You want to hunt deer and are looking for a different cartridge to use? Look no further. There is one with a nice .33 caliber projectile, light recoil and deep penetration, the .338 Federal. Sure, it does not have the same popularity as the other .30 caliber cartridges, but that is not the fault of this little buddy. It is a very efficient short action round making it the best for elk and deer hunting notwithstanding that you probably have never used it and maybe not even heard of it. Where it hits, there is no game left standing.

That leads us to the question, why is it not as popular as it should be? The answer is actually not that hard. It does come with some downsides. That starts with its heavy bullets. Hunters can do the same work using the .308, which can also be used for a wide variety of games and other tasks. Besides it, there is the good old .30-06, which is more than capable to handle everything you can through at it. For them, this narrows the question down to why go any bigger?

Furthermore, the .338 Federal shoots heavy bullets at 180-250 grains using a small short action case, namely that of the .308 Winchester. Now, the short action is not itself a problem. It just has to hammer its projectiles faster downrange than the .308. Looking around, you see some other candidates that can do exactly that. The .243 Winchester, .260 Remington, 6.5 Creedmoor, and the 7 mm -08 Remington come to mind. There is even a .277 Fury added to the list, but still, the .338 does not make it to full popularity.

Looking at the .338, it is in itself a .308 necked up. That way, it can seat the .338 bullets. If you use a 180-grain projectile, it will top the muzzle energy of a 7 mm Remington Magnum at 160 grains. At the same time, the recoil stays below that of a .30-06 shooting a 180-grain projectile, and it drops only a half inch more at 300 yards. That does not look bad at all.

If you want to make an even bigger impression, use a 210-grain bullet in your .338 Federal and the same bullet weight in a .338 Winchester Magnum. With a zero for MBPR, you will get only 1.5 inches more bullet drop at 300 yards for the .338 Federal compared to the .338 Winchester Magnum. At the same time, the recoil will be 12 ft-lbs (foot pounds) less.

This number are impressive and should be even more so for the old guard of hunters. They like rounds like the 32 Winchester Special and 35 Remington. Both shoot big heavy bullets following the principle of using a big hammer for big work.

Now, you can argue about the bullet diameter all day long. Maybe going from .277-.280 might not be worth it for you, but going from .277-.308 is already a bigger step and going to .338 even bigger. That should in fact increase the impression you make on the game enough to make it worthwhile.

That does still not answer the question why the .338 Federal is not as famous as it should be. Actually, as a wildcat, it was quite successful in the 1970s. Then, Sako and Federal wanted to make it legit in 2006. For the shooting community, especially when it comes to longer ranges, this year has a special meaning. It was then that the 6.5 Creedmoor made it on the scene. From one day to the next, this round was everything you ever needed, the one size fits all, super uber cartridge. In its shadow, the .338 Federal was just overlooked.

There is a difference in hunting and long range shooting at shiny targets. There should be a niche for the .338 Federal revolving around the hunting of different kinds of game. In this area, it is more important to carry a rifle that is handy, what means that it should be short with a short action and preferably light. The .338 Federal fits the bill quite nicely. Add to this that it does flatten game quickly or at the very least causes it to have a blood trail that makes it easy to follow.

To finally come closer to the answer, let`s take a look at the ballistics of the .338 Federal. For that, we use an MPBR for a target with a diameter of 8 inches and the Nosler`s Reloading Guide 8 as well as the Hornady 10th.

1. The 225-grain bullets

Going heavy, you get a muzzle velocity of 2428 fps (feed per second) with a muzzle energy of 2946 ft-lbs. Your MPBR stands at 275 yards. The recoil is just 23.3 ft-lbs, and at 455 yards, the projectile still retains 1500 ft-lbs of energy.

If you want to go heavier, you can also use bullets with 250 grains or 300 grains, but that is not really useful. To fit these big projectiles, you restrict your capacity too much. Although, there are no factory loads in this weight class. Going with 225 grains is usually enough.

Looking at the muzzle velocity, which is just 2428 fps, you might be disappointed, but you should consider it in its context. Using the .30-30 Winchester, which is well liked for going after deer, you get 200 fps less than with the .338 Federal. To make it worse, the .30-30 would just push a 170-grain bullet to this velocity instead of the 225 grains of the .338 Federal. As the .30-30 is considered great for deer, think what you can achieve with the heavier and faster .338 Federal.

2. The range of 200- 215 grain Bullets

With these bullets, you are in the area of the best compromise between speed and weight. You get muzzle velocities of 2530 fps with 2843 ft-lbs of energy. The MPBR is 278 yards and the recoil is still 21 ft-lbs. At 355 yards, the bullet crosses the 1500 ft-lbs line.

Keep in mind that these bullet weights are quite spread, there are different numbers to be expected. You get more energy as compared to bullets with 180 grains, but the recoil stays in tight limits. The trajectory is not super flat anymore as can be seen by the MPBR. At 440 yards, the bullet drops around 22 inches. This makes it not necessarily the best option for long range hunting in open country, but with a laser range finder and the trajectory curve in mind, you can do it.

3. The range of 180-185 grain Bullets

These bullets are rather light for this caliber. You get a muzzle velocity of 2700 fps out of them. That brings you 2914 ft-lbs of energy. The MPBR stands at 290 yards. For the recoil, you will feel 20.9 ft-lbs. At 380 yards, it still has 1500 ft-lbs of energy.

These numbers come from a barrel length of 22 inches. Using one with 24 inches might get you up to 2750 fps muzzle velocity. While the .308 Winchester has 180-grain bullets that are aerodynamically more efficient, the .338 Federal offers more area for the gases inside the chamber and barrel to push leading to it being around 100 fps faster at the muzzle.

With this bullet weight, your trajectory is still quite flat, making it accurate. At the same time, the energy retention is good enough to use it for mule deer, sheep, whitetails, and pronghorns. You might even try it on elk, but there are definitely other options out there that would be better.

4. The Barnes TTSX

The Barnes TTSX shoots a 160 grain bullet with a muzzle velocity of 2900 fps with 2988 ft-lbs of energy. The MPBR is 308 yards, and the recoil comes with 19.6 ft-lbs. At 330 yards, the energy retained is still 1500 ft-lbs.

You get a very flat trajectory. Thanks to its weight and energy retention, it has a good potential for deep penetration. You can use it to go after lightweights, for example sheep, mountain goats and mule deer. You might also use it for whitetails and pronghorns. Keep an eye on the wind as the ballistic coefficient does not help you much in this regard. At 500 yards, you still get 1000 ft-lbs out of it, so that you can be sure that it is up to the task.

The .338 Federal sits with its performance quite nicely between the other rounds in its class, outperforming them significantly to be regarded as great for hunting. It does not gets the popularity it deserves thanks to the appearance of the 6.5 Creedmoor in the same year the .338 Federal went legit.

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