338 Lapua vs 308 – 2022 Comparison Guide

| Last Updated: March 18, 2022

The .308 Winchester was a marvelous opportunity grabbed by the company in 1952, right before the introduction of the 7.62 NATO. This round has been one of the most loved rifle rounds across the world for its versatility. Now we will compare this extraordinarily popular round with the .338 Lapua Magnum. A powerhouse cartridge was introduced in the 1980’s for military snipers, and that quickly gained momentum among the masses. 

Since both these rounds are suitable candidates for long range engagements, it will be interesting to check out the technical data and learn about the reality.

TL;DR: 338 Lapua vs 308

Here is a quick overview and comparison of the pros and cons of these two cartridges.

338 Lapua

338 Lapua ammo

308

308 ammo

Pros

338 Lapua

Slightly longer barrel life than similar cartridges

High ballistics coefficient and very flat trajectory

Very accurate even at ranges beyond 1,500 yards

Great alternative to heavy calibers like the .50 BMG

Capable of killing any game animal roaming this planet

Retains significant amounts of energy even at ultra-long range

Immensely powerful round capable of heavy armor penetration

308

Easily available and quite inexpensive

Controllable recoil and many rifle options

Wide range of bullet options to choose from

Suitable for small, medium, or big sized game

Versatile round that can be used at short or long range

Its military version, the 7.62 NATO is widely used by many militaries

Short action design is suitable for semi-auto rifles and high capacity mags

Cons

338 Lapua

High recoil, muzzle blast, and noise

Limited and very specific applications

Insanely expensive ammo and often scarce. Rifles are pricey too

Rifles are long and heavy. Can prove clumsy to handle in some situations

308

Over penetrating and less controllability for short range

Trajectory is not very flat at long range. Better alternatives can be found

Best For

338 Lapua

The .338 Lapua Magnum is a perfect round for long and ultra long range applications and dangerous big game hunting if you don’t mind expensive ammo.

308

The .308 Winchester has been and will be a versatile workhorse cartridge that can be used for hunting, tactical uses, defense, and competition.

338 Lapua Overview

The .338 Lapua Magnum is a rimless, bottlenecked, centerfire rifle cartridge that fires a .338 caliber bullet. It was designed in the 1980s as a long range round for snipers, mainly to serve as a balance between the smaller 7.62 NATO and heavier .50 BMG rounds. 

The main focus of development for this round was long range accuracy and armor penetration capabilities. The .338 Lapua holds two spots in the top ten longest kill records of all time, with its highest being 2,475 m (2,707 yds) in Afghanistan. In fact, it is the third longest kill ever recorded. 

Photo credit: tactical-life.com

This cartridge is inspired by the .416 Rigby round which is necked down to take a .338 inch diameter bullet. As this diameter presents the perfect sectional density and penetration (more on this in further sections). It was originally developed by RAI (Research Armament Industries) in the United States in 1983. 

The currently produced .338 Lapua rounds were developed after a collaboration between SAKO of Finland, Accuracy International of Britain, and Nammo Lapua Oy of Finland. The cartridge case was strengthened and new bullets were developed. 

This round is currently in use by the militaries of about 30 countries and is also very popular among competitive shooters. It has also worked as a parent case for newer rounds like the .300 Lapua Magnum, 7.62 UKM, .357 Swiss P, and other Wildcats.

308 Overview

The .308 Winchester (a.k.a .308 Win) is a rimless, bottlenecked, centerfire rifle cartridge developed in 1952. This round needs no formal introduction, and everybody who hunts or even owns a rifle will definitely know about it. It all began during and mostly after the Second World War when the military began looking for an alternative to the legendary .30-06 Springfield. 

It’s not that the .30-06 was an unsuccessful round, but the military needed a more compact cartridge with smaller dimensions, lesser recoil, more mag capacity, and the same performance. It started as an experimental cartridge known as the T65 and was picked up by Winchester in 1952 for an introduction on the civilian market. 

Photo credit: reddit.com

Just two years prior to the adoption of the T65 by the military, when it came to be known as the 7.62 NATO. Both these cartridges mostly differ in terms of chamber pressure. The short design of the .308 Winchester allows it to be easily used in mag fed semi and full auto rifles, hence, opening up a wide array of possibilities. 

It is undoubtedly the most popular hunting cartridge in the United States, and also around the world. It is also used by many militaries as a sniping, primary rifle, and machine gun cartridge. It has also inspired the development of rounds such as .243 Winchester, 7mm-08 Remington, and .338 Federal as the parent cartridge. 

338 Lapua vs 308: Cartridge Specs

Here is a quick table comparing the dimensions and specifications of these rounds. 

338 Lapua308
Bullet Diameter0.339 in (8.61 mm)0.308 in (7.8 mm)
Neck Diameter0.372 in (9.46 mm)0.3433 in (8.72 mm)
Base Diameter0.587 in (14.91 mm)0.4709 in (11.96 mm)
Case Length2.724 in (69.20 mm)2.015 in (51.2 mm)
Overall Length3.681 in (93.50 mm)2.800 in (71.1 mm)
Case Capacity116.24 grains56 grains
Max Pressure (SAAMI)60,916 psi (C.I.P)62,000 psi
Typical Casing MaterialBrassBrass/Steel
Typical Bullet Weight (gr)200-300 grains150-180 grains

The data in the table clearly depicts that the .338 Lapua Magnum is a bigger, fatter, and more powerful cartridge compared to the .308 Winchester. It fires a larger caliber .338 inch diameter bullet compared to the .308 inch diameter of the .308 Win. 

Both of these are rimless, bottlenecked cartridges designed for centerfire rifles. The .338 Lapua shows a fatter design and is longer in OAL by almost an inch. As far as the case pressure is concerned, SAAMI has not declared any official guidelines for the .338 Lapua Magnum, whereas C.I.P preaches a max pressure of 60,916 psi. 

The .308 Win is loaded at a slightly higher pressure than the .338 Lapua, which is inherently common when comparing small and big cartridges. The .338 Lapua has more than twice the case capacity of the .308 Win, which also seems obvious when looking at the typical bullet weights. 

The .308 Win fires bullet weights in the range of 150 to 180 grains and go as high as 220 grains for taking down bigger animals. The .338 Lapua begins at 200 grains and can go as high as 350 grains for wildcat cartridges. 

While the .308 Win can be found in steel-cased ammunition for dirt cheap prices, the .338 Lapua only comes in brass cases and has a classy reputation that precedes it. 

Photo credit: ck5.com

338 Lapua vs 308: Ballistics

The ballistics section will elaborate on the trajectory, speed, and energy characteristics of these two rounds. Understanding these factors is important because these factors help us understand the accuracy of a round and the suitability for applications. 

I have collected this data by using the most common loads, with the most optimum barrel lengths and twist rates. So you get a broad view but also a very specific idea at the same time. 

338 Lapua vs 308: Trajectory

Here is a side-by-side comparison of the trajectory of these rounds. The data includes bullet weights that are comparable to each other as low, medium, or high. So you will get a better idea for your expectations.

.338 Lapua

26” barrel/BC 0.670/250 gr
BTHP Match
26” barrel/BC 0.789/285 gr
ELD Hornady
26” barrel/BC 0.768/300 gr
Sierra Matchking BTHP
100 yds: 0 “ Drop100 yds: 0 “ Drop100 yds: 0 “ Drop
200 yds: 3.1 “ Drop200 yds: 3.5 “ Drop200 yds: 4.2 “ Drop
300 yds: 11.3 “ Drop300 yds: 12.6 “ Drop300 yds: 14.7 “ Drop
400 yds: 24.9 “ Drop400 yds: 27.6 “ Drop400 yds: 32.2 “ Drop
500 yds: 44.8 “ Drop500 yds: 49.1 “ Drop500 yds: 57.1 “ Drop
1,000 yds: 265.9 “ Drop1,000 yds: 280.3 “ Drop1,000 yds: 327.4 “ Drop

.308

24”barrel/BC 0.408/150 gr
FMJ Boat-tail
24”barrel/BC 0.489/168 gr
Berger Hybrid
24”barrel/BC 0.536/175 gr
Edge TLR
100 yds: 0 “ Drop100 yds: 0 “ Drop100 yds: 0 “ Drop
200 yds: 3.6 “ Drop200 yds: 4 “ Drop200 yds: 4.4 “ Drop
300 yds: 13.5 “ Drop300 yds: 14.4 “ Drop300 yds: 15.5 “ Drop
400 yds: 30.6 “ Drop400 yds: 32 “ Drop400 yds: 34.2 “ Drop
500 yds: 56.3 “ Drop500 yds: 58 “ Drop500 yds: 61.5 “ Drop
1,000 yds: 405.5 “ Drop1,000 yds: 384.2 “ Drop1,000 yds: 392.5 “ Drop

Taking a broader perspective of this data, it is clear that the .338 Lapua is always a flatter shooting cartridge, despite its heavy weight bullets. Another important point to consider is that the .338 Lapua will always have bullets with a better ballistic coefficient (BC). For those who don’t know, BC defines the level of wind resistance shown by a bullet in its flight path. 

Out to 400 yards, the difference in drop does not seem too significant, but as the distance increases, the .338 Lapua begins showing an advantage over the .308 Win. For example, a 250 grain .338 Lapua round drops to just 265.9 inches at 1,000 yards, whereas a 150 grain .308 Win round drops to 405.5 inches at the same range. 

The trajectory advantage of the .338 Lapua at long ranges extremely outwits the .308 Win. Since it means lesser adjustments and even a longer effective range. These numbers testify to why the .338 Lapua is credited with the third longest sniper kill in military history. 

On a side note, having a good muzzle brake, compensator and stock setup is essential for .338 Lapua rifles because of their heavy recoil. 

Photo credit: thefirearmblog.com

338 Lapua vs 308: Velocity & Kinetic Energy

Now let’s move on to the velocity and kinetic energy characteristics which will help us decide on the effective range and types of targets to engage. 

338 Lapua

26”barrel/BC 0.670/250 gr
BTHP Match
26” barrel/BC 0.789/285 gr
ELD Hornady
26” barrel/BC 0.768/300 gr
Sierra Matchking BTHP
100 yds: 2,761 ft/s, 4,230 ft.lbs100 yds: 2,630 ft/s, 4,378 ft.lbs100 yds: 2,466 ft/s, 4,052 ft.lbs
200 yds: 2,626 ft/s, 3,827 ft.lbs200 yds: 2,519 ft/s, 4,015 ft.lbs200 yds: 2,355 ft/s, 3,696 ft.lbs
300 yds: 2,495 ft/s, 3,455 ft.lbs300 yds: 2,410 ft/s, 3,676 ft.lbs300 yds: 2,248 ft/s, 3,365 ft.lbs
400 yds: 2,368 ft/s, 3,112 ft.lbs400 yds: 2,304 ft/s, 3,359 ft.lbs400 yds: 2,143 ft/s, 3,058 ft.lbs
500 yds: 2,244 ft/s, 2,796 ft.lbs500 yds: 2,200 ft/s, 3,064 ft.lbs500 yds: 2,040 ft/s, 2,772 ft.lbs
1,000 yds: 1,684 ft/s, 1,575 ft.lbs1,000 yds: 1,724 ft/s, 1,882 ft.lb1,000 yds: 1,577 ft/s, 1,656 ft.lbs

.308

24”barrel/BC 0.408/150 gr
FMJ Boat-tail
24”barrel/BC 0.489/168 gr
Berger Hybrid
24”barrel/BC 0.536/175 gr
Edge TLR
100 yds: 2,597 ft/s, 2,246 ft.lbs100 yds: 2,518 ft/s, 2,365 ft.lbs100 yds: 2,437 ft/s, 2,308 ft.lbs
200 yds: 2,385 ft/s, 1894 ft.lbs200 yds: 2,343 ft/s, 2,048 ft.lbs200 yds: 2,280 ft/s, 2,021 ft.lbs
300 yds: 2,183 ft/s, 1,586 ft.lbs300 yds: 2,176 ft/s, 1,766 ft.lbs300 yds: 2,130 ft/s, 1,762 ft.lbs
400 yds: 1,990 ft/s, 1,319 ft.lbs400 yds: 2,015 ft/s, 1,514 ft.lbs400 yds: 1,984 ft/s, 1,530 ft.lbs
500 yds: 1,808 ft/s, 1,089 ft.lbs500 yds: 1,860 ft/s, 1,291 ft.lbs500 yds: 1,845 ft/s, 1,322 ft.lbs
1,000 yds: 1,130 ft/s, 425 ft.lbs1,000 yds: 1,239 ft/s, 573 ft.lbs1,000 yds: 1,271 ft/s, 628 ft.lbs

The .338 Lapua was designed to deliver supersonic velocities close to 3,000 fps at the muzzle. Different loads offer different numbers, but in the same range as intended. This round has the capability to stay supersonic at distances out to 1,500 yards, which makes its accuracy and performance very predictable over ultra-long range. 

The .308 Win also flies close to 2,800 fps at the muzzle with lightweight loads and goes as low as 2,500 fps for the heaviest bullet weights. This round stays supersonic out to a range of 1,200 yards and delivers amazing accuracy if you do not mind the trajectory and the needed adjustments. 

You must also remember that both these rounds work at more than twice the supersonic velocity, and will wear out barrels quickly. However, the developers of the .338 Lapua significantly reduced this issue by maintaining a good case volume to bore area ratio. 

Moving on to the energy characteristics, the .338 Lapua is always a clear winner because of its heavier bullets and higher velocity. It can retain as high as 1,800 fpe at 1,000 yards, compared to the 600 fpe of the .308. 

To give you a better idea, an energy value of 1,000 fpe is considered optimal for deer, and a value of 1,500 fpe is considered perfect for big game like elk and moose. Additionally, the .338 Lapua bullets are more aerodynamic with their high BC and have better armor-piercing capabilities.

Photo credit: youtube.com

338 Lapua vs 308: Stopping Power

The term stopping power is useful in understanding the effectiveness of a cartridge against live targets of different sizes. The quicker a round can incapacitate or kill a target, the better will be the stopping power. 

A general notion is that bigger calibers have better stopping power, which is mostly true to some extent. However, in several cases, smaller caliber bullets can offer better stopping power. 

338 Lapua vs 308: Momentum & Sectional Density

In order to estimate the stopping power of a bullet, we will look upon the values of its momentum and sectional density (SD). The SD is the ratio of the mass of the bullet to its cross-sectional area, whereas the momentum is the product of the mass and velocity. According to the general rule of thumb, the value of SD is directly proportional to the penetration offered by the bullet. 

Similarly, the value of momentum describes the level of energy transfer, and the higher this value, the more stopping power a bullet will have at a given range. 

26”barrel/BC 0.670/250 gr
BTHP Match
Sectional Density: 0.311
26” barrel/BC 0.789/285 gr
ELD Hornady
Sectional Density: 0.354
26” barrel/BC 0.768/300 gr
Sierra Matchking BTHP
Sectional Density: 0.373
100 yds: 98 lb.ft-s100 yds: 107 lb.ft-s100 yds: 105 lb.ft-s
200 yds: 93 lb.ft-s200 yds: 102 lb.ft-s200 yds: 100 lb.ft-s
300 yds: 89 lb.ft-s300 yds: 98 lb.ft-s300 yds: 96 lb.ft-s
400 yds: 84 lb.ft-s400 yds: 93 lb.ft-s400 yds: 91 lb.ft-s
500 yds: 80 lb.ft-s500 yds: 89 lb.ft-s500 yds: 87 lb.ft-s
1,000 yds: 60 lb.ft-s1,000 yds: 70 lb.ft-s1,000 yds: 67 lb.ft-s

.308

24”barrel/BC 0.408/150 gr
FMJ Boat-tail
Sectional Density: 0.266
24”barrel/BC 0.489/168 gr
Berger Hybrid
Sectional Density: 0.253
24”barrel/BC 0.536/175 gr
Edge TLR
Sectional Density: 0.264
100 yds: 55 lb.ft-s100 yds: 60 lb.ft-s100 yds: 60 lb.ft-s
200 yds: 51 lb.ft-s200 yds: 56lb.ft-s200 yds: 57 lb.ft-s
300 yds: 46 lb.ft-s300 yds: 52 lb.ft-s300 yds: 53 lb.ft-s
400 yds: 42 lb.ft-s400 yds: 48 lb.ft-s400 yds: 49 lb.ft-s
500 yds: 38 lb.ft-s500 yds: 44 lb.ft-s500 yds: 46 lb.ft-s
1,000 yds: 24 lb.ft-s1,000 yds: 26 lb.ft-s1,000 yds: 27 lb.ft-s

Let us first understand the concept of sectional density and what it explains. Since the SD is the ratio of mass and cross-sectional area, a lighter bullet with a smaller diameter (caliber) will penetrate more, compared to a heavier bullet with a bigger diameter. 

An SD of less than 0.220 is considered good for varmints and small game, an SD of less than 0.260 is good for deer sized game, an SD of less than 0.300 is great for big game like elk, and anything above that is suitable for bigger game. 

What our data here shows us is that the .338 Lapua bullets always offer an SD of higher than 0.300, which confirms its armor piercing capability. On the other hand, the .308 Win offers an SD close to 0.270, and loads can surpass that value too. This is why the .308 Win is known as one of the most versatile cartridges out there that can handle anything from coyotes to bears. 

Talking about the momentum characteristics, the .338 Lapua is always a clear winner by a significant margin. The .338 Lapua bullets are always going to hit much much harder than the .308 Win, even at distances out to and farther than 1,000 yards. This is also what the energy values told us in the previous section. 

Photo credit: youtube.com

338 Lapua vs 308: Use Cases & Effective Range

After going through the technical data values, it is now time to understand what these cartridges are really suitable for in real life. 

Long Range Competitions

The .338 Lapua is an exclusively well-suited long range competition rifle. Many people use it for F-class competitions, and it is also among the absolute best cartridges for T-class extreme long (up to 1,750 yards) and ultra long range competitions (more than 1,750 yards). 

The ballistics data perfectly supports the .338 Lapua for use in the long range arena with its high BC, higher muzzle velocity, and very flat trajectory bullets. 

As far as the .308 Win is concerned, most people stick with it out to a distance of 1,000 yards. IMHO, I will stick to other rounds like the .300 Win Mag if that is the range in question. That is because a .308 Win requires a lot of adjustment at 1,000 yards, and although it can do that, it does not fit that role very well if the .338 Lapua is also an option. 

Hunting

Even with its high energy numbers and heavy bullet weights, the .308 Win will always be a better choice for hunting. You ask why? Well, that’s because it is very hard to carry a 12-pound rifle with a long barrel, muzzle brake, and a hard recoiling round and then hunt with it. 

The .308 Win has been and always will be one of the most versatile hunting rounds that can handle any game animal roaming this planet. The .338 Lapua is suitable for hunting big game animals of any size and class, but the effort is not really worth it, especially when there are more controllable options available to choose from. 

Photo credit: gunandshooter.com

Tactical Applications

The term ‘tactical applications’ has a very broad meaning, and it can range from close quarters to long distances. The .308 Win’s cousin, the 7.62 NATO has long been used by many militaries around the world for tactical uses. That includes everything from CQB to long range sniping. Each of these rounds has its own advantages when tactical use is concerned. 

The .308 Win is a short action round that can be used in compact rifles and has the capability to switch between long and short range almost instantly. Whereas, the .338 Lapua is exclusively a long range round and will only be used for sniping. 

When it is a matter of choosing one between these two, I think that the .338 Lapua should be favored only when engagements at and beyond 500 yards are a surety. Anything less than 500 yards, and you will find the .308 Win to be extremely convenient. 

Recreational Use

If your point is just to spend time at the range, the .308 Win will be a more economical option for you. Unless you are planning to shoot at distances of 1,000 yards and beyond, and have some good weight inside your wallet. 

338 Lapua vs 308: Costs, Availability, & Compatibility

Now let’s take a look at the economics, availability, and other important factors that will help understand the realistic situation of owning either of these cartridges. 

Economic and Abundant vs Pricey and Scarce

The .308 Win has been on the market for seven decades now, and with possibly millions of rifles on the market, it is a very abundant and easy-to-find cartridge. The ammo can be found at insanely cheap prices, and every gun shop carries ammo. However, popular ammo like the .308 Win can quickly fly off the shelves during SHTF times like the Covid-190 pandemic buying. So it is better to stock some brass and handloading supplies, or spare ammo for dire times.

Photo credit: quora.com

The .338 Lapua is an expensive ammo option with prices starting from $5 per round and going as high as $12 per round. Additionally, not every gun shop stocks ammo for this round, so better keep an eye out for that. In my opinion, handloading is a great option in any condition. 

Wide Range vs Fixed Options

A wide variety of rifles can be found chambered for the .308 Win, including the very popular AR-10 of the AR platform. There’s literally a ton of options to choose from when rifles, upgrades, and accessories are concerned. 

The .338 Lapua is exclusively found in magnum chamber bolt action rifles with a few semi-auto options also available on the market. The options for customization are also significant, especially with the modern stock chassis options. 

Bottom Line

The .308 Winchester is an exceptionally versatile round that can be utilized for short or long range engagements, and even be used in semi or full auto rifles for things like CQB and home defense. The .338 Lapua is almost double in overall size and exclusively designed for long and ultra long engagements, and features better ballistics, flatter trajectory, higher energy, and armor piercing capabilities. 

While the .308 Win is a versatile round good for hunting almost anything, and suitable for accuracy at 1,000 yards. The .338 Lapua is great for sniping and hunting dangerous big game animals. 

People Also Ask

A small and quick FAQ section that will cover answers to some common queries and misconceptions.

Do Snipers Use 338 Lapua?

Yes, snipers use .338 Lapua. In fact, the third longest sniper kill was made by British Corporal of Horse Craig Harrison at 2,707 yards with an Accuracy International L115A3 chambered in .338 Lapua. More than 20 militaries use this round for sniping in some capacity. 



Ankit Kumar is an engineer turned writer who specializes in topics related to firearms, gun safety and weapon tech. His passion towards enrolling in the Army drifted his interest towards light and heavy firearms. He’s a qualified competitive air rifle shooter and an avid nature lover. His other areas of expertise include survival, prepping and firearms/ammo storage. When he’s not writing, he’s either learning a new skill, trekking or enjoying a long drive.