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338 Lapua vs 50 BMG: What’s Better?

338 lapua vs 50 bmg
Written by Erik Himmel

Both .338 Lapua and .50 BMG are long-range bullets with considerably high caliber and stunning performance.

They were primarily used by the military, but now civilians also can get their hands on these mighty cartridges, with limitations of course.

Today we’ll conduct an in-depth comparison on the topic “.338 Lapua Vs .50 BMG” and try to find out which one is the better choice.

Whether you came to know how good they are in hunting or long-range shooting, or simply want to know about them, you’ve come to the right place.

338 Lapua vs 50 BMG: What’s the Story?

338 lapua vs 50 bmg

.338 Lapua

Also known as the “.338 Lapua”, “.338 LM” or “.338 Lapua Mag”, the .338 Lapua Magnum is a relatively newer (the late 80s) addition that was designed as a high-powered, long-range cartridge for military snipers.

These mighty bullets quickly became one of the most dominating sniper cartridges across the globe. The .338 Lapua has also become very popular among the hunting community, especially for the large game.

.50 BMG

In response to the development of armored artillery vehicles during World War I, militaries started to develop long-range cartridges that could pierce through the enemy’s armored protection.

The development process continued even after the war ended and the end result was the .50 Browning Machine Gun AKA the “.50 BMG”. A heavy-weight cartridge that can pierce a number of armored vehicles even today.

.338 Lapua Vs .50 BMG: What’s the Difference

1. Dimensions

.338 Lapua

The .338 Lapua is a rimless, bottlenecked, centerfire cartridge that also has amazing range and heavy-hitting power at long distances. This might be true that .50 BMG packs more devastating punches, but the .338 Lapua isn’t something to be ignored either.

The .338 is shorter and lighter than the .50 BMG. However, these compact cartridges have proven themselves to be incredibly useful in both long-range competitions and for bringing down large games.

.50 BMG

The infamous .50 BMG packs enough punch to pierce through armored vehicles. That’s why they need massive firepower and to accommodate that much power, they need to be bigger, wider, and heavier than most other rounds.

The advanced properties like tracer rounds or armor-piercing aren’t accessible for the civilian people.

However, the powerful .50 BMG rounds are also popular to the hunting community as the bullet offers enough range and power to take down risky, large games from a safe distance.

Here is a side-by-side comparison of the cartridge specification of the .338 Lapua and the .50 BMG:

Aspect .338 Lapua  .50 BMG
Parent case .416 Rigby, .338/416 N/A
Released 1989 1921
Rim Diameter (In inches) .588 .804
Bullet Diameter  (In inches) .338 .510
Bullet Weight (In grains) 200-300 650-800
Case Length (In inches) 2.724 3.91
Overall Length (In inches) 3.681 5.45

2. Velocity

.338 Lapua

It’s hard to compare the velocity of both cartridges since they frequently overlap and none of them has a clear, obvious advantage. Many .338 Lapua Magnums go above and beyond 3,000 fps.

However, if you consider the muzzle velocity and specific velocities of similar rounds, we’ll see a slight disadvantage for the .338 Lapua.

Despite being smaller and lighter, the .338 surprisingly lacks velocity and gives the .50 BMG upper hand in this comparison.

.50 BMG

It’s natural to assume that the heavier the bullet is, the slower it will move through the air. However, the massive case of the .50 BMG allows more ammunition that can launch the bullet with a higher velocity.

Surprisingly, the crown goes to the .50 BMG on this one. The .50 BMG has more available cartridges with higher velocities, both at the muzzle and downrange.

3. Accuracy

338 lapua vs 50 bmg

.338 Lapua

Sometimes, accuracy can be a little subjective measurement. A skilled shooter can hit a target accurately, even with a lower-quality bullet.

Additionally, there are many things involved that affect the accuracy level like recoil, distance, and weather.

The .338 Lapua is at a slight disadvantage once again. Even if the .338 Lapua offers a seemingly flat trajectory, the .50 BMG takes the cake once again.

.50 BMG

The .50 BMG also provides an almost flat trajectory over a stunningly long distance. Both the .50 BMG and the .338 Lapua generate a good amount of recoil that, on the hands of a non-skilled shooter, can affect the accuracy significantly.

Your shooting accuracy will deteriorate after heavy shooting if you don’t provide enough time for recovery.

The more the .50 BMG cartridges move downrange, the wider the gap between those two cartridges becomes. The .50 BMG gets a slight advantage here as well.

4. Energy

.338 Lapua

The .338 Lapua cartridges are one of the most powerful cartridges available to civilians. They can overcome most other rifle cartridges in terms of energy delivered.

The .338 Lapua Magnum (285 grain) delivers muzzle energy of 4,768 foot-pounds (ft-lbs.). Even after passing 500 yards, the bullet will still carry an energy of 3,064 ft-lbs, which is pretty massive in comparison to other long-range shooting cartridges.

.50 BMG

Unfortunately, despite being more powerful than most other long-range bullet rounds, the .338 Lapua can’t overpower the mighty .50 BMG. The 750-grain .50 BMG rounds completely ravage the competition.

The bullet provides a stunning muzzle energy count of 13,241 ft-lbs! Even after traveling 500 yards, the bullet still carries an astounding 9403 ft-lbs of energy. They were developed to pierce through armored vehicles after all.

5. Stopping power

338 lapua vs 50 bmg

.338 Lapua

Stopping power is critical for hunters since no one wants to wound their game, especially if that game is big and a predator. Hunters prioritize making a clean and humane kill without causing unnecessary suffering.

The stopping power depends on factors like bullet energy, penetration, bullet expansion, and shot placement.

The .338 Lapua can be used to shoot animals like deer, moose, and elk over a large distance. The .50 BMG has 2.2 times the area and 2.6 times the energy when it hits.

.50 BMG

Not surprisingly, the mighty .50 BMG wins this round too. The higher velocity, firepower, and penetration capability give the .50 BMG the ability to hunt down some of the biggest games across the planet.

The .50 BMG cartridges have enough stopping power to annihilate big and dangerous games like bears, rhinos, and elephants. As a result, the .50 BMG wins this round as well.

6. Shot Trajectory (Projectile)

.338 Lapua Vs .50 Bmg: Which One to Choose?

.338 Lapua

Despite this category being a bit confusing, we’ve found a definitive answer for you. The lighter and compact .338 Lapua cartridges slice through the air more efficiently. When zeroed at 250 yards, the.338 Lapua, powered by 285-grain; drops about 40.3”.

Unfortunately, that isn’t enough to overpower the .50 BMG.

.50 BMG

Despite being bulkier, the mighty .50 BMG carries enough firepower to cut through the air resistance like a red hot knife through butter.

When zeroed at 250 yards, the 750-grain .50 BMG, drops about 35.8 inches, which is significantly less than the .338 Lapua.

That’s not the end. The .50 BMG dropped less over the distance of 500, 800, or even 1,000 yards compared to the .338 Lapua round, securing its victory on this aspect.

7. Recoil

338 lapua vs 50 bmg

.338 Lapua

Both of the cartridges come with heavy recoil. If you are looking for low-recoil cartridges, none of today’s contestants will offer you much comfort.

However, the dynamic .338 Lapua cartridges secure their victory with lower recoil count.

Despite being incredibly accurate over large distances, the .338 Lapua cartridges are surprisingly much easier on your shoulder than the monster recoil the .50 BMG.

.50 BMG

The easiest way to explain the large amount of recoil the .50 BMG offers is the word “Hand hammering”. The monstrous amount of muzzle energy gives a higher “kick” on your shoulders.

That is why you need to be careful about your weapon choice and shooting technique. The .50 BMG compensates for the high recoil with destructive power.

If you can land the shot perfectly, the .50 BMG can completely wreck your target so you won’t need to shoot a second time.

8. Ballistics

338 lapua vs 50 bmg

.338 Lapua

Originally, the .338 Lapua were designed to penetrate various types and layers of body armor across an extremely large distance.

That’s why the cartridges are packed with strong terminal ballistics and a considerable amount of Ballistic Coefficient (BC).

The rounds have been field-tested and proven to provide an accurate, deadly shot over a distance of around 1800 yards. They are especially good for hunting big games over long-range.

.50 BMG

The mighty .50 BMG, however, isn’t going to lose so easily. The .50 BMG is a bigger, heavier bullet that delivers a reliable killing shot up to an astounding range of about 3300 yards. The longest recorded kill using a .50 BMG was over 2 miles away.

This Ballistic is so strong that it can literally obliterate the point it touches within its effective shooting range. That’s why they are being used to hunt the biggest and most dangerous African games.

If shot properly, these rounds have the power to rip you in half from over a mile.

9. Penetration

338 lapua vs 50 bmg

.338 Lapua

This comparison is also a bit tricky since the game you are hunting is going to determine how much penetration you need. The bullet you hunt a whitetail with won’t be the same as the bullet you hunt a bull moose with.

When it comes to penetration, the .338 Lapua does a slightly better job. The compact rounds have the penetration capacity that will fulfill most of your hunting needs.

.50 BMG

A bullet must be able to penetrate through a set of very thick hides and bones (occasionally) to reach vital organs.

Additionally, if the bullet passes through the game cleanly, not all of the energy will be transferred to the target, failing to kill the poor animal.

The .50 BMG is a bit overkill for shooting purposes as the excessive penetration power will not only kill the game but also damage its body parts.

However, bigger and heavier game animals are in the perfect range for a .50 BMG bullet. Your taxidermist will have to work extra hard btw.

10. Price

.338 Lapua

None of the cartridges come cheap. Long-range shooting is expensive. However, the .338 Lapua tends to be on the cheaper side, mainly due to their smaller size. The price of a standard .338 Lapua goes around $2.7-5.9 depending on the quality of the rounds.

.50 BMG

It’s not that difficult to understand why the .50 BMG comes at a higher price range, but they are worth the extra cost.

You can get your hands on a .50 BMG round for about $3.0-5.8. The price greatly depends on the quality and the manufacturer.

Despite none of the cartridges being particularly “cheap”, the .338 Lapua is slightly more affordable, and for good reasons.

.338 Lapua Vs .50 Bmg: Which One to Choose?

338 lapua vs 50 bmg

Both .338 Lapua magnum and .50 BMG are perfect for long-range shooting or hunting. They both have amazing specifications and can perform admirably.

However, choosing the best isn’t always the right answer. In hunting, the bullets you choose will greatly affect how you kill. Though the .338 Lapua is a great option for medium to long-range shooting, that won’t help you chase bigger games.

On the contrary, choosing an overpowered bullet isn’t ideal for hunting either. That’s why the decision vastly depends on the hunter/shooter. If you prefer normal games like a deer, a bull, or en elk, the .338 is your best bet.

However, for bigger games like elephants, rhinos, or grizzly bears, you’ll need enough firepower and penetration capability so you don’t leave any wounded animal behind.

Though the .50 BMG is a clear winner on the sheets, the real winner lies in the hunting ground.

FAQs

1. Is 338 Lapua stronger than 308?

Ans. The recoil energy that 338 rounds generate is nearly or over double compared to any 308 round.

2. What 338 Lapua does the military use?

Ans. The most elite Navy and Army special units use MK21 Precision Sniper Rifles. These powerful rifles are chambered for the .338 Lapua cartridges.

3. Can a 50 cal bullet rip your arm off?

Ans:: Yes. The .50 BMG cartridges create a wound cavity that is bigger than the average adult male human’s torso. If you get shot by a .50 BMG in the chest from a distance within a mile (it’s an effective range), it can totally rip your body apart.

4. Is a .338 Lapua overkill for a deer?

Ans: That depends greatly on the distance. The .338 Lapua rounds aren’t cheap, and they also have the potential of damaging the body of the deer if the distance isn’t long enough (less than 1000 yards). The .338 Lapua is definitely overkilling in a range shorter than 1000 yards.

5. Is .50 BMG legal for hunting?

Ans: No. A full-power .50 BMG is a devastating round and doesn’t have a practical hunting purpose. Many states in the USA (like California and Connecticut) have banned/restricted .50 BMG rounds for civilian uses like hunting.

Even if the rounds are legal for hunting in some countries, unless you are hunting a whale or a T-rex, we wouldn’t advise using one. There is a difference between “hunting” and “obliterating” and with .50 BMG rounds, you’ll be doing the latter.

6. What is the effective range of a .338 Lapua?

Ans: A standard .338 Lapua bullet has the ability to pierce through military-grade body armor at ranges of up to 1,090 yards(1,000 meters). The maximum effective range is about 1910 yards (1,750 meters). However, the range is measured at sea level conditions.

About the author

Erik Himmel

A Part-Time Firearm Instructor

Hi, this is Erik. We all know firearms are dangerous, but only when one doesn’t know how to use and care for them. I have 15+ years of experience with different types of guns and for the last 10 years, I have taught numerous people how to hold and shoot a gun while staying safe and keeping the surroundings unharmed. My neighbors are some of my biggest admirers who enjoy talking to me about their guns, firearms safety and maintenance.

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