By Norman Gray ©2012 POMA Member
Arizona –-(Ammoland.com)- Hunting larger game with an AR platform requires potent ammunition like the .338 Federal and only one AR delivers it, the DPMS Panther Arms LR-338L.
Since the inception of the AR platform more than 5 decades ago, it has grown from a military small arm to a viable hunting rifle in a wide verity of calibers from the .17 Remington all the way to heavy hitting .458 SOCOM.
DPMS (Defense Procurement Manufacturing Services) is the only company that has harnessed the .338 Federal in an AR platform and has given the hunter a potent choice for taking larger game.
The LR-338L is designed from the ground up as a hunting rifle and comes to you with one, four round and one, ten round magazines, (you can request two, four round magazines) sling, carrying case, owner’s manual and a DPMS sticker to show your pride.
Thinking it’s a tactical rifle? Absolutely not and while it may move along those lines, the LR-338L is a thoroughbred hunting rifle used to put food on the table and a trophy on the wall. The ammunition is a bit pricey to shoot at targets, but just right to take your favorite game and with Federal Premium Ammunition having six bullet weights and types from 180gr Nosler AccuBond Vital Shock to 210gr Nosler Partition Vital Shock you should be able to find one to fit your hunting needs.
As a hand loader I will tell you there are more choices, but DPMS clearly states in their owner’s manual that using re-loaded or foreign ammunition will void your warranty. But hand loading is the only way to build a custom load that performs the best in any given rifle and I will cover this later in the article.
The .338 Federal is a .308 caliber case necked up to hold a .33 caliber bullet. So DPMS gave this round a rock solid platform starting with an 18 inch fluted barrel and adds a permanently affixed custom compensator for an overall length of 21.4 inches. The Button rifled barrel is constructed of 416 stainless steel and is considered a light contour barrel with a six groove, right-hand, 1:10 twist. Since the LR-338L is gas operated or direct gas impingement design (meaning it vents gas directly back into the operating system to cycle) it uses a lightweight gas block to secure the gas tube, and has no means to attach a front mounted iron sight. You must use optics on the receivers A3 flattop Picatinny rail which is about 6.75 inches in length. The barrel is then wrapped in a free floated carbon fiber tube that will offer durable protection to the barrel and gas tube; it also sports a sling stud for the provided sling. The barrel nut that attaches the hand guard to the upper receiver is also ventilated to aid in air flow over the barrel.
The upper receiver resembles an AR with the exception that DPMS has squared the edges instead of rounding them off. The forward assist and brass deflector is this way as well with sharp contrast, but DPMS incorporated the forward assist into the brass deflector as one unit. The charging handle, dust cover and rail are strait forward AR, but these oddities are what make the LR-338L unique among other AR’s. The lower receiver follows along the same squared design and uses familiar parts such as the bolt release, safety selector lever, magazine catch and the captured takedown pins. DPMS went with the Hogue rubber grip for great control, which I like, but can get hung on clothing since they are non slip. The trigger is a two stage type most are familiar with and is housed inside a durable metal trigger guard, but like other AR’s that allow you to open the gate for glove use, DPMS did not incorporate this feature. The trigger guard is generous in size and should handle most hunting gloves, but will not accommodate mitten style gloves. The magazine well is larger to accommodate the .338 Federal and as it accepts all DPMS magazines it will accept Magpul’s PMag 20LR as well. Extra magazines as well as other parts and accessories may be purchased directly from DPMS’s web store or a specialty store like Elite Tactical Components.
The stock is skeletonized according to DPMS, and with most designs of this type it is usually done to reduce weight, although the stock still uses a trap door. I’m not sure why they did this as I would have preferred the use of the trap door compartment for storing extra bolt parts, ammo or cleaning gear and in a pinch it’s great for trail mix I hear. If I look at it from another view, it makes for a firm two handed hold or if you’re passing an unloaded rifle up to someone. Lastly the buffer and spring aside from being larger to accommodate the .338 Federal are what you would expect to see in any AR platform. If you have never owned a larger caliber AR, the first thing you notice upon dis-assembly is the heavier and redesigned bolt carrier and bolt. For the most part they are identical but vary to a degree from manufacturer to manufacturer. The DPMS bolt carrier and bolt design looks much like what you would find in a standard .223 design except hardier to handle the potent .338 Federal, but will field strip in much the same way.
The rifle weighs in at 8.4 lbs with the provided 4 round magazine and 8.7 lbs with a loaded 4 round magazine containing the 185gr Barnes Triple-Shock. With the Trijicon TR20-1 AccuPoint 3-9×40 riflescope and 4 rounds of the same ammunition, the rifle weighed in at 9.75 lbs. The overall length is a little over 39 inches and the trigger pull was a consistent 5.25 lbs. The exterior is hard coat anodized mil spec and Teflon coated black and besides the squared and sharp angles of the rifles upper and lower receiver, it handles well and is balanced for it size.
One of the things I do when testing firearms is to let other shooters fire the rifle to get their opinions. The shooters range in all skill levels and backgrounds so I get a good mix of feedback. Their comments fell in the order of: recoil, trigger pull, weight, aesthetics and ammo, but in general, all the shooters liked the rifle and scope combination. All shooters reported that they never knew this rifle or the .338 Federal existed.
I can only conclude there may be a few more sales of the RL-338L in the future.
Since using iron sights is out of the question on this rifle, Trijicon sent me their TR20-1 3-9×40 AccuPoint. I have always been a fan of Trijicon because of their use by the military and they build tough optics that use illuminated reticules and best of all, require no batteries. This model uses a standard crosshair with a dot that uses the Trijicon tritium phosphor lamp, surrounded by aircraft grade anodized aluminum. Trijicon incorporates great features into the TR20-1 like fiber optics with automatic brightness control; this allows you to manually set your brightness level. Longer eye reliefs for use with heavy hitters like the .338 Federal, easy focus eye piece and multi-layer coated lenses for clarity and light gathering with no distortion aid you in the field. All these features are wrapped in a matte black finish with no glare or light reflection to make a great looking scope. The TR20-1 seemed a very good match for the type of hunting you will be doing with the .338 Federal and Trijicon backs it optics with a lifetime warranty for the original owner.
The .338 Federal began its service in 1986 and gave the hunter a medium caliber in a known cartridge case for light rifles such as the LR-388L. The 338-08, a 308 Winchester necked up to hold a .338 bullet was the cartridge the .338 Federal was modeled after and with some minor modifications it became what it is today. Cartridges such as the 348 Winchester, 35 Remington and the 358 Winchester, although proven calibers, couldn’t compete in range with the new .338 Federal that Federal ammunition engineers had designed. The .338 Federal was designed for shots out to 200 yards and delivers over 3200 ft/lbs of energy with a max pressure of 62,000 psi. It works well with powders that drive the .223 and with up to 225 grain bullets, will take deer, elk and black bears all with the recoil of a standard 30-06 rifle.
If you’re going after deer, the 180 or 185 grain bullets will easily take any deer you care to hunt but if you’re going to move up to moose and bear then 200+ grain bullets would be a sound choice. Since bullets change all the time and with hand loaders is a matter of choice, you should shop around and see what the bullet maker’s offer in the type of bullet you want. Barnes does a good job of making bullets for penetration and expansion and Hornady bullets are exceptional in accuracy and performance. Sometimes the bullet that performs the best in the rifle is not the best bullet for the hunt and as a rule of thumb, whenever you switch loads make sure you re zero as all rounds point of aim, point of impact are different.
Federal Premium Ammunition provided me with three types of their .338 Federal. 180gr Nosler Accubond, 185gr Barnes Triple-Shock and 200gr Fusion for testing. Other ammunition companies manufacture the .338 Federal but Federal Premium specializes in their namesake caliber providing 6 bullet weights and types to choose from. I found that they performed as expected with groups averaging from 1.4 to 2 inches at 100 yards. Chronograph results yielded positive results as well with good velocities for such a large and heavy hitting bullet with standard deviation and extreme spread being low.
Federal Premium Factory Loads Chronograph Results
LOAD – BULLET – VELOCITY – NOTES
- Federal 180 grain, Nosler Accubond, 2777, consistent
- Federal 185 grain, Barnes Triple shock, 2681, good load
- Federal 200 grain, Fusion, 2630, good load
Even though DPMS doesn’t allow using hand loads in its rifle for warranty purposes, I still used them in my testing because they allow you to customize your loads and ring out the best possible accuracy for this rifle. Once you do this, they could retain the right to refuse warranty service at their discretion. I would caution new hand loaders to take care loading for this caliber but experienced loaders shouldn’t experience too many problems. With reasonable care and following all the safety rules for hand loading you can create ammunition that will make your RL338L even more accurate. After chronographing and firing my factory loads, I cleaned my Federal brass and started reloading. Since there isn’t a lot of load information on this round I worked carefully with my mentor Bob Shell and used information we found for the .358 Winchester. These two cartridges are identical except for bullet diameter so it makes a good choice for a loading reference for the .338 Federal.
After full length re-sizing and de-priming each case, it is a good idea to check your case’s overall length using loading data or a factory cartridge. Semi-automatics such as the LR-338L will not chamber overly long rounds. Under length rounds will not be as accurate because the bullet is not sitting at the optimal distance to the lands and grooves. The proper overall length of Factory .338 loads is 2.894” and while it will tolerate plus or minus that by a few thousands of an inch, make sure you keep it as close as possible for best function and performance. After you have loaded your cartridges, make sure you check function in the magazine and rifle before you head out on that big hunt; the field is not the place to find your ammo will not chamber. Through trial and error I found this to be a valuable bit of information that will save you time and aggravation at the bench and in the field.
Here are the results from my reloads that were chronographed on a RCBS, Ammo Master. I made up seven loads using my Federal .338 Brass and various powders.
Reloading Chronograph Results
LOAD – POWDER – BULLET – VELOCITY – NOTES
- 44 Gr IMR 4895 225 grain Hornady 2461 consistent
- 47 Gr AA 2520 200 grain Hornady 2494 best load
- 48 Gr IMR 4320 200 gr FTX 2461 really consistent
- 47 Gr IMR 4895 200 gr FTX 2494 satisfactory
- 47 Gr AA 2520 200 gr FTX 2462 consistent
- 41 Gr 748 225 gr Hornady 2123 consistent but light load
- 41 Gr 748 210 gr Barnes solid 2147 consistent but light load
A few small issues I discovered along the way were easy to fix like the magazine not locking open after the last shot or stripping another round from the magazine. On the AR rifles the magazine release is spring loaded and if you push in the release with a small object it pushes out the other side and can be turned to tighten up the hold on the magazine. Using light loads may not generate enough gas pressure to cycle the bolt properly to eject and strip a new round from the magazine. A few grains of powder seemed to fix this issue but proceed with care a few grains go a long way and safety is paramount. With my eye relief on the AccuPoint, the scope overhung the charging handle and made it difficult to chamber a round using the factory charging handle. An aftermarket charging handle with extended ears will fix this problem and a different eye relief may aid this as well.
The recoil plate has a diamond cut pattern to aid in keeping the rifle in your shoulder pocket, although they are sharp and shooting it repeatedly in a t-shirt will leave the pattern on your skin. For extended shooting sessions I suggest a pad or jacket and with a hunting jacket it poses no issues, it’s just part of the experience of shooting the .338 Federal. The DPMS LR-338L is a well built rifle and with proper maintenance and care it will give you many years of faithful service and I would have no problems taking it on my hunts.
- DPMS www.dpms.com
- Federal Premium Ammunition www.federalpremium.com
- Trijicon www.trijicon.com
- Elite Tactical Components www.elitetacticalcomponents.com
Norman Gray ©2012 POMA Member
About Norman Gray:
Norman Gray has been involved in the shooting sports for well over 30 years. He has served in both active duty and reserve component of the United States Army as an Infantryman and was honorably discharged at the end of his service. Moving to Arizona, he began assisting his long time friend and mentor Bob Shell, an accomplished writer and author in his own right. Norman is freelance contributor with Handguns Magazine, Canadian Firearms Journal and Manzano Valley Outdoors. He is also a member of (POMA) The Professional Outdoor Media Association, the (NSSF) National Shooting Sports Foundation and a Life Member of the (NRA) National Rifle Association. Visit: http://www.unleaded-ink.blogspot.com/