Thinking of Switching from .308 to .338 Lapua? Read This First!

The Allure of the Upgrade: Why Shooters Consider the Jump

If you’re an avid shooter or a dedicated 2nd amendment enthusiast, the odds are that at some point, you’ve toyed with the idea of upgrading your arsenal. The .308 Winchester, a tried-and-true favorite, has served many for decades, known for its versatility, affordability, and wide range of applications. But for some, the lure of something more powerful, like the .338 Lapua Magnum, becomes too enticing to resist. For the sake of this article, we may refer to the .338 Lapua Magnum as simply “Lapua” or “.338 Lapua”.

The reasons for contemplating this switch can vary:

  1. Increased Range: The .338 Lapua offers an impressive effective range, easily surpassing the .308. This makes it tempting for those looking to engage targets at more distant ranges.
  2. Enhanced Stopping Power: The larger bullet size and increased muzzle velocity of the .338 Lapua translate to more kinetic energy on target.
  3. Specialized Shooting Applications: Whether you’re into long-range precision shooting competitions or have specific hunting goals, the .338 might offer some advantages in particular scenarios.
  4. The Challenge: For some, the mere challenge of mastering a more potent caliber, adjusting to its recoil, and refining one’s skills is a driving force.
  5. Equipment Evolution: As firearm and scope technology evolves, some shooters feel their ammunition should keep pace, and the .338 Lapua is seen as a modern-day titan in the long-range shooting world.

However, as with any significant change, there are factors and implications to consider. Upgrading from the .308 to the .338 Lapua involves changes in equipment, increased expenses, and a new learning curve (aka more fun!). Before taking the plunge, it’s essential to understand the nuances of both calibers and what this switch might mean for you.

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The Practical Implications:

Making the leap from .308 Winchester to .338 Lapua Magnum is more than just a change in bullet size. It’s a comprehensive shift in the shooting experience that affects your equipment, cost, and practice routine. Here’s a breakdown of the primary considerations:

  1. Rifle Adjustments: The .338 Lapua is a larger and more powerful round. This means you’ll need a rifle specifically chambered for it. If you’re attached to your .308 rifle, brace yourself; a new purchase or modification will be in order.
  2. Recoil Reality: While many shooters are drawn to the .338 Lapua for its extended range and power, it also comes with a heftier recoil. This means you’ll need to adjust your shooting stance, possibly invest in recoil pads or muzzle brakes, and prepare for a more pronounced kick.
  3. Cost Considerations: Generally, .338 Lapua rounds are more expensive than .308. Whether you’re buying factory-loaded ammunition or components for reloading, be prepared for a noticeable hike in expenses.
  4. Availability: While the .308 Winchester is one of the most ubiquitous rounds available with vast options for bullet types, weights, and manufacturers, the .338 Lapua, being more specialized, might not be as readily available in all areas or in as many varieties.
  5. Training and Practice: Every caliber has its own characteristics. If you’re switching to .338 Lapua, you’ll need to invest time in understanding its ballistics, how wind and distance affect it, and making necessary adjustments to your aiming and shooting techniques.
  6. Purpose and Application: The .308 is revered for its versatility—from hunting to target shooting to tactical applications. While the .338 Lapua excels in long-range shooting and specific hunting scenarios, it might be overkill for some applications.

Remember, an upgrade is not just about embracing something newer or more powerful. It’s about understanding how that change aligns with your goals, needs, and the practical aspects of your shooting journey.

Physical Differences

When transitioning from .308 to .338 Lapua, understanding the inherent physical differences between the two rounds is crucial. This knowledge not only helps in choosing the right firearm but also in anticipating the shooting experience itself.

  1. Bullet Diameter:
    • .308 (7.62mm): The .308 bullet has a diameter of approximately 7.62mm, making it a popular choice for both civilian and military applications. Its smaller size contributes to its versatility and adaptability across various shooting scenarios.
    • .338 Lapua: With a bullet diameter of 8.6mm, the .338 Lapua is substantially bigger. This larger size is partly why it has such impressive ballistics, especially at long ranges.
  2. Case Length and Overall Cartridge Size:
    • .308: The standard case length for a .308 is around 51mm, with the overall length of the cartridge typically hovering around 71mm.
    • .338 Lapua: The .338 Lapua Magnum case measures about 70mm in length, making it considerably longer than the .308. The overall length of the cartridge is often around 93mm, emphasizing its robust nature.
  3. Recoil: Expect a Change
    • .308: The recoil from a .308 is generally considered moderate. Many shooters find it manageable, especially with proper technique and practice. The lighter recoil is one of the reasons why the .308 has become such a favorite among various user groups, from hunters to sport shooters.
    • .338 Lapua: Brace yourself for a more pronounced recoil when firing the .338 Lapua. Given the cartridge’s power and size, the recoil is understandably more intense than the .308. However, with the right firearm design, recoil pads, and personal preparation, many shooters adapt and manage the .338 Lapua’s recoil effectively.

The Ballistic Breakdown: .308 vs. .338 Lapua

When it comes to comparing two rounds, few factors are as critical as understanding their ballistics. Let’s delve into the nitty-gritty:

  1. Muzzle Velocity: The .308 Winchester, depending on the load and bullet weight, typically boasts a muzzle velocity between 2,500 and 2,800 fps. In contrast, the .338 Lapua Magnum, especially with the heavier bullets, can exceed 3,000 fps. This greater velocity is partly why the .338 Lapua can maintain a flatter trajectory over longer distances.
  2. Energy: The .338 Lapua packs a more significant punch, producing muzzle energies often above 4,800 ft-lbs, compared to the .308’s average of 2,600 ft-lbs. This increased energy makes the .338 Lapua particularly effective for long-range hunting of larger game.
  3. Trajectory: Generally, the flatter a bullet’s trajectory, the less adjustment a shooter has to make for bullet drop over distance. The .338 Lapua, thanks to its superior velocity and energy, typically has a flatter trajectory than the .308, especially at extended ranges.
  4. Effective Range: The .308 Winchester is a capable round up to 800-1000 yards under optimal conditions. However, the .338 Lapua, with its increased power and flatter trajectory, is effective even beyond 1,500 yards, making it a favorite for long-range shooting enthusiasts.
  5. Wind Drift: The heavier bullets of the .338 Lapua and its higher ballistic coefficient (BC) mean it’s less susceptible to wind drift than the .308. This is crucial for shots taken at longer ranges, where wind can significantly affect bullet path.

Costs and Commitments: The Investment Perspective

Transitioning from the .308 to the .338 Lapua isn’t just about the numbers on paper. It’s a significant commitment in terms of both money and time. Here’s a breakdown of what to expect:

  1. Ammo Costs: Ammo prices fluctuate, but one constant is that the .338 Lapua Magnum is considerably more expensive than the .308. On average, expect to pay quadruple per round for .338 Lapua compared to .308. This can add up quickly, especially if you’re a frequent shooter.
  2. Rifle Costs: Rifles chambered for .338 Lapua are specialized pieces of equipment, often with premium price tags. While you can get a good .308 rifle without breaking the bank, transitioning to a .338 might mean a more significant initial investment.
  3. Maintenance and Wear: The powerful .338 Lapua can be harder on rifles. Expect increased wear and tear, which might mean more frequent maintenance and potentially shorter overall rifle lifespan.
  4. Training and Time: Switching calibers isn’t just about buying a new gun and ammo. It’s about understanding the new round, its characteristics, and how it behaves. Expect to spend time at the range getting to know the .338 Lapua, adjusting to its recoil, and learning how to shoot it accurately.
  5. Accessories: Remember, a new caliber might mean new accessories. From specialized scopes designed for long-range shooting to bipods, muzzle brakes, and even cases, the costs can accumulate. Finding relatively good optics for a .338 Lapua will often run between $1000-5000+.
  6. Availability: While the .308 is ubiquitous and available at virtually any store selling ammunition, the .338 Lapua is more specialized. Depending on where you live, it might be harder to find, necessitating online orders or trips to specialized stores.

When it comes to costs and commitments, while the .338 Lapua offers undeniable advantages in terms of ballistics and range, it’s essential to be prepared for the additional costs and commitments that come with upgrading from the .308. Think of it as an investment: in money, time, and effort. If long-range precision shooting is your passion, it might be an investment worth making. But if you’re content with the capabilities of the .308, especially at medium ranges, the transition might not be necessary.

Other Cost Considerations: 

One of the most noticeable differences when switching from the .308 to the .338 Lapua is the cost and commitments covered above. But, it’s not just about the initial investment in a new rifle chambered in .338 Lapua and the ongoing costs of ammo; there are a few other things to consider:

  1. Maintenance and Upkeep:
    • .308 and .338 Lapua: While the basic cleaning and maintenance processes for rifles are similar regardless of caliber, the .338 Lapua, due to its power and specifications, might demand more rigorous and frequent checkups. Specialty parts or replacements for .338 Lapua rifles might also be pricier or harder to come by.
  2. Customization and Accessories:
    • .308 Rifles: Given the .308’s popularity, there’s a vast aftermarket for accessories and custom parts. This means more options and generally more affordable prices.
    • .338 Lapua Rifles: While there’s still a good market for .338 Lapua accessories, some custom parts might be more expensive due to the rifle’s specialty nature.
  3. Resale Value:
    • .308 Rifles: A well-maintained .308 rifle retains its value reasonably well, but because of its widespread availability, don’t expect huge returns.
    • .338 Lapua Rifles: Due to its niche status, a .338 Lapua rifle in good condition can fetch a higher resale value. However, remember that a niche market can also mean fewer potential buyers.

Understanding the Situational Application: When to Use Which?

While many shooters become enamored with the idea of superior ballistics and longer ranges, it’s vital to evaluate the practical applications for both .308 and .338 Lapua rounds. In other words, knowing when to use which cartridge can make a world of difference. Here’s a breakdown:

  1. Hunting Applications:
    • .308 Winchester: Ideal for medium game, the .308 offers a flat trajectory up to common hunting distances and has sufficient energy to ensure ethical kills on deer, hogs, and similar-sized game. Plus, it’s more lightweight, which can be beneficial for hunters who trek long distances.
    • .338 Lapua Magnum: This round is overkill for most North American game, but for large or dangerous game, especially at extended ranges, it shines. Think big game hunting in wide-open spaces like African safaris or hunting in parts of Alaska.
  2. Target Shooting and Competitions:
    • .308 Winchester: A favorite among many long-range target shooters, especially beginners. Its manageable recoil, affordability, and accuracy make it an excellent choice for many shooting competitions and shots out as far as 800 yards.  This round really shines in the 300-500 yard range.
    • .338 Lapua Magnum: For extreme long-range competitions, the .338 Lapua offers the edge. Its superior ballistics mean flatter trajectories and less wind drift at distances beyond 800 yards.
  3. Tactical and Military Use:

    • .308 Winchester: Historically, the .308 has been the round of choice for many police and military snipers. It’s effective, accurate, and versatile for various engagements.
    • .338 Lapua Magnum: With its inception as an anti-materiel round, it’s more specialized for military use. Snipers who need to engage targets at very long ranges or disable vehicles often prefer it.
  4. Sporting Competitions:
    • .308 Winchester: A popular caliber in various shooting sports due to its balanced performance and widespread availability.
    • .338 Lapua Magnum: In long-range shooting competitions, this caliber is often the go-to for many top competitors. However, its use might be limited in other shooting sports.
  5. Collectors and Enthusiasts:
    • .308 Winchester: With its rich history and varied rifle models, the .308 is a favorite among firearm collectors.
    • .338 Lapua Magnum: Those interested in specialized and high-performance firearms might be drawn to this powerful round and the rifles chambered for it.
  6. Recreational Shooting:
    • .308 Winchester: Given its more affordable ammo, the .308 is a popular choice for recreational shooting. It provides a balance of power and manageability.
    • .338 Lapua Magnum: For those who love the thrill of shooting a high-powered round and are willing to invest in pricier ammunition, the .338 can be a fun choice.

While the .338 Lapua offers outstanding performance in specific scenarios, the .308 remains a versatile and reliable cartridge suitable for many different shooting activities. Before making the switch, consider your primary shooting activities and whether the .338’s advantages align with your needs.

Frequently Asked Questions about the .338 Lapua Magnum compared to .308:

1. Which is better, .308 or .338 Lapua? While “better” can be subjective, the .338 Lapua offers superior long-range capabilities and power, making it a preferred choice for extreme long-distance shooting. The .308, however, is versatile and widely used for various shooting activities, including hunting and target shooting.

2. Is .338 better than .308? The .338 Lapua has better ballistics for long-range shooting and offers more energy upon impact, but the .308 is more versatile and has a broader range of applications, including being more accessible for average shooters.

3. Is a .338 Lapua too big for deer? Yes, the .338 Lapua is considered overkill for deer hunting in most scenarios. It’s powerful and can cause excessive damage to the meat. A .308 would be more appropriate for deer-sized game.

4. What is the advantage of .338 Lapua? The primary advantage of the .338 Lapua is its extended effective range and energy retention. It’s designed for shooting targets at extreme distances and is used by military snipers for engagements beyond typical .308 effective ranges.

5. What distance is .338 Lapua good for? The .338 Lapua is effective for distances exceeding 1,500 meters, with some skilled shooters accurately reaching targets beyond 2,000 meters. Its exact effectiveness depends on the rifle, optics, and shooter’s skill.

6. What are the cons of .338 Lapua? The drawbacks of the .338 Lapua include higher ammunition costs, increased rifle weight, significant recoil, and potential over-penetration for hunting. It also requires specialized equipment and can be considered overkill for many typical shooting scenarios.

Conclusion

Making the switch from the renowned .308 to the long-range titan .338 Lapua is no small decision. Both cartridges have their merits and have etched a place in the annals of shooting history. The .308 is prized for its versatility, manageable recoil, and wide application, from hunting to target shooting. On the other hand, the .338 Lapua’s reputation in long-range shooting is unparalleled, with its ability to deliver precision even at extreme distances. And, for avid shooters, especially those interested in long range shooting, there is a definite fun-factor in the .338 Lapua that isn’t there with the .308.

Weighing the Pros and Cons: Before you make the leap, it’s essential to weigh the pros and cons. Will the benefits of the .338 Lapua’s extended range and powerful ballistics outweigh the increased cost, recoil, and potential rifle upgrades? For some, the answer is a resounding yes, especially if long-range shooting is a primary focus. For others, the reliable and versatile .308 remains the cartridge of choice.

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