The .338 Lapua cartridge was developed in the 1980s when the US military decided that it needed something in between the new standard sniper round, the .300 Winchester Magnum, and the .50 BMG for anti personnel and anti [light] vehicle work. The American company Research Armament Industries (RAI) proceeded to focus upon a necked down .416 Rigby cartridge.
However, financial difficulties eventually caused RAI to pass the torch to others. The Finnish company SAKO, along with British Accuracy international continued the work on the cartridge that eventually became the .338 Lapua Magnum. Lapua was the munitions developer that fine tuned the new cartridge from its original big bore hunting Rigby progenitor to the long distance, hard hitting round made famous in the hands of the like of British Corporal of Horse Craig Harrison: hitting his targets at almost 2500 meters.
Quality Lapua magnum ammo runs in excess of $3.50 per shot, so suffice it to say that anyone seriously considering purchase of such a rifle is somewhat immune to sticker shock.
One gun salesman refers to the caliber as “.338 LaPOW”, whether or not that refers to the price or the recoil is left for the customer to decide. As the rifle was originally intended for military utilization, and the prohibitive cost of both rifle and ammunition, demand has yet to drive supply to the point of bringing prices down to mere mortal capabilities to purchase.
However, with savings (or a healthy credit account) civilians are able to get their hands on a number of high quality and well functioning products. Almost all are of a “heavy” classification for prone or at least stationary shooting as the recoil of the caliber is considerably stout.
Consider the caliber similar to a fictitious .30-06 Magnum. Though the bullet diameter is closer to 8mm than 7.62, and the nominally 200 (or greater) grain bullet has a long sectional density to maintain stability to stay on target over considerable differences. So “running and gunning” with such a firearm is likely out of the question for most shooters.
Top 10 Best .338 Lapua rifles on the market 2021
Large caliber rifles always conjure up the name Barret. Their MRAD rifle is available in several more common calibers as well as .338 Lapua rifle. It is also available in different colored coats.
What brings the modularity of this rifle to impressive standards is that the barrel can be swapped out for up to eight different calibers, so the same rifle can be used with cheaper and more plentiful ammunition while still maintaining the capability of employing the Lapua cartridge.
Of course barrel kits are also not “cheap” but they do enhance the versatility of this rifle along with the adjustable stock accessory rail mounts on the free float handguard and the AR15 style pistol grip capable of taking any of the many variations of same.
Barret continues to make a product that is ready to serve on the front lines, behind enemy lines or on the target line with equal certainty of function and accuracy.
Weatherby Mark V Tacmark
High powered rifle cartridges are nothing new to rifle maker Weatherby. Started in 1945 in the US, Weatherby rifles were originally built upon commercial Mauser 98 actions before further development created the Mark V.
The strength of which – a 9 lug action – allows the Mark V to claim to be one of the strongest chambers on the market.
The Mark V Tacmark is a tactical or bench rifle version available in several calibers as well as the .338 Lapual.
Provided with an adjustable comb stock, detachable magazine and accu-brake (very important) the Tacmark offers a traditional variation of the caliber without it appearing too tactical or “evil” as many “black” guns are seen in the media.
The fluted barrel comes with Weatherby’s guarantee of less than 1” groupings at 100 yards with premium brand ammunition. This last point is what keeps Weatherby in competition with other, larger arms makers: their commitment to accuracy for the customer.
Remington 700 XCR
The Remington Xtreme Conditions Rifle (XCR) merges the venerable 700 action with modern technologies to produce one of the most rugged and dependable rifles ever offered by Remington – which is saying something.
The m700 action is a favorite of military and police and has been for several decades – a testament to the design’s practicality, durability and reliability.
The XCR has an X-Mark Pro, externally adjustable trigger for simple and quick adjustments in the field. The 26” stainless barrel comes with a patented Black TriNyte PVD coating - on all metal surfaces - to protect against whatever Mother Nature can dish out.
The fluted barrel is mounted on an aluminum bedded stock for off bench accuracy and comes standard with a 5 round detachable magazine and factory installed muzzle brake – a must for prone shooting with this caliber.
The receiver is of course also drilled and tapped to accept all M700 long action mounts for optics.
The Armalite AR30A1 is the next generation of that company’s .338 Lapua rifle. Offering balance and easy ergonomics, the Armalite also is available with a long top rail to accommodate virtually any optics option coupled with a stock that offers adjustments in length of pull as well as height of the comb for proper cheek weld for optimal eye relief.
The substantial brake not only helps disperse the recoil gasses but also reduces muzzle jump from a prone position – which is of course what this rifle is designed for. The skeleton stock is steel V-bedded to give both a stable yet vibration free platform.
From the company that introduced the AR10 and AR15, the AR30 is designed with all of their qualities of accuracy and dependability. Armalite is often the first and longest lasting provider of cutting edge, high performance rifles and the AR 30 is no different, it deserves to be on the list of the best .338 Lapua rifle on the market.
Ruger American Rifle Magnum
Ruger has been working hard to make their American model applicable in virtually ever caliber from .22LR up to and including the .338 Lapua. The Magnum Bolt Action boasts 100% US made. Stainless steel barrel and receiver and all weather composite stock make it a perfect companion piece no matter what the elements are doing.
The model specific stock is easy to handle and comfortable and locks in only at the receiver to provide free floating accuracy.
Rubber butt pad and threaded barrel for the installation of any number of optional muzzle devices combat the recoil.
A three round detachable rotary magazine keep the rifle’s ergonomics maximized making this one of the easiest to handle rifles for the hunter on the go – this is less a bench rifle and more a Safari gun where the hunter may find the game closer and more aggressive than is usual.
Best .338 Lapua rifle for hunting, do you agree?
Winchester XPR Bolt-Action Rifle
Another easy handling and relatively light weight rifle is the Winchester XPR. Advertised as the company’s new workhorse rifle for any circumstance while in the field, the rifle is designed to be used. The nickel Teflon coated barrel offers smooth and corrosion resistive operation.
What Winchester brings to the table with this model is the Inflex recoil pad that reduces recoil without adding on pads or extending the rifle’s length with add on muzzle devices.
Stock is also locked in at the receiver for free floating accuracy. The MOA trigger is an ultimate single stage with zero creep, take up or overtravel – making the prominent two position safety, bolt release and cocking indicators a must.
The all weather aspects of this rifle are complimented by an oversized trigger guard for use with gloves.
This is a rifle designed to be used under any scenario, not just the controlled circumstances off bench at the range.
The Ballista is Fabrique Nationale Herstal’s (FNH) offering in a modular, multi caliber rifle system that includes the Lapua - .308 Winchester and .300 Winchester Magnum are the other two. Magazine capacity is either 5 or 8 shots in .338.
The modular design and versatility of the design cannot be understated, but the size and bulkiness of the rifle system seems to have counted against it in military trials, especially when it was considered by the US military for replacement of its aging sniper rifles.
The Ballista was actually beat out by the Remington MSR. Given that the Remington did win the competition but still is too expensive for the US military to employ, and that the Ballista has an MSRP in excess of $7000, it piques the curiosity what the Remington fetches at market.
Savage 10/110 BA Stealth
Savage’s 10/110 BA Stealth model is perhaps the first rifle that brings .338 shooting down to the realm of mere blue collar mortals. With a price tag usually under $1500 it is downright cheap compared to many of the other models explored here.
The space age looking rifle has a fluted and threaded barrel for either a suppressor or a brake. The Drake monolithic aluminum chassis offers several M-Lok rail mounts with an adjustable length stock and adjustable cheek piece on the comb.
Available more commonly in .300 Win Mag, the .338 Lapua model is still shown as still in production, albeit in limited runs by Savage.
Never the less, the BA Stealth remains a popular choice for shooters looking to explore the Lapua as a long range target round.
And the Savage model 10/110 action is just as strong in this futuristic offering as it is in the more traditional Long Range Hunter or the FCP models which are more traditional looking as well as listed at a slightly more affordable price.
This is really the best budget .338 Lapua rifle, well worth a try.
Savage 112 Magnum Target
The Savage 112 Magnum Target single shot rifle is not only the least expensive rifle on this list, but perhaps the most affordable .338 Lapua rifle on the market.
While limited to one shot, the 26” heavy carbon steel barrel is designed to deliver that one shot to the target the first time.
Lest anyone forgets the price of each .338 cartridge, this model may be the most economical choice of all of them, keeping you at the range after everyone else has burned through $70 of 20 rounds.
At almost 12 pounds before adding ay optics or bipod, the 112 is designed to sit on the bench and not be in a hurry.
The weight, provided by the heavy barrel and action, with a laminated stock, supplemented by the hefty brake out front helps soak up some of the recoil of the magnum round while seated or prone.
As with all Savage firearms, the patented, adjustable AccuTrigger is factory installed.
DRD Tactical - KIVAARI 338 Lapua Semi-Automatic Rifle
DRD Tactical is a company that prides itself on its patented quick take down design for making the rifle discretely portable, something that seems almost antithetical to the .338 Lapua.
However, their Kivaari does just that: matches precision magnum caliber with a quick take down for easy go and carry.
The furniture is Magpul and the 24” barrel is equipped with a Silcerco QD brake for muzzle device options. A 2 stage trigger rounds out the package on an AR10 style lower receiver with elongated mag well to accommodate the longer magnum cartridges.
A semi-automatic design for the cartridge makes the reputedly stout recoil a little less daunting and the idea of rapid follow up shots less a fantasy.
DRD is a new company offering new concepts that many shooters are eager to test out. The most pertinent question for this product probably remains for many shooters is why a semi auto Lapua is “necessary”? Fortunately, that question has not stopped the presence of semiauto .50 BMG Barretts to the market, it will hopefully not keep this rifle down.
KIVAARI is probably the best .338 Lapua rifle for recoil sensitive shooters.
Some of my thoughts
As stated initially, the shooting of the .338 Lapua is not a poor man’s sport. Nevertheless, there are some options that allow for the caliber to be used without completely breaking the bank. The Savage options offer a quality and rugged simplicity that offers reliability at a cost, when compared to the other rifles on the market, appear to be downright steals. Yet there are shooters that want the experience and equipment that is available to first world nation militaries, and for the shooters that have the ability to support such desires, the market can provide.
The Barret MRAD perhaps offers the best value for versatility – and availability- of the modular rifles with tactical features. Its price tag, while steep, does not come perilously close to the FNH or many of the custom rifles in limited availability such as a Steyr or Remington’s MSR or XS40 models. Further, as a manufacturer of the commercially successful .50 BMG chambered rifles, Barrett has established itself as a reliable high powered rifle maker.
Remington Model XCR, built as it is on an m700 actions, has a similar strong footing in reliability and function. The after market accessories available for Remington 700 series provides the rifle with additional value to shooters on a budget or looking to customize their rifle. Or both. Of course, this caliber is not designed for use of casual shooters. It is a serious caliber for serious business. Even the Weatherby Tacmark, with its tactical stock, weighs in at $4k MSRP – without a scope - may frighten off more moderately sized caliber shooters.
At that point, it becomes a question of brand or company origins loyalty: the Savage options have a solid reputation of both accuracy and durability. They are rifles that scream to be used and, with the possible exception of the Stealth, abused. The Winchester and Ruger options are not by any means cheaply made, nor are they to be target rifles. They are for all intents and purposes the best choices here to be taken into the field and used – perhaps in a life and death circumstance for the shooter where reliability of function is the difference between being a hunter and being hunted. In such circumstances ease of use and ready handling take precedence over long distance accuracy. Their durable, all weather coating also provides additional comfort – both in being able to endure the elements, but also in that the initial price tag of the rifle does not represent an investment that will decline with hard use.
What of the DRD Tactical? The possibility of having quick follow up shots on a rifle willing to soak up some of the stout recoil of the Lapua Magnum cartridge almost seems too good to be true. So does finding one: availability of many products is often the default decider of what to get – but the company’s advertising and the technological achievement both suggest that demand should keep the possibility of finding one on the comfortable side of a fairy tale.
In the meantime, if .338 Lapua is the caliber desired, the next differentiator will be bench or hunting: the manufacturers are offering acceptable and dependable options for both.
Precision – and tactical – shooters can find the most value that companies like Barrett and Remington and Savage can offer. The former fetching some mildly shocking price tags. Which is not at all unfitting as the cost and recoil will more than likely encourage judicious and measured firing. Ruger and Winchester, however, have met the need for a rifle to actually be used in the .338 Lapua Magnum caliber. While they may lack the bells and whistles of a long-distance tack driver, they do meet the need of a reliable and durable tool of the trade: especially if dealing with aggressive and large game.
Thankfully, gun makers are still ready to answer whatever the sporting community declares as a need.
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16 years of proofreading experience for higher education in courses of Western Civ I, Western Civ II, US History I, US History II, World Civ I and 20th Century Globalism.