A Few Handloading Tips for the .338 Lapua

1 According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the longest successful rifle shot in history was made in Afghanistan by a British sniper named Craig Harrison. He made three successful shots at 2,707 yards or 1.54 miles. It was so far that it took the bullets nearly three seconds to get there. The rifle was an Accuracy International chambered in .338 Lapua.

For long range shooting, the .338 Lapua fills the gap between the .300 Winchester and the .50 BMG. It delivers more energy downrange and handles wind better than the .300 while not as big, loud, heavy or ridiculous as a .50. I love the fifties, but you have to admit, at times, they border on absurd in a shoulder fired rifle. One of my buddies has one that weighs 48 pounds. Not exactly something I want to lug up a mountain. The Lapua is chambered in rifles light enough for a normal human to carry.

The problem is that ammo for the Lapua now is running as much as seven bucks a pop, if you can find it. But, you can handload good ammo for less than a dollar a cartridge. In fact, I just submitted a pretty extensive feature article on handloading the .338 Lapua to NRA’s Shooting Illustrated magazine. You can read a more in-depth review there in a few months, but for now here are a few tips.

 

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Primers

Without a doubt the Federal 215 primer is the best choice. It is the hottest primer on the market and was developed for big rifle cases. I use the 215M, which is the match grade 215 primer. That simply means it gets more inspections and has tighter tolerances.

 Propellants

There are a lot of great powders on the market that will work well in the .338 Lapua. But you can’t buy them all. My buddy Thad Stevens is in charge of research and development for Barnes Bullets. He is also an avid long range shooter and my go to guy for a lot of reloading questions.

“Use H-1000 and be done with it,” he said.

He is right. If you can only afford one powder, start with H-1000.

 Bullets

There are a lot of excellent bullets for the .338 Lapua and I found you can’t go wrong with most of them. The Sierra MatchKing 250-grain is probably the best all-around bullet for this cartridge. It’s a target bullet, so I would not choose it for hunting.

If you want a bullet for hunting or long range tactical use, try the Barnes 280-grain LRX. It has the legendary Barnes terminal performance in a high ballistic coefficient bullet. This bullet is fussy about seating depth so if the accuracy is not all you expect, play with it a bit. I promise when you hit the magic spot the groups will astound you.

Boxes

MGM Deluxe 50 and 100 round boxes work well for the Lapua.

Loading

SAAMI just standardized the cartridge in January. Before that it was the Wild West with specifications. Some rifles run oversized chambers and the fired brass is very large. You will know when you run into these cases, as it takes a lot of force to resize them.

Robin Sharpless from Redding Reloading suggested that the cases fired in an oversize chamber should be resized, allowed to sit for a few days and then resized again to deal with the spring-back on the brass. He is right. I tried it my way, just sizing and loading, and they chambered hard. They also caused fliers in the groups. If you have some oversize brass, size it twice with a rest in between.

Also, when you buy your dies, spring for a Redding Competition Bullet Seating Die with a micrometer adjustment. It makes adjusting cartridge overall length easy.

Cases

Cases vary from maker to maker. For a while it required two different shell holders to accommodate the different case designs. But the reloading tool manufacturers assure me that has settled out now with a single shell holder designed to fit all .338 Lapua cases. Make sure you have up to date info before ordering a shell holder.

Shooting

 

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I have tested seven different .338 Lapua rifles extensively at the range and none of them has impressed me with their 100 yard accuracy. The two best of the bunch are at opposite ends of the price spectrum. The Accuracy International AX and the Savage 110BA shot the best, but still would not produce the tiny groups I have gotten from tactical rifles chambered in other cartridges. A Lapua that shoots less than one MOA at 100 yards is a good rifle. Most .308 rifles can do half that easily.

The AI I tested was about ten grand as it sat, the Savage a quarter of that. Both were sub-MOA. The other rifles fell in-between in price and well below in accuracy.

Several knowledgeable people have told me some of the problem is because the Lapua bullets have not stabilized and “gone to sleep” at 100 yards.

I didn’t buy into that for a long time, but the more I work with the .338 Lapua, the more I have come to the conclusion that there might be something to this theory. With this cartridge there often does not seem to be a linear progression with the group sizes as the distance increases. One inch groups at 100 yards do not necessarily mean 5-inch groups at 500 yards or 6-inch at 600 yards. Often they are smaller. Of course, they do not shrink and become smaller than the 100 yard groups; but they don’t seem to grow bigger in a predictable way, either..

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