308 vs 338 Federal for Elk <450 yds


Dec 6, 2019
Hello all, I am a new member sorry for the long winded first post but I would like to ask a question that I was unable to find an answer to by searching the previous posts.

Back when the 338 Federal came out my uncles jumped on the bandwagon and tried to get me to get one as well. Their argument was that the 338 federal was better for elk than ether the 308/30-06 that I already had. They had me convinced but when I went to stock up on 338 head stamped brass there was none to be found (other than buying factory ammo). I wanted the 338 head stamp just to add another layer of safety so I didn't inadvertently put a 308 win round in the 338 Fed.

I just recently noticed that 338 Federal brass is now available from both Federal and Startline so I started doing a little research.

Using the ballistics calculator on hornady's website and load data from both Barns and Nosler. I tried to stay conservative with the velocities and I don't see how/why I would go to a 338 Fed.

168gr TTSX@2700fps muzzle velocity at 400yds - 1991 fps with 1478 ft lbs of energy
150gr TTSX@2850fps muzzle velocity at 400 yds - 2038fps with 1383 ft lbs of energy

338 Fed
180gr AB@2650 muzzle velocity at 400yds - 1785fps with 1273 fl lbs of energy.

I think I could easily get a little more velocity out any of these bullets with the right powder. I am thinking the 168 TTSX is the best option out of the 3 above because in talking with Barns the 168 was designed to expand down t 1500 fps and the 150 was designed to 1800 so the 168 has more margin to the min expansion velocity.

There are only 2 things I can see as possible issues with the 308/reasons to use a 338:

1) Using a bullet stabilization calculator shows that a standard 1 in 12 twist 308 barrel will only give marginal stability to the long 168gr bullets.
2) may run into an overall length or case capacity issues with the longer bullets.

If I were to get a 338 I would probably rebarrel a m70 Featherweight. So given that I would be re-barreling a gun and the above ballistics; what would be the advantage of putting a 338 federal barrel vs a 1 in 10 twist 308 barrel?

Also, my 308 is a m70 Featherweight that the throat was cut a little deep at the factory, so in making a 150 load I ended up encountering an overall length issue that was solve by having a gunsmith remove the spacer that was on the back end of the magazine so now my 308 magazine can hold rounds that are 3.05".

thanks in advance,

Stay with your .308 or the .30-06. They have several factors that will work in your favour, not the least of which is that you are familiar with them. That can be an overlooked advantage. I like the .338 Federal, mine delivers excellent accuracy and it does deliver a mighty blow at reasonable distances. However, I can't see at the distance you describe that you are provided an advantage over the .308. My take, at least. (YMMV)
Welcome aboard!

Just wanting a 338 Federal is a good enough reason for having one!
I have owned several 308's over the years, and the last two have been rebarrelled; one to the 338 Federal, and the other to the 7mm-08.

Do not currently own a 308, and now have 3, 338 Federals! So, yeah...I am a big fan of the 338 cals! Have a rebarrelled Win Model 88, a LH Tikka T3 and RH Ruger Hawkeye All Weather. They are all fun to shoot, and have taken a caribou with the 88 so far. It was purpose built to shoot the Federal Premium ammo with the 210gr NP. At present, the Ruger is winning in the accuracy department, and that with factory ammo (Federal Premium 210gr NP). But have not finished playing with them to find their preferred loads. The previous owners of the Ruger and Tikka both had 1/2" accuracy with the 180gr AB's, and presented the targets.
Also have a 338-06, and previously owned a 338 Win Mag. Have taken black bear with the 338-06 and elk, moose, bison, black and grizzly bear with the 338 Win Mag.

At the end of the day, they are both good cartridges and have their pros and cons, depending on who you are talking to.
For myself, I just like the larger diameter bullets and the ability to launch heavier bullets in the Federal. Something that can't be easily quantified on paper, in the reloading manuals, but is definitely experienced first hand in the field in on-game performance. It is also comforting to know that is has been used successfully by those who needed to sort out hairy situations with tooth and claw critters with bad attitudes at too close of distance for comfort!

I have recipes for the 338 Federal and the 200gr AB up to 2652 fps and 3123 ft-lbs at the muzzle and 1865 fps and 1545 ft-lbs of energy at 400 yards.
Also have recipes for the 215gr SGK up to 2512 fps and 3012 ft-lbs of energy at the muzzle and 1852 fps and 1638 ft-lbs of energy at 400 yards. (data for both of these with 24" barrels).
Hope that the bolt actions will show good results with these loads! We shall see...

I just haven't warmed up overall to the monometal bullets, but have had good accuracy with the older Barnes X in a Remington 700 Classic I used to own in 6.5x55. Have also got a good load with the 350gr TSX in my 416 Taylor. But we are not restricted here in the far north from cup and core bullets, and they have proven very effective to date in many cartridges for me. Favourite bullet overall is the Nosler AccuBond.

If you are happy with your 308, keep it and use it for deer and medium sized game and/or longer shots.
Get the 338 Federal and use it for larger big game and/or brush hunting, with the knowledge that you can stretch it out to 400 yards if needed.

If you look around, you may just find a M70 FWT in 338 Federal.
Matt-I think you're splitting a very fine hair here.

There's nothing at all wrong with any of the cartridges you're talking about and the differences in energy and trajectory are really too slight to bother with at the ranges you're talking about. The .338 bullets are generally very good and will offer excellent penetration and the .338FED's real strong suit in my opinion is firing the 210 Partition. Velocity numbers aren't impressive with that bullet, but bullet performance certainly is- especially on bigger animals. A friend of mine has one in a trim little Kimber Montana and he's pole-axed moose with it enough times to make me a believer.

I would take your expansion figures for the Barnes bullets with a dose of salt. In my experience, Barnes really need velocity to work well (even their tipped version) and that's a trait of all monolithic bullets.None of the cartridges mentioned really have a lot of velocity to start with and a monolithic bullets are going to hamper you unless you're constrained to use them for some other reason.

If I were held to a monolithic, I'd take a .338FED with a 160-185gr bullet over a .308WIN with a 150-168gr pretty much any day when critters get bigger than deer. The .338FED is really a very good cartridge that should be far more popular than it already is.

It's going to be hard for your to make a mistake picking between the .308 and the .338, both are excellent cartridges.
First off, most likely if you shot a .308 in the .338 fed you'd just fire form the .308 case into a .338 Fed. Just as easy to .308s into a .338 Fed die and neck the brass up.

I would consider other bullets for use unless you're in California where you're forced to use a monometal bullet. If you're wanting to stick in the realm of 165/168 gr. bullets I'd look and the Nosler Partition, AccuBond and AccuBond Long Range if you can get a reasonably accurate load with the ABLR. Frankly, and this is from my personal experience even the plain old Speer Hot Core will work out, especially way out yonder. I've run the 165 gr. AccuBond from a 30-06 to2880 FPS and it easily took out a cow elk. Range was just 100 yards but she only went 30 and then straight down. We never found nor was there an exit wound. We think it was still in the mess that was the cow's left lung.
I've happily hunted elk, bear, mule deer, pronghorn and more with my 30-06 rifle.

Would have no reservations about using a good 308 on the same animals. If you like your current 308, develop some good elk loads (I'm thinking Nosler Partition or AccuBond) and go for it.

Seems like the simple, low cost and quite acceptable solution. The 308 Win is capable of excellent performance on game. It's mostly bullet placement.

Regards, Guy
I think both would be minimal for 450 yards. If the perfect shot presents itself on a calm day with the elk standing broadside in a field cleared a 1/4 mile in all directions, unaware of your presence, and you have a solid rest that you can hit a dinner plate from , then you would be OK. I have not been blessed with many of those. Most hunters, (myself included) do not have the patience or time to wait for the "perfect" shot Many can not hit that dinner plate, under field conditions. But if said elk is standing at the edge of a 1500 foot drop off, (yes I have killed them in that spot), or right in or near the deep dark timber, (there also) and an awful lot of things can go wrong. A little far back and elk can go a long ways, if they are with a large herd, it's almost impossible to track one, (even if they bleed), and many times they don't. I lost an elk two years ago, standing facing me at 200 yards, trying to figure out just what I was. I was prone on my bipod and as solid as a rock, shooting slightly downhill, with my 7 mm Mashburn, and the 160 Nosler AB's ready to go. At that distance, my groups are typically around 1.5 to 1.75 inches in size. At the shot, the bull went down, DRT. I watched him sliding downhill, in the snow, towards the timber line 50 yards from where he was standing. Just before he got to the timber I could see him thrashing around , then he was out of sight. As this was occurring (seconds at the most) his brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and mother came over the ridge and into the same patch of timber. As I saw him go down I was unconcerned and gave him a few min, to lay down, and die. I had marked the tree where he went in and went straight to it. Once I got there, of course there was no blood in the snow and the area looked like a plowed field. I am sure the bullet when in just a little left of the center of his chest, and traveled longways and did not exit. I had well over two hours of daylight left, so I had plenty of time, to criss, cross back and forth across that hillside until after dark, I never found him. I guess the moral of this story is that no matter what you use things can go wrong, but i believe that the more energy you can throw down range accurately, minimizes the number of experiences like mine.
An excellent account of elk hunting, Bill. You have it nailed. Elk are surprisingly tough, managing to take a terrible beating, get up and race for the next county. I've tracked a few well-hit animals (not all mine) that were technically dead. How they managed to get away, I can't explain--but they did. For this reason, I do prefer enough gun, erring on the side of kinetic energy and mass.
Thanks for all the replies.

I am definitely part of the 30-06 fan club and think it is plenary for most all reasonable situations in NA. when I first got the 308 and started working up loads I found that I could get very similar velocities will the same bullets with the added benefit of a lighter gun.

Given that my rifle has already been modified to allow for a longer overall length I think I would be able to push similar bullets: 200gr Partition out of the 308 at velocities close to the 210gr Partition out of the 338. This would allow me to take advantage of the higher BC and maintain the energy longer. The one concern I have would be stabilizing the bigger longer bullet but like I said, I was planning on rebarreling a m70 featherweight for the 338 fed, so I could just rebarrel my 308 with a 1 in10 twist and a similar throat to what mine has now.

I have read a bunch of threads about mono bullets and needing speed. Everything I read suggested adding 100-200 FPS to the number quoted by Barnes. Is that not enough margin?

The last time I worked up a load the velocities given by barns were pretty accurate. The fast end of the barns data shows most powders maxing out between 2750-2875, so I figured that 2700 was a pretty conservative number. And that gives me 400-500 FPS margin? My go to load with my 06 was the 168 TTSX. I don’t remember what the muzzle velocity was exactly but it was under 2800 and I never had any issues with expansion. I’m not claiming to have a huge sample size but it was probably about a dozen whitetails(50-250yds) and 1 mule deer (380yds).

As far as partitions and accubonds, what weight would you guys recommend for elk, would the 165/168 class be sufficient or should I be looking at the 180/200 range?


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Well, I'm satisfied with the 165's as my general purpose load from the 30-06, I'm getting 2940 fps from that rifle BTW. In recent years I've been using the 165 Nosler Ballistic Tip. Dropped a cow elk at 338 yards, through one scapula, destroyed the lungs, and broke the far side scapula. Never recovered the bullet. I'd guess lost in field dressing the elk, though there was quite a break on the far side scapula. The Partition will provide better penetration and is what my son uses in his 30-06. He's never taken elk though, just some mule deer, whitetail and a couple of black bears with that load.

I have used 180 & 200 gr bullets from the 30-06 with great satisfaction though... The 200 Partition is one heck of a bullet. I was very impressed with the accuracy & performance.

All the North American game animals have been taken with the 30-06, with 165, 180 & 200 gr bullets.

For me, 450 yards is a long poke at a game animal. I've done 400 yard shots with good results, but... That's asking a lot in a field situation where all sorts of things can change. Others here shoot that far, and farther, in the field. But for me, I try to get within 350 yards whenever possible.

Regards, Guy
Guy, I agree 450 is a long shot and not my norm. My goal has always been to get within 300 but in the right situation I am comfortable at 400. When I use calculators I always use 450-500 just to have plenary of margin in velocity and kinetic energy.


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Having harvested over two dozen elk over the past 22 years, with calibers ranging from 6.5 to 375, and bullet weights from 140 to 260 grains, I do believe that the old recommendations for larger, heavier bullets with sufficient sectional density is the best option should the bullet not be placed as accurately as anticipated. While no guarantee, it does assist with better penetration and larger wound channels on one of north america's toughest and most tenacious big game animals. Elk also have the densest bone of any animal in north america. This requires more energy and mass to be able to break that bone and make it to the vitals, should the bullet encounter that heavy shoulder bone first.
In the 30 cal, I would prefer to see the 180 gr bullet used than the 150 or 165/168 bullets. (Not saying the lighter bullets won't or haven't worked...just prefer the margin for error).
In the 338 cal, I would prefer the 200/210/215 gr bullet over the 180 or lighter bullets for elk.
I also like the old recommendation of 2000 ft-lbs of energy on elk for reliable performance.
The old timers/guides and professional hunters used this as a standard measure, and that came from real world field experience that cannot/should not be discounted.
I am with Dr Mike on this one, your 30/06 is the best gun you own for shots out over 400yds for Elk sized
game. Look at these bullets from Nosler. Screenshot_2019-12-17-14-04-05~2.pngA friend is using them with 57grs of 4350 ( load with caution in your gun) he is getting 2800fps with this load in his 24" 30/06. That will leave either your 338 or 308 in the dust at 450yds. Jmho.
Ps. Your post indicating "your getting similar velocitys" from a 308 ; indicates you are loading your 308 to modern preasure, and your 06 to loading data written for 45K preasures. When loaded to the same preasures expect to see around 200fps more from your 06........... The big case will really show its merits when you start seating the heavier bullets over the smaller 308 case capacity.
My 30/06 weighes right at 6lbs before it was scoped
So not sure what your refering to a 308 weighing less than a 30/06? Lost me there??
Except for the difference in 1/4" of bolt weight ( 1 or 2 oz) they should be about identical in weight in most modern models????
Good Luck
"As far as partitions and accubonds, what weight would you guys recommend for elk, would the 165/168 class be sufficient or should I be looking at the 180/200 range?"

About three or four years back I ran the 165 gr. 30 caliber AccuBond to almost 2900 FPS in my 30-06. The only reason I did not use a 180 gr. bullet is the rifle has a 1 in 12" twist and I just can't get decent groups with the heavier bullet in that rifle. Can't complain as the barrel was a freebie and it was installed for a whole $100, and that included a stock with some very fancy grain. I still haven't figured out why it won't shoot the 180s as I have several .308s and one has a 1 in 12" twist from the factory and it'll put three under an inch all day long. Nonetheless, four years ago I got a shot at a cow elk as she was moving off. The shot hit at the short ribs and ended up in her left lung. She went less than 30 yards and expired. We never found the bullet. So yes, a 165 gr. bullet can take elk but I usually prefer something heavier, usually 180 gr. in the 06 and 200 gr. in the .300 magnum.

My preferred cartridge for elk is the .35 Whelen and I run the 225 gr. Barnes TSX at 2710 FPS at the muzzle. Shortest shot I've has was about 75 yards and the longest a lasered 350 yards and Mr. Whelen's baby did the job just fine on those two and the four others in between. Longest shot ever on elk? Up in the White Mountain of Arizona in a wide open park, cow elk 530 yards laser measured. Rifle was a Winchester M70 shooting the 200 gr. Speer Hot Core. Conditions were about as perfect as one could find. I sat down, took the shot and the elk went down for the count. I knew the area and once I'd learned where I'd drawn the tag, the .300 came out and several months prior to the hunt saw me doing serious long range shooting out to 500 meters. I shot offhand at 100 yards and from sitting or kneeling at 200, 300, 400 and 500 meters on the club's silhouette range. When the time came the shot was a lot easier that I expected. Frankly, I'm not all that fond of shooting animals "way out yonder." Something I'd just rather not do.
Paul B.
35 Whelen":2szeulcq said:
My 30/06 weighes right at 6lbs before it was scoped
So not sure what your refering to a 308 weighing less than a 30/06? Lost me there??
Except for the difference in 1/4" of bolt weight ( 1 or 2 oz) they should be about identical in weight in most modern models????
Good Luck

When all is said and done my 308 is about 1lb lighter then the 06.

My 06 is a rem 700 BDL (circa 85/86) it’s broken down at the moment so I can do actual eights but the current advertised weight is 7 3/8lb vs the 308 which is a win m70 featherweight stainless and is 6 3/4 lbs. add a couple more oz here and there for differences in scope weight, slings, cartridge weights and total weight difference will be just about 1 lb. overall, not a lot, but after a full day of hunting you can tell. Not saying that the 06 is bad just the 308 is better (weight wise).


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I see what your saying about " your two guns, your 308 is lighter" I thought you were implying 308s are
Lighter than 30/06s......... Which over course wouldnt
Be the case in about any given model. Of course there is a following of "shorter bolt throw" fellas as well. We have used this ABLR on a number of Big Bull Moose at Looong distances and found it really shines way out there.
Good Luck with your Elk hunting
35 Whelen":1i21hqvw said:
I see what your saying about " your two guns, your 308 is lighter" I thought you were implying 308s are
Lighter than 30/06s......... Which over course wouldnt
Be the case in about any given model. Of course there is a following of "shorter bolt throw" fellas as well. We have used this ABLR on a number of Big Bull Moose at Looong distances and found it really shines way out there.
Good Luck with your Elk hunting

Thanks, I understand that any of the 3 (06, 308, 338 fed) do not have the horsepower to take strong quartering shots unless the animal is right on top of me. As I was saying to Guy, my goal is to get within 300 but in the right situation I wouldn’t be scared to push out to 400. When looking at the calculations I like to look at 450/500 just so I have margin numbers wise... if the barns expands at 1500fps and the calculations show I will have 1900 at 450-500 then I know I’m good at 300-400.

After the holidays I will pick up some 180 & 200 gr partitions and maybe some AB/ABLRs in the same weight range and see what velocities I can get with my 308/1in12 twist barrel. If I am getting numbers that are close to the 338 fed numbers then I will look at rebarreling my gun with a 1in10 twist if I’m not getting the groups I want. If I can’t then maybe I will look into the 338 fed or maybe even a new/lighter 30/06.

Thanks again for your thoughts/perspective


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Cool thread, what did you end up getting?

Put me in the 270 and up class for elk. Bill’s description of a wounded and not found bull leaves a fella with a knot in their stomach.

I’d be just fine with modern sleek Bullets E mentioned pushed along at 2700-2800 FPS from an 06. Spending a bunch of time shooting the combo over a pack would be worth way more than a 1/4-1/2” of accuracy.

My typical elk rifles are probably on the big side these days for most fellas, but the 7 mag, 300 mags and 338 Win have worked real well for me and I know if I hit an elk where they live at the further parts of 500 yards I’ve got enough bullet to kill.
Haven’t gotten anything or made much progress towards making a decision yet.

It’s been about 6 years since I last spent any real time reloading/shooting (moved from east coast to Texas. So I’ve been digging all my stuff out and setting up my bench. I did buy a chronograph (always used my uncles before).

My plan is to start with what I have. I’m prepping a box of fresh lapua brass that I had packed away and I’m going to start with the 168 TTSXs with varget and cfe223. I am going to see what velocity/groups I can get. As I mentioned before, my gun has a long throat and I had the magazine modified to be able to accommodate a longer OAL (up to 3in) I’m hoping that the little extra case capacity will reduce pressure enough for me to at least match if not get slightly higher velocities than the book data (24” barrel) out of my 22. If I can, that will mean I am pushing the 168 at more than 2800fps. If I can get the accuracy I want then honestly I’m probably going to stop there. I’ve talked with the guys at Barnes and the 168’s are designed to get 2x diameter expansion at 1500fps (130/150/165 are all 1800). At 2800fps mv the 168 is holding about 2300fps and 1990 ft lbs @300 and 2100+fps and 1700+ ft lbs at 400. Hat give me more than 600fps margin on the Barnes expansion numbers. My only real concern is the stability out of my 1in12 twist barrel. If I use the Berger calculator it says that the bullet is marginally stable (figures were between 1.35-1.45 depending on what altitude I put in) but the jbm calculator (doesn’t ask for altitude) factors in the plastic tip, and gives me numbers ranging 1.45-1.55 depending on pressure and says I’m stable.

If I can’t get the TTSX to shoot I will probably try 180 gr AB and PT. I will take a hit in velocity but if I am going to shoot a bullet that sheds weight I’m not sure I’m comfortable going with those bullets in the 165 class.

If none of those work/ shoot to my liking I will look at getting my 308 rebarreled with a 1in10 twist barrel and start over.

At the same time I am going to revisit my 06 load. It’s 55gr of 4350 behind the 168 TTSX, it shoots about .5 MOA but I can’t find the velocity.


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