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In The Field With The New .338 Federal

by Jim Wilson   |  January 3rd, 2011 0

The Sherrif tests Federal’s new cartridge on a Texas deer hunt


I freely and readily admit to being a fan of the older cartridges. And I especially feel that way when the subject under consideration has to do with hunting rifles. It doesn’t bother me one whit that the .30-06 is celebrating its 100th birthday. It’s not that I’m against all of the new short magnums and other innovations; they are surely on the cutting edge of new technology and performance. It’s just that I still haven’t learned all that I want to learn from the .30-06, the .308 Winchester, the 7×57, the .257 Roberts, and the .270 Winchester, just to name a few. They’ve served me well, and I was taught to “dance with who brung ya!”

A recent Texas deer hunt, however, has caused me to give serious consideration to a new cartridge that is just being announced. I’m talking about the .338 Federal cartridge. It is an impressive cartridge and fits quite nicely into the category of “using” cartridges with which I do most of my hunting.

The .338 Federal is the first sporting rifle cartridge to carry Federal Cartridge Co.’s name. The .338 Federal is the .308 Winchester case necked up to .338.

In its product information sheet, Federal Cartridge Co. (Dept. ST, 900 Ehlen Dr., Anoka, MN 55303; 800-322-2342; www.federalcartridge.com) points out that the new .338 Federal cartridge has increased velocity over the .308 cartridge and heavier bullet weights. In addition, it produces muzzle energy that is greater than a .30-06 and is right up there in competition with the 7mm Magnum.

Initially, the .338 Federal will be offered in three loadings: the 180-grain Nosler AccuBond bullet (rated at 2840 fps with 3223 ft-lbs of muzzle energy), the 185-grain Barnes Triple-Shock bullet (rated at 2760 fps and 3129 ft-lbs), and the 210-grain Nosler Partition (rated at 2630 fps and 3225 ft-lbs). For comparison, the 180-grain .338 Federal load is about 200 fps faster than a standard 180-grain .308 Winchester load. In fact, both the 180- and the 185-grain .338 Federal offerings generate more velocity than the standard 180-grain .30-06 loading.

One important word of caution is necessary with the new .338 Federal cartridge. There are a number of rifles already in existence that are chambered for some sort of .338-308 wildcat cartridge. Because of probable differences in neck lengths and shoulder measurements, it is not a good idea to fire the new .338 Federal in these rifles. In fact, it could be dangerous.

Federal has partnered with Sako to bring out this new cartridge, and Sako is starting to chamber rifles for it. I used this combination of .338 Federal ammo and a Sako bolt-action rifle on my Texas deer hunt.

For this particular hunt, I was using the 185-grain Barnes Triple-Shock loading. The Barnes Triple-Shock is an all-copper bullet that is nontoxic and extremely accurate. The sighting-in session on the ranch had satisfied me on that point.

My opportunity to see the .338 Federal in action came early one morning as my guide and I were ensconced in some heavy brush doing some rattling. My guide had been jangling his set of antlers in a fine representation of an affair of honor (deer version) for quite a few minutes without much to show for his artistry. We figured to move a few hundred yards down the fence line and see if the deer in that particular neighborhood might be a little more inclined for a fight.

As we moved through the trees, we spotted movement about 80 yards away. It was a buck that was on his way to our party. This buck got away before we could get a good look at him, let alone a clear shot. His appearance indicated that we’d quit our previous location too soon, so we really began to scan the surrounding brush for any more bucks that might be coming. Sure enough, over west of us was a nice 10-point whitetail that had been attracted to the sound of the rattled antlers.


According to the Sheriff, the .338 Federal 185-grain Triple-Shock loading really did a number on this nice buck. He says the new cartridge shows great potential for big-game hunters.

The guide checked him with his binoculars and pronounced him a worthy candidate. In the meantime, I had taken a position against a nearby mesquite tree and put the rifle’s crosshairs on the deer’s right shoulder. Once I got the green light from my guide, I touched the trigger of the Sako and watched the 185-grain .338 Federal load pile this buck in the dirt. The distance was approximately 80 yards.

Shows Interesting Potential
The .338 Federal shows some very interesting potential. Being based on the .308 case means that the cartridge can be used in short-action rifles. Consequently, it provides the potential for impressive power in a very manageable package. Oh, by the way, this impressive power and manageable package does not come at the cost of heavy recoil. In the shooting that I’ve done with the .338 Federal/Sako combination I found the felt recoil quite manageable.

I think the real potential of the .338 Federal cartridge is going to be measured when it is matched against game animals the size of elk, black bear, and moose. It ought to be just the medicine to use when putting the sneak on a big elk in the heavy timber. I would also be very interested to see how the cartridge performs on African plains game. My bet is that it can deliver the goods to just about any medium- or large-framed game animal.

So please forgive me if I seem to live in the past when it comes to rifle cartridges. If you come across me in the woods, I’ll probably be packing some sort of bolt action with a classic stock. It will probably be chambered for one of the good old cartridges that I’ve mentioned previously. One thing’s for sure, the cartridge won’t be belted.

But you’ll also have to forgive me if I choose to include the .338 Federal in that mix of good, “using” cartridges. I think it’s that good. In fact, you do what you want to, but I’m going to get one on order as quickly as I can.

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