The .243 Winchester was introduced to the shooting world in 1955. It was intended as a both-ways cartridge: one that could be used equally well for big game and varmints. It was so good at this that it essentially nailed the coffin shut on the .250 Savage and .257 Roberts.
My father was enticed by the .243 Win. because he liked the idea of hunting deer and groundhogs with the same rifle. Lots of other hunters seemed to have since had the same idea, and the .243 Win. has become one of the most popular cartridges ever produced.
That said, I’m not so sure this dual-purpose role is what makes the .243 Win. so popular. Today, it is often purchased as a deer or big-game rifle for young/new shooters and women.
The idea behind this is that the low recoil of the .243 Win. will allow less-experienced or recoil-sensitive hunters to shoot better. This is, of course, true: Excessive recoil – for anyone – makes accurate shooting problematic. However, the notion that the .243 Win. is only a kid’s or women’s cartridge is asinine, and my father would take serious objection to such a suggestion. I like to think of the .243 Winchester as – in the words of country singer Eric Church – Mr. Misunderstood.
The key to the proper application of a .243 Win. as a big-game rifle is selecting the proper bullets. It’s a given that if you try to shoot an elk with a varmint bullet, then you’ll create a mess you might not be able to clean up. On the other hand, if you use proper projectiles such as the Nosler Partition, Nosler AccuBond, Barnes Triple Shock or Hornady GMX, the .243 Win. is more than sufficient for big game. I’ve used the .243 Win. to take whitetails and pronghorns well beyond 300 yards. And, in 2014, my wife used a .243 Win. to drop gemsbok and a wildebeest – 400- to 600-pound animals – with a single shot each.
The .243 Win. utilizes the same cartridge case as the .308 Winchester. The difference is the bullets are just smaller in diameter. How much smaller? Exactly 0.065 inch. In case you cannot visualize that difference, it is less than the thickness of a nickel. A .243 Win. can push a 100-grain bullet to a muzzle velocity of almost 3,000 fps. It will shoot flat, hit hard, and with bullets of modern construction, penetrate through the vitals of big game.
Look, if a 10-year-old kid or a woman can use a .243 Win. to kill a whitetail or a wildebeest, so can a man. No, a .243 Win. may not kick you hard enough to cross your eyes, but for those of us who have any sense, that’s a good thing. Winchester’s very popular 6mm cartridge is not just a rifle for kids or women; it’s a highly capable big-game cartridge that can serve double duty for varmints and such.
It is Mr. Misunderstood.
Images by Richard Mann