.338 Winchester Magnum for Elk Hunting? Best Ammo (Round, Load, Cartridge) for a Successful Elk Hunt
- Hunting Calibers
- 04 Apr, 2020
Is the .338 Winchester Magnum a viable caliber/load/round/cartridge for elk hunting? The accurate answer is “it depends”. However, the goal of this article is simply to address the question of whether the .338 Winchester Magnum is within the ideal range of suitable calibers to harvest elk.
As with anything, the devil is in the details. To answer the question completely, we would need to evaluate the downrange distance to the elk, the bullet type, the grain weight of the bullet, the physical condition of the firearm, the size of the elk in question, the shot placement, the local wind conditions, the expected accuracy of the shooter, the ethics of the ideal maximum number of shots – the list goes on.
What we can do is provide a framework to understand what average conditions might look like, and whether those are reasonably viable for a shot from the average shooter to harvest a elk in the fewest number of shots possible, i.e., ethically.
Let’s dive right in. In the question of “Is the .338 Winchester Magnum within the ideal range of suitable calibers for elk hunting?” our answer is:
Yes, the .338 Winchester Magnum is A GOOD CHOICE for elk hunting, under average conditions, from a mid-range distance, with a medium grain expanding bullet, and with correct shot placement.
Let’s look at those assumptions a bit closer in the following table.
|Caliber||.338 Winchester Magnum|
|Muzzle Energy||3920 foot-pounds|
|Animal Weight||720 lbs|
|Shot Distance||200 yards|
What is the average muzzle energy for a .338 Winchester Magnum? In this case, we have assumed the average muzzle energy for a .338 Winchester Magnum round is approximately 3920 foot-pounds.
What is the average weight of an adult male elk? Here we have leaned conservative by taking the average weight of a male individual of the species, since females generally weigh less and require less stopping power. In this case, the average weight of an adult male elk is approximately 720 lbs.
What is the distance this species is typically hunted from? Distance, of course, plays an important role in the viability of a given caliber in elk hunting. The kinetic energy of the projectile drops dramatically the further downrange it travels primarily due to energy lost in the form of heat generated by friction against the air itself. This phenonemon is known as drag or air resistance. Thus, a caliber that is effective from 50 yards may not have enough stopping power from 200 yards. With that said, we have assumed the average hunting distance for elk to be approximately 200 yards.
What about the other assumptions? We have three other primary assumptions being made here. First, the average bullet weight is encapsulated in the average muzzle energy for the .338 Winchester Magnum. The second important assumption is ‘slightly-suboptimal’ to ‘optimal’ shot placement. That is to say, we assume the elk being harvested is shot directly or nearly directly in the vitals (heart and/or lungs). The third assumption is that a projectile with appropriate terminal ballistics is being used, which for hunting usually means an expanding bullet.
A common thread you may encounter in online forums is anecdote after anecdote of large animals being brought down by small caliber bullets, or small animals surviving large caliber bullets. Of course those stories exist, and they are not disputed here. A 22LR cartridge can fell a bull elephant under the right conditions, and a newborn squirrel can survive a 50 BMG round under other specific conditions.
Again, the goal of this article is simply to address the question of whether .338 Winchester Magnum is within the ideal range of suitable calibers to harvest elk - and to this question, the response again is yes, the .338 Winchester Magnum is A GOOD CHOICE for elk hunting.
This article does not serve as the final say, but simply as a starting point for beginner hunters, as well as a venue for further discussion. Please feel free to agree, disagree, and share stories from your own experience in the comments section below.
Disclaimer: the information above is purely for illustrative purposes and should not be taken as permission to use a particular caliber, a statement of the legality or safety of using certain calibers, or legal advice in any way. You must read and understand your own local laws before hunting elk to know whether your caliber of choice is a legal option.
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