Monday, November 22, 2010

Six years with the .243 Winchester

Sometime shortly after WWII, the Army started toying with a rifle cartridge shorter than the old, venerable .30-06. In 1952, Winchester standardized the new round for sporting cartridges, the .308 Winchester. (The .308 Winchester actually pre-dates the Army cartridge which was standardized as the 7.62X51 T65 cartridge in 1954, but that's a military history story).

A gun writer of the times, Warren Page, started tinkering with the cartridge and necked it down to 6mm, calling it the .240 Page Pooper. The guys at Winchester saw its potential and standardized it in 1955, calling it the .243 Winchester. Page designed the cartridge as a dual-purpose, deer and varmint cartridge. It's been a huge success, although it never took off as a varmint round. Here in the United States, we like to shoot varmints with .22 caliber ammo, either rimfire or centerfire.

In 2004 I was walking through Wal-Mart and saw a rifle in the rack, I happened to glance at the price and it was low enough that I couldn't walk past. I asked to see the rifle and it was a Savage Model 10, in .243. A package rifle, it had a scope mounted, so I took out my checkbook and brought it home. It's got the tupperware stock with a floated, sporter barrel. You can see today's version over at the Savage website. Savage calls it the Model 11 FXP3 and the rifle they sell today is just exactly like the one I have. It's been in the catalog for seven years, so it must be a fairly popular model. Today it lists at $659.00, but I paid about half that much at Wal-Mart on a late season close-out.

I brought the little rifle home and started playing with it, using various powders and bullets. I wrote it up for Castbullet and you can see my article at the link. The little rifle shot alright, but was prone to vertical stringing as the thin barrel heated up. Also, I wasn't impressed with the package scope that came with the rifle. It was a bargain-basement Simmons, and while they're good for some things, I didn't think that it matched the potential of the rifle.

About 2007 I found a scope on sale at Midway USA. It is a Simmons scope, but all the literature I could find on this scope told me that it was an exceptional value at an unbelievable price point. Simmons calls it the Whitetail Classic. It's a 6.5X20X50 scope with an adjustable objective lens, and I bought one at my son's urging. He's got one on his 7mm Magnum heavy rifle and it's stood up well to the rigors of the recoil that rifle can generate. Surprisingly, you can still order one today for about $100.00. It's not a Leupold, nor a Schmidt and Bender, but it's a great scope. The 164 reviews at Midway USA give it a 5-star rating. I think it's a great value on an inexpensive sporting scope. I'm not generally a fan of high-magnification scopes on a hunting rifle, believing that 6X is more than most folks need. Still, I bought the scope and mounted it on the rifle, telling myself that I wanted to wring the very best out of a bone stock rifle I bought on sale. Three years later, that scope is still mounted to that rifle

Even with that scope, the rifle wasn't shooting like I wanted it to. At the end of 2007 I was three years into the caliber and wasn't sure what I wanted to use it for. It's a bone-stock rifle and I upgraded the scope, but really wasn't getting the groups I wanted to get from the rifle. Along about that same time, I found a sale for blemished bullets. They were 6mm caliber, 100 grain, standard lead and gilding metal hunting bullets, but the seller wouldn't identify the manufacturer. Still, I ordered 500 of them and when they came to my door I took out all my catalogs and did an online search. After much research, I believe that the bullets were manufactured by Hornady, but I have no real proof, just an educated guess. Still, they were wonderfully uniform and if anyone can see the blemishes on them, that person has better eyes than I do.

One day in 2008 I was browsing around and found a reference to using Reloder 22 powder with 100 grain bullets in the .243. So, I loaded a batch and took the rifle the next time I went to the range. I fired several and looked through the scope to see a small, tiny group on the paper. Hmmm! The next time I went to the range, I took that rifle again, but I set up the chronograph. I fired a group and looked at the chrony screen and thought I was getting an error, so I reset the machine and shot another group. Damn! I was getting over 3100 fps from that load, with my barrel and rifle. And the groups were tiny. And the SD and ES were small.

Since then, I've shot some tantalizingly small groups with that rifle. Some three shot groups that measured well under 1/2 inch. That target above is fairly representative of what I can do with the rifle on a good day, with five shots well under an inch.

Still, I haven't taken the rifle to the game woods and it is time to see if it will take game. I believe I'll clean the .30-06 and use this rifle for the rest of the season. It should be just perfect for the smallish whitetail deer we see in this part of Louisiana.

Whadd'ya think?


Rivrdog said...

If there is such a thing as a "Universal Caliber", it is the .243 Winchester. I have a 1980s Winchester Model 70 Hunter in .243, and have taken it to Boomershoot for two years running. That rifle will boom the small 4" reactive targets at 380 yards, and do it reliably.

I have a Nikon ProStaff 3X9X40 scope on it, with Bullet Drop Compensator. That scope was designed for the average .300 WIN Mag load, but the bullet drops of the two loads are highly similar, so I use it for .243. It has "bubbles" on the lower vertical crosshair, and the little round ports subtend about 3 MOA, or the "boiler Room area of game at max effective bullet range. I have the "bubbles" mapped out, and they are a fine alternative for mil-dot, which can get hard to see against a dark background.

My favorite cartridge for the .243 is the Federal Fusion 95-grain Boat Tail, which gives predictable performance. BTW, this rifle/ammo has VERY predictable first shot, cold-barrel performance, making it the ideal hunting weapon.

If I had my druthers, and could keep ALL my riflery under 400 yards, and all my targets smaller than a Elk, I would never want anything bigger than the .243.

We don't get those druthers, so I also have a rifle or two in .308, and have contemplated both the .300 WIN Magnum and the 7mm REM Magnum, so as to be able to reach out and touch a target of 1 MOA at better than 600 yards, or deliver a heavier bullet to bigger game.

Or, I could just give up my chase of the World's Best Superior Secret Sniper title, and confine my shooting to under 600 yards.

Either way, the .243 showed me that I could be a sub-MOA shooter, and be that shooter consistently. I'm in love with it.

Old NFO said...

That is outstanding Paw! My cousin has shot a .243 for years, and she's taken quite a few deer with it!

J said...

Dang, Pawpaw, that normally $250 scope really is $99.99 at MidwayUsa. I almost bought one even though I have zero use for one. I'm firmly planted in the Elmer Keith camp of big and slow is better.

Rich Jordan said...

I fondly remember the days when the Walmarts carried firearms. Unfortunately here, at least in this part of Ill Annoy, that is no longer the case. Bad guys winning here so far.

Zdogk9 said...

My neighbors wife shoots one it's been one shot one elk for the last seven years.

Flintlock Tom said...

Wow! I just went to to look at that scope. It's a monster!
2.5 inches across the front lens?
It also has a coupon available for a 25% rebate from Simmons making the effective price about $76.
I don't know what I have that could take advantage of that much glass. Perhaps my Swiss K31?
I also have a .243 barrel off a Winchester model 70 that I picked up on one of the auction sites. I was thinking I would build one from parts. It seems heavier than average and might make a decent target barrel. I think I'll move that project up to the front burner.