338 Lapua: A Journey - Inside MDT

Posted by William Maxwell on 2023 Sep 14th

338 Lapua: A Journey - Inside MDT

In the early days of my interest in firearms, a co-worker introduced me to his dream rifle: a Barrett MRAD in .338 Lapua Magnum. I did a little research into it, but at the time, and with my lack of knowledge, it was no more than a cool-looking big 'ole gun. But that round was etched in the back of my mind.

More: Analysis: .338 Lapua Magnum

Fast-forward a year or so, American Sniper (the movie, not the book) came out, and I witnessed Bradley Cooper's portrayal of Chris Kyle make the famous 2,100-yard shot. That got the wheels turning. Soon after, Recoil Magazine published an issue highlighting all the main firearms used in the film. After flipping through the pages for a bit, I found it: the McMillan TAC-338. There was that round again. The way I saw it, if it was good enough for "The Legend," it was certainly good enough for me—time to buy one. Then I saw the price tag: It started at just over $6000. For an E-4 in the Army, that was a tad out of reach.

The cartridge was now front and center—I needed to have one. Writing about it now is a bit ironic, but we'll get to that later. I reached out to my father to tell him about it because I figured he'd think it was neat. He thought it was interesting, but it didn't go any further.

Bullets on counter

Far Left, 338 Lapua Magnum.

Fast-forward a couple of months, and I get a text message from the old man with a picture of a Savage 110FCP in .338 LM. He stumbled upon one at a gun show and wanted to rub it in my face that he had one now, and I didn't. The next time I was home, I was sure to grab a box of ammo (ouch) and give it a whirl. Over the next few months, I claimed it as my own. Unfortunately, at the time, I could only shoot out to 100 yards regularly and 400 yards on occasion. With how much the ammo cost, I found it very unnecessary to be blasting that cannon. So, it sat.

Chassis on white

Now that I can shoot out to 1000 yards or further regularly, I decided it was time to put that Savage to work. The problem is, it's sitting in the factory stock. Sure, the HS Precision composite stock is fine, but why not bring it to 2023 standards? I ordered my favorite general-purpose chassis, the MDT ESS. It also needed some glass. I contacted the guys at Arken Optics, and they were kind enough to send out the new EP-5 5-25x56 for the project. For a Japanese glass scope, it's an insane value. If you ever get the chance to get behind one, don't turn it down.


Before we get down to the nitty-gritty, let's quickly review the rifle and some things to consider. The Savage isn't just a typical long action. The .338 Lapua Magnum was originally a CIP, or Commission internationale permanente pour l'épreuve des armes à feu portatives—or in English, the Permanent International Commission for the Proof of Small Arms approved round. The CIP is Europe's version of SAAMI spec. When picking out a chassis and magazines, you must be sure that it is Long Action CIP 3.850". MDT offers both chassis and magazines in that size.

The Savage barreled action is straightforward. It's a solid factory action with the above-average factory AccuTrigger. The barrel is a 26" fluted 1:9 twist with a heavier-than-average contour with a pre-installed 4-port brake. It's more of a LEO/Military fashion rifle than a hunting one.

Dropping the barreled action into the ESS is relatively straightforward—pull off the handguard, drop action into the chassis base, torque action screws, and reinstall the handguard.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again—in my opinion, the ESS is the ultimate multi-purpose chassis. Moreover, it excels at shooting from the prone position. It offers the ultimate amount of adjustment for the most comfort while shooting. Since the rifle is a .338 Lapua Magnum, most, if not all, shooting will be done in the prone.


Early on, the shooting was done with a variety of factory ammunition that was not match grade. Have you seen the price tag of match grade .338 LM? (As a side note, this rifle does not like solid copper bullets. It was shooting well over 5 MOA). The rifle averaged in the 1-2 MOA range with 250 gr FMJ and soft point projectiles. That doesn't sound too impressive, but that was more than enough to make quality and repeatable impacts on a 2/3 size IPSC target at 1150 yards.

Then I ran out of ammo. It was time to do a little handloading.

I'm not going to talk about the details here. What I will say is that if you do some surface-level Googling, it's very apparent that there are two bullets and two powders that are front and center: Retumbo and H1000 with 250 gr. SMK or 300 gr. SMK. I went with what I could find locally–Retumbo and 300 gr. SMK. Through the short process, I noticed that the testing was going to require 3 round groups and plenty of time for barrel cooling. This is where magnums started to lose me. I picked a safe starting and ending point and loaded up five groups of 3 at each charge. The results ranged from .55 – 1.8 MOA. Sounds good, right? Nope. The two best groups decided they were going to have pressure signs.

94 Pressure target

I loaded up ten rounds from the charge that yielded the best results with no pressure and headed back to the range. Five of the rounds were for paper, and five were for steel. The group on paper with a cold-bore shot printed a 1.3 MOA group with a .8 MOA 80% group. Not bad, but not great either. The steel, however, told another story. At 1150 yards, the impacts grouped in about the size of a grapefruit. Once the PRS season is over, I plan to go in-depth on this subject and report back to you with better results.

338 Paper  Target


My Savage 338 is certainly a very entertaining rifle to shoot if you're putting it to work. Shooting anything inside 700 yards is arguably wasteful; that's how boring it is. If you can push one of these out to some distance, jump on it—it's quality time. Remember when I referenced irony earlier? Seven years ago, all I wanted was a .338 LM. Now I'm realizing there was a reason I ditched the .300 Win Mag 4 years ago. These days, I'm used to shooting 6mm cartridges with no recoil and no cool-down times. For my shooting style, shooting five rounds and waiting a 15-minute cool-down period isn't it, chief. But in the end, and if a solid load is developed, this will be a great platform to make a trip to the range with the boys for some 1000+ yard shooting. I must remember it's not always about the journey; the destination is also important.

Until next time, get out and let off some rounds.



William Maxwell served in the United States Army. After returning from his first deployment in 2015, he started building firearms and focused heavily on pistol and carbine training. In 2018, he fell into the rabbit hole of precision rifle shooting. He spends his free time competing, reloading, editing digital content, and writing. He can be reached via Instagram @maddmaxxguns.


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