THE .338 Lapua Mag is a precision tactical cartridge whose time has come. Originally developed in 1983 at the request of the U.S. Navy, the .338 uses a necked down .416 Rigby case and in its initial configuration launched a 250-grain bullet at nearly 3,000 feet per second (fps) with a muzzle energy of over 4,800 foot pounds of energy (fpe). Research Armament produced a prototype rifle and ammunition that were tested by the Navy, but the cartridge never was put into production in the United States. Lapua and Norma finished development of the .338 and began manufacturing the cartridge under the Lapua name. Besides Lapua, Black Hills also loads both 250- and 300-grain cartridges. The latter bullet leaves the muzzle at 2,800 fps with a prodigious 5,223 fpe. To put this into perspective, a 168-grain .308 match cartridge has a muzzle velocity of only about 2,600 fps and 2,180 fpe. The .308’s ballistics pale in comparison to the .338 Lapua, although most .338 rifles are only marginally heavier than precision tactical rifles chambered for the .308.
The Remington Model 40-XS, for example, is only slightly larger and heavier than similar rifles in smaller calibers, weighing in at 16 pounds — complete with scope and bipod. The test rifle uses Remington’s Model 40-XS action in a McMillan A5 stock. Naturally, a large cartridge like the .338 will necessarily deliver more felt recoil than lesser cartridges, but this can be offset by the use of muzzle brakes. The Remington muzzle brake reduces felt recoil to approximately that of a .308, although muzzle blast alongside the rifle is significant. The spotter on a precision tactical team using a Remington 40-XS .338 Lapua Mag should position himself slightly to the rear of the shooter’s shoulder to avoid having gases and dust blown into his face. As the .338 Lapua Mag became accepted by a number of the world’s military forces as replacements for, or supplements to bridge the gap between the .308 and .50 BMG, it was only a matter of time before law enforcement began to consider it. The .338 gives the precision tactical marksman a huge range advantage over any .308 caliber rifle, while adding little to the weight burden that every rifleman must contend with. As mentioned, the test rifle weighs only 16 pounds (fully loaded) and I’ve tested .308 caliber precision tactical rifles that weigh about the same. When compared to .50 BMG caliber rifles, the Remington 40-XS weighs nearly 10 pounds less than the lightest weight .50 BMG rifle I’ve ever tested. Most .50 BMG rifles, like the widely used Barrett M82, weigh over 30 pounds.