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.338 Lapua vs .308 Ammo: Full Comparison

Welcome to another edition of True Shot Academy, the educational arm of True Shot Ammo.

Today, we’re diving into an often-debated topic: 338 Lapua vs .308 Ammo. Both are highly sought-after cartridges, but they serve different purposes and offer distinct advantages and disadvantages. We’ll break down their history, performance, ballistics, recoil, knockdown power, and accuracy.



Origins of .338 Lapua

The history of the .338 Lapua is deeply entwined with the need for long-range accuracy in military applications. Developed in the late 1980s by the Finnish company Lapua, this ammunition was initially designed for anti-material roles but quickly became popular in long-range sniping. It’s worth mentioning that the cartridge was built to be effective at ranges beyond 1,000 meters, giving snipers and marksmen an edge in extreme scenarios.



Origins of .308 Win

The .308 Winchester cartridge was introduced in 1952 by the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, as a hunting round. Its design quickly gained popularity due to its versatility and efficiency, making it ideal for various types of game.

Within a short time, the cartridge was adapted for military use and became known as the 7.62×51mm NATO, which was adopted by NATO in 1954. This round became a staple for military forces worldwide, solidifying its reputation for reliability and performance. The .308 Winchester’s legacy spans hunting, military service, and sport shooting, showcasing its adaptability and widespread appeal.



.338 Lapua vs .308 Win: Performance and Ballistics

When it comes to performance and ballistics, the .338 Lapua and .308 Winchester are designed for different realms of shooting.

.338 Lapua Performance and Ballistics

When it comes to performance, the .338 Lapua is a behemoth. Firing a heavier bullet, usually in the 250 to 300-grain range, at high speeds, it offers exceptional ballistic coefficients and high-energy transfer, which translates to phenomenal knockdown power.

The bullet can maintain a flatter trajectory over long distances, making it a preferred choice for long-range shooting and extreme hunting conditions. However, this power comes with a downside: recoil. The .338 Lapua is known for its substantial recoil, which can be daunting for inexperienced shooters.

.308 Ammo Performance and Ballistics

The .308 Winchester is a versatile cartridge known for its excellent mid-range capabilities. Typically utilizing bullets in the 150 to 180-grain range, it offers a balanced blend of velocity and kinetic energy, making it a popular choice for hunting medium to large game.

While it doesn’t excel in extreme long-range shooting, its ballistics are more than sufficient for most hunting and target-shooting scenarios. The cartridge’s manageable recoil and consistent accuracy contribute to its widespread use in various shooting disciplines, from hunting to competitive shooting and even some tactical applications.



Recoil: .338 Lapua vs .308

If you’re sensitive to recoil, the .308 is your friend. The .338 Lapua generates significantly more recoil due to its higher powder charge and heavier bullet. This recoil can impact shooter comfort and fatigue, especially during extended shooting sessions.

Knockdown Power

For hunters and shooters who require exceptional knockdown power, especially at long ranges, the .338 Lapua is the superior option. It’s capable of taking down larger game at distances where the .308 would struggle.

Accuracy: A Closer Look

In terms of accuracy, both the .308 Winchester and the .338 Lapua have a lot to offer, but they excel in different shooting scenarios.

The .308 Winchester is renowned for its consistent accuracy at medium to long ranges, making it a favorite among competitive shooters and hunters. It’s not uncommon to find .308 rifles that can produce sub-MOA (minute of angle) groups at distances up to 800 yards.

The .338 Lapua, however, was specifically designed for extreme long-range accuracy, often beyond 1,000 yards. Its higher ballistic coefficient allows for a flatter trajectory and less wind drift at extended ranges, giving it a slight edge in precision shooting at those distances. While both cartridges are more than capable in the right hands, the .338 Lapua is generally considered superior for extreme long-range accuracy, whereas the .308 Winchester excels at ranges more typical for hunting and competition.

.338 Lapua vs .308 Win: Military Use


.308 Winchester

The .308 Winchester, known in military circles as the rifle caliber of 7.62×51mm NATO, has a storied history of military use that dates back to its NATO adoption in 1954. This cartridge became a standard-issue round for several NATO member countries, including the United States, and has been used in a variety of roles ranging from general infantry rifles to machine guns and sniper systems.

Its reliability, performance, and manageable recoil have made it a preferred choice for soldiers in various conflict zones, including the Vietnam War, Gulf War, and more recent engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan. The cartridge’s versatility allows it to serve in different capacities, from long-range engagements by snipers to more close-quarters combat situations. Overall, the 308’s combination of power and accuracy has made it a mainstay in military arsenals around the world.

.338 Lapua

The .338 Lapua was developed with a specific focus on long-range military sniping and anti-material applications. Introduced in the late 1980s by the Finnish company Lapua, this cartridge quickly gained prominence among military forces for its ability to deliver high-accuracy, high-energy shots at distances exceeding 1,000 meters. Specialized sniper units across various militaries, including the U.S., U.K., and other NATO countries, have adopted rifles chambered in .338 Lapua for extreme-range engagements.

The cartridge’s exceptional ballistic coefficients and substantial knockdown power make it highly effective for neutralizing both enemy personnel and material targets, such as light armored vehicles, at great distances. Although it generates significant recoil, the unmatched long-range capabilities of the .338 Lapua have solidified its place as a specialized but invaluable tool in modern military operations.

.338 Lapua vs .308: Hunting

The .308 Winchester has long been a favored hunting cartridge for hunting in North America, particularly for deer and long-range target shooting. Its versatility and affordability have made it a standard choice, recently rivaled by cartridges like the 6.5 Creedmoor and the .300 Win Mag. When it comes to hunting capabilities, the .308 offers impressive downrange ballistics that are highly effective against large game, with various bullet types and weights for customization based on the prey.

Enter the .338 Lapua Magnum, a cartridge well-known for its long-range accuracy and significant knockdown power. The question arises: Can it dethrone the .308 as a top choice for big game hunting? In the context of North American hunting—especially for game smaller than black bears—the answer is likely “No.” The .338 Lapua may be overkill for such game, given that most hunting shots in North America occur within 400 yards. Ballistic data shows that a popular 180-grain .308 round still carries sufficient energy at that range to take down a whitetail deer ethically.

However, when it comes to hunting larger, tougher game like Kodiak or brown bears, the .338 Lapua’s heavier bullets, such as the Nosler 250-grain Partition, offer the additional penetration and energy required. For those adventurous enough to hunt Africa’s Big 5—lion, leopard, rhinoceros, cape buffalo, and elephant—the .338 Lapua is among the approved calibers for such challenging expeditions. Nonetheless, for game smaller than these large predators or the African Big 5, the .338 Lapua may be excessive, especially considering its higher cost per round compared to the .308 Winchester.

Vairog .338 lapua 285 grain Hornady ELD

.338 Lapua vs .308: Reloading

While we only sell factory ammunition here at True Shot, we recognize some may be interested in reloading. When it comes to reloading, both the .338 Lapua and the .308 Winchester have their pros and cons. The .308 Winchester is generally easier and cheaper to reload, thanks in part to the wide availability of components like brass, primers, and bullets. Its popularity means that reloaders have a wealth of data and experience to draw upon.

The .338 Lapua, on the other hand, requires more specialized components and a greater volume of powder, making it a more expensive cartridge to reload. However, its larger case capacity and the availability of high-ballistic-coefficient bullets can offer reloaders the chance to fine-tune loads for extreme long-range shooting. While both can be reloaded effectively, the .308 is often seen as more accessible and budget-friendly, whereas the .338 Lapua provides opportunities for specialized, high-performance loads.

Should I use .338 Lapua or .308 Win?

As we wrap up this comprehensive guide, it’s evident that both the .338 Lapua and .308 Winchester have their merits and are best suited for specific applications. The .338 Lapua, with its long-range capabilities and substantial knockdown power, is a force to be reckoned with, particularly in military and extreme hunting conditions. However, this comes at the cost of increased recoil, which may not be ideal for every shooter.

On the other hand, the .308 Winchester shines in its versatility and is a more forgiving option in terms of recoil. It’s a well-balanced cartridge that excels in hunting medium to large game and is also a popular choice for target shooting. While the .338 Lapua may have the upper hand in long-range precision, the .308 is a tried-and-true all-rounder that has stood the test of time.

Your choice between these two will ultimately depend on your specific needs, shooting style, and how far you intend to shoot. Thanks for joining us on this in-depth journey through the world of ammunition at True Shot Academy, and as always, aim true and shoot straight!

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