The 338 Federal is a very interesting cartridge and I hope it gets more attention from the industry over the next few years. It is based on a 308 Winchester necked up to accept .338 caliber projectiles. The 338 Federal can be loaded with bullet weights as light as 160 grain and most load sources only go as heavy as 225 grains. Federal offers two factory loads that seem to be the sweet spot for the cartridge:
#1- 200 grain bullet @ 2,700 ft/sec = 3,237 Ft-lbs of Energy and 77 lbs-ft/sec Momentum.
#2- 210 grain bullet @ 2,630 ft/sec = 3,225 Ft-Lbs of energy and 77 lbs-ft/sec Momentum.
338 Federal hand loads: Barnes offers a load with a 225 grain bullet @ 2,455 ft/sec = 3,010 Ft-lbs of Energy. Nosler offers a 225 grain bullet @ 2,350 ft/sec range. If you are willing to shoot compressed loads of 110%-115%, Nosler has some loads that will push a 225 grain bullet just into the 2,420 range. Considering this, the hand load data for the 338 Federal may not be overly impressive. So the Federal factory loads (and possibly one from Sako) seem to be the best way to go at the moment.
I said earlier that I hope the 338 Federal gets more attention by the Industry. This is based on my opinion of the odd niche between the 308 Winchester and the 358 Winchester and how well (or how oddly, depending how you look at it) the 338 Federal fills this niche.
308 Winchester (Heavy): Federal offers a factory 180 grain load @ 2,740 Ft/sec = 3,000 Ft-lbs of energy and a good B.C. Hornady hand loads a 208 grain bullet @ 2,450 Ft/sec = 2,772 Ft-lbs of energy & a B.C. of 0.648.
338 Federal: The 338 Federal factory loads of 200 grains @ 2,700 ft/sec and 210 grains @ 2,630 ft/sec offer a good incentive step up to this cartridge because of good velocity and increased power.
358 Winchester: Double Tap: 225 grains@ 2,525 ft/sec = 3,185 Ft-lbs of energy and 81 Lbs-ft/sec Momentum. Speer: 250 grains @ 2,330 ft/sec = 3,013 Ft-lbs of energy and 83.2 Lbs-ft/sec of Momentum. Double Tap: 250 grains @ 2,430 ft/sec = 3,277 ft-lbs of energy and 87 Lbs-Ft/sec of Momentum.
Looking at the load data for the 358 Winchester there just isn’t as big as of a leap forward (if any) as one would hope for when increasing from .338 to .358 in caliber. (However, the almost 12% increase in momentum is worth mentioning. That is a lot more penetration and knockdown).
Overall the 338 Federal has two factory loads from Federal and one from Sako that are fairly motivating. I hope the rest of the industry will look more closely at the potential of the 338 Federal for close & mid-range big game hunting and develop some better loads. If this happens, we might see some really neat things with the 338 Federal and other "little" Big & Heavy cartridges.
Good Hunting! Be Safe!