The .338 Federal is one of the latest in a flood of short-action big-game cartridges to wash against the seawall of a contracted economy. However, it is among few truly useful new cartridges. Were it not so logical, you might call it a brilliant design, and its roots go way back.
In 1902 Winchester announced a .33 cartridge for its 1886 lever rifle. At 2,200 fps, the 200-grain flat-nose bullet handily out-dueled the .30-30, whose original loading launched a 160-grain bullet at 1,790. The .33 Winchester generated 2,300 foot-pounds of energy, nearly half again as much as .45-70 loads of the day. Winchester kept the .33 in production until 1936, when the Model 71 in the more potent .348 chambering supplanted the '86. Four years later, .33 Winchester ammo vanished from Winchester catalogs.
Meanwhile, British gunmaker Jeffery announced two .333 Nitro Express rounds, for double rifles and bolt-actions. Both appeared around 1908. They may have inspired American wildcatters Charlie O'Neil, Elmer Keith and Don Hopkins to develop the .333 OKH, which appeared just before World War II. At first, shooters had to order .333 bullets from Kynoch in England. Later, Fred Barnes and Vernon Speer supplied them. They could also be used in the .334 OKH a belted round on the full-length .375 Holland case.
Replace the .333 bullet with a .338 in the rimless OKH, and you get the .338-06. Art Alphin got that fine round through SAAMI confirmation a few years ago. When Weatherby chambered it and Norma began loading it, I expected it would sell like franks at a fair. It has not, despite its sizable performance edge over the .30-06. The most important .33 stateside is surely the .338 Winchester Magnum. Second in Winchester's line of short belted magnums, it appeared in 1958. It's truly powerful; a 210 Nosler Partition and any 225-grain spitzer can be loaded to carry a ton of punch past 350 yards.
The .340 Weatherby Magnum, on the full-length Holland case, appeared four years after the .338. Depending on the load, the .340 has 250 fps on the .338 Winchester and shoots flat enough for a 300-yard zero. It delivers a ton of energy to 500 yards. Not to be out-done, Don Allen fashioned a ballistic twin, the .330 Dakota, on a .404 Jeffery case. Another muscle-bound .33 is the .338 Lapua, a sniper round on a hull with a head the size of a .416 Rigby's. Thanks to sleek bullets like Sierra MatchKings, it carries 1,300 foot-pounds to 1,000 yards. Remington's newer. 338 Ultra Mag is a long, rimless round on the same ballistic plane. Even fiercer are the 8.59 Lazzeroni Titan and .338-378 Weatherby. Both bring a crushing two tons of energy to 200 yards--as much as the .338 Winchester Magnum carries on exit.
The .338 Federal is the most versatile of the latest .33s, all short-action rounds. A .308 necked to .338, it works in any rifle that will accept its parent. As a wildcat, it accompanied me to Africa and dropped a red hartebeest with a shoulder hit at 310 steps. Hornady's .338 Marlin Express and .338 Ruger Compact Magnums serve traditional lever-actions and short-cycle bolt guns, respectively.
The .338 Federal has all the smash you need for elk, moose, even big bears. While it can't match the stopping power of the .33 Magnums, it does not kick as hard either. The Sako rifles I've used have been easy to shoot--and very accurate. (Tikka's T3, from the same Finnish plant, is also a fine choice in the .338 Federal, as is Kimber's 84M.) This stubby cartridge has great reach. A 200-yard zero gives you 250-yard point-blank range on most game. And you don't need a long barrel to coax a lethal blow from this efficient round. Riflemen seeking a versatile short-action cartridge for North American big game once turned to the .308. By virtue of its heavier punch, the .338 Federal trumps its parent for the toughest animals.
Federal is the only major ammunition manufacturer to offer the .338 Federal. It catalogs four loads, with bullets of 180, 185, 200 and 210 grains.