I like to pair off great cartridges in ways that suit me. Some are especially comfortable as teams. For example, the 280 Remington and 35 Whelen are about perfect when it comes to most North American big game. And then there's the 7mm Remington Magnum and 338 Winchester Magnum. An ideal pair. When you're looking to the bigger and tougher side, the 338 Winchester Magnum is again an ideal teammate for the 416 Remington Magnum. Over many years, I have found that the 338 Win Mag is just about a perfect cartridge. What makes it so? Well, for one, it's extremely accurate. Considering its capability with the likes of elk and moose, and larger African plaines game, it doesn't have much recoil. There are plenty of excellent bullet choices available to handloaders, and several powders work quite well. A wide variety of factory loadings are also available.
I know of a fellow who uses his aging Ruger No. 1 in 338 Win Mag for essentially everything; pronghorn through moose. He has proven that there is less meat spoiled on pronghorn and mule deer using 225-grain bullets than when a similar animal is taken with a 270. People get strange ideas in their head. One new hunter on a Wyoming trip saw one of his 338 cartridges and asked if there would be anything left of the critter. I don't know... Are some people stupid enough to think that properly constructed hunting bullets "blow up" big game like varmint bullets do prairie dogs? I suppose. Logic escapes a lot of folks these days.
The 338 Winchester Magnum is a necked-down 458 Winchester Magnum. It was introduced in 1958 at the same time as the 264 Winchester Magnum. The balance between powder capacity and bore size is very good, which provides for fine efficiency considering the large bullets being driven at quite high velocity. How about 225 grains at 2800 fps plus, or 250 grains in the mid-2700 range? That's right, the 338 Win Mag sends a 250-grain bullet along at about the same velocity as a 180-grain bullet out of a 30-06. The difference is huge; but for me the recoil penalty with the 338 is worth the difference. After it's sighted in and ready to go, which is a job done at the bench with some shoulder padding, the typical hunter probably won't be shooting it more than few times each year.
Problems in making a good choice of rifle cartridge often comes at the shooting range. A genius shows up with his 243, wearing a t-shirt, and is invited to try out Willard's new 338. He fires a group from the bench, hoping after each round that his mother will show up and order him to go home. While driving away in his '82 Buick station wagon, he promises himself to never shoot a cannon like that again, if God just lets him live. The next day, he examines the purplish-brown color that his shoulder has taken on. His t-shirt stunt was about as smart as cleaning out the mower deck while it's still running. Dress for the occasion! Pick a rifle to do the job right. Understand that a 270 is not an elk rifle; it's a deer rifle. Understand that an elk is not a deer-sized animal. Understand that a 338 Winchester Magnum is an elk rifle, and that you have to be a stand-up kind of guy to manage it. When people resolve these few simple truths in their mind, they will make better choices. Meanwhile, we'll continue to watch folks take elk and sometimes lose elk because of poor choices. Poor choice of shooting at too great a distance because of programs on television that encourage such irresponsibility, poor choice of when to shoot to achieve proper shot placement, and poor choice of rifle. For those who think a deer rifle is automatically an elk rifle, for the logical reason of that they said it is, may you perform your next roofing job using a 12-ounce hammer.