For a small cartridge, the 243 Winchester has an impressive track record of firsts.
To begin with, it’s really the first cartridge to be based off the 308 Winchester which has fathered so many other useful rounds. Next, it’s one of the first cartridges to be designed with an eye towards efficiency. The 243’s case held roughly the maximum amount of powder that you could hope to burn in a standard length barrel back in 1955 when it was introduced, and it is still pretty close today.
Another feather in the 243’s cap is that it is the first cartridge to successfully bridge the gap between varmint and big game hunting. There are a lot of cartridges out there that claimed this title before the 243 arrived, but most of them came up short on one end of the spectrum.
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Finally, the 243 is the only really popular 6mm cartridge that ever took root with the American public. Sure, there are other 6mms out there like the 6mm Remington, 6mm BR, 240 Weatherby Magnum and the more recently introduced 243 WSSM, but you don’t see many of them.
Any 6mms other than the 243 are definitely an oddity, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that the 243 hits the nail on the head pretty darn good in terms of performance, accuracy and low recoil.
The 243 Winchester can digest bullets ranging in weight from roughly 58 grains up to 105 grains. This wide spread of bullet weights and a standard 1:10 twist to properly stabilize them is what makes the 243 a true varmint/big game cartridge.
With the lighter bullets running from 58-80 grains, the 243 is a flat-shooting prairie dog rig with velocities running 3200 fps and faster. Loaded with heavier bullets like 105 grain fodder, the 243 closely mimics the ballistics of the old 250 Savage with a considerably better selection of modern, high-weight-retention bullets.
All this is brought together by the fact that the 243 can deliver hairsplitting accuracy with its entire range of bullet weights. Almost any cartridge can push light bullets quickly; the trick is to make it shoot well enough to hit tiny targets while still offering good accuracy with heavier bullets for larger game.
The 243 strikes this balance perfectly in the opinion of many.
If the 243 has one failing it might be that it’s a little too likable. Some folks get to like the 243’s low recoil and fine accuracy so much that they begin to use it in roles it doesn’t really belong in.
I’ve known a few old boys who’ve used the 243 on elk over the years and they’ve brought home wapiti with it, but to the best of my knowledge this has always been a choice made out of necessity.
When a seasoned hunter who’s not apt to get excited takes to the woods, they can drag home a big animal with just about any armament, but the 243’s real big game role should probably stop at animals the size of mule deer.
Even so, a cartridge that can run the gamut from varmints to venison is very impressive and well worth a try if you’re interested in a cartridge that can fit many roles.
Featured image via coppercreekammo.com