The .50 BMG is a larger and heavier cartridge with a higher powder capacity and muzzle velocity, which gives it a longer effective range and more kinetic energy at long distances. But you’ve to deal with .50 BMG’s shoulder-breaking recoil although they both surprisingly have the same muzzle velocities with a similar trajectory at 1,000 yards.
On the other hand, the .338 Lapua may not be so mighty but it is more versatile and hunting-friendly with less recoil.
While these heavy-hitting NATO calibers are not for beginners and the .50 BMG is often an overkill for big-game hunting, they’re very popular in the long-range shooting and hunting community. Let’s dig deeper on the .338 Lapua vs .50 BMG topic and see how they differ.
.338 Lapua vs .50 BMG: What’s the Story?
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 to bridge the gap between the .50 BMG and the .300 Win Mag.
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 these days, especially for large game.
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: How Do They Differ?
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.
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.
Here is a side-by-side comparison of the cartridge specifications of the .338 Lapua and the .50 BMG:
|Aspect||.338 Lapua||.50 BMG|
|Parent case||.416 Rigby, .338/416||N/A|
|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|
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.
But 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.
It’s natural to assume that the heavier the bullet is, the slower it will move through the air. However, the massive case allows for 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.
Sometimes, accuracy can be a little subjective measurement that depends on the shooter’s skill, 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 that does well in the ballistic coherent department after 1000 yards.
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’ll cause recoil flinch on beginners. As a result, your shooting accuracy will deteriorate after heavy shooting if you don’t provide enough time for recovery.
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.
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
Stopping power is critical for hunters since no one wants to wound their game and left without a harvest. 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.
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 any big game on 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)
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.
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.
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.
The easiest way to explain the large amount of recoil is the word “Hand hammering”. The monstrous amount of muzzle energy gives a powerful “kick” on your shoulders. That’s 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.
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.
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 distance.
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.
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 hunting as the excessive penetration power will cause meat damage. 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.
Both rounds have gained a momentum in the big game hunting scenario these days but the more capable .50 BMG falls short of some features that give the .338 an upper hand.
For instance, it’s not easy to carry and move around with a heavy .50 BMG rifle deep in the bush. The recoil is bound to impact your short placement while there’s no expanding bullet available for the .50 BMG.
On the other hand, hunting big game with the .338 Lapua has become a trend with the available of different hunting calibers from manufacturers like Browning, Berger, federal and Nosler.
None of the cartridges of .50 BMG vs .338 Lapua 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.
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 for good reason.
.338 Lapua vs .50 BMG: Which One to Choose?
As you can see when discussing .338 Lapua Vs .50 BMG, these powerful, battle-tested rounds serve different purposes and aren’t really comparable.
The .50 BMG is just too powerful that renders it less popular among shooting and hunting enthusiasts. The devastating terminal ballistics and flat trajectory of the .308 make it a great choice for long-range target shooting and hunting.
They are actually more suited to military use than civilian applications, and you should know your skill level, gun, and ammo well if you want to own any of these rounds.
1. Is .338 Lapua more powerful 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 meat if the distance isn’t long enough (less than 1000 yards). The .338 Lapua is definitely an overkill 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.