The .338 Winchester Magnum

After A Slow Start, This Modest .33 Is Proving Its Versatility.

The .338 Winchester is the most popular “magnum” above .30 caliber in North America, though it had a slow start. To understand why and how handloading the .338 has changed, let’s take a memory trip down cartridge lane.

In the 1950s, Americans found themselves prospering in the post-World War II boom, and many hunters wanted new rifles for use on big game in distant places from Alaska to Africa. At the end of the war, only two American rifles were being chambered for above .30 cartridges designed for game bigger than deer: the Model 71 Winchester lever action in .348 WCF, and the Model 70 Winchester chambered for the .375 H&H. The Model 71 was relatively short-ranged, and American hunters had already started moving toward scoped bolt actions. The .375 was considered perfect for brown bear, but most hunters considered it too large for everything else in North America—and those who hunted in Africa considered it a little too small for Cape buffalo, rhinoceros and elephant. (And yes, in the 1950s, rhinos were still part of a “general bag” in Kenya and Tanganyika, then the center of the safari industry.)

In 1956, Winchester introduced the .458 Winchester, a belted magnum designed to approximate the ballistics of the traditional British big bores. Even though the Model 70’s action easily accommodated the long .375 H&H, Winchester made the .458 the same overall length as the .30-06, to fit in the magazines of war-surplus 1903 Springfield and 98 Mauser rifles, at that time a mainstay of the custom rifle industry.

In 1958 Winchester brought out two more cartridges on the .458 case, the .264 and .338 Magnums. The .264 was a direct assault on three of Roy Weatherby’s sub-.30-caliber magnums: the .257, .270 and 7mm, and eventually became the most popular Winchester Magnum.

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