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The .243 Winchester has been the subject of praise and criticism

June 27, 2009
By Kenneth Cobb

The .243 Winchester is a .308 Winchester necked down. The casing uses the same 20-degree shoulder angle, but is actually .03 of an inch longer.

Anyone who knows anything at all about firearms knows that the .243 Winchester is a very popular sporting rifle cartridge. It was released on Sept. 6, 1955, in Winchester's famous Model 70 bolt-action rifle as a varmint cartridge. It quickly gained popularity among sportsmen and women in the United States and Europe.

This cartridge was tried on all kinds of game from jackrabbit to Kodiak bear. It did not take the ballistics experts long to realize this cartridge had certain limitations. No one can dispute that the accuracy and versatility of this cartridge has elevated it to levels of popularity not exceeded in any other cartridge of this caliber.

This potent cartridge using bullets that are 80 grains or lighter is outstanding for hunting varmints at long ranges. Hornady offers an 80-grain FMJ (full metal jacket) bullet designed for pelt hunters. One hundred and 105 grain bullets are for hunting deer-sized animals.

Gun writers like the late George Herter and John Woofter were quick to say that the .243 Winchester is an overrated cartridge. Herter stated in his reloading manual, "The .243 is no miracle cartridge."

Gun writers like the late Parker Ackley and Vernon McGee had a lot of praise for this round. When McGee was comparing the .243 to the much older .250/3000 (.250 Savage), he concluded his study with this statement, "Both cartridges are deadly on whitetails out to 250 yards, and neither should be stretched beyond this."

Today, just about all of the major manufacturers of sporting and target rifles offer a model chambered for the .243 Winchester. This stubby cartridge is perfect for short, but strong, lever-action rifles like the Savage Model 99.

In the United Kingdom with the passage of the 1963 Deer Act, which stipulated a minimum bullet diameter of .240 along with minimum levels of muzzle velocity and bullet energy, the .243 Winchester is now perceived as the entry-level caliber for legal deer hunting. It is also interesting to know that the Los Angeles Police Department SWAT teams used custom bolt-action rifles chambered for the .243 Winchester in their early years.

Factory loads for the .243 Winchester include an 80-grain pointed soft point bullet with an advertised muzzle velocity of 3,350 feet-per-second in a rifle with a 24-inch barrel. This would be good for hunting groundhogs at ranges of 400 yards or maybe a little longer. The 100-grain load has a velocity of 2,960 feet-per-second at the muzzle. I know several deer hunters who use this load, and I do not think any of them have been disappointed with it.

Today, I would regard the .243 Winchester as a varmint/whitetail cartridge. A high-quality rifle chambered for this round would be an excellent choice for the one-gun hunter who wants to hunt varmints and deer in this state.

While I have never hunted with a .243, I have fired a few of them on shooting ranges. At 100 yards, the cartridge delivers outstanding accuracy with factory and handloads, with just about all bullet weights.

I have to agree with the critics that the .243 Winchester is too light for hunting dangerous game or even heavy game.

Heavy game would include black bear, caribou, moose and wild boar. When hunting dangerous game, I think that it is better to be over gunned than under gunned.

Below are three good handloads for the .243 Winchester:

1. Case Remington

Primer CCI-200 (Large Rifle)

Bullet Sierra 60-grain Pointed Hollow-Point

Powder & Weight IMR 4064; 39.0 grains

Note: Good for long-range varmint hunting

2. Case Frontier

Primer Federal 210 (Large Rifle)

Bullet Hornady 80-grains FMJ

Powder & Weight IMR 4064; 38.5 grains

Note: Good for hide or pelt hunting

3. Case Winchester

Primer CCI-200 (Large Rifle)

Bullet Speer 105 Round Nose Soft Point

Powders & Weight IMR 4350; 41.0 grains

Note: Good whitetail load

References: Herter Reloading Manual and NRA Reloading Manual



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