Shooters contemplating purchase of a .338 LM rifle often ask: “What length barrel should I get?” Rifleshooter.com recently performed a test that provides interesting answers…
Our friends at RifleShooter.com like to slice and dice — barrels that is. They have done barrel length cut-down tests for popular calibers like the .223 Rem, 6.5 Creedmoor, and .308 Winchester. But now they’ve tackled something way bigger — the .338 Lapua Magnum, a true “Big Boomer”. Starting with a beefy 30″-long Pac-Nor Barrel, RifleShooter.com chopped the tube down in one-inch increments all the way down to 17 inches (that’s 14 different lengths). At each new (shorter) barrel length, velocity was measured with a MagnetoSpeed chronograph using two different loads, 250gr SMKs with H4831sc and 300gr SMKs with Retumbo. Four shots were fired at each length with each load, a total of 112 rounds.
Load #1: 250gr Sierra MK, Lapua brass, CCI #250 primer, H4831SC, OAL 3.720″.
Load #2: 300gr Sierra MK, Lapua brass, Win WLRM primer, Retumbo, OAL 3.720″.
The .338 Lapua Magnum is a jumbo-sized cartridge, that’s for sure…
Donor Barrel Sacrificed for Science
Rifleshooter.com’s Editor explains: “Brandon from Precision Addiction offered to send us his .338 barrel for our .338 Lapua Mag test. I took him up on his offer and he sent me his used Pac-Nor chrome-moly barrel with about 600 rounds though it. This thing was a beast! A heavy 1.350″ shank that ran straight for 6″, until tapering to 1″ at 30″ in length.”
.338 Lapua Magnum with 250gr Sierra MatchKings
After shortening the barrel from 30″ to 17″, total velocity reduction for the 250-grainers was 395 FPS, an average loss of 30.4 FPS per 1″ cut. The amount of velocity loss per inch rose as the barrel got shorter, with the biggest speed reduction, a loss of 55 FPS, coming with the cut from 18″ to 17″.
Start Velocity: 2942 FPS | End Velocity: 2547 FPS | Average Loss Per Inch: 30.4 FPS
.338 Lapua Magnum with 300gr Sierra MatchKings
Shooting the 300-grainers, total velocity reduction was 341 fps, an average of 26.2 FPS loss per 1″ cut (30″ down to 17″). However, the speed actually increased with the first cut from 30 inches to 29 inches. The tester noted: “The 300 SMK load showed a slight increase from 30″ to 29″. I’ve recorded this in other tests and it seems to be more common with a heavier load. I suspect it is primarily due to the small sample sizes being used along with the relative proximity of muzzle velocities in adjacent lengths.”
Start Velocity: 2833 FPS | End Velocity: 2492 FPS | Average Loss Per Inch: 26.2 FPS*
*Velocity rose with first cut. Velocities ranged from 2,871 FPS (29″) to 2,492 FPS (17″) for a total velocity loss of 341 FPS.
RifleShooter.com crunched the velocity numbers in some interesting ways. For example they analyzed rate of velocity loss, concluding that: “after the initial rate change, the rate of the change in velocity is fairly consistent.” (View Rate of Change Graph)
How Velocity Loss Alters Long-Range Ballistics
The testers wanted to determine how the velocity reductions “affect our ability to hit targets downrange”. So, Rifleshooter.com plotted changes in elevation and wind drift at all barrel lengths. This revealed something interesting — drift increased significantly below 26″ barrel length: “Above 26″ things look pretty good, below 22″ they change quickly.”
We highly recommend you read the whole story. Rifleshooter.com put in serious time and effort, resulting in solid, thought-provoking results. The data is presented in multiple tables and graphs, revealing inch-by-inch velocities, change “deltas”, and SDs at each length.