Guns and Gear for a Texas Whitetail Hunt

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posted on January 13, 2016
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Editor's note: Field Editor Bryce Towsley put all of this gear to use on a recent whitetail hunt in Texas. Catch up on his story here.

On this hunt we used the .338 Federal, a .308 cartridge necked up to take a .338 bullet. One thing worth noting is that when you go larger in bullet diameter you are able to push the same weight bullet faster, so it outperforms all of its littermates. The .338 Federal has a muzzle velocity of 2700 fps with a 200-grain bullet, while a .308 struggles for 2500 fps with that bullet weight. The Federal .308 load with a 2700 fps muzzle velocity uses a 165-grain bullet. 

Don’t assume the .338 Federal is a short-range cartridge; it is not. The trajectories of the 200-grain .338 Federal and the 165-grain .308 are almost identical within hunting ranges, but the .338 Federal has 21 percent more muzzle energy due to its heavier bullet. It also has a bigger bullet, which makes a bigger hole. That’s a classic win-win.

I have hunted with this cartridge in places as diverse as British Columbia, Vermont and Texas. The more I use it, the more I like it.

I shot my best-ever black bear with the .338 Federal as well as a lot of other game including deer and hogs. I have witnessed other hunters using the .338 Federal to shoot bears, elk, mountain goat and moose. My good friend Randy Luth shot a 10-foot Alaska brown bear with the .338 Federal last year.

Is it too much cartridge for the smallish Texas whitetails? Well, define too much cartridge. There is one degree of dead, but there is a multitude of degrees of wounded. In that light, no: It’s just right. Combined, Jake and I shot five big-game critters in Texas using the .338 Federal and we fired five shots to do it. How can you improve on that? In addition to a whitetail buck and an axis doe each, Jake also shot a nice hog. In fact it was because hogs were on the menu that we selected this cartridge. It might well be the perfect cartridge for hunting pork.

The problem for years has been that rifles chambered for the .338 Federal have been scarce. When Federal introduced the cartridge the only available rifles were from Sako and Tikka.

The cartridge found a niche in AR-L (AR-10) rifles; I think it’s the best big-game hunting cartridge in that platform; that’s what Randy used to shoot his brown bear. Most hunters, though, prefer bolt-action rifles.

Savage is now owned by the same company as Federal: Vista Outdoor. So it makes sense that Savage would chamber rifles for the company’s flagship cartridge. Currently, Savage offers the .338 Federal in six rifles. Mine was a Savage Model 16 Bear Hunter. This stainless steel/synthetic stock rifle has a fluted barrel and an adjustable muzzle brake. My scope was the Bushnell Elite 6500 2.5X-16X-42mm in Weaver Tactical mounts. I was shooting Federal ammo loaded with 210-grain Nosler Partitions.

Jake used a Savage Model 11 Hog Hunter. This blued steel/synthetic stock lightweight brings a lot to the table for such an affordably priced rifle. For example, the barrel is threaded so you can add a suppressor. His scope was a Bushnell Elite 4500 2.5X-10X-40mm. The ammo was my all-time favorite deer load for the .338 Federal, the 200-grain Fusion.

I also got a chance to wring out a new Bushnell Fusion 1 Mile 10x42 rangefinding bino and was very pleased with its performance. It’s a good binocular with a rangefinder that can reach a mile in a package priced for the working guy.

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