.243 Rifles — Sorry Honey, I Have a New Love

Savage Axis rifle topped with a Riton Optics scope

You would think, being an avid hunter and given the number kids as I’ve introduced to hunting and shooting, I would have discovered the .243 Winchester a lot sooner than I did. My path was rather long and circuitous. I was close a couple of times, but never realized what I was missing until a change in the hunting regulations forced me to shoot the .243.

Savage Axis rifle topped with a Riton Optics scope
The Savage .243 and Riton Optics scope scope proved to be a worthy combination.

The closest I came to the .243, before turning 37, was the rifle I used to shoot my first deer. It was the same diameter bullet, but it was chambered in 6mm Remington. For reasons unknown, and what some consider several marketing “hiccups,” the 6mm never came to much prominence.

Back to the .243

Necking down the case of the .308 Winchester made the .243 Winchester to a diameter of .243. By doing this, you gain a great deal of speed while at the same time producing less recoil. First introduced in 1955, it was chambered in Winchester’s Model 70 and Model 88 lever action. This peppy little caliber can be found or hand loaded with bullets in the 52- to 110-grain range with velocities from 2,900 to over 4,000 fps.

That’s a screaming-fast bullet. Thanks to the advancements in bullet manufacturing and materials, today’s .243 a darned-nice caliber for any and everything up to the largest deer. With the right shot placement, even an elk or two may be taken with the .243.

I received my first .243 by accident. I worked a weekend event for some clients and, knowing that I had young children and that I produced multiple youth events, they offered me a Weatherby Vanguard .243 youth model that came with two stocks—one shortened and one full size—to grow with the youth and a Leupold 3-9x scope that they had used that season as a demo gun.

I took the rifle to the range with my daughter, shot it a few times, and essentially designated it for the kid. Then, a change in Wisconsin’s hunting rules dictated that I “share a gun” with any youth I took hunting.

We shot three deer with the rifle that year. Since then, we have harvested another 6 more deer with it, including the two biggest-antlered and biggest-bodied deer any of our family members have shot, a dozen coyotes, a few woodchucks, and hundreds of holes in paper. 
Where the .243 really shines for me, however, is at the range.

I like to think that since I’ve grown older, I have learned from my errors and mistakes along the way. I would also like to believe I have become a little wiser in the process, and have finally overcome the “manly” notion that you need to shoot a big caliber to effectively kill big game. I can take my .243s to the range, easily fire 50 to 60 rounds at targets at varying distances and have exactly the same emotional impact (without as much of the recoil impact) as shooting any of my “big” rifles.

.243 Numer 2

Until last year, the Weatherby Vanguard was my only .243. Due to my recently acquired fondness for the .243, that had to change. The opportunity presented itself, so I jumped at the chance to pick up a Savage Axis in .243. The Axis has a laminated, thumbhole stock. The cost? That may be the best part. I was able to trade some field and floater goose decoys I would no longer be needing since I now live in a desert for the rifle after a the proper paperwork was completed.

The previous owner had only fired a box or two of ammo through it and I don’t think he ever cleaned the bore. He just wiped it off after shooting. As a result, he was not getting the accuracy he wanted. After almost an hour of work, the bore shone like new and was ready to go.

The optics on the gun were not very good—a $50 3-9x of some non endemic manufacturer, but I took it to the range and fired about a box of ammo through it at 50 then 100 yards. I averaged about a 2-inch group. Fast-forward one year; I acquired a trial optic from a relative newcomer to the optics world, a Mod 5, 4-16x50mm, Wide angle scope from Riton Optics out of Tucson, Arizona and some UTG 30mm rings from the fine folks at Leapers, Inc. I immediately thought of the Savage and wondered what the scope would be like on it. 
The only challenge I had was that the scope was a bit short for the 2-piece mount on the gun. I solved that with a solid Picatinny rail mount, mounted the scope, and was off to the range.

A Pleasant Surprise

I received a pleasant surprise when shooting my Savage with that scope and something that I’ve never experienced before. Four different loads, all from different manufacturers with different bullet weights, printed within 1.5 inches of one another. The best 3-shot group printed just under .75 inch.

Yes, the .243 is an excellent hunting, varmint, and shooter’s rifle. I recommend you get your own. If you don’t have one already, you can’t have mine. The Savage and Riton optic combo, though… I’ll be relying on that combo for quite awhile.

Are you a .243 Winchester fan? Have you ever underestimated a caliber’s effectiveness? Which one? Share your answers in the comment section.

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Comments (23)

  1. Have 3 of these smallbores. A BLR, and a Mauser with Mannlicher stock that was someone’s gunsmithing school final project. Last is a post 62 Winchester heavy barrel varmint rifle. In the early days of LAPD SWAT, they used 243s and only switched when the gov’t offered 7.62 rifles. Had that one since 71 and always been happy with it. The others had for about 20 years. Both are light and easy on the shoulder. Important when you have had shoulder surgery. Taken deer, albeit small coastal blacktail, and never had any heartburn about the performance. Never tried a 6mm so can’t compare calibers. Easy to reload…what more can you ask.

  2. I have the Winchester Model 70 Featherweight .243 that was my dad’s, but I had hunted with it since i was 14 (now 46). With the old Leupold 3-9×40 and precision handloads, I’ll put that rifle on the range against anything out to 500 yards. I won’t try to take game at that distance, of course. But the .243 Win is a flat shooting round, and as long you don’t use it in a brushy area, it will take down just about anything you want.

  3. I have a Winchester Model 100 in .243. It’s a sweet shooting semi which hits the target. It’s got a 3-9×40 Nikon with a sun shield. I’ve yet to hunt with it but it’s sure fun to shoot!

  4. I have been shooting the .243 for about 6 years now. I purchased a Remington youth model (20″ barrel) for my then 9-year-old son. It has killed plenty of deer and hogs – some over 200 lbs – and it shoots sub-MOA at the range. It is light enough to easily carry on my shoulder while hog hunting but without harsh recoil. In fact, I’ll even carry it when I take my son squirrel hunting (.22lr) in case we see a hog.
    The longest I have had to track an animal was a hog that ran through tall grass. Drops of blood quickly turned to pools, and 60 yards form where it was shot laid a very dead hog. I would not personally use it on elk, but I know that there are people who have done so.
    My son now shoots a .270, mainly because he has had opportunities to take larger game where that is the minimum caliber. My daughter has inherited the .243. She’s not afraid of the recoil, so she has no problem grouping around 2 MOA. I like knowing that she can make a clean shot at 150+ yards and still have enough power do bring the animal down quickly. I still take it on hog hunts occasionally, too. In short: I love my .243!

  5. I too owned a Weatherby Varnguard in .243. I believe the .243 to be one of the most inherently accurate cartridges ever made. After glass bedding the receiver and floating the barrel channel, that rifle with a handload of IMR4064 and a 100gr Nosler would put three shots nearly into one hole at 100 yds. A handloaded varmint load of H414 and a Hornady 70 SX would shoot a 3 shot group at 200 yds you could cover with a dime. Love me some .243. Great cartridge!!

    1. and that is precisely why I get to school 6.5 koolaid drinking internet ninjas.

      they print a 4″ group and at the same distance I shoot a group under 2″. they counter with well, mine is supersonic at 1300 yards, and my reply is mine shoots a group less than half of yours, and I really doubt the target is impressed by how fast the bullet is traveling, and face it, neither cartridge is going to do a whole lot of game taking at 1300 yards. flatter trajectory is not very important to a target shooter, so I have to dial up a couple extra mils on my scope, I care about how tight the groups are. BTW, I believe the .222 Remington still holds the accuracy record, but .243 win has to be in the top 5. for Varmints in the wind or long range, or game under 500 yards the .243 sits in a very unique spot, and there is not likely to be a replacement anytime soon.

    2. Randy, I’ve killed 2 coyotes at 400+ and one doe whitetail at 416 yards by the rangefinder. All didn’t go far. Both yotes dropped in their tracks. The Doe went 15 yards and tipped right over.

  6. I shoot a .243 Steyr Model L. I keep shooting less than 1 inch groups at 100 yards and it is fun to shoot! Also keep ringing the 200 yard gong at the range. I had a surgery for torn rotator cuff and notice that this caliber is less punishing than my 30.06 and .308.

  7. I shoot condor zone manly varmint with lighter non lead bullets we have to shoot the 243 Winchester shooting 62 gr shoot very good at the 300 to 500 yard range

  8. I don’t have a great deal of use for the .243 in most places I hunt. So it has become one of my three varmite rifles. Tikka T3, topped with a Burris 3-9×40 Multi-Plex, bi-pod, and threaded for a supressor or break and it serves as my LR, p-dog/coyote/marmite/Prongs population control, platform. Added to my Savage 93 in .17 HMR an Tikka Whitetail in .223 there are few varmits which can escape inside of 275 yards or so.
    Although each of these platforms are, out of the box and eating munitions that they like, to say the least sub-MOA and will happily chew single holes out of the center of a target with five shot groups after being zeroed. I have also had each one Cryo Tempered which further increases the already inherent accuracy of the platform. This process has been performed on all my hunting and LR platforms, several of my favorite hunting and kitchen knives, a car engine, two outboard motors, an aircraft engine, all my wood chisels, ….. an other metal tools an devices where a long lasting edge or metal to metal contact is needed or found. The results are as close to magic as one could imagine.
    In the case of my varmint rifles it has increased the accucery of my shot placement/consistency in the neighborhood of 30% to 35%.
    In the case of my .243, providing I have done my part correctly, gageing wind, distance, breathing, trigger control an so forth… it will place an accurate, consistent, shot at ranges of upwards to 325 yards within a 1.5 inch circle everytime. Prior to the Cryo Temp process this accucery at this distance was not attainable. Shots fell into a 4 in circle prior, fine enough for larger varmint but not the smaller targets at the longer distance.
    The .243 given the oppertunity, a little work, and set up properly can indeed be a tack driver more that sufficient for light skinned game an varmint at distances greater than many might consider.
    Its an “all day shooter” with its low recoil, on the bi-pod, Shooting ammunition that it likes along with optics suited to your eye and hunt it is an excellent if somewhat still underrated choice in a long gun.

  9. When I was 14, I finally convinced my dad to get a .243 cal for hunting groundhogs in PA. He was an old avid 22 Hornet fan, chastising me by saying “if you’d kill as many groundhogs as I have with that 22 Horner…etc”

    He finally gave in and traded his 22 Hornet with a friend who had the .243…both rifles were pre64 Model 70 Winchesters. The .243 was the Featherweight model. To make a long story short, after I nailed a groundhog over 400 yards away and my dad dropping 3 whitetails in their tracks…he finally conceded that the .243 was better than his 22 Hornet. I have yet to find a better all-around caliber for PA hunting. And yes…after 55 years, I still have the rifle with the original Bausch & Lomb 21/2 x 8 power scope. And no…it’s not for sale.

  10. When I started to deer hunt, I purchase a Remington Model 700, 30-06. Love the gun, later when my son wanted to deer hunt, I purchase a Remington Model 700, .243, for him. He loss interest in hunting, so place the .243 in the gun safe. A few years later I decided to use the .243 for deer hunting, that was 25 years ago and haven’t use the 30-06 since! The .243 is a great caliber for the marsh deer in South Louisiana, plus the long distance shots. Love the low recoil and the performance of the caliber. The most important thing about hunting, is shot placement!

  11. I have used a .243 since I was 18. It is the first deer rifle I have ever owned. She is a Ruger Mark 2, stainless synthetic as I hunt hard and can’t be worried about scratches or rain. I will say I am quite particular with shot placement but this rifle has never let me down. I have harvested dozens of deer with it, none have run farther than 75 yards. Many have been taken beyond 200 yards and almost 1/2 of those never ran they just dropped in their tracks. It is rewarding to watch them expire in sight because the only downside to this caliber is you don’t get much of a blood trail. I use Federal premium ammo as that is what the gun likes. She has never been a tack driver as a lot of guys can claim with theirs as it has a sporter weight barrel but she holds about 1.5 MOA.

    I have taken a lot of ribbing from other men asking if I’m not man enough to use a real gun. My answer is that I enjoy eating what I shoot and have no reason to ruin half of the meat. I have even started shooting most of my doe in the head to save even more meat and of course no tracking is needed. The .243 has and will always be my go to for deer and smaller. Plenty of power, accurate, and pleasant to shoot on the bench. The price on ammo isn’t so bad either! Happy shooting y’all.

  12. The first rifle I bought my son was a model 700 in 6mm Remington. Great caliber and a little faster than a .243, if you are looking for more velocity. I love it so much I got one in a Ruger #1. I also have a Cooper in .243. It is so accurate that bullets through the same hole at 100yds is not uncommon. It came with a 3 shot factory target with one hole in it at 50yds. Awesome rifle.

  13. Winchester Model 70 XTR II Featherweight in .243 has been my kid gun and light weight pack rifle for the last 10 years. Originally I mounted a 3-9 Redfield with a duplex reticle on it while shooting factory loads. I was urged by a friend to upgrade the rifle’s capabilities by switching to a 4-16 Vortex Diamondback HP with Deadhold BDC reticle and hand loaded ammunition.

    On a good day at the range it will shoot under an inch at 200 yards, and has thumped more yodel dogs and ground squirrels than you can poke a stick at. The rifle barely taps my shoulder but seems to hit deer like a wrecking ball, myself and several different shooters I’ve loaned the rifle to can all confirm that the little .243 is plenty potent for Columbian Black-tail and fine medicine for pronghorn.

    Heck, I’ve had people I’ve loaned my rifle to, return my 243. and then immediately go out and purchase/order their own. General consensus seems to be that the 243 is a damn fine cartridge.

    Will it match up to a 6.5 Creedmoor? Hell No. But if you want a rifle that is light, inexpensive, cheap to feed, is easy on even the most petite shooter’s shoulder, while still having the accuracy and energy to spank varmints out to 600 yards… yeah, the .243 really can’t be beat in that regard.

  14. I used to shoot a Remington 700 in .308 cal. for all my deer hunting. Now, thanks to what the MD calls a “frozen shoulder”, my .308 leaves me with bruising on the shooulder after only a few shots. I switched to a Remington in .243 ca. and I love it. I can shoot all day with no real distress.

  15. Got my first 243 in 1969, killed my biggest muley with it and one pronghorn out to 429 yards. Probably killed 40 muleys, white tail and pronghorn with it—it has an 18 inch barrel. Today I use a 257 Weatherby I got as a retirement gift and have a dozen deer guns from the 243-30-06-45-70-399 Wby etc. Any fool can put a 24 power scope on a 6.5 with a $1,000 scope and shoot an animal at 1,000 yards., but it takes a real hunter to move into maybe 400 yards and do the same with the 243….duh? I have $2,500 Weatherbys, but can get the same results with the little 243 and a $60 Tasco 3 x 9 scope. Are you up to that challenge? Just messing with the mall ninja guys.

  16. I have owned 2 in my lifetime, the first a model 70 which I sold because I hated the action, not the cartridge ( I’m a southpaw, I refrain from the term lefty, as it has very negative implications), I replaced the Winchester with a Savage and that was the best move I ever made. I never over or under estimate any cartridge, the .243 is an excellent heavy varmint round and close range deer round, in the west, 500 to 700 yard shots are not uncommon and some beyond that. the .243 at close to medium range is effective on deer but too anemic past 500 yards. it is however very effective on long range paper targets, and that Savage 10 action is cold blooded accurate. I frequently irritate shooters who drank the 6.5 Creedmoor koolaid by out shooting them at all ranges even to 1500 yards, the ,243 is as relevant today as ever and is a cartridge that every avid shooter should own.

    1. I agree about anemia of the .243 round at 500 yards on deer. However, after more than 40 years of hunting Mulies, the majority of my shots have been in the 5 yard (yes, walked 10 steps to where a MONSTER 5 pointer [10 point in the East] buck dropped!) to 200 yards, and with the thick pine and Aspen cover that I hunt, most of the time can’t see much past 50 yards anyway.
      And I agree that Savage 10 actions are very smooth. My Thompson Center Compass was very stiff, initially, but after the 500+ rounds that I have run through it, the bolt is much smoother, and T/C, with their MOA guarantee wasn’t joking! Still printing 1.5″ 200 yard groups. Just as long as I continue to clean the bore and chamber every 30-40 rounds, it continues to deliver the goods, accurately and reliably. If I forget to clean (been doing this at 20 rounds, lately), the cases become hard to extract from the chamber, and my accuracy begins to open up. But as long as I do my part, the rifle does part.

  17. I have hunted with my old 30.06 for the past 40 years, and always brought home the venison. But at the range, 20-30 rounds was plenty for me. I bought a “MSR” in .223/5.56 and would shoot hundreds of rounds through it in a range day. Then I inherited my Grandmother’s .222 Remington model 722, and after rebuilding it (replying, trigger job, free floating, etc) would shoot 100 rounds. I wanted to use it for the up-coming deer hunt, but DWR decided 6mm was the minimum caliber, and Thompson Center (S&W) had just made available their Compass, with a $75 rebate), and for $200, I couldn’t lose.
    Now I go to the range and bang out 100 rounds and love every minute! And when my Son hits the 10″ swinging steel gong with his 30.06, and it swings back, I hit it with my .243 on the return swing and stop the gong. Or vice versa, but the amazing part is that both calibers seem to have the same effect on that steel gong!
    The BIG difference, however, is after 23-30 times at this game, my Son is ready to put his rifle away, because the recoil has begun to affect his accuracy, while I am still fresh.
    In the Army, many years ago, we were shooting .308 (7.62×51), and after 40-50 rounds, noticed our effectiveness would begin to diminish. Not so with the .243. And the .243 has better (flatter) trajectory than .308, so target hits seem to be easier out to 400-600 yards, than the .308. That’s as far as I shoot, and for practice deer hunting ranges in Utah, 200 yards is probably going to be the extreme distance, but it’s nice to know that if a longer shot presents itself, I can easily make it, cleanly.
    Yes, I am a recent convert to the venerable .243, and can’t seem to reload the ammo fast enough!

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