There’s no doubt that when it comes to sniping, the .308 is the benchmark by which all other calibers are judged. But then again, so is the .50 BMG; each is the standard-bearer for its own facet of the discipline, and those facets can be pretty far apart. While the .308 is known for its excellent accuracy (especially out to 600 yards or so) mild recoil, and the reasonable size of the weapons platform into which it can be packaged, the .50 is at its best at long distances, specifically in the 1,000 yard arena (where it can still hold groups as tight as 2.5 inches), as well as in anti-materiel usage. Unfortunately, recoil of the .50 has been known to detach retinas, and both the ammo and the firing platform pretty much define “big” in the firearms world. Each caliber is the king of his castle, but there’s not much crossover.
There is, however, a need for a crossover, and that need has been explored in some depth in SOCOM’s performance specification for their Precision Sniper Rifle (PSR) program, which was released last June. Appearing to replace both the .308 and .50 sniper rifles currently in service, the PSR is intended to extend the current rifles’ ability to deliver precision anti-personnel fire from 1,200 to 1,500 meters (1,640 yards) based on after action reports that have shown the need to engage targets at greater distances, and to penetrate a greater variety of cover.
Since its introduction in 1989, the .338 Lapua Mag has become a strong contender in that ongoing challenge to create a cartridge (and weapons) of reasonable dimensions, but with serious terminal ballistics at long range. Originally based off the .416 Rigby case, one of the selling points of the .338 Lapua is that it’s capable of remaining supersonic at ranges beyond 1,000 yards, which is important because crossing the sound barrier has the potential to destabilize the bullet. This concern is also reflected in the PSR specifications, which require that the cartridge fired not “enter the transonic range” short of 1,500 meters. Current Lapua stats put the .338 supersonic at ranges up to 1,300 meters (1,500+ with a 300-grain Scenar hollowpoint boattail), while a report from the Australian Department of Defense showed the .338 over the speed of sound at 1,400 meters (interestingly enough, the same report showed the .338 as out-grouping the .50 BMG at 2,000 meters).
The stock is relieved for bolt clearance. The custom extended bolt knob is easy to grasp and manipulate.
Among the latest entrants to the .338 field is CZ-USA’s new CZ 550 Magnum HET. Short for “High Energy Tactical,” the all-black sniper rifle weighs in at a hefty 14 pounds, without glass, and is available in .300 Win Mag, .300 Rem Ultra Mag, and the .338 Lapua, which is the model I tested.
Perhaps the most underrated firearms manufacturer in the world, CZ’s stout 550 Magnum action is a double square bridge bolt action based on the proven Mauser controlled-feed design. While some may find its lines inelegant, it’s a timeless design and well executed. In the case of the HET, it comes with a custom extended bolt knob, which is both quicker to grasp and adds leverage for primary extraction of the spent casing. Beneath the bolt and its massive claw extractor lays a staggered box magazine that holds four of the fat .338 cartridges.