Unless you keep a watchful eye on or participate in long-range shooting, you likely missed the introduction of the Hornady .300 PRC (Precision Rifle Cartridge) in 2018. Hornady designed the 300 PRC to be the ideal 30-caliber magnum for long-range precision rifle competition. And when we say “long-range” we are talking 1,500 yards at a minimum.
In the past, if you wanted to shoot that far, you needed to employ the use of the heavy-hitting 338 Lapua Magnum and all its shoulder bruising recoil that it imparts on its victims…err…shooters.
The 338 Lapua Mag was designed to punch through military-grade body armor at 1,000 yards and currently holds the #3 and #10 positions on the ten longest sniper rifle shots in history.
Both rifle cartridges were designed for ELR (Extra Long Range) shooting, but which one is going to be the best option for you? In this article, we will compare the new kid on the block, the 300 PRC, against the military long-range mainstay, the 338 Lapua.
Understand the Difference Between 300 PRC vs 338 Lapua
The 300 PRC and 338 Lapua Mag were designed with one concept in mind: long-range performance.
Both cartridges were designed to fire long, aerodynamic bullets with a ridiculously high ballistic coefficient to make wind drift a mere afterthought. This allows skilled marksmen to maintain MOA (minute of angle) accuracy at ranges up to and over 1,500 yards.
The 338 Lapua provides long-distance shooters amazing terminal ballistics, trajectory, and accuracy, but it does so at the cost of punishing recoil.
Enter the .300 Hornady PRC, which can do everything the 338 can do under 1,500 yards with less recoil.
Ever since the widespread success of the 30-06 Springfield and 308 Winchester, American ammo manufacturers have been working to perfect 0.308” caliber bullets.
And when it comes to 30-caliber magnum cartridges, you have a crazy number of options. Some of the most popular are the 300 Winchester Magnum, 30 Nosler, 300 Weatherby Magnum, 300 Norma Magnum, and 300 Remington Ultra Magnum, just to name a few.
With so many options it begs the question, “What makes the 300 PRC any better than any other 30-cal on the market?”
Although most of the cartridges on that list can shoot ELR, such as the 300 Win Mag and 300 Norma, the 300 PRC was specifically designed and optimized for this purpose.
But is it worth ditching your 300 Winchester Magnum or 6.5 Creedmoor bolt-action hunting rifle to get a 300 PRC? Or is the 338 Lapua the better option?
In the following sections, we will break down the positive and negative aspects of both the 300 PRC and 338 Lapua.
When comparing precision rifle cartridges, it’s a good idea to compare the cartridge specs to gain more knowledge of each.
Descended from the 375 Ruger, the 300 PRC sports a 0.532” base diameter meaning that it requires a full magnum bolt face just like the 338. Furthermore, the 300 PRC has an extremely long overall length of 3.7” meaning that it requires a magnum action rifle and a longer bolt throw to allow for reliable feeding.
Using a long action, like that used for the 30-06 Springfield or 300 Winchester Magnum, would mean that the 300 PRC bullets would enter the chamber at too severe of an angle, causing a jam.
Hornady specifically designed the 300 PRC for the magnum action as they wanted their cartridge to have as long a “head height” as possible. Head height is simply the overall length minus the case length. A longer head height allows for longer, more aerodynamic projectiles with a higher ballistic coefficient (BC) to be used.
A high BC is preferred when shooting long-range and the 1.12” head height of the 300 PRC allows for this. Furthermore, it allows more of the case capacity utilization for extremely high loads.
Speaking of case capacity, this is one area where the 338 Lapua and 300 PRC differ considerably. The 338 Lapua can handle a whopping 114 gr of propellant while the 300 PRC can handle 77 gr loads of powder.
One interesting difference is that the 300 PRC has a slightly longer overall length than the 338 (3.7” vs 3.681”). Though this is a minor difference, it shows the lengths that Hornady went to make the 300 PRC accept extremely long projectiles that are ideal for long-range shooting.
At the time of writing, SAAMI has not proofed the 338 Lapua and does not have an established max pressure for the round. To complicate matters, Lapua and the CIP have been somewhat ambivalent about the max pressure for the cartridge.
There is some scholarly debate as to the max pressure for the 338 Lapua, but the lower limits (and therefore safer) suggest 420 MPa (60,916 PSI). The maximum pressure for 300 PRC based on SAAMI specs is 65,000 psi, making it the higher-pressure round.
However, all that powder, pressure, and heavier bullets have two major drawbacks: recoil and barrel life.
Neither the 300 PRC nor the 338 Lapua are a slouch when it comes to recoil. The primary factors to consider when talking about recoil are the weight of the rifle and bullet weight being fired at a given muzzle velocity.
For this comparison, we will consider the Barrett MRAD bolt-action rifle, weighing 14.5 lbs. For bullet selection, we will use the 300 PRC 225 gr Hornady ELD Match (ELD-M) traveling at 2810 fps. For the 338, we will use the 250 gr LockBase projectiles fired at 3000 fps. Both are factory loads from Hornady and Lapua, respectively.
With these variables set, we see that felt recoil for the 300 PRC is around 22 ft-lbs of force compared to 38 ft-lbs of felt recoil for the 338. That’s about a 70% difference!
Less recoil typically corresponds to increased downrange accuracy as there is less chance for a shooter to jerk the trigger due to recoil anticipation. This is why lower recoiling cartridges are preferred for long-distance shooting like the 6.5 Creedmoor, and now the 300 PRC.
A muzzle brake can be used for both cartridges to tame recoil further, but the 300 PRC will have less recoil regardless.
Barrel life is a tricky thing to track as it will vary greatly based on the barrel manufacturer and the powder charge being used in the rifle.
Precision rifle shooters who routinely work at ranges at or above 1,500 yards will meticulously track their barrel life as they demand the pinnacle of performance and accuracy. However, the loads that they are using will typically affect barrel life the most.
A maximum load will always put added wear and tear on any barrel and reduce its lifespan. However, there’s not a lot of data out there for either cartridge to establish what the accepted barrel life is. However, from what I was able to find, both the 338 and 300 PRC have about a 1,500 round barrel life assuming you are not redlining the muzzle velocity and pressure.
Trajectory is how we quantify a bullet’s flight path as it travels downrange measured in inches of bullet drop.
Both the 338 and 300 PRC were designed for ELR precision rifle shooting, as such, they both have amazing trajectories. Even with factory ammo that’s tuned for match shooting, reaching out to 1,500 yards is achievable for both cartridges.
Bullet weight and muzzle velocity both play a role in determining trajectory, so for this comparison, we will compare the 338 Lapua Hornady 250-grain ELD-M and the 300 PRC 225 grain ELD-M.
Using Hornady’s Ballistic Calculator, we can determine that the 338 will have -804” of bullet drop at 1,500 yards while the 300 PRC is at -776”.
This means that the 300 PRC will have a flatter trajectory and therefore require less scope adjustment to remain on target than the 338 Lapua (for the rounds analyzed).
There are other projectiles available for both cartridges from manufacturers like Berger, Sierra, Hornady, and Norma that have excellent long-range performance as well. These bullets can affect the trajectory of the round due to differences in their ballistic coefficient, bullet weight, and profile.
However, in general, the 300 PRC will have a flatter trajectory.
Accuracy is a tricky category to empirically analyze as there are factors that cannot be calculated. The rifle system being used, barrel life, consistency of ammo, the skill of the shooter, and environmental conditions all play a part in accuracy.
All things being equal, both the 338 and the 300 PRC are extremely accurate within their effective ranges and sub-MOA accuracy is achievable with match-grade ammo, proper optics, and proper execution of the fundamentals of marksmanship.
However, things are rarely equal when it comes to shooting long distance. And most marksmen will state that they are more accurate with the 300 PRC due to its flatter trajectory and lower recoil impulse.
Ballistic coefficient (BC) is a measure of how well a bullet resists wind and air resistance. Put another way, it’s a numeric representation of how aerodynamic a bullet is. A high BC is preferred as this means the bullet will buck the wind easier.
Generally, a heavier bullet will have a higher BC as it takes more force to disrupt the flight of a heavier bullet than a lighter one.
With that in mind, it would be easier to think that the 338 had high BC bullets, more so than 300 PRC. And you would be correct in this line of thinking, as the 338 has access to heavier bullets.
However, the 300 PRC has some of the highest ballistic coefficients you can find for a 30-caliber magnum cartridge. The 250 gr A-Tip Hornady Match has a BC of 0.878 while the 225 gr ELD Match has a respectable 0.777 BC. Barnes also has several offerings, the best being the 245 gr Extreme Outer Limits with a BC of 0.807.
For 338 Lapua, the Hornady 300 gr A-Tip Match has a BC of 0.863 while the Berger 300 gr Hybrid OTM clocks in with a BC of 0.822.
Sectional Density (SD) is the measure of how well a bullet penetrates a target. This is extremely important when hunting big game, as you need a bullet that can punch through thick hide, bone, and sinew.
Sectional density is calculated by comparing the bullet weight and the bullet diameter. The higher the SD the deeper the bullet will penetrate the target.
Both cartridges have exceptional sectional density values; however, the 300 PRC will penetrate deeper and therefore have a higher SD. The reason for this is that the smaller 30-caliber bullet will localize all its force on a smaller surface area. This leads to more kinetic energy being focused into a smaller area, resulting in deeper penetration.
When picking your next hunting rifle, caliber selection is an important part of the process. Both the 338 Lapua and 300 PRC are excellent for long-range hunting, but the Hornady .300 PRC is clearly the better choice.
With a similar trajectory to 338, it offers exceptional stopping power at considerably less recoil. The Hornady 212 gr and 220 grain ELD-X line offer exceptional expansion even at a very long range.
The 300 PRC is more than enough to take down any game animal in North America and will be extremely effective against African game except for elephants, rhinos, and cape buffalo. For very large African game the 338 would be the better option, but it is overkill for most North American game.
Ammo and Rifle Price/Availability
When it comes to shooting 338 or 300 PRC, I hope that you have deep pockets because long-range target shooting isn’t cheap.
Most tactical rifles for 300 PRC are going to run you around $2,000 at the time of writing. Brands like Bergara and the Ruger Precision Rifle will be your less expensive options with brands like Barrett, GA Precision, and the Remington Custom Shop costing considerably more.
As 338 has been around since the 1980s, there are more hunting rifle options available for this chambering. Remington, Savage, and Ruger have options available in 338 Lapua, but do not expect to drop anything less than a grand on a bolt action rifle. If you’re looking for a tactical bolt-action rifle like a Barrett MRAD or Accuracy International AXMC you should plan to spend nothing less than $4,000 after it’s all said and done.
Factory ammo cost is another issue to discuss as shooting both rifle cartridges is very expensive. The absolute cheapest 338 Lapua fmj practice ammo that I could find on the Internet was checking in at about $4.45/round (and you had to buy a 200 round case to get this reduced price). Hunting ammo for 338 will run you no less than $8/round with match-grade options in the $10/round realm or higher.
Although the 300 PRC is still expensive to shoot, it is a little less than 338. The cheapest 300 ammo I could find ran around $3/round while match ammo ran around $6-7/round.
The issue with 300 PRC is that there are not many bullet weights available currently. The 212 gr and 220 grain ELD-X line from Hornady are the most popular factory loads while the 225 grain ELD-M is a close third. And that’s about it!
For 338 Lapua, you have considerably more manufacturers and bullet weight options available.
Reloading is one way to soften the impact of purchasing ammo for both the 338 and 300 PRC. Handloaders enjoy creating their own custom loads to squeeze every grain and fps of performance out of both cartridges.
Reloading has a higher up-front cost as you need to purchase the presses and dies required to prepare the brass cases for loading. However, that expense is quickly recouped in the 20-40% cost reduction per round that handloaders enjoy.
Furthermore, the ability to customize your ammo to your bolt-action rifle is something that match-grade factory ammo simply cannot do.
Although the 300 PRC can shoot lighter 30-caliber bullets, it is not as effective at doing so as the 300 Winchester Magnum, 30 Nosler, 300 Weatherby Magnum, and 300 WSM. This means that bullets that you purchase for reloading 300 PRC will typically be reserved for those cases except for potentially 300 Norma Magnum and 300 Rem Ultra Mag.
All the major bullet manufacturers like Hornady, Nosler, Sierra, and Berger have options in both heavyweight 30-caliber and 338-caliber bullets.
For 300 PRC, the most common bullet weights are 212, 220, 225, and 250 grains. For 338, the 250, 270, and 300 grain bullets are the easiest to find.