This Enduring Cartridge Keeps Getting Better.
Hardly a month goes by without some magazine article or Internet chat room thumping the .243 Winchester for its inadequacies as a deer cartridge. Purists even nitpick the case’s short neck and sloping shoulder compared to the practically perfect 6mm Remington—a cartridge the .243 ran into the competitive dirt half a century ago. Yet out there in the real world, .243s just keep selling.
The .243 appeared in 1955, mostly thanks to Warren Page, the shooting columnist for Field & Stream and an avid wildcatter. Page convinced many American hunters that 6mm bullets were far superior to boring old .25-caliber bullets. Remington responded to the demand by chambering a necked-down .257 Roberts initially called the .244, while Winchester brought out a necked-down .308 they called the .243.
Anytime a rifle company answers public demand, it should heed the demand instead of thinking it knows better. Page promoted his 6mm wildcats as perfect “combination cartridges,” working great on both varmints and deer. Remington leaned toward the varmint side with the .244, fitting their Model 722 bolt action with a medium-heavy 26″ barrel with a 1:12″ rifling twist, and offering 75- and 90-grain factory loads. Winchester put the .243 in their new Model 70 Featherweight, a lighter version of the rifle many hunters considered the best bolt-action on earth, using a 1:10″ twist barrel and offering 80- and 100-grain loads.
Back then most hunters believed deer couldn’t be killed with bullets weighing less than 100 grains. As a result the .243 kicked the .244’s butt, even though the Model 70 Featherweight retailed for 35 percent more than Remington’s 722. Within a few years, even Remington had to start making .243 rifles and ammo.
Remington tried to revive the .244 in 1963 in their spiffy new Model 700 rifle, changing its name to 6mm Remington, with a 1:9″ twist and a 100-grain factory load. Interest revived, but not for long. These days Remington doesn’t chamber the 6mm in any regular-production 700.
I have a soft spot for the .243, since it cured me of a bad flinch caused by my 8th-grade purchase of a .308 Winchester Savage Model 99 with an aluminum buttplate. Before then I was a good shot with a .22 rimfire and my father’s Marlin .30-30, but weighed 112 pounds. The 99’s buttplate battered my skinny shoulder, and the resulting flinch wasn’t totally cured until several years later, after purchasing a slightly used Remington 700 .243.
A few months later I was hunting the edge of an eastern Montana plateau by tossing rocks in the brushy coulees. Eventually a 3×3 mule deer buck emerged from a patch of buffaloberry, stopping to look back over his shoulder at about 50 yards. The crosshairs of the scope rested steadily on his rib cage, and at the shot he flipped over on his side, instantly dead. Wow!
The .243 didn’t always electrocute deer (no cartridge does) but over the next few years 17 big-game animals fell to that rifle, the last a whitetail doe that ran off after a broadside rib shot. After searching for an hour without finding a trace, my older hunting companion convinced me the shot missed, and we headed home.
By John Barsness
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