The standardization of the .338 Federal cartridge was announced at the end of 2005 and made a reality during 2006. It was a popular wildcat before that, being a .308 Winchester case necked up for .338″ diameter bullets. Federal claimed the performance of a 7mm Remington Magnum but with notably lower recoil. This was made possible by the larger bullet diameter and the smaller case capacity. There is a great selection of .338″ bullets with high ballistic coefficients.
Just as this was happening, my father proposed hunting together in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, to which he had just retired. He owns no firearms, and he wasn’t going to keep one in the house. My father is left-handed, and I thought it would make sense to acquire a left-handed rifle for him to use. The .338 Federal immediately made sense, because of the large whitetail, black bear, elk, and even moose in the area, and also because I didn’t think my father would be very tolerant of heavy recoil. A left-handed rifle in an unusual caliber, before the SAAMI standardization had been finalized, was going to be a custom rifle. I ordered a barreled action from Montana Rifleman, who were happy to accommodate my request. I also ordered a beautiful piece of quilted maple from Richard’s Microfit Stocks (which took forever to arrive and then a lot of work to finish). This gun has been the subject of much procrastination. Even today, it isn’t complete and it hasn’t been fired. One reason for this is that, midway through the project, my father pointed out to me that he learned to shoot right-handed in the service, and he has no more experience shooting left-handed than I do.
This year is the first opportunity I have had to hunt the UP. The .338 Federal cartridge still has a special place in my heart, so I decided to grab one and get it ready for the season this year. This has been made difficult because the cartridge never became popular, and most rifle manufacturers have dropped it from their product lines. I picked up a new Ruger M77 Hawkeye from a dealer’s old stock. It was the stainless synthetic model, but I have outfitted it with Boyd’s gray laminate stock. This was also my opportunity to try a Redfield scope, which seems like an incredible value.
To keep the recoil down, I have wanted to use a light bullet. Barnes makes a 160 grain T-TSX, an all copper bullet with a polymer tip. I have tried a few powders, and IMR 8208 XBR has been the most accurate, with very good velocity. So far, 8208 XBR has been the most accurate powder in every caliber I’ve tried it in (.338 Federal, .223 Remington, and 6.5mm Grendel). When I was trying different powders and bullets, I got a 0.646″ 5-shot group with this combination, though I haven’t been able to duplicate that subsequently.
The trigger had some serious trigger creep. I performed a trigger job and honed that out. Now it is very crisp with no creep. However, now I wonder if I’m having a problem with over-travel. My groups seem to have opened up a bit after having done the trigger job.
All in all, I am fairly happy with this rifle. I’m sure I will be happier after I have taken game with it. The action is a rather inelegant thing, built like a truck, but I suppose I can’t complain if it gets the job done.