338 Norma vs 338 Lapua – Detailed Cartridge Comparison

The .338 – a caliber associated with long-range performance. Many people recognize the .338 Lapua as the ultimate hunting cartridge because it is such an efficient and powerful cartridge. The .338 Norma is a fairly new cartridge and has risen in popularity also because of its long-range capabilities. But how does the new kid on the block compare to the esteemed Lapua – Let’s find out!

What’s The Main Difference Between 338 Norma vs 338 Lapua?

comparison of the 338 Lapua vs 338 Norma rounds

1) Ballistic Comparison

Avid readers of our articles know how much we enjoy comparing cartridge ballistics. I find it extremely important and relevant to do so, as the ballistics reveals how a cartridge performs and “what is under the hood” of that cartridge. In fact, ballistic performance was the deciding factor in my comparison of the 30 06 & 7.62 x54R cartridges!

By knowing the ballistics, you also get a general idea of the cartridge’s intended use case and to what extent you can push that cartridge in terms of hunting range and target size.

For both cartridges, we are using a 300-grain bullet weight. The 338 Norma Magnum achieves a muzzle velocity of 2,625 fps. Meanwhile, the 338 Lapua edges the lead in velocity, with a muzzle velocity of 2,650 fps. We saw in our post comparing the 9mm 115 vs 124 ammo how important ammo weight really is!

The .338 Norma Magnum produces an impressive 4,589 ft-lbs of muzzle energy. However, the 338 Lapua produces more kinetic energy – 4,678 ft-lbs.

So, in terms of ballistics, the 338 Lapua wins.

2) Size & Design Comparison

338 Lapua:

  • Parent case – .416 Rigby
  • Case Type – Rimless, bottleneck, Lapua brass
  • Bullet diameter – .339 in
  • Neck diameter – .372 in
  • Shoulder diameter – .544 in
  • Base diameter – .587 in
  • Rim diameter – .588 in
  • Rim Thickness – .060 in
  • Case length – 2.724 in
  • Overall length – 3.681 in
  • Case capacity – 116.24 gr H2O (7.532 cm3)
  • Rifling twist – 1-10″ (254 mm)
  • Primer type – Large rifle magnum
  • Maximum pressure (SAAMI) – 60,916 psi (420 MPa)


338 Norma rifle cartridge:

  • Parent case – .416 Rigby
  • Case Type – Rimless, bottleneck, brass
  • Bullet diameter – .339 in
  • Neck diameter – .370 in
  • Shoulder diameter – .571 in
  • Base diameter – .585 in
  • Rim diameter – .588 in
  • Rim Thickness – .060 in
  • Case length – 2.492 in
  • Overall length – 3.681 in
  • Case capacity – 107.3 gr H2O (6.95 cm3)
  • Rifling twist – 1-9.25″ (235 mm)
  • Primer type – Large rifle magnum
  • Maximum pressure (SAAMI) – 63,817 psi (440 MPa)

As you can see, there are not many differences between these types of ammo. When comparing cartridge overall lengths, it is evident that the Norma has a shorter cartridge overall length and a slightly sharper shoulder angle. However, they are exactly the same length when the bullet length is also considered with the measurement.

The shorter cartridge overall length of the Norma leads it to have a smaller case capacity than that of the Lapua. Nonetheless, its ability to withstand a higher maximal pressure allows it to achieve long-range shooting performance similar to that of the 338 Lapua.

3) Which Is Best For Hunting?

Both are excellent long-range shooting cartridges. You can easily take down big game at 300 yards and only experience 10 inches of bullet drop when zeroed at 100 yards. However, the particular cartridge case that will perform better at ranges exceeding 300 yards is the .338 Lapua – as it is slightly more effective at taking down larger game. These rounds perform similarly to the 17 WSM or the 223 Rem rounds!

It is important to note that these two cartridges are immensely powerful, and hunting small to medium game is not advised – you will only waste meat unless your shot placement is 100% accurate.

4) Stopping Power Analysis

picture of 338 Lapua cartridge

When we look at stopping power, we usually use the ballistic performance and sectional density to make a decision. Sectional density is how efficiently a bullet can penetrate its target.

By now, you already know that both these cartridges deliver a pounding – so it’s safe to assume that their stopping power is also very impressive. When we look at sectional density, there is not much to differentiate these two cartridges from each other. And larger differences can be noticed between ammo manufacturers and ammo loads.

Therefore, it comes down to the ballistic performance of these two cartridges – which you already know the winner of. Yes, the 338 Lapua slightly outperforms the 338 Norma in ballistic performance, and therefore, it also wins the stopping power category. It does not have as much stopping power as black tip ammunition, but it gets the job done!

5) Price & Availability

Both these rifle cartridges are not cheap – you can expect to pay between $5.5 – $9 for a single .338 Norma round and between $5 to $10+ for a single .338 Lapua round.

Even though both cartridges’ ammunition is not as abundant as 223 ammo, with a little digging and calling around, chances are good you will find it stocked in one of your local gunshops. However, from personal experience, I found that .338 Lapua ammo is easier to find than 338 Norma ammo.

6) Range Comparison

These two cartridges are ideal for long-range shooting competitions. Their flat shooting trajectory and impressive ability to maintain initial velocity allow shooters to shoot with pinpoint accuracy.

Both cartridges have an effective range of well over 1,000 yards, and some experienced tactical shooters are known to accurately hit their marks at 2,000 yards. However, the .338 Lapua has a slight edge in long-distance performance – it has a flatter trajectory at distances exceeding 500+ yards. These rounds perform similarly to the 350 Legend or 223 round on the range!

7) Recoil Comparison

Anyone who knows Newton’s laws of physics knows that the more energy a cartridge produces going forward, the more energy will be directed backward, aka recoil. Both the 338 Norma and Lapua produce a considerable amount of energy. And when you don’t have the proper aiming technique when shooting one of these two cartridges, you can either end up with a broken nose or a sore shoulder lasting 3+ days.

The 338 Norma does produce less recoil than the 338 Lapua – 35.2 pounds and 37.2 pounds, respectively.

History Of The 338 Norma

Jimmie Sloan and Dave Kiff developed the 338 Norma Magnum. This cartridge was introduced in 2008 in the larger rifle system as an intermediate between the .308 Winchester and .338 Lapua Magnum – although it leans more towards the .338 Lapua in terms of power.

The cartridge obtained C.I.P status in 2010, which made it available for commercial use in bolt action rifles. Despite being a very new cartridge, the hunting and sporting world has welcomed it with open arms, and it has gained much popularity since its debut.

History Of The 338 Lapua

Since the late 1980a, the 338 Lapua has been both the military’s and hunters’ preferred choice for a powerful rifle cartridge. Nammo Lapua Oy originally developed this cartridge for military use. It featured in both the War in Afghanistan and the Iraq War.

However, hunters found this larger caliber quite ideal for hunting big game, and hence it was made available to the general public.

Who Is The 338 Norma Best For?

The 338 Norma is ideal for anyone who wants an intermediate rifle cartridge between the .308 and .338 Lapua. This cartridge can ethically hunt most large game, including elk, grizzly bears, and moose.

Who Is The 338 Lapua Best For?

The 338 Lapua is perfect for anyone who wants to hunt most large game. In addition to this, also have an edge at the shooting range with better long-range performance than the 338 Norma.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between .338 Lapua and .338 Norma?

The .338 Lapua has a longer case length and has a better ballistic performance than the .338 Norma.

Can a 338 Lapua shoot 338 Norma?

No, the chamber and throat area of these two cartridges differs and therefore are not interchangeable. You should never mix these two cartridges as you can get easily confused because they look very similar.

What is the effective range of a .338 Norma Magnum?

The .338 Norma Magnum has an effective range of 1,000 yards. However, it should not be attempted to hunt any animal at that distance as shot placement can easily be compromised.

What is the difference between 50 BMG and 338 Norma?

The 50 BMG is much more powerful than the 338 Norma. It also has a bigger and heavier bullet. The 50 BMG is capable of shooting a deer at 3,000+ yards. In comparison, the 338 Norma can kill a deer at 1,500 yards.

What is the fastest 338 cartridge?

The fastest 338 cartridge is the .338 Xtreme - capable of producing 3,350 feet per second at the muzzle.

Which is bigger 300 Win Mag or 300 Norma Mag?

The 300 Norma is bigger than the 300 Win Mag - measuring 3.618

The Bottom Line

So, there you have it – if you want a cartridge capable of ethically hunting most large game, then opting for any one of these two cartridges will be a good choice. Even though the .338 Lapua is the more powerful cartridge, it will seldom occur where you will shoot at distances that the performance differences start to play a role. However, it can be quite a hassle to find quality .338 Norma ammo, and therefore, the best and most practical cartridge for the hunter is the .338 Lapua.

About the author

Patrick Howard

I have been working as a gunsmith for 20 years. Rain, fog, moisture, high temperature, or even snow are all the things a product must withstand in order to be recommended by me.

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