Here’s what you need to know about the .338 Federal and .358 Winchester and how they stack up to their parent cartridge in the .308 Winchester.
Most hunters and shooters in North America are probably familiar with the .308 Winchester cartridge as well as cartridges like the .243 Winchester and 7mm-08 Remington that are descended from it. However, the .338 Federal and .358 Winchester are also well designed short action cartridges descended from the .308, but are not nearly as well known.
Indeed, the .358 Winchester was one of the first cartridges designed using a modified .308 Winchester case while the .338 Federal is a relatively new SAAMI standardized rifle cartridge. Though they each have their limitations, both cartridges offer certain advantages when compared to their parent cartridge.
In this article, I’m going to do a detailed comparison of the 338 Federal vs 308 Winchester vs 358 Winchester in order parse out the differences between those three cartridges so you can make an informed decision regarding which one will work best for you.
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338 Federal vs 308 Winchester vs 358 Winchester: History
Winchester unveiled the cartridge we now know as the .308 Winchester in 1952.
The product of a search by the U.S. military for a new cartridge to replace the venerable .30-06 Springfield after World War II, the new .30 caliber Winchester cartridge (and the extremely similar 7.62x51mm NATO cartridge the military eventually adopted) was almost exactly as powerful as the .30-06. However, the newer cartridges used a significantly smaller package.
Indeed, the original 7.62x51mm NATO M80 ball load fired a 146 grain full metal jacket (FMJ) bullet at 2,750 feet per second (2,469 foot pounds of muzzle energy). The 7.62x51mm NATO had virtually the same ballistics as the original .30-06 Springfield load (150 grain bullet at 2,700 feet per second) and also fired a .308″ bullet. However, the 7.62x51mm and the .308 Winchester both achieved that performance with a much shorter case (51mm vs 63mm) due to advances in powder technology that occurred after the development of the .30-06.
Though the .30-06 remains quite popular among big game hunters, the .308 Winchester has steadily grown in popularity over the ensuing decades as well and is now also one of the most popular and commonly used centerfire rifle cartridges in the world.
As is the case with many well designed cartridges, the .308 Winchester has served as the parent for many wildcat and factory derivative cartridges. The .243 Winchester, .260 Remington, and 7mm-08 Remington are among the most popular cartridges descended from the .308 Winchester these days and use a modified .308 Winchester case necked down to 6mm (.243″), 6.5mm (.264″), and 7mm (.284″) respectively.
Unveiled the same year as the .243 Winchester all the way back in 1955, the .358 Winchester also uses a modified .308 Winchester case. Instead of necking the case down to use a smaller bullet though, the designers at Winchester opted to use a .308 Winchester case necked up to .35 caliber.
Shooting heavier and larger .358″ (9.1mm) diameter bullets, but still fitting in a relatively compact package like the .308 Winchester, the .358 Winchester had a lot of potential. The original load of a 200gr Silvertip at nearly 2,500fps was significantly more powerful than the .35 Remington and offered a similar level of performance to the heavy hitting .348 Winchester.
Though the .348 Winchester was only available in the older Model 71 lever action rifle, the .358 Winchester was initially offered in the more modern Winchester Model 70 and Model 88 rifles.
Unfortunately, the .358 Winchester cartridge never really took off with the general hunting community.
It initially gained a reputation as a good “woods cartridge” for hunting medium game. While the .358 Winchester certainly performed extremely well in that role, it was much more capable at longer ranges than many people gave the cartridge credit for.
Even so, the cartridge remained pigeon-holed as a “woods” or “bush cartridge” in the minds of many hunters and shooters and it never really caught on as an all-around big game hunting cartridge in the hunting community at large. Though it’s still hanging around, the cartridge has greatly declined in popularity in recent years.
Undeterred by the fate of the .358 Winchester, Federal took a stab at building a new cartridge using a necked up .308 Winchester case in the early 2000s. Formally released in 2006, the .338 Federal was the first cartridge to bear the Federal name.
Using a .308 Winchester case necked up to use .338″ bullets, the .338 Federal is advertised as having more muzzle energy than the 7mm Remington magnum, and shooting flatter, retaining more energy, and having less recoil than the 30-06. Oh, and the .338 Federal does all that while at the same time fitting in a short length rifle action as well.
308 Winchester vs 338 Federal vs 358 Winchester: Cartridge Sizes
The shared heritage of the .308 Winchester, .338 Federal, and .358 Winchester are obvious in the photo below.
As you can see, the three cartridges are extremely similar in appearance: they have the same rim diameter, the same case length, and the same 20 degree shoulder angle. Though they have different overall lengths, they are still very similar in overall size and all fit in a short action rifle.
Not surprisingly, all three cartridges have very similar case capacities.
Bullet size is the biggest distinguishing factor between them. The .308 Winchester uses .308″ bullets, the .338 Federal uses .338″ bullets, and the .358 Winchester uses .358″ bullets.
Additionally, all three cartridges have basically the same maximum pressure.
As a clarification, SAAMI uses two methods of measuring pressure: crusher and transducer. The pressures listed for the .308 Winchester and .338 Federal above are both measured using the transducer method while the .358 Winchester pressure was measured using the crusher method. SAAMI has published pressures for the .308 Winchester using both methods, but only has published data using the transducer method with the .338 Federal and only crusher method for the .358 Winchester.
All that being said, the .338 Federal and .308 Winchester both have the same published maximum average pressure of 62,000 psi using the transducer method. At the same time, the .308 Winchester and .358 Winchester both have the same maximum average pressure of 52,000 CUP using the crusher method.
Therefore, for all intents and purposes, we can treat all three cartridges as though they have the same maximum pressure.
308 Winchester vs 358 Winchester vs 338 Federal Ballistics
Though the differences in the external dimensions of the .308 Winchester, .338 Federal, and .358 Winchester are relatively minor, there are some interesting differences in their ballistic performance though.
This is illustrated in the table below comparing Buffalo Bore, Federal Fusion, and Hornady factory ammunition loaded with 150gr (.414 BC) and 180gr (.503 BC) Fusion Soft Point bullets in .308 Winchester, 200gr Fusion Soft Point bullets (.416 BC) in .338 Federal, and 200gr InterLock Soft Point (.282 BC) bullets and 225 gr Barnes Triple Shock X (TSX) bullets (.359 BC) in .358 Winchester.
All five loads used a 200 yard zero.
Not surprisingly, the 150gr .308 Winchester load has the flattest trajectory of the bunch. Interestingly, the 180 grain .308 Winchester and 200gr .338 Federal loads have almost the exact same trajectory, but the .338 Federal has more kinetic energy all the way out to 500 yards.
Both .358 Winchester loads have more kinetic energy than both .308 Winchester loads at short range. That advantage is especially pronounced with the Buffalo Bore load. However, both .308 loads use more aerodynamic bullets and have a higher muzzle velocity, so they have a flatter trajectory and surpass the .358 Winchester in the energy department as they travel downrange.
The .338 Federal seems to fit something of a “sweet spot” out of the three cartridges though and clearly offers a definite, though not gigantic ballistic advantage over the other two. It has a markedly flatter trajectory and retains more kinetic energy at all ranges than the .358 Winchester.
While the 150gr .308 Winchester load does have a somewhat flatter trajectory than the .338 Federal, the .338 Federal has virtually the same trajectory as the 180gr .308 Winchester load and has substantially more kinetic energy than both .308 loads from the muzzle out to 500 yards. This is not too surprising though considering that the .338 Federal is firing a 200gr bullet 100 fps faster than the .308 is firing a 180gr bullet.
What about the claim that the .338 Federal has more muzzle energy than the 7mm Remington Magnum?
Muzzle energy varies depending on the exact manufacturer and load we’re talking about, but for the most part, yes, it’s accurate to say that the .338 Federal has more muzzle energy than the 7mm Remington Magnum.
For instance, the .338 Federal load above (200 grain bullet at 2,700fps) has 3,217 ft-lbs of muzzle energy. Federal has two 7mm Rem Mag loads in their Fusion line: a 150 grain bullet at 3,050fps (3,098 ft-lbs) and a 175 grain bullet at 2,760fps (2,960 ft-lbs).
That being said, the 7mm Remington Magnum quickly surpasses the .338 Federal in the energy department as the bullets travel downrange. Furthermore, that claim only applies to the standard .338 Federal Fusion load, not the Fusion MSR (modern sporting rifle) load the company also manufactures (185 grain bullet at 2,680fps for 2,950 ft-lbs of energy).
Ok, now lets get back to the .338 Federal vs 308 Winchester vs 358 Winchester discussion.
The chart below compares how much a 10 mile per hour crosswind impacts those same .308 Winchester, .338 Federal, and .358 Winchester loads out to 500 yards.
The situation is similar, but not quite the same with wind drift.
As you can see, both .358 Winchester loads drift in the wind a whole lot more than the .308 Winchester or .338 Federal loads. The 180 grain .308 Winchester load comes out on top here, followed by the 150 grain .308 Winchester load, which is in turn followed closely by the .338 Federal load.
Now lets talk about recoil.
The table below compares the recoil produced by the loads compared above for those cartridges when fired from a 7.3 pound rifle. I used Nosler’s own reloading data published online for the .308 and .358 Winchester (available here and here) and Hornady data for the .338 Federal (p651 of the 10th Edition Hornady Reloading Manual).
I’m not aware of any rifles that are currently manufactured in all three cartridges, so in the interest of making as close to an “apples to apples” comparison as possible, I just decided to make the comparison with a hypothetical rifle that weighs exactly the same for each cartridge.
Felt recoil will vary from shooter to shooter and rifle to rifle, but free recoil energy is still a useful way to compare cartridges.
As you can see, the .308 Winchester has the least recoil out of the bunch, with recoil progressively increasing with the .338 Federal, and .358 Winchester. The .338 Federal and especially the .308 Winchester have a pretty manageable amount of recoil that most shooters and hunters should be able to handle without too much trouble.
However, recoil does increase by a fair amount from the .308 up to the .358 Winchester.
Remember though, the figures here are for a 7.3 pound rifle. The Browning BLR, which is the most popular rifle chambered in .358 Winchester these days is quite a bit lighter at only 6.5 pounds. That same load in the lighter Browning BLR produces 32.51 ft-lbs or free recoil energy, which is closely approaching .300 Win Mag levels.
Even then, this may not be a big issue for most hunters, but it’s certainly something to keep in mind.
Now let’s talk about some additional areas we need to discuss as it relates to ballistics: bullet caliber and bullet weight.
The .308 Winchester uses .308″ bullets, the .338 Federal uses .338″ bullets, and the .358 Winchester uses .358″ bullets.
The .308 Winchester has the smallest frontal surface area (also known as cross sectional area) of the bunch at .0745 square inches. The larger diameter .338 Federal has about 20% more cross sectional area at .0897 square inches. The .358 Winchester uses the largest diameter bullets of the bunch and has a frontal surface area of .1007 square inches. This is about 35% more cross sectional area than the .308 Winchester and about 12% more cross sectional area than the .338 Federal.
All other things being equal, a bigger bullet will make a bigger hole, cause more tissue damage, and result in more blood loss.
This is a significant advantage for the .338 Federal vs the .308 Winchester and an even bigger advantage for the .358 Winchester.
With regards to bullet weight, the majority of .308 Winchester factory loads shoot bullets in the 110-180 grain range. 150 grain, 165 grain, 168 grain, and 180 grain bullets are by far the most common.
On the other hand, the .338 Federal factory ammo is normally offered with either 185 grain or 200 grain bullets. 200 grain loads are most popular for that cartridge.
Finally, the majority of .358 Winchester factory loads shoot bullets in the 180-225 grain range. Of these, 200 grain and, to a lesser extent, 185 and 225 grain bullets are most common. Though it’s not readily available as factory ammunition, many reloading manuals have loads for up to 250 grain bullets.
So where do we stand with each cartridge?
Shooting smaller diameter and (generally) lighter bullets than the other two cartridges, the .308 Winchester has the flattest trajectory, the best resistance to wind drift, and the least recoil of the bunch. Most loads for the cartridge also carry more energy downrange than typical .358 Winchester loads, but not quite as much as the .338 Federal.
The .338 Federal shoots bullets larger in diameter and heavier than the .308 Winchester, but lighter and smaller than the .358 Winchester. Typical 200gr .338 Federal factory loads have a trajectory that’s virtually identical to 180gr .308 Winchester factory loads, but the loads for the Federal cartridge also have more kinetic energy all the way out past 500 yards. The .338 Federal is not quite as resistant to wind drift as the .308 Winchester though and it does have more recoil than the .308 Winchester as well.
The .358 Winchester shoots the largest diameter bullets of the bunch. It’s also capable of using the heaviest bullets of the group. Those bullets are typically not very aerodynamic and are not shot at a very high velocity though. The .358 Winchester also has more recoil, a more arching trajectory, and less resistance to wind drift than the other two cartridges.
With that in mind, typical .358 Winchester loads have more kinetic energy than typical .308 Winchester hunting loads out to around 100-200 yards, but the faster and more aerodynamic .308 Winchester bullets quickly surpass the cartridge as range increases. Most .338 Federal factory loads have more kinetic energy than the .358 Winchester at all ranges.
308 Winchester vs 358 Winchester vs 338 Federal Ammo
The .308 Winchester is by far the most popular out of the bunch. In fact, that cartridge is certainly one of the Top 10 best selling rifle cartridges in the United States each year, if not in the Top 5.
For that reason, pretty much every ammunition manufacturer of note like Barnes, Browning, Federal Premium, Fiocchi, Hornady, Nosler, Remington, Swift, Weatherby, and Winchester (just to name a few) produces a wide variety of ammo for the .308 Win.
.338 Federal ammo and .358 Winchester ammo are MUCH less common than .308 Winchester ammo.
As far as I know, only Federal Premium mass produces .338 Federal ammo. As of late 2019, the company produces .338 Federal ammunition as part of their Federal Fusion (200gr Fusion Soft Point), Trophy Bonded (200gr Trophy Bonded Tip), Power Shok (200gr Nosler Ballistic Tip), Trophy Copper (200gr Trophy Copper), American Eagle (185gr Jacketed Soft Point), and Federal Fusion MSR (185gr Fusion Soft Point) rifle ammunition lines.
Even though only one company manufactures .338 Federal ammo at this point, it’s not too difficult to find. Some of the smaller sporting goods stores may not keep .338 Federal ammunition in stock, but most of the bigger stores as well as a number of internet retailers sell ammo for the cartridge.
On the other hand, .358 Winchester ammo is even more rare. I’m only aware of three options for factory loaded .358 Winchester ammunition at this point: a 200gr InterLock Spire Point as part of the Hornady Custom Ammunition line, a 225gr Sierra SPTZ-BT from Buffalo bore, and a 225gr Barnes TSX from Buffalo Bore.
It’s still possible to find .358 Winchester ammunition if you look hard enough, but it’s by far the least common and most difficult to obtain out of the three cartridges.
Buy some of the best .308 Win hunting ammo here.
Buy some great .338 Fed hunting ammo here.
Buy some excellent .358 Win hunting ammo here.
Reloading components for all of these cartridges are available.
The .308 Winchester uses the extremely popular .308″ bullet size that’s also used by the .30-30 Winchester, 300 Remington Ultra Magnum, .30-06 Springfield, .300 Winchester Magnum, 300 WSM, and 300 PRC (among others). The .338 Federal uses the same .338″ bullet size also used by the .338 Winchester Magnum and .338 Lapua. The .358 Winchester uses the same .358″ (9.1mm) diameter bullets as other .35 caliber cartridges like the .35 Remington, the .35 Whelen, the .350 Remington Magnum, and the .358 Norma Magnum.
Just like with factory ammo, there are a BUNCH of different .308″ bullets for reloaders to choose from. Since it’s probably the single most popular caliber in the United States, virtually every major style of bullet is available in .308″ like the Barnes TTSX, Berger VLD, the Hornady ELD-X, GMX, InterBond, InterLock, and SST, the Nosler AccuBond, AccuBond Long Range, Ballistic Tip, E-Tip, and Partition, the Remington Core Lokt, the Swift Scirocco and A-Frame, and the Winchester Power Point (just to name a few).
There is still a pretty good selection of .338″ bullets out there (including most of the above), but they’re not quite as common as .308″ bullets. Once again, there are even fewer .358″ bullets than .338″ bullets, but there is still a decent selection of them.
That reason, combined with the relative scarcity of .358 Winchester factory ammo, makes that cartridge an especially appealing choice for handloaders.
358 Winchester vs 308 Winchester vs 338 Federal Rifles
The rifle situation is very similar to the ammunition situation with these cartridges: .308 Winchester is by far the most popular with the .338 Federal and .358 Winchester, in that order, following far behind the .308.
Among many others, Browning X-Bolt, CZ-550, Kimber Hunter, Mossberg Patriot, Nosler M48, the Remington Model 700, Ruger American, Ruger Hawkeye, Savage 11/111, Tikka T3X, Weatherby Mark V and Vanguard, the Winchester Model 70, and the Winchester XPR are all available in .308 Winchester.
The .338 Federal was initially offered in rifles manufactured by Sako. Over the years, Ruger, Kimber, and Tikka (among others) have all produced rifles in that chambering. Currently, Savage and Wilson Combat are the two primary options for hunters wanting a new bolt action rifle or carbine chambered in .338 Federal.
Winchester manufactured the .358 Winchester in the Model 88 lever action rifle and the Model 70 bolt action rifle for a time. It was also available in the Savage Model 99, the Ruger Model 77, and a few rifles by Mannlicher-Schoenauer. At this time, the Browning BLR (Browning Lever Action Rifle) is the only rifle currently manufactured in .358 Winchester.
As you can see, there’s a wide disparity in availability between the three cartridges. That being said, a serious hunter should still be able to find a high quality hunting rifle that suits his or her needs well regardless of the cartridge chosen.
Buy a nice .308 Win hunting rifle here.
Buy a really good .338 Fed hunting rifle here.
Buy a great .358 Win hunting rifle here.
338 Federal vs 308 Winchester vs 358 Winchester: Which Is Right For You?
Do you primarily hunt medium sized game animals like deer, feral hogs, or black bear at ranges within 200 yards? The .308 Winchester, .338 Federal, and .358 Winchester are all wonderfully suited for hunting medium game like black bear, mule deer, blacktail deer, whitetail deer, roe deer, and fallow deer. They have similar trajectories inside of 200 yards and will get the job done on a wide variety of game. Go with the .308 Winchester if you want the cheapest or easiest to find factory ammo or if you’re sensitive to recoil. Go with the .358 Winchester or .338 Federal if you want the hardest hitting cartridge.
Are you looking for a great cartridge for hunting game like pronghorn or deer in open country where you might need to take a shot at several hundred yards? With typical hunting factory loads, the .308 Winchester has an advantage over the others in this regard with a flatter trajectory, the most resistance to wind drift, and still plenty of power at extended range. Though neither the .338 Federal or .358 Winchester are long range cartridges, they’re still much more capable in this role than many give them credit for.
Are you sensitive to recoil? Though most hunters should be able to handle the recoil of the .338 Federal and .358 Winchester, the .308 Winchester has the least recoil of the bunch. This is especially true with lighter 150 grain bullets.
Are you looking for a great cartridge for sheep, mountain goat, or tahr hunting where you need a heavy hitting cartridge with manageable recoil in a lightweight and easy to carry rifle? Though it’s not usually thought of as a sheep or mountain hunting cartridge, the .308 Winchester wins hands down due to its flatter trajectory, more resistance to wind drift, and lighter recoil even in lightweight rifles.
Are you a handloader? If not, then you should probably stay away from the .358 Winchester (unless you’re fine with just a couple brands as factory ammo options) and go with either the .338 Federal or .308 Winchester. If you are a handloader, all three cartridges are generally good options for reloaders.
Do you want a cartridge well suited to hunt large game like elk, moose, red stag, or kudu in North American or on an Africa or New Zealand hunting safari? In addition to all being excellent choices for deer sized game, these cartridges are also suitable for bigger creatures under the right circumstances. This is an area where the .358 Winchester (at close range) and .338 Federal really shine when compared to the .308 Winchester. Especially for shots inside 200 yards, both cartridges are excellent choices for bigger game with their larger diameter and heavier bullets. Though I’d prefer a bigger bore like a .375 or .45-70 for use on big bears, the .338 Federal and .358 Winchester will also probably get the job done in those circumstances as well.
The .308 Winchester is no slouch though, especially when using heavy, premium quality bullets (like the Nosler Partition). In fact, at longer range, the .308 Winchester is a better choice as the advantage the .338 Federal has in kinetic energy narrows considerably and the advantages the .308 Winchester has in terms of trajectory and wind drift become more pronounced.
The .308 Winchester, .338 Federal, and .358 Winchester are all great rifle cartridges. While there is a large amount of overlap in their capabilities, each one does offer certain advantages. You need to carefully analyze your potential needs and choose the one (338 Federal vs 308 Winchester vs 358 Winchester) that you think will fit them best.
Even so, no animal will never know the difference if your shot is placed in the right spot. Get a good hunting rifle chambered in the cartridge that you think fits your needs the best, learn to shoot it well, use quality bullets, and you’ll be all set for most hunting situations.
Are just itching to take a rifle chambered in one of these cartridges on a hunt?
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Book an excellent African safari hunt here.
Book an incredible New Zealand hunt here.
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The Lyman 50th Edition (p241-245, 290-291, 311-312), Speer Number 10 (p290-292), and Hornady 10th Edition (p474-484, 650-652, 686-688) reloading manuals were used as references for the history of the cartridges. The data used to compare the trajectory and wind drift of the cartridges was obtained from Buffalo Bore (here), Federal (here, here, and here) and Hornady (here). Case capacities and reloading data were obtained from Kwk, Hornady (p651 of the 10th Edition Hornady Reloading Manual), and Nosler (here and here). Maximum pressure obtained from SAAMI (p19 and 31). I used the Hornady Ballistic calculator and ShootersCalculator.com to compare trajectory, wind drift, and recoil for the cartridges.