November 2007

.338 Federal Ri?es: Kimber’s Montana Is Light, and Great

Chambered for this shootable new cartridge, the Montana got our attention for its light weight. We thought Rugerís Frontier was too heavy, and Sakoís costly 85 didnít please us much.

When a new cartridge comes along that might be useful as an all-around one, it gets our attention. The recent .338 Federal isnít really powerful enough to qualify as an all-írounder, but it looked to us like a great option for those who want a versatile round with more bullet weight than is offered in the .308, while still being able to fit into the .308-size rifle action. The .338 Federal is essentially the .308 opened to accept bullets of 0.338-inch diameter, sort of a .338 OKH Short, if you will. These .338-inch-diameter bullets offer greater sectional density than similar-weight bullets out of the .358 Winchester. While there are a lot of bullets available in 0.338-inch diameter, the short actions generally used to accommodate this new round will probably dictate that the lighter bullets will be the ones of choice.

Still, we suspect many handloading short-range hunters will opt for 225- up to 250-grain bullets. An updated version of the old 250-grain Hornady round-nose bullet is still available and wonít take up much powder room.

As with most new cartridges, .338 Federal ammunition isnít readily available yet across every sporting-goods counter. We checked various gun shops in Idaho and Montana, but could not find .338-Fed ammunition for sale. In fact, most clerks in the stores we contacted had no idea of what the cartridge was. We finally obtained three of the four types currently available, all by Federal. These were loaded with 180-grain Nosler Accubond, 185-grain Barnes-X Triple-Shock, and the relatively low-cost 200-grain Fusion bullets. We could not obtain the 210-grain Nosler Partition load, though it would be our first choice for serious hunting.

Several questions can be put to rest before we look at the three rifles. First, most of us here in Idaho donít consider this caliber adequate for serious elk hunting, much less big bear, though we suspect it would do better than most .30-caliber rifles, even .300 Mags. The bullets arenít heavy enough nor velocity fast enough from this small cartridge to perform as well as some of us would like on really big elk. Velocities out of the Kimber were close to factory claims except for the 180-grain Nosler Accubond load, which fell about 90 fps short. Velocities with the Sako were all lower than the Kimberís, and the Rugerís short barrel cut speed a whole lot.

We believe the .338 Federal will be a mighty fine cartridge for deer, sheep, goat, and so on, performing way better than anything smalleróand assuming a real hunter is behind the rifle. Performance ought to be similar to that obtained from the .358 Winchester So why not get one of those? After all, the .358 owner can use cast-lead pistol bullets. Well, thereís a better bullet selection for the reloader in .338, and sectional density is somewhat better too. This means slightly flatter trajectory for the .338 Fed, though probably not by a lot. Finally, the question of recoil is undoubtedly on most shootersí minds. We can tell you that even with the heaviest bullets tested in the lightest rifle, recoil is simply not a factor here. Two of the test rifles were much too heavy, but the 6.5-pound Kimber (as tested) was a sweetheart on the shoulder. Forget recoil fears with this cartridge. Hereís what we found.

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