In 1983, the U.S. Military began development of a new, long range, sniper cartridge with ballistic performance that exceeded that of the .300 Winchester Mangum but, which fired a smaller diameter bullet with significantly less recoil than the .50 BMG cartridge.
Thus, the initial cartridge was developed by Research Armament Industries (RAI) in the United States who chose the .338 caliber bullet due to its optimum sectional density and penetration capability for practical spin stabilized rifle bullets.
After preliminary experiments, a .416 Rigby case was chosen as the parent case and then necked down to accept a .338 caliber bullet. Then, RAI contracted with Brass Extrusion Labs Ltd. (BELL) of Bensenville, Illinois to make the cartridge cases while Hornady produced the bullets and RAI built the rifle under contract for the U.S. Navy.
However, RAI eventually determined that the BELL cases did not fulfill the requirements and thus, they then turned to ammunition manufacturer Lapua of Finland in 1984.
But, RAI was eventually forced to drop out of the program due to financial difficulties and thus, the current cartridge was developed as a joint venture between the Finnish rifle manufacturer SAKO and the British rifle manufacturer Accuracy International in conjunction with Lapua who put the new cartridge into limited production.
Due to RAI’s inability to make the new cartridge meet the project's target velocity of 3,000 fps due to excessive pressure rupturing the cases, Lapua decided to redesign the .338/416 case by creating a hardness distribution ranging from the head and web to the mouth as well as a thicker case web and sidewall immediately forward of the web which allowed it to operate at higher pressures and thus come within 50 fps of the original goal of firing a 250 grain bullet at a muzzle velocity of 3,000 fps in order to penetrate up to five layers of better-than-standard body armor at ranges up to 1,000 meters (1,094 yards).
Therefore, the result was the .338 Lapua Magnum cartridge which was registered with the C.I.P. (Commission Internationale Permanente pour l'Epreuve des Armes à Feu Portatives) in 1989 and which was then adopted by the Dutch army; thus causing it to become NATO codified.
However, due to its growing civilian popularity, several high quality tactical and match rifles designed for the .338 Lapua Magnum are now available and therefore, below you will find a list of some the best .338 Lapua Magnum rifles on the market today.
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Some of the best .338 Lapua Rifles
• Weatherby Mark V Accumark .338 Lapua •
While the .338 Lapua Magnum cartridge was primarily designed as a military long range sniper cartridge for use against enemy personnel and thus, the two rifles listed above were predominately designed as military style, long range, sniper rifles, the .338 Lapua Magnum cartridge has also found favor with hunters who commonly hunt large game species such as Elk, Moose, and Brown Bear as well as some African game species.
Consequently, Weatherby (who is well known for their production of precision, magnum powered, sporting rifles) has designed the Mark V Accumark to meet the needs of hunters rather than snipers.
It features a composite, Monte Carlo, sporting rifle stock with a full length aluminum bedding block combined with your choice of a fluted standard 6-lug or magnum 9-lug bolt action with a 54 degree lift and Weatherby’s LXX trigger and an integral 2 round magazine.
It also features a free floated, 28 inch, fluted, number 3 contour heavy barrel with an integral Accubreak muzzle break and the receiver is drilled and tapped for easy mounting of a scope.
• Savage 10/110 FCP HS Precision •
Commonly known as one of the most accurate production rifles available, Savage rifles incorporate several unique innovations not featured on other rifles.
For instance, headspace (the distance from the bolt face the back of the cartridge when a round is chambered) is absolutely critical to accuracy but, most manufacturer’s designs require them to first establish a safe headspace range and then attach their barrels accordingly whereas, Savage’s barrel nut system enables them to first adjust the headspace of each chamber individually before tightening the barrel nut for a precision fit chamber on every rifle.
In addition, bolt face to case head alignment is another critical factor to rifle accuracy and thus, instead of the standard single-piece bolt, Savage bolts feature a two-piece, floating, design which enables the bolt face to precisely align with the case head each and every time.
Thus, for shooters who are looking for an affordable bolt action rifle chambered for the .338 Lapua Magnum cartridge, Savage offers the 10/110 FCP HS Precision rifle which features a black, composite, stock combined with Savage’s proprietary two-piece bolt action and a 26 inch, carbon steel, heavy barrel with a matte blued finish combined and Savage’s proprietary, adjustable, Accutrigger mechanism and a 5 round, detachable, box magazine.
• Alexander Arms Ulfbhert •
The Alexander Arms Ulfbhert rifle is a long-range, precision, semi-automatic, magazine fed, gas piston operated, rifle based on the ever popular AR-10 platform but which is chambered for the .338 Lapua Magnum cartridge and, it has been designed from scratch to be the most reliable and strongest-performing semi-automatic .338 Lapua Magnum weapon ever produced.
In fact, the rifle is capable of sub minute of angle accuracy and can repeatedly place four consecutive hits on a 12-inch target at a distance of 1,400 yards in only 3.5 seconds!
Featuring a gas piston operating system based on the Russian DP 28 machine gun which has been inverted and refined to allow for magazine feeding, the system is also adjustable; thus enabling shooters to operate the weapon in a variety of environments and situations with a wide variety of ammunition.
In addition, the receiver is made of steel to support the long, heavy, barrel and to resist the operating pressure as well as to lock the bolt and, in order to absorb the stresses generated by high pressure loads, the barrel is press-fitted into the receiver.
Instead of rotating, the bolt is locked into the receiver by two heavy, steel, flaps. Furthermore, in order to create an extremely reliable and soft-shooting system, the rifle incorporates a constant recoil approach whereby the bolt assembly only recoils to the back of the receiver.
Thus, the rifle can accurately and reliably place multiple shots on target at distances of up to 2,000 yards.
The Alexander Arms Ulfbhert rifle has been called the most innovative weapon design introduced to the firearms industry in over two decades and it has also been designated the 2015 Rifle of the Year by Shooting Illustrated.
• Armalite AR-30A1 •
Armalite is widely known as the original developer of the AR-15/AR-10 rifle and, the AR-30A1 is Armalite’s version of a long-range, precision, rifle chambered for the .338 Lapua Magnum cartridge.
Similar in appearance to the original AR-10, the AR-30A1 differs most significantly in that it is a bolt action rifle rather than a semi-automatic rifle and, it comes with a 5 round magazine.
It also features anodized aluminum upper and lower receivers with steel V-block bedding systems combined with a free-floated 26 inch Chromium-Molybdenum steel barrel with a large muzzle break designed to significantly reduce felt recoil for increased accuracy.
In addition, it also features an adjustable, skeletonized, detachable, butt stock with an adjustable cheek piece and an AR style pistol grip combined with a crisp, single stage, trigger and a 20 inch Picatinny rail for mounting optics to provide the shooter with sub minute-of-angle accuracy.
Armalite states that the AR-30A1 provides 0.25 to 0.75 Minute-of-Angle accuracy at a distance of 300 yards. So, for those shooters who like the AR-10 platform but prefer bolt actions over semiautomatic actions, the Armalite AR-30A1 is an excellent choice for a long range, precision, rifle.
• Remington Model 700 XCR Tactical •
The Remington model 700 is advertised as the most accurate out-of-the-box rifle manufactured today and this claim is supported by the fact that the U.S. military uses Remington Model 700 bolt actions as the basis for their proprietary M24 Sniper Weapon System.
However, the Remington Model 700 Extreme Conditions Rifle (XCR) Tactical rifle is designed to be a precision, long range, rifle for use by civilian police units and thus, rather than being based upon the AR-10 platform, it instead features a Bell & Carlson Tactical composite stock and a full length, aluminum, bedding block with a tactical beavertail forend combined with a 416 stainless steel bolt action drilled and tapped for easy scope mounting and a free floating, 26", varmint-contour barrel with LTR-style fluting and an Ops Inc. muzzle break with a dish-style target crown.
It also features an X-Mark Pro adjustable trigger system in conjunction with a 5 round detachable magazine with a hinged floor plate. Thus, it is a favored rifle among both military and police snipers as well as long range target shooters.
Thus, as mentioned above, the .338 Lapua Magnum cartridge has a rather interesting history in that it was originally conceived as a precision, long range, antipersonnel round for use by military snipers who needed a cartridge that would provide significantly better ballistic and terminal performance than the .300 Winchester Magnum cartridge.
However, due to its extreme kinetic energy, it has also become a popular cartridge among avid big game hunters who need better terminal performance than can be obtained with either the .300 Winchester Magnum or the .338 Winchester Magnum cartridges.
Therefore, numerous firearms manufacturers now produce both semiautomatic and bolt action rifles chambered for the .338 Lapua Magnum designed both military and police snipers as well as hunters and thus, the above list represents what we feel are some of the best .338 Lapua Magnum rifles available today.