LONG-RANGE KILLING MACHINE
THE DEFENSIVE EDGE 338 TERMINATOR UPS THE ANTE FOR BIG-BORE BALLISTICS
A rifle case and a large cardboard box arrived for me in the mail. I opened the cardboard box and found two monstrous ammunition containers with 50 rounds each of what looked like 338 Lapua ammo on steroids — slightly larger case capacity with a long, 300-grain Berger bullet sticking out.
I then opened the rifle case and found a bullpup single-shot bolt-action rifle with a very beefy 32-inch barrel in a pistol-grip chassis. Before I even picked up the rifle, my phone was already in my hand, and I was waiting for our fearless editor to answer.
Cleckner: What in the world did you send me to test?
Harrison: (laughter with a British accent, of course)
Cleckner: Have you seen this thing?
Harrison: I saw pictures. Figured it’d be right up your alley.
Cleckner: You expect me to put my cheek on top of the chamber while I torch-off a 300-grain bullet out of ammo hand-loaded by someone else in a wildcat cartridge that is pushing a modified 338 Lapua Magnum to the extreme?
Harrison: Well, you didn’t expect me to do it, did you?
Cleckner: I’m heading to the range. If you don’t hear from me in a few hours, you know what happened.
Harrison: Make sure someone else is taking the photos. All likely outcomes will be interesting.
I hung up, loaded up the rifle and ammunition, and headed to the range.
At the range, I set up the rifle and my chronograph and prepared to confirm the rifle’s zero at 100 yards.
I noted ammunition headstamp, “338 Terminator,” and the rifle’s marking, “Defensive Edge LRKM” (which I later found stands for “Long Range Killing Machine”).
A quick Google search on my phone showed me that I should expect the velocity of the 300-grain bullet to be just over 3,000 feet per second! For those of you who don’t geek-out on ballistics, this is very fast for such a heavy bullet. Great. A 338 Lapua Mag will launch the same bullet at around 2,800 fps, and that extra 300 fps is a big difference and should result in some very high pressures.
Knowing that I’d be tempted to flinch when shooting this rifle, I dry-fired a few times to get used to the trigger and confirm my position. And here’s where I found my first pleasant surprise. The trigger was phenomenal! As you may know, bullpup-style rifles are generally known for having poor triggers (the linkage required usually results in poor trigger feel, slop in the system, and higher pull-weights). However, it’s worth noting again: the Defensive Edge LRKM has an amazing trigger — and it happens to be a bullpupstyle rifle. They’ve clearly figured out the bullpup linkage problem, and others should take note.
I loaded up and fired my first shot out of the LRKM. It was exactly where I was aiming and my chronograph read 3,071 fps. The next two shots registered at 3,074 fps and 3,072 fps and were within a 1⁄2 MOA group. I inspected the brass and noted no pressure signs. This was unexpected. A 338 Lapua Mag would’ve likely blown a primer, long before that speed was reached. More on this later.
I moved out to 600 yards and then quickly worked my way out to 1,000, where I placed three rounds in a 6-inch group on a steel gong. Shooting 0.6 MOA at 1,000 yards is doable for me, but I surely don’t do it every time. The other long-range shooters at the range and I were pleasantly surprised with the rifle’s accuracy. As a note, I offered to let them shoot the rifle, but they were happier watching me from a safe distance. Cowards.
OK, now I’m impressed. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been so quick to judge the system. The ammunition was extremely consistent, and the rifle seemed to be very accurate, especially for that large of a round. The rifle shipped with two test targets showing 1⁄ 3 MOA groups, and while I shot multiple 1⁄2 MOA groups, I never quite got them as small as the test targets. That’s likely shooter error.
The ammunition loading was some of the best I’ve seen. The brass is gorgeous and the extreme spread (ES) of the velocity was 6 fps for the first 10 rounds — impressive indeed. The 11th round dropped to 3,045 fps, opening the ES up to 30 fps, but all but one other round out of 50 stayed within a 10 fps spread.
When you’re looking for good longrange performance, consistent velocities are necessary. As an example, a loss of 10 fps for this round is almost a foot more drop at 2,000 yards. And yes, this round is capable at 2,000 yards. A 40-fps decrease is almost a 4-foot difference at 2,000 yards — enough to miss a target completely.
Belying its shorter overall length due to the bullpup design, is the rifle’s weight at just under 16 pounds with the Nightforce ATAC-R that arrived with it, (13.5 pounds for the rifle alone).
It was, however, easier to hold off-hand than a similar-weighted rifle and it was very stable on a bag due to much of its weight being distributed toward the rear. I’m not a fan of a pistol-grip chassis on bolt-action rifles. My bias stems from operating the rifle and stability/height issues due to the stock being high enough to make room for the pistol grip.
A standard rifle stock allows me to run the bolt easier and faster. When possible, I shoot rifles with my firingside thumb on the same side as, and near, my trigger finger. This not only allows for easier manipulation of the safety, it also prevents over gripping or torquing the rifle, while placing my thumb near the bolt knob for fast reloads. I know I’m in the minority here — there’s nothing “wrong” with pistol grip chassis, I simply prefer standard-style rifle stocks.
The rifle functioned well. As mentioned before, the trigger was great. It was a crisp and light single-stage trigger. The bolt was smooth (it would get smoother as the cerakote burnished in) and it extracted and ejected as it should. Above all, the rifle was dead nuts accurate.
I returned to the range for a second trip and experienced similar results — I was able to get ½ MOA groups out to 1,250 yards. I did struggle a bit with anticipating the recoil on my 100-yard groups. My worst at that distance was just over 1 MOA, and I attribute much of that to a poor fit for me and the rifle. I’m a bigger guy and my large head usually requires a scope mounted further forward and a longer length of pull.
I wasn’t a fan of the bullpup design. Don’t get me wrong … the actual design of the LRKM was great for a bullpup rifle. I just didn’t like bullpup bolt action rifles in general. Yes, the design did save over a foot off the overall length but it introduced too many issues for me.
First, the rifle was difficult to operate. I am a big believer in quickly running the bolt and getting the rifle back into the fight for a quick followup shot if needed. This is a problem with the LRKM.
Due to the linkage required for the bullpup design, the LRKM is a singleshot rifle. A new round must be manually loaded into the rifle before closing the bolt. Defensive Edge, the rifle’s manufacturer and designer, did include a kydex holder for two rounds forward of the ejection port so that a couple of spares were readily available.
Second, I needed to change my position between each shot. Yep, that’s right — I couldn’t operate the bolt while staying in position on the rifle. In addition to being very awkward to grab the bolt so close to my body, once the bolt was about 1⁄3 of the way back, it ran into my shoulder and stopped. I needed to completely remove my shoulder from the rifle in order to operate it. This is less than ideal.
Consistency is the key to accuracy. Modifying your position between every shot, and then having to re-settle on the rifle and re-find the target, is what most instructors (me included) would strongly advise against.
The 338 Terminator is a monster. It’s effectively a 338 Lapua Mag Improved +P. The brass is custom made for Defensive Edge, and it carries the “338 terminator” headstamp. The brass starts out as extremely highquality 338 Lapua brass, and then it’s fire-formed by Defensive Edge to push the shoulders forward a bit for its “improved” design. They sell the brass for $400 for 100 pieces.
This “improved” design with the shoulders pushed forward, and at a steeper angle, allows for more case capacity, which in turn allows for more powder. After seeing the high velocity and learning that the brass started as 338 Lapua Mag brass, I couldn’t figure out how it was able to handle the performance without showing signs of pressure.
A conversation with the rifle’s designer cleared it up and this is, in my opinion, the most novel part of the entire system … It has a unique chamber that allows for a more powerful round while minimizing the chamber pressure. More on this after some ballistics of the round.
The 338 Terminator has some impressive stats. The 338 Lapua Mag has been king for a while in the bigboy long-range cartridges. Then 300 Norma Mag came along and our military really started to like it because it outperforms the 338 Lapua Mag with less recoil. The 338 Terminator handily outperforms both (on paper).
I shot 1,000 yards with 5.9 Mils of elevation above my 100-yard zero and 1,250 yards with 8 Mils of elevation. That’s a heavy bullet, travelling very flat, and packing a wallop on the target.
How did they get a 300-grain bullet traveling over 3,000 fps without serious over-pressure issues? The special chamber.
Defensive Edge has a patented chamber design wherein they use a special throat to handle the power of these monster rounds without dangerous pressures.
Instead of simply having an elongated throat and thereby having too much free-bore with a consequent adverse effect on accuracy (I’m looking at you, Weatherby), they have the rifling start at the throat, but they don’t have the bore down to its final diameter yet.
There’s a step wherein the bullet engages the rifling as it should, however, it isn’t under full pressure yet because it isn’t necked down to its final bore size until it can travel a bit. I described this as a graduated throat (to the dismay of the designer).
This really is novel — it allows the bullet to be controlled and start spinning without the abrupt start normally incurred with a standard chamber. My money is on this helping to increase barrel life too. After all, the throat is usually what goes first on a barrel because of intense heat and pressure generated by powder particles and friction from the bullet.
This unique throat design lowers pressure so much that a standard cartridge/load will not meet its normal performance expectations in this chamber. The reduced pressure prevents a cartridge from reaching the velocity it would normally, so this throat/chamber design is best suited for monsters like the 338
SO WHAT’S THE VERDICT?
Both the cartridge and the rifle have some merits and impressive performance. However, I personally recommend neither for most shooters.
The LRKM rifle is extremely accurate but the bullpup design, although executed as well as it could be, is clumsy on a bolt-action rifle. And the cartridge, although very accurate with impressive ballistics, is too monomaniacal for the majority of applications.
This rifle and cartridge are built for one purpose: launching a monster projectile a long way from a static position. The bullpup design isn’t practical for any use that I have for a rifle, but is required in order to keep the OAL somewhat manageable because of the humongous 32-inch barrel needed for the cartridge to perform.
This system is only useful if you have the money for it ($4 per piece of brass is pricey), you hand-load ammunition (and are willing and capable of making extremely accurate rounds), and mostly want to shoot one round at a time from one location (the weight, function, and recoil of this rifle don’t match with “on the move” shooting).
But, if you’re that guy who really wants to shoot a 300-grain bullet that stays supersonic out to 2,000 yards and doesn’t mind reconfiguring between each shot because you want a long barrel, but short overall length, then the LRKM and the 338 Terminator are for you.
This rifle and cartridge are surely novelties. I had a wonderful time testing them and learning about them. However, for the vast majority of shooters looking for an extreme long range rifle and cartridge, I’d recommend something like a Barrett MRAD in 338 Lapua Mag or even the new 300 PRC.
As a note, the rifle is billed as a solution for long-range hunting. Here’s my opinion on the matter — not that you asked. If your biggest risk of failure is spooking an animal, then you’re hunting. However, if your biggest risk of failure is missing the target, then you’re target shooting. You may not agree, but you don’t have to — as for me, I’ll extend the stalk and not the shot.
That beautifully machined trigger bar is responsible for the LRKM’s ver y unbullpup-like trigger pull. It also means there’s no way to feed it from a magazine.
That M700 bolt exiting the rear of the action means you have to take the rifle out of the shoulder each time you stuff in a reload.
Takedown is pretty straightfor ward, assuming you can turn two screws.
Terminator (lef t) and parent 338 LM(right). PO Ackley would’ve approved.
Thousand-yard groups on the gong, and 1,250yard groups on the silhouet te, like this are almost wor th the price of admission. Almost.