Ask any hunter to name five popular deer hunting centerfire rifle calibers. Odds are, the .243 Winchester will be on that list. Since the caliber's inception in 1955, the .243's popularity has skyrocketed—and it has shown almost no signs of slowing down.
While plenty of other calibers have since been introduced that are more powerful, faster, and have greater long-range capabilities, the .243 remains a staple of deer hunting because of its reliability. There may be no better round today for whitetails, mule deer, and pronghorn. It's also dynamite on coyotes and prairie dogs.
Ammo for .243s is cheap and readily available almost anywhere in the country. What's more, this caliber's recoil is nearly unnoticeable—which, combined with the fact that many .243 formats are available in compact sizes, is the perfect size for youth hunters needing their first hunting firearm (and one that can stay with them for decades).
Whether you hunt whitetails in the piney woods, pronghorn on the plains, or just want the coyotes to stop harassing your farm, there's a .243-chambered hunting rifle for every type of hunter.
The Best .243 Winchester Rifles for Deer and Varmint Hunting
- The Best Classic .243 Hunting Rifle: Winchester Bolt Action Rifle Model 70 Featherweight
- Most Ergonomic .243 Hunting Rifle: Remington Model 700 SPS
- Best .243 Rifle and Scope Combo: Mossberg Patriot Synthetic Vortex Combo
- The .243 Rifle With the Best Trigger: Savage Axis II XP
- The Best Micro .243 Hunting Rifle: Browning X-Bolt Micro Midas
- The Most Durable .243 Rifle: Weatherby Weatherguard Vanguard
- The Best Lightweight, Full-Length .243 Hunting Rifle: Ruger American Rifle Standard
- The Best Budget .243 Rifle: Thompson/Center Compass Rifle
- The .243 With The Best Action: Howa GamePro 2.0
- The Best .243 With An Adjustable Length of Pull: CVA Cascade
The Best Classic .243 Hunting Rifle
Weight: 6 pounds, 12 ounces | Action type: Bolt | Overall length: 42 ¼ inches
Some hunters may argue that you can start and end the list here with the Winchester Model 70. After all, this was one of the two guns (along with the lever-action Model 88) that introduced this round to the world in 1955.
Since the '50s, this bolt action rifle has become a staple of whitetail deer camps nationwide. Not one to rest on its laurels, Winchester has continually updated the design. The current design features a satin walnut finish with checkering and the silhouette's classic Schnabel fore-end. It also has a free-floating barrel and a forged steel receiver bedded in the front and back to ensure long-distance accuracy. The magazine holds five rounds plus one in the chamber, so you've got follow-up shots at the ready.
This is the hunting rifle to choose if you like embracing tradition and a proven design that won't disappoint you.
- One of the original guns that introduced this round to the world.
- Mix of tradition and a well-proven design.
- Comes in 14 other chambers.
- Nothing, we love it
Winchester Bolt Action Rifle Model 70 Featherweight - $1,100
The Most Ergonomic .243 Hunting Rifle
Top Pick: Remington Model 700 SPS
Weight: 7 ¼ pounds | Action type: | Overall length: 43 ?...? inches| Barrel length: 24 inches
Another proven deer gun, the Remington 700 SPS (Special Purpose Synthetic) is responsible for almost as many harvests as the Model 70. Remington's modern synthetic design caters to hunters who might not want to put a wood stock through the wringer.
This gun features a 24-inch carbon steel barrel, a matte blued finish and a black synthetic stock. Remington gave this rifle's stock better ergonomics by adding overmold grip panels. This rifle has a capacity of 4+1 rounds through the hinged floor plate magazine. Additionally, Remington already drilled and tapped this gun so you can mount the optics of your choice. This rifle is more than adequate for most deer, antelope, and varmint hunting opportunities in the United States.
Remington's Model 700 rifle chambered in .243 is a solid, mid-priced option for the hunter on a budget.
- Stock fits most shooters well.
- Rugged enough to withstand the elements.
- Historically proven effective at taking deer and varmints.
- The trigger may leave more to be desired
- Some gun owners complain trigger needs to be replaced after years of use
Remington Model 700 SPS - $740
The Best .243 Rifle and Scope Combo
Top Pick: Mossberg Patriot Synthetic Vortex Combo
Weight: 7.5 pounds | Action type: Bolt| Overall length: 42.75 inches | Barrel length: 22 inches
Mossberg hit a home run regarding affordability and functionality with its entire Patriot lineup. Many of these rifles start under the $500 mark yet have features you'd expect to see on rifles costing $700 or more. Its Patriot Synthetic, chambered in .243, falls into this category, and what's even better about it is that it comes with a rifle scope.
This combo features a 22-inch fluted barrel with a 1:10 twist rate. It has a simple synthetic stock and matte blued steel finish. This rifle features Mossberg's adjustable LBA (Lightning Bolt Action) trigger system so you can lighten or increase the pull depending on your preferences. The whole package weighs about 7.5 pounds.
Honestly, though, the nicest thing about this rifle is that it comes with the ever-popular Vortex Crossfire II 3-9x40mm scope. Mossberg's Patriot and Vortex combo has incredible value and caters to hunters who don't want to mess around with mounting a scope.
- Comes with a solid pre-mounted Vortex scope.
- Popular rifle that gets the job done.
- On the heavier side (7.5 lbs)
Mossberg Patriot .243 Win. Rifle with Scope - $400
The .243 Rifle With the Best Trigger
Top Pick: Savage Axis II XP
Weight: 6.3 pounds | Action type: Bolt | Overall length: 42.5 inches | Barrel length: 22 inches
The good folks at Savage are known for making high-quality firearms at wallet-friendly prices. Their Axis line falls under this same umbrella and, thankfully, it comes chambered in .243 Win.
The Axis II is an improved take on the original Axis design; the stock was redesigned to be more ergonomic and fit its shooters better. Like any Savage firearm, the Axis II features its trademarked AccuTrigger, which is adjustable depending on the shooter's preferences. It is an incredibly light and snappy trigger that has no creep whatsoever. Savage's triggers also prevent accidental discharges; the release blade doesn't allow the firing pin to move if the firearm is dropped.
This rifle is also occasionally available as a package that comes with a Bushnell Banner 3-9x40mm scope that comes mounted and ready to be sighted in.
- Savage's trademark AccuTrigger.
- Very lightweight for a full-size rifle.
- Savage name is known for quality.
- You may eventually want to upgrade the scope if you purchase the scope package
Savage Axis II XP - $470
The Best Micro .243 Hunting Rifle
Top Pick: Browning X-Bolt Micro Midas
Weight: 6.5 pounds | Action type: Bolt | Overall length: 38 ?...? inches | Barrel length: 20 inches
The Browning X-Bolt Micro Midas is an exceptional micro .243 hunting rifle for several reasons. First, its compact dimensions make it highly maneuverable in the field. This feature is especially advantageous for hunters navigating dense woods or tight spaces where a smaller profile is essential. The shorter length of pull at 12½ inches ensures a comfortable and fast shouldering experience, catering to those with smaller frames or those who prioritize quick target acquisition.
Secondly, the Micro Midas doesn't compromise on performance. The steel barrel, finished in matte blued, balances accuracy and weight. The rifle's impeccable craftsmanship is evident in the Grade I Black Walnut stock with cut 18 LPI checkering, providing both durability and an aesthetic appeal synonymous with Browning's commitment to quality.
Overall, the Browning X-Bolt Micro Midas in .243 Win. combines practical design, precision engineering, and aesthetic appeal—making it a top choice for hunters seeking a micro-sized rifle without compromising performance or style.
- Designed for smaller shooters, but doesn't compromising quality or effectiveness.
- Weight is well balanced for carrying and recoil.
- Walnut stock won't stand up to the elements quite like a synthetic stock
Browning X-Bolt X-Bolt Micro Midas - $860
The Most Durable Rifle Chambered in .243
Top Pick: Weatherby Vanguard Weatherguard Bronze
Weight: 7.25 pounds | Action type: Bolt | Overall length: 44 inches | Barrel length: 24 inches
If you find yourself ruining gun stocks and rifle barrels while tromping through your hunting grounds, consider adding a hunting rifle that's a little more robust to your collection. The Weatherby Vanguard is a tried-and-true hunting format, and the Weatherguard Bronze edition is the toughest design yet.
This Vanguard's stock steals the show. It's hand-sprayed, so no two stocks are alike. The strong synthetic polymer stock has been tailored to fit almost any shooter comfortably. When you're done checking out the cool stock, gander at the barrel. It's burnt-bronze in color and is topped off by a Cerakote finish. Cerakote is leading the industry in thin-film ceramic coatings, and a layer of Cerakote ensures that your rifle barrel is more resistant to corrosion and wear while increasing its hardness.
If you're known for slinging your hunting rifle anywhere wild game may take you, the Weatherby Vanguard Weatherguard is the .243 for you.
- Rugged, will stand up to any hunting conditions.
- Trigger is crisp and breaks at just over 4 pounds of pressure.
- Very easy on the eyes.
- Highly effective.
- Produced in Japan, unlike other Weatherbys manufactured in the USA (note: overseas production contributes to its friendly price point)
Weatherby Vanguard Weatherguard Bronze - $829
The Best Lightweight, Full-Length .243 Hunting Rifle
Top Pick: Ruger American Rifle Standard
Weight: 6.2 pounds | Action type: Bolt | Overall length: 42 inches| Barrel length: 22 inches
Ruger blew the public away with its American rifle line. These things fly off gun store shelves everywhere for their reliability and accuracy at an incredible price point.
The Ruger American Standard comes in at a trim 6.2 pounds, making it a true joy to haul afield. This rifle comes with a Picatinny scope rail, which makes optics installations easy. The cold hammer-forged, free-floating, 22-inch barrel has a 1:9 twist rate. Ruger has built this gun with its Marksman adjustable trigger system, allowing you to adjust the trigger pull between 3 and 5 pounds quickly. This rifle has a capacity of four rounds, and users often praise the bolt's 70-degree throw that makes the gun even easier to operate.
Incredibly, Ruger offers a solid, full-length .243 rifle that weighs just over 6 pounds. At under $500, you are getting a lot for your money with Ruger.
- Lightweight (6.2 pounds).
- Picatinny rail makes attaching a scope easy.
- Wildly popular with Americans.
- Light weight means you feel more recoil
- Stock is slick without much grip to it
Ruger American Rifle Standard - $490
Best Budget .243 Hunting Rifle
Top Pick: Thompson/Center Compass II Rifle
Weight: 7.25 pounds | Action type: Bolt | Overall length: 41 inches | Barrel length: 22 inches
While the Thompson/Center name is often associated with mid-to-high-end muzzleloaders, it has recently released some nice centerfire firearms for hunters on a budget. Notable here is T/C's Compass rifle chambered in .243. At just $299, it is a gun that will surely fit into any hunter's gear budget.
This rifle uses an aluminum pillar bedding system that allows the company to free-float the 22-inch barrel. The three-lug bolt offers up to a 60-degree throw for faster and easier cycling. This gun has a blued steel finish, and the black composite stock helps keep its weight at a manageable 7.25 pounds. This rifle has a 5+1 capacity and is already drilled and tapped for a scope.
Thompson/Center's Compass gets great reviews for being a solid hunting rifle that consistently puts meat in the freezer without breaking the bank this season.
- This is the second version of the Compass rifle; the first version had known trigger issues
- Heavier (7.25 pounds)
Thompson/Center Compass Rifle - $299
The .243 With the Best Action
Top Pick: Howa M1500 GamePro 2.0
Weight: 7.8 pounds | Action type: Bolt | Overall length: 42.25 inches | Barrel length: 22 inches
This rifle is another great option for anyone who wants something ready to hit the range straight from the box. Howa packages this rifle with a Nikko Stirling Gamepro 4-12x40 scope mounted on a Zerolok base and ring. However, the best thing about this rifle is that it's made with the same barreled action as Howa's competition rifles. These actions have an incredible reputation in the shooting world.
The standard Howa GamePro 2.0 has a blued barrel and action, but stainless steel is also available. These rifles have threaded barrels, a two-stage Howa Actuator Controlled Trigger, and a three-position safety. The one-piece bolt is forged and features two locking lugs for optimal cycling.
Many folks say the Howa GamePro 2.0 has an expensive feel to it. That's a nice touch to add to such an accurate hunting rifle that costs less than a grand.
- Very high-quality action.
- Comes with a mounted scope that's easy to sight in.
- Feels expensive.
- High-precision and ergonomic Hogue OverMolded stock.
- Howa is known for its high-precision target shooting rifles
Howa M1500 GamePro 2.0 - $780
The Best .243 With an Adjustable Length of Pull
Top Pick: CVA Cascade Cerakote Bolt-Action Rifle
Weight: 7 pounds | Action type: Bolt | Overall length: 42.5 inches | Barrel length: 22 inches
CVA is well known for making muzzleloaders and single-shot rifles. However, it now has a bolt action option, the Cascade, with many great features for an affordable price.
CVA guarantees MOA accuracy with its Cascade line right out of the box. These rifles have 4140 carbon steel barrels with a 1:10 twist that are already threaded for a suppressor. The bolt has a 70-degree throw for better cycling, and the two-position safety helps ensure this is a very safe firearm. The stock should also hold up nicely to the elements, being made of synthetic materials and reinforced with fiberglass.
In addition to all these really great features, the CVA Cascade also has an adjustable stock, so you can easily change the length of pull. This will help fit this firearm to your frame, a smaller shooter's frame, or account for extra layers of clothing.
- Adjustable stock means this gun will fit almost any shooter.
- Brand guarantees MOA accuracy.
- Brand is known for making muzzleloaders, not necessarily center-fire rifles
CVA Cascade Cerakote Bolt-Action Rifle - $720
Ballistic Specs of the .243 Winchester Round
The .243 was developed after wildcatter Warren Page necked down a .308 Winchester, creating a cartridge that uses a .243-inch diameter bullet. Depending on bullet weights, you can expect a muzzle velocity of 2,800 to 3,300 feet per second (fps) when shooting a .243-caliber bullet. A round like the 58-grain Hornady V-Max Superformance Varmint falls on the higher end of what the .243 is capable of because that round explodes out of the muzzle at 3,925 fps. Most 80-to-100-grain .243 bullet weights are doing somewhere in the 2,900 fps range and deliver around 1,600 to 1,900 foot-pounds of energy to the target. This amount of energy is more than enough for hunting whitetail deer.
The maximum effective range for a .243 bullet is about 300 yards. After that, these rounds lose a significant amount of velocity and stopping power. In fact, they slow down so much that most hunters limit their shots to less than 150 yards. This round is just not built for shooting long distances. If shooting farther than 150 yards is what you're interested in, there are rounds such as the 6.5 Creedmoor that are better suited for long-range shots.
However, when it comes to harvesting whitetails in that 100-to-150-yard window, there's arguably no round that does it better. Other companies such as Remington tried to compete with the .243 when it was first introduced. Still, Winchester Rifles ran one of the best marketing campaigns ever and firmly cemented its round as one of the most popular and effective deer and varmint hunting rounds ever.
What to Look for When Buying a .243 Hunting Rifle
If you're hunting for the perfect .243, remember a few features during your search. Things such as weight, materials, length of pull, and durability should be on your list of features to look into.
The weight of a hunting rifle can be a crucial factor depending on the type of hunting you're doing and the size of your body. If you're trekking through rugged terrain, covering long distances, or have a smaller framed body, a lighter rifle can be more manageable and less fatiguing to carry. Comparatively, heavier rifles absorb more recoil, which can contribute to better accuracy, especially during repeated shots.
The materials that rifle stocks and barrels are made from affect the overall weight and durability of the rifle. For example, synthetic stocks can make the rifle easier to carry over long distances and help your rifle be more resistant to weather and abrasions. Additionally, hunting rifles are often exposed to moisture and other corrosive elements. Materials that resist corrosion, such as stainless steel or metal with a Cerakote finish, help maintain the rifle's integrity over time.
The length of pull of a hunting rifle contributes to how well the rifle will fit your body. Most firearms are manufactured to have a 13.5-inch length of pull, which is intended to fit men about 5 feet and 10 inches tall. If this isn't you, consider looking for rifles with shorter or longer lengths of pull or an adjustable stock.
Hunters frequently expose their rifles to various outdoor conditions, including rain, snow, mud, and rough terrain. A durable rifle can withstand exposure to the elements without compromising its functionality or longevity.
Editor's Note: Products featured on Wide Open Spaces are independently selected by our editors. However, when you buy something through our links, we may earn a commission.
READ MORE: The Best Rifles Cambered in 6mm Creedmoor
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