Ask any hunter to name five popular deer hunting centerfire rifle calibers and odds are the .243 Winchester will be on that list. First introduced back in 1955 as a Wildcat from the ever-popular .308 Winchester, the .243's popularity took off like a rocket and it has shown almost no signs of slowing down. While plenty of other calibers have since been introduced that are more powerful, are faster, and have greater long-range capabilities, the .243 remains a staple of deer hunting because it is reliable. There may be no better round for whitetails, mule deer, and pronghorn antelope on the market today. It's also dynamite on coyotes and pesky prairie dogs.
There's also the fact ammo is cheap and readily available almost anywhere in the country. If that wasn't enough, this cartridge has incredibly low recoil. It makes for the perfect first hunting firearm for younger shooters to get started in the outdoors. In fact, many shooters who start out with a .243 stick with it later in their hunting careers because there is no good reason to change from a round that's this effective. Today we'll have a short look at the .243 cartridge itself. We'll also do a quick rundown of some of the top hunting rifles currently chambered for this classic. There's something for every style of hunting on this list.
Quick Ballistics and Specs of the .243 Winchester
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 fps. Rounds like the 58-grain Hornady V-Max Superformance Varmint fall on the higher end of what the .243 is capable of. That round is doing 3,925-fps at the muzzle. Most 80 to 100-grain bullet weights are doing somewhere in the 2,900-fps range and are delivering around 1,600 to 1,900-foot pounds of energy to the target. More than enough for whitetails.
Most ammunition manufacturers put the trajectory at zero for either 100 or 200 yards depending on the bullet type and weight. The max effective range for the .243 tops out at about 300 yards. After that, these rounds lose significant velocity and stopping power. To the point where most hunters like to limit their shots inside 100 to 150 yards at most. It's just not a round that's built for extreme long-distance. There are rounds like the 6.5 Creedmoor that are better suited for that.
However, for harvesting whitetails in that 100 to 150-yard window, there's arguably no round that does it better. Other companies like Remington tried to compete with the .243 back when it was first introduced, but Winchester Rifles ran one of the best marketing campaigns of all-time and firmly cemented their round as one of the most popular and effective ever.
Winchester Bolt Action Rifle Model 70
Some hunters may argue you can start and end the list here with the Winchester Model 70. After all, this was one of the two guns introduced with this round along with the lever action Model 88. This Win bolt action rifle has gone on to be a staple of whitetail deer camps across the country in the decades since. Not ones to rest on their laurels, Winchester has continually updated the design over the years. There is something for everyone here. Some, like the Model 70 Featherweight, come in at a trim 6.75 pounds and offer a classic satin walnut stock and blued steel finish. The company also offers variants like the "Extreme weather SS" with a stainless steel barrel and composite stock and the "Extreme Tungsten" with a synthetic stock and tungsten Cerakote finish. These guns generally have a 22-inch barrel length with a 1:10 rate of twist. This is the hunting rifle to choose if you like to embrace tradition and a proven design tha won't let you down.
Remington Model 700 SPS
Another proven gun, the Remington 700 is probably responsible for as many deer harvests as the Model 70. This is an updated version of the classic design for hunters who want more modern flair. This gun features a 24-inch carbon steel barrel, a matte blued finish and a black synthetic stock. Remington gave the rifle better ergonomics by adding overmold grip panels. This rifle has a capacity of 4+1 rounds through the hinged floor plate magazine. It should be more than adequate for most deer, antelope, and varmint hunting applications here in the United States. This rifle is already drilled and tapped for mounting the optics of your choice. This is a solid mid-priced option for the hunter on a budget. Brand new, they usually go for about $500 if you can catch a sale at the right time.
Mossberg Patriot Synthetic Vortex Combo
Mossberg has really hit a home run when it comes to affordability and functionality with the whole Patriot lineup. Many of these rifles start under the $500 mark yet have features you'd expect on rifls costing $700 or more. This combo features a 22-inch, fluted barrel with a 1:10 rate of twist. It has a simple synthetic stock and matte blued steel finish. This rifle features Mossberg's adjustable LBA trigger system so you can lighten or increase the pull depending on your preferences. The whole package weighs about 7.5 pounds. One nice thing about this package is that it includes the solid, Vortex Crossfire II 3-9x40mm scope package that has become so popular for most deer hunting purposes. It's a great option for anyone who doesn't want to mess around with mounting a scope. They just want to get to the range and start sighting in for the season.
Savage Axis II XP
The good folks at Savage Arms have been coming out with tons of great rifle packages and variants to fit a variety of styles, needs and budgets. They offer a few different variants of the Savage Axis XP package and all fall in the $350 to $450 range for models chambered in .243 Winchester. These rifles feature the company's signature AccuTrigger system that allows you to adjust the rifle's trigger pull with just a screwdriver and a few minutes of your time. For a few hundred dollars more, they also offer a variant with a stainless steel barrel and receiver that will stand up to the elements better. There is also a "compact" variant that offers a slightly shorter 20-inch barrel instead of 22. Different finishes like flat desert earth (FED) and a Mossy Oak Overwatch camo pattern are also available. These rifles are mounted with bore-sighted Bushnell Banner 3-9x40mm scopes to help deer hunters get to the range quicker and sighted in faster. Now you can be in the woods and pursuing your favorite big game animals in no time.
Browning X-Bolt Hunter
The Browning name is synonymous with high grade firearms and we decided the elegant-looking X-Bolt Hunter was a must for this list. This rifle is slightly more expensive at around $800, but it has the classic look of an older hunting rifle combined with modern features that make it a joy to shoot. This rifle has a 22-inch barrel with a 10-inch twist rate. The barrel and receiver have a nice matte blued finish while the stock is Grade I satin black walnut. This is a look that will stand the test of time. Browning got the weight of this gun down to just 6.5 pounds, making it ideal for a long spot and stalk hunt in rough terrain. The trigger is gold plated and the gun has a four round ammo capacity. It is also drilled and tapped for scope mounts. Winchester also makes left handed versions for all the southpaws out there who may find difficulty finding a quality rifle built for them.
Weatherby's Vanguard rifles chambered in .243 Winchester start at around $500 and go up from there depending on features. Weatherby guarantees sub-MOA groups while using factory loads. Something to consider for hunters who believe accuracy is everything. These guns feature a three-position safety so you can still work the action with the safety engaged. We appreciate the extra feature. An integral recoil lug is machined from one piece of metal and helps offer strength. These rifles use forend and pistol inserts made of synthetic material for a better grip in bad weather conditions. Speaking of the weather, Weatherby offers this in stainless variations for a little more durability. The .243 Winchester round already has a soft recoil due to the use of less powder and lighter bullets, but Weatherby's generous, low density recoil pads help soak up what little there is, making things easier for smaller framed shooters. Most users praise this gun for being incredibly flat shooting and for not being too picky on ammo choices.
Ruger American Rifle
Ruger has a huge hit with their American Rifle line. These things fly off gun store shelves everywhere for their reliability and accuracy at an incredible price point. This gun is the standard model and comes in a trim and light 6.2 pounds, which makes it a true joy to haul afield. This rifle comes with a picatinny scope rail for optics already installed. The cold hammer-forged, free-floating, 22-inch barrel has a 1:9 rate of twist. Ruger has built this gun with their "Marksman" adjustable trigger system that allows you to quickly adjust the trigger pull between three and five pounds. This rifle has a capacity of four rounds and the bolt's 70-degree throw is often praised by users for helping make the gun even easier to operate. At just $399, you are getting a lot for your money with Ruger.
Thompson Center Compass Rifle
While the T/C name is often associated with mid to high-end muzzleloaders, they have recently released some nice centerfire firearms for hunters on a budget. Notable here is the Compass rifle. At just $369, it is a gun that is sure to fit into any hunter's budget. This rifle using 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 them to keep the weight at a manageable 7.25 pounds. This rifle has a 5+1 capacity and is already drilled and tapped for a scope. This one gets great reviews for being a solid hunting rifle that will consistently put meat in the freezer without breaking your bank this season.
Howa GamePro 2.0
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 straight out of the box. The standard is a blued barrel and action, but stainless is also available for hunters wanting something to better stand up to the elements. These rifles have threaded barrels and a two-stage HACT trigger, and three-position safety. The one-piece bolt is forged and features two locking lugs for optimal cycling. This rifle can usually be found for under $600, making it an extremely affordable option for hunters on a budget.
The CVA name may be better known for their muzzleloaders and single-shot rifles, but they now have a bolt-action option in the Cascade that has a lot of great features for an affordable price. CVA even guarantees MOA accuracy straight 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 hold up nicely to the elements too, being made of synthetic materials and reinforced with fiber glass. This rifle also features an adjustable length of pull so you can fit the rifle perfectly to your frame.