190 grain Sierra MatchKing is a relatively light bullet for the 300 Win Mag.
Modern heavy-for-caliber 30 caliber projectiles are game changers in terms of long-range performance. Without getting into custom machined monolithic bullets, just about the highest ballistic coefficient currently available in the .308 bore size is the Hornady 250 grain A-Tip.
With an absolutely insane G1 ballistic coefficient of 0.878 and a muzzle velocity of 2700 fps, the 250 grain 300 Win Mag Load has a supersonic range of approximately 2110 yards. That is 50 yards further than the 338 Lapua, where it is still carrying about 816 ft/lbs. of energy.
Those numbers almost seem unbelievable, especially when you consider the difference in powder capacity between these cartridges. But how do the 300 Win Mag and 338 Lapua compare to an even smaller case size, the 7mm Rem Mag.
338 Lapua vs 7mm Rem Mag
The 7mm Remington magnum has been around since 1962 and has earned an excellent reputation for its long-range performance on game. With a relatively small-bore diameter, 7mm bullets produce exceptionally high ballistic coefficients compared to 30 caliber and 338 caliber bullets in the same weight class.
Following the same bullet style as the previous two calibers, we will be looking at the 190 grain A-Tip in 7mm. With an astonishing (especially for the weight) G1 ballistic coefficient of 0.838 and a muzzle velocity of 2770 fps, the 190 grain 7mm Rem Mag load has a supersonic range of around 2080 yards. This range is 20 yards further than the 338 Lapua, where the 7mm Rem Mag is still carrying 536 ft/lbs. of energy.
Being that this is such a light bullet compared to the other cartridges, these figures are exceptional. Especially when you consider that the supersonic range of the 7mm Rem Mag is 20 yards further than the 338 Lapua.
Is the 338 Lapua worth it?
Looking over the figures previously discussed, we see that with modern bullet technology, the 338 Lapua can be outdone by smaller diameter bore sizes in terms of supersonic range. Not only do these cartridges beat the 338’s supersonic range, but the 300 Win Mag essentially duplicates the energy of the 338 Lapua at these ranges as well.
Keep in mind that the 300 Win Mag and 7mm Rem Mag are producing these figures with much smaller powder charges and cheaper projectile costs. With the additional powder and projectile cost, surely the 338 Lapua does something better than these calibers, right? The one feature set that we did not address with any of the cartridges was their muzzle energy.
With a 190 gr A-Tip at 2770 fps, the 7mm Rem Mag produces 3238 ft/lbs. of energy at the muzzle. With a 250 gr A-Tip at 2700 fps, the 300 Win Mag produces 4047 ft/lbs. of energy at the muzzle, over 800 ft/lbs. more than the 7mm Rem Mag. The 338 Lapua on the other hand, with a 300 gr A-Tip at 2680 fps, is producing 4785 ft/lbs. of energy at the muzzle, over 700 ft/lbs. more than the 300 Win Mag.
So, if you are in search of a very high muzzle energy with extreme long-range capabilities, the 338 Lapua may be what you’re after.
With modern advancements in bullet technologies, the 338 Lapua seems to be losing its edge over smaller diameter bores in terms of long-range performance. Sure, the 338 Lapua does produce a lot of muzzle energy, but is it worth the extra cost over smaller diameter bores? Ultimately, this question is for you and your wallet to decide.
*The supersonic range values were gathered using a ballistic app with a reference value of sea level at 80 degrees Fahrenheit with 78% humidity. Hornady A-Tip velocities were taken from Copper Creek Cartridges Company.