The .338 Lapua Magnum began as a US military
project back in the early 1980s. The military had a desire
to develop a long-range sniper cartridge and weapon, and the
.338 caliber was chosen for its very streamlined bullet
designs combined with the desired bullet weight of around
250 grains. The first cases were made by necking down the
.416 Rigby case to accept the .338 diameter bullets. The
criteria of the ammunition was to push the ballistically
efficient 250 grain bullets to 3000 feet per second.
Lapua of Finland was the first company to bring out a
commercial version of the cartridge, thus the name of .338
Lapua Magnum, or 8.58x71mm, as the Europeans prefer to call
The .338 Lapua Magnum was purpose built from
the beginning to be a long-range antipersonnel sniper rifle.
As such, the rifles built for the cartridge are some of the
most accurate available, but all have been more or less
modified hunting rifles, until now. With the introduction of
their AR-30 bolt action rifle, ArmaLite has built the first
production .338 Lapua rifle made specifically for long-range
precision shooting. The rifle is somewhat like a benchrest
rifle, but with a five-shot magazine and a very effective
muzzle brake. The gun looks much like a scaled-down big
fifty (.50 BMG) caliber rifle.
The ArmaLite AR-30 has a stock that is made
of anodized hard coat aluminum that is finished in a dull
black to match the finish of the steel action and barrel.
The forend has a machined-in accessory rail to accept
their excellent bipod. With a weight of fourteen and
one-quarter pounds and an overall length of forty-eight and
one-half inches, the bipod is a welcome accessory. The
barrel on the AR-30 measures twenty-six inches, and has a
one-in-ten inch twist. The trigger pull on our sample rifle
measured a crisp four and one-quarter pounds. The receiver
of the AR-30 has an integral Picatinny rail for mounting a
scope sight. The placement of the cheek piece, bolt knob,
and safety are very comfortable.
The muzzle brake on the AR-30 is designed to
almost eliminate the felt recoil of the .338 Lapua Magnum,
and the cartridge has plenty. In a sporting weight
rifle, the recoil can be quite stiff. The muzzle brake of
the AR-30 is the most effective that I have ever used. While
there is muzzle blast from the brake, there is absolutely no
thump to the shoulder. I have fired .223 rifles that kick
harder than this .338 Magnum, even with 300 grain bullets.
It is amazing how effectively the brake works. The big gun
is a real pleasure to shoot.
While the length and weight of the AR-30
does make for a large weapon, it carries very well, and the
buttstock is easily removed for transport by pulling two
retaining screws, if desired. The rifle is easy and
comfortable to shoot from the bipod, a bench, or even
standing offhand. It is really no heavier than some long
range black powder rifles that I have fired.
Functioning of the AR-30 was perfect. The
big cartridges fed easily from the magazine, or just by
dropping them singly into the ejection port while firing
from the bench. Accuracy testing was done with two
different loads; the 250 grain hollowpoint Scenar bullet
load from Lapua, and the 300 grain Sierra Match King
hollowpoint load from Black Hills. The Lapua ammo
uses cases of that make, and the Black Hills ammo uses cases
made by Norma of Sweden. Each is excellent brass.
Both loads exhibited very good accuracy at 100 yards,
shooting into less than five-eighths of an inch in a stout
crosswind. No long range paper punching was tried, but
I did shoot the rifle extensively at steel silhouettes of
mule deer and black bear at distances of four hundred and
six hundred yards. Hitting these life-size targets at this
range was very easy using the rifle’s bipod.
Chronographing the two factory loads at a
distance of twelve feet from the muzzle proved that the
available ammunition falls within the design parameters of
the original military specifications. The Lapua 250 grain
load clocked 2927 feet-per-second (fps), and the Black Hills
300 grain load averaged 2778 fps. With the very good
ballistic coefficients of these bullets, the long range
performance is excellent for dramatic terminal effect out to
at least 1500 yards. Out to 1000 yards, the trajectories of
the two bullets are pretty close, while the 300 grain Black
Hills load has much greater energy at all ranges. Past 100
yards, the 300 grain bullet starts to really show its
superiority, and is actually going faster than the 250 grain
bullet at that point. Wind drift with the 300 grain bullet
is also significantly less at all ranges past 400 yards.
At 1500 yards, the 300 grain Match King has over 1230
foot-pounds of energy, while the 250 has only 776
foot-pounds of energy remaining. This is not to disparage
the 250 grain load; it is still an awesome long range
performer, but the 300 grain bullet is markedly superior out
past 1000 yards. With recoil not being a factor in the
AR-30, there is no advantage to using the lighter bullet. As
can be seen in the following chart, the .308 Winchester and
the .300 Winchester Magnum, which are two of the most
popular precision long range rifle cartridges, are not even
close in retained downrange energy.
In building the AR-30, ArmaLite has made
owning a .338 Lapua Magnum long range rifle both practical
and affordable, at least to buy the rifle. Ammunition for
the .338 Lapua is rather expensive, but hand loading the big
case is easy, and can be done for about one-third the cost
of factory ammo. Dies are readily available from RCBS.
I just purchased a set, and look forward to doing some
in-depth load development with this rifle. For those
interested in really long range shooting with the AR-30, ArmaLite
also makes scope mounts with elevation built in to them, so
that you do not run out of elevation adjustment in the
The ArmaLite AR-30 just might be the best
compromise between a lightweight sporter rifle adapted to
precision long range work and a big fifty caliber sniper
rifle. The .338 Lapua has plenty of power out to
three-quarters of a mile and beyond. In fact, with the 300
grain loading, it far exceeds the military’s original
expectations of the cartridge. The tradeoff for all of this
power once was substantial felt recoil, but with the
excellent ArmaLite muzzle brake, the laws of physics no
longer apply, at least as far as your shoulder is concerned.
Check out the AR-30 online at: www.armalite.com.