Is .338 Lapua Magnum sufficient for African Big Game?


September 23, 2010, 03:36 PM
Okay, first off, this is a highly theoretical question (to me), but please indulge me nonetheless.

Is .338 Lapua Magnum a good cartridge for African Big/Dangerous Game? I know it's below the minimum bullet diameter restrictions that a lot of African governments have in place, but the actual kinetic energy of the round is significantly higher than almost anything currently in use on big game.

For instance, the .375 H&H Magnum, which is definitely a valid cartridge for Africa, has a muzzle energy of 4,500 lb-ft. .338 Lapua Magnum, on the other hand, has a muzzle energy of over 6,500 lb-ft, and will retain that energy much better over longer distances thanks to its more aerodynamic bullets.

Is the kinetic impact energy of a bullet pretty much the defining characteristic of how deadly it's going to be, or are there other considerations that make the .338 Lapua Magnum not such a good round against big game despite its very impressive energy figures?

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September 23, 2010, 06:49 PM
A lot of cartridges out now would be perfectly suitable for dangerous game on the "dark continent" but are not allowed because of ignorance and tradition. With todays bullet technology, bullets perform 100 times better than they did when those rules were engaged. Sectional density is one of the key factors in how well a bullet performs on game. In my own lowly opinion the .338 Lap would be more than capable of downing DG. Heck I've killed Asian Water Buffalo with a .444 but according to the "experts" that is an impossibility. Was a remmington Corloc 240 grain, passed through the ribs, destroyed both lungs, recovered the perfectly intact, well mushroomed bullet in the skin on the off side. Was also at 178 yards. Now granted the Asian doesn't have the "reputation" of the Cape Buffalo, but they are just as big and just as tough and have pretty much the same attitude about being shot.

September 23, 2010, 06:55 PM
that is my understanding as well.

It's illegal due to caliber restrictions many places, but is probably more than capable.

I know in some states it is legal to use a .357 revolver on deer, but not a .223 or .22-250 rifle, same deal.

September 23, 2010, 10:03 PM
It would be legal in some areas, but I would rather have the "weaker" .375, or a .404 or .416 or .458 or .470, I'll stop there.

September 23, 2010, 10:38 PM
I'm not saying that any of the classic African cartridges are weaker than the .338 lapua, but that the .338, with proper bullet selection, would probably be sufficient. but then again I've never tried to hunt elephant, so perhaps my opinion is moot.

September 23, 2010, 11:21 PM
H&H hunter is a member on here and an avid African hunter. I will give him a heads up and see if he can shed some light on the matter. After all he has been there and done that.

Art Eatman
September 23, 2010, 11:36 PM
I don't think it's ignorance and tradition so much as staying with what's known to work in a life-or-death situation.

Sorta like the yak-yak about bears in Alaska. It's not whether or not some gun/cartridge combination will kill. The far more important thing is whether or not it will stop a charge.

Stopping a charge involves deep penetration and breaking bone. That requires a certain style of bullet design/manufacture, and that's not at all an unknown. There is more to the deal than muzzle energy.

I dunno, but it might well be that some bullet design for a high-velocity cartridge would provide the necessary performance. But it could well be that with the .338, it's a case of, "I think it will work," vs. "I know it will work," in the use of a .477 Rigby.

Just some points to ponder...

September 23, 2010, 11:58 PM
Without trying to appear argumentative Art, that was exactly my point. With todays bullet designs the increased muzzle energy of the .338 would indeed break through any scull on the planet with relative ease. Even with a .477 you still have to hit the right spot on a charging animal. The .338 lap was designed for anti machine. If it will punch through an engine block at 800 yards like a knife through butter I do not believe an animals scull would pose much of a problem with a good solid round designed for such a use. The laws pretty much are good ones and there for the safety of the hunters I do agree, but they are antiquated and behind the technology of todays ammo. If I were to just "stay with what works" I would still be riding a horse to work and using a handsaw instead of a skillsaw. Just an opinion here an nothing meant as mean or rude.

September 24, 2010, 09:50 AM
I don't think anyone thinks you are being rude at all. This is an interesting question. Last night I was not able to do any research, this morning I have.
Based on a quick search of some online ballistics tables I came up with this. YMMV

.338 Lapua @ 100y
275 Gr. Swift A-Frame 2725 / 4533 fps/ energy

470 NE @ 100y
500gr 1912/4058 fps/ energy

Now the .338 appears to have an edge at 100y. But remember that no Dangerous Game hunter, at least none I know is going to take a 100y shot with a 470. At the distances for which most DG kills are made the 470NE develops over 5000 lbs/ ft of energy. 5000 lbs/ ft with a 500 gr bullet! Sure it may not be moving fast but it is designed to hit extremely hard, retain 100% of bullet mass and drive deep in the body of some extremely tough animals shattering bones that in some cases are stronger than steel. I'd be interested to see how the .338 bullets hold up, or if the fragment when striking heavy bone.

I have heard stories, we all know what those are worth, of heavy rounds ricocheting off of Cape Buffalo horn during a charge. Hitting that central horn plate dead center may or may not drop him.

Did any of that make sense... I have not yet had my coffee this morning...

September 24, 2010, 10:14 AM
Well Gus, if you believe in the Power Factor at all, then the .338 is well behind at 100 yds.

September 24, 2010, 11:00 AM
Whoops, I made an error in the original posting. I said that .338 Lapua Magnum's muzzle energy was 6,500 lb-ft. That's wrong. That's the muzzle energy in Joules. The muzzle energy in lb-ft is more like 5,000. I guess that changes things somewhat. That puts it a bit more on par with .375 H&H Magnum, and there are a fair number of large bore hunting cartridges that develop higher than 5,000 lb-ft muzzle energy.

September 26, 2010, 12:45 PM
Heck I've killed Asian Water Buffalo with a .444 but according to the "experts" that is an impossibility. Was a remmington Corloc 240 grain, passed through the ribs, destroyed both lungs, recovered the perfectly intact, well mushroomed bullet in the skin on the off side.


That is an enlightening comment. I have a question what "expert" said that it is impossible to kill a large bovine with a .444? I am going to need a reference to where that has ever been said by a so called "expert".

I'd like to see a picture of your water buffalo where did you kill him? Was he a wild buffalo or a domestic one? Or did you kill him over in Australia or maybe South America?I know that there is a guy in Florida, Joe Bannon(sp?) that has a hunting operation for water buffalo I also have heard of several operations in various locations that provide "hunts" for Philippine buffalo but Joe is the only guy I know of who has hunts for true Asian sweepers. Are there other opportunities available? Was yours a sweeper or a short curled Philippine bull?

Now with regards to your bullet performance on your buff. You hit him in the softest vital area possible. You would have had very similar results with most any substantial caliber including a .308 or even a .270 or a 6.5 MM with a decent bullet. You even would have had a similar result if that Asian buff had been a cape buff.

NOW take that same bullet on that same animal and try to stop him as he is coming head on you might, MIGHT have got that bullet to the brain from a frontal presentation but it's doubtful. If you would have had to punch through the neck muscles into the heart or break a shoulder from a frontal angle you would have been completely and totally screwed! There is no way that bullet is going to punch through that much muscle and bone as Mr Jeff Cooper found out on a buffalo that he shot with his beloved .350 Rem Mag in the neck on a frontal shot with a quality soft point bullet. The slug was found about 8 inches deep in the massive neck muscle of the buff. The PH's .470 killed it.

Now on to the OP. Will a .338 Lapua reliably kill a cape buffalo or even an elephant with proper bullets. You bet it will. The various .338's have been doing it for years Don Allen of Dakota Arms killed several big buffalo with his .330 Dakota. With proper bullets they are quite capable of safely hunting and killing buffalo no two ways about it. Not so many years ago the .318 Accelerated Express was a highly regarded buffalo caliber. That round is essentially just a .30-06 necked up to a 8mm. Same goes for the multitudes of buffalo that have been killed with the .303 and the .333 Jeffery.

So why were these caliber restrictions put into place for thick skinned dangerous game? BTW thick skinned refers to buffalo, rhino, elephant and hippo and in some countries lion are grouped into the caliber restriction as well. Quite simply because the various game departments were getting tired of sending home the battered and mutilated remains of dead hunters who had been killed using these small bore weapons. And professional hunters and game cropping officers noticed that a larger bore with a minimum of .375 diameter using a sectional density of .300 or greater and producing a Fpe of 4,000 and better tended to reduce the number of coffins headed back home to Europe or America.

Once again the problem isn't killing the animal but rather stopping it in an emergency. I have no doubt that the .338 Lapua with a solid or premium 270 or 300 grain expanding bullet would be an adequate buffalo round. However do not let the paper numbers make you into the next emergency air evac case. The .338 lacks diameter which makes it a marginal charge stopper. So does the .375 H&H IMO but it's the legal minimum. Hey you say "stick the bullet in the right spot and it doesn't matter" and that is true! But unless you've ever tried to stick a bullet in a buffaloes brain while it's charging and flinging it's head wildly I don't want to hear about it because it ain't that simple. And that is why we use a larger caliber that affords some margin of error.

So here's the crux....The law is the law and it was put into place with the hunters safety in mind. Until it's changed you can't use your .338 Lapua for hunting thick skinned DG in Africa. So if you are truly worried about it buy a .375 RUM instead it's pretty close to a .338 Lapua in power and it's DG legal. Problem solved.


While Asian Water Buffalo are larger in size they simply do not have the explosive temperament of the African Cape Buffalo. There far far fewer injuries and deaths from water buffalo hunting that there are from cape buffalo hunting.

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