ArmaLite AR-30 .338 Lapua Magnum Rifle


by Jeff Quinn

photography by Jeff Quinn & Boge Quinn

July 15th, 2004




The .338 Lapua Magnum began as a US military project back in the early 1980s. The military had a desire to develop a long-range sniper cartridge and weapon, and the .338 caliber was chosen for its very streamlined bullet designs combined with the desired bullet weight of around 250 grains. The first cases were made by necking down the .416 Rigby case to accept the .338 diameter bullets. The criteria of the ammunition was to push the ballistically efficient 250 grain bullets to 3000 feet per second.  Lapua of Finland was the first company to bring out a commercial version of the cartridge, thus the name of .338 Lapua Magnum, or 8.58x71mm, as the Europeans prefer to call it.

The .338 Lapua Magnum was purpose built from the beginning to be a long-range antipersonnel sniper rifle. As such, the rifles built for the cartridge are some of the most accurate available, but all have been more or less  modified hunting rifles, until now. With the introduction of their AR-30 bolt action rifle, ArmaLite has built the first production .338 Lapua rifle made specifically for long-range precision shooting. The rifle is somewhat like a benchrest rifle, but with a five-shot magazine and a very effective muzzle brake. The gun looks much like a scaled-down big fifty (.50 BMG) caliber rifle.

The ArmaLite AR-30 has a stock that is made of anodized hard coat aluminum that is finished in a dull black to match the finish of the steel action and barrel. The forend has a machined-in accessory rail to accept their excellent bipod. With a weight of fourteen and one-quarter pounds and an overall length of forty-eight and one-half inches, the bipod is a welcome accessory. The barrel on the AR-30 measures twenty-six inches, and has a one-in-ten inch twist. The trigger pull on our sample rifle measured a crisp four and one-quarter pounds. The receiver of the AR-30 has an integral Picatinny rail for mounting a scope sight. The placement of the cheek piece, bolt knob, and safety are very comfortable.

The muzzle brake on the AR-30 is designed to almost eliminate the felt recoil of the .338 Lapua Magnum, and the cartridge has plenty.  In a sporting weight rifle, the recoil can be quite stiff. The muzzle brake of the AR-30 is the most effective that I have ever used. While there is muzzle blast from the brake, there is absolutely no thump to the shoulder. I have fired .223 rifles that kick harder than this .338 Magnum, even with 300 grain bullets. It is amazing how effectively the brake works. The big gun is a real pleasure to shoot.

While the length and weight of the AR-30 does make for a large weapon, it carries very well, and the buttstock is easily removed for transport by pulling two retaining screws, if desired. The rifle is easy and comfortable to shoot from the bipod, a bench, or even standing offhand. It is really no heavier than some long range black powder rifles that I have fired.

Functioning of the AR-30 was perfect. The big cartridges fed easily from the magazine, or just by dropping them singly into the ejection port while firing from the bench.  Accuracy testing was done with two different loads; the 250 grain hollowpoint Scenar bullet load from Lapua, and the 300 grain Sierra Match King hollowpoint load from Black Hills. The Lapua ammo uses cases of that make, and the Black Hills ammo uses cases made by Norma of Sweden. Each is excellent brass. Both loads exhibited very good accuracy at 100 yards, shooting into less than five-eighths of an inch in a stout crosswind.  No long range paper punching was tried, but I did shoot the rifle extensively at steel silhouettes of mule deer and black bear at distances of four hundred and six hundred yards. Hitting these life-size targets at this range was very easy using the rifle’s bipod.

Chronographing the two factory loads at a distance of twelve feet from the muzzle proved that the available ammunition falls within the design parameters of the original military specifications. The Lapua 250 grain load clocked 2927 feet-per-second (fps), and the Black Hills 300 grain load averaged 2778 fps. With the very good ballistic coefficients of these bullets, the long range performance is excellent for dramatic terminal effect out to at least 1500 yards. Out to 1000 yards, the trajectories of the two bullets are pretty close, while the 300 grain Black Hills load has much greater energy at all ranges. Past 100 yards, the 300 grain bullet starts to really show its superiority, and is actually going faster than the 250 grain bullet at that point. Wind drift with the 300 grain bullet is also significantly less at all ranges past 400 yards.  At 1500 yards, the 300 grain Match King has over 1230 foot-pounds of energy, while the 250 has only 776 foot-pounds of energy remaining. This is not to disparage the 250 grain load; it is still an awesome long range performer, but the 300 grain bullet is markedly superior out past 1000 yards. With recoil not being a factor in the AR-30, there is no advantage to using the lighter bullet. As can be seen in the following chart, the .308 Winchester and the .300 Winchester Magnum, which are two of the most popular precision long range rifle cartridges, are not even close in retained downrange energy.

In building the AR-30, ArmaLite has made owning a .338 Lapua Magnum long range rifle both practical and affordable, at least to buy the rifle. Ammunition for the .338 Lapua is rather expensive, but hand loading the big case is easy, and can be done for about one-third the cost of factory ammo. Dies are readily available from RCBS. I just purchased a set, and look forward to doing some in-depth load development with this rifle. For those interested in really long range shooting with the AR-30, ArmaLite also makes scope mounts with elevation built in to them, so that you do not run out of elevation adjustment in the scope.

The ArmaLite AR-30 just might be the best compromise between a lightweight sporter rifle adapted to precision long range work and a big fifty caliber sniper rifle. The .338 Lapua has plenty of power out to three-quarters of a mile and beyond. In fact, with the 300 grain loading, it far exceeds the military’s original expectations of the cartridge. The tradeoff for all of this power once was substantial felt recoil, but with the excellent ArmaLite muzzle brake, the laws of physics no longer apply, at least as far as your shoulder is concerned.

Check out the AR-30 online at:

 Jeff Quinn


For a list of dealers where you can buy this gun, go to:


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Author tests the ArmaLite AR-30 on long-range silhouettes at the NRA Whittington Center in Raton, NM.



ArmaLite's muzzle brake is very well-designed and amazingly effective at taming the considerable recoil of the .338 Lapua Magnum.



Aluminum forend features an integral accessory rail to accept an ArmaLite bipod.



Top of the receiver features an integral Picatinny scope rail.



Skeletonized buttstock features a generous cheek piece.



Bolt handle is well-positioned and easy to operate.



Magazine release button (top) and 5-shot magazine (bottom).



Safety button



Buttstock is easily removable with two Allen-head screws.



Author tested the .338 Lapua Magnum with factory loads from Black Hills and Lapua.