.338 Federal vs. .338 RCM

.338 Federal vs. .338 RCM

Federal Premium offered its first namesake cartridge to the world in 2006. Dubbed the .338 Federal, this new compact cartridge was generated by simply necking-up the much-loved .308 Win. to accept .338 bullets. Wildcatters had been doing the same thing for years—most notably outdoor writer Roy Smith—but it was Federal that legitimized the round and filled the last branch on the .308 family tree.

Two years later it was Ruger's turn. The company already had a parent cartridge, the .375 Ruger, that provided plenty of case capacity for the creation of a new, short .338 round. This round became known as the .338 Ruger Compact Magnum, or .338 RCM, and it promised .338 Win. Mag.-like performance from a more compact, efficient cartridge. Ruger built the rifles, and Hornady supplied the ammunition.

Both the .338 Federal and .338 RCM work well in short-barreled, compact, lightweight hunting rifles, but despite their similar profiles and bullet diameters, these are two very different cartridges in terms of performance. The .338 Federal pushes a 200-grain Trophy Bond Tip bullet at about 2,630 fps from the muzzle. By contrast, the .338 RCM drives a 200-grain Hornady SST bullet down the barrel at 2,950 fps.

The .338 Federal's 200-grain TBT drops 9.2 inches at 300 yards when zeroed at 200 yards whereas Hornady's 200-grain SST load in the .338 RCM drops just 6.9 inches at that same range with the same zero. As ranges increase from there, so does the trajectory gap.


As you might expect, the RCM has a sizable advantage in terms of energy, too. The .338 Federal generates 3,071 ft.-lbs. of muzzle energy while the .338 RCM is creating 3,850 ft.-lbs. at the muzzle. At 300 yards the .338 Federal load carries 1,884 ft.-lbs., which pales in comparison to the RCM's 2,358 ft.-lbs. of wallop at that distance.


338Federal338Rcm

In short, the RCM produces true magnum performance. The .338 Federal does not. But not everyone wants or needs magnum performance. The RCM's ballistics are impressive, but they come at a price. While the .338 Federal generates recoil levels in the 20 to 25 ft.-lbs. range, recoil figures for the .338 RCM are north of 30 ft.-lbs. in a rifle of similar weight.

And despite the .338 RCM's impressive numbers, the .338 Federal is no slouch. At 300 yards the 200-grain .338 Federal TBT and 180-grain .308 Win. TBT loads are within 0.3 inch of drop with 200-yard zeroes. The .338 Federal, however, boasts an additional 100 ft.-lbs. of energy at that distance.

You're not likely to run into too many other hunters carrying rifles chambered for either of these rounds, but factory ammo is available for both. Hornady currently lists four .338 RCM Superformance loads, with bullets ranging from 185 to 225 grains. Federal offers seven .338 Federal loads ranging from 185 grains to 210 grains.


Retail prices for the .338 RCM ammunition are slightly higher, though not excessively so: between $1.30 and $1.80 per shot for the .338 Federal and about $2 per shot for the .338 RCM if you're buying factory ammo.

If you're a handloader, the RCM is better suited for heavy bullets like 250-grain Hornady InterLocks, a great choice for really big, heavy game like elk, bear, moose and bison. For the .338 Federal, you'll max out with 225-grain bullets and a muzzle velocity of about 2,400 fps.

There's a clear winner in terms of rifle availability, and that's the .338 Federal. Federal's sister company, Savage, offers 14 bolt rifles chambered in this round as well as an AR-10, and there are still some Sakos and Kimbers available on used gun racks.


Conversely, the .338 RCM has no champions. Even Ruger no longer chambers current production guns for it, although you can still find Guide Guns and Hawkeyes in .338 RCM on dealer shelves and online.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Gun Clips with Joe Mantegna - BULLPUPS

Gun Clips with Joe Mantegna - BULLPUPS

Joe Mantegna talks about the origins of Bullpups.

Delta 5 - Daniel Defense

Delta 5 - Daniel Defense's New Precision Bolt Action Rifle

Those looking to explore precision rifle shooting without going broke will be well served by Daniel Defense's new Delta 5.

Springfield Armory Saint Victor

Springfield Armory Saint Victor

The SAINT' Victor Rifle delivers a lightweight and agile rifle solution while maintaining effectiveness at extended engagement distances.

All About .300 Blackout

All About .300 Blackout

The .300 Blackout is here to stay, and we take some time to look at new technology surrounding this cartridge. Next, we pit subsonic rivals against each other before stretching the legs of this CQB round out to 600 yards from a short 9-inch barrel.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Announced in 1958, the .264 and .338 Winchester magnums hit the market in 1959 amid one of the biggest media blitzes the industry had seen. Both were introduced in “new” versions of Winchester's beloved Model 70. Ammo

.264 and .338 Magnum - Winchester Twins

Craig Boddington - May 24, 2019

Announced in 1958, the .264 and .338 Winchester magnums hit the market in 1959 amid one of the...

Winchester Repeating Arms releases the new autoloading Wildcat 22 LR rimfire rifle. Rimfire

Winchester Releases Wildcat 22 LR Rimfire Rifle

Rifle Shooter Digital Staff - April 11, 2019

Winchester Repeating Arms releases the new autoloading Wildcat 22 LR rimfire rifle.

Browning's new X-Bolt Max Long Range rifle is an accurate rifle tailored for long range accuracy. Bolt-Action

Browning's New X-Bolt Max Long Range Rifle

Rifle Shooter Digital Staff - April 11, 2019

Browning's new X-Bolt Max Long Range rifle is an accurate rifle tailored for long range...

Thompson/Center and S&W's Performance Center team up to build an entry-level long-range chassis rifle. Reviews

Performance Center-Thompson/Center LRR Review

Alfredo Rico - April 09, 2019

Thompson/Center and S&W's Performance Center team up to build an entry-level long-range...

See More Trending Articles

More Ammo

When it comes to the best deer bullets, hunters have more choices than ever before. Consider your hunting environment and choose accordingly. Ammo

Affordable Deer Bullet Options

Craig Boddington - November 08, 2019

When it comes to the best deer bullets, hunters have more choices than ever before. Consider...

The RifleShooter staff put together their gift guide for the upcoming holiday season, with products from SIG, Browning, Leupold and many more. Accessories

RifleShooter Holiday Gift Guide (2019)

J. Scott Rupp

The RifleShooter staff put together their gift guide for the upcoming holiday season, with...

Listed by caliber, here's a look at what big game rifle cartridges are trending upward, and which are not. Ammo

Top Big Game Rifle Cartridges by Caliber

J. Scott Rupp - July 07, 2020

Listed by caliber, here's a look at what big game rifle cartridges are trending upward, and...

SIG SAUER adds to its Elite Match ammo line with the 30-06 Springfield. Ammo

New 30-06 Springfield Elite Match Ammo from SIG SAUER

Rifleshooter Online Editors - April 03, 2019

SIG SAUER adds to its Elite Match ammo line with the 30-06 Springfield.

See More Ammo

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get Digital Access.

All Rifle Shooter subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now