May 18, 2020
Whether or not a lot of hunters regularly use the .243 Winchester on varmints today I cannot say, but I can recall a time when many of us did. After all, Winchester engineers described it as the ideal deer cartridge that also hit harder and bucked wind better than smaller calibers on varmints, and who were we to question their wisdom?
I bought a Model 70 in .243 Win. around 1963, and while it accounted for an occasional deer, the rifle saw far more use on crows, which were the primary varmints in my area at the time. That was before I started handloading ammunition, and my rifle was considerably more accurate with Norma factory ammo than with Winchester’s 80-grain varmint load. It also shot flat. When zeroed 2.0 inches high at 100 yards, the 75-grain hollowpoint struck about 2.5 inches above point of aim at 200 yards and only a couple of inches low at 300. A steady dead-center hold on a crow standing three football fields away resulted in a dramatic explosion of feathers. That first .243 was the standard model with a 24-inch barrel, and shortly after buying it, I added a Model 70 Varmint with a 26-inch heavy barrel to my small battery.
I eventually switched to a Model 70 in .220 Swift for most of my long-distance varmint shooting, but to this day the .243 has remained one of my all-time favorite cartridges for use on deer-size game. Soon after marriage, I bought my wife, Phyllis, a Model 70 Featherweight chambered for .243, and shortly thereafter she took a Wyoming pronghorn so good I figured I would be a long time catching up.
My favorite .243 Win. rifle has long been a Model 15 Ti built by Prairie Gun Works of Canada. Due to its titanium receiver, it weighs only a bit over 6 pounds with a 2.5-8X scope, yet it consistently shoots inside 0.5 MOA. One of my more memorable hunts with it was for chamois and Himalayan tahr in the snowclad Southern Alps of New Zealand.
The Model 783 Varmint
I fondly remember bumping off crows with the .243 Win., and while I no longer have an interest in shooting them, when Remington included that chambering option for the company’s new Model 783 Varmint, I could not resist giving one a try. It had been a very long time since I had shot a .243 Win. rifle with a heavy barrel. Measuring 26 inches long, the blued carbon-steel barrel free-floats in the stock. It measures 1.080 inches at the receiver and tapers to 0.85 inch at the muzzle. My Lyman Digital Bore Cam revealed extremely smooth lands and grooves. The bore is button-rifled, and its twist rate is 1:9.125 inches.
Most Shooting Times readers are probably familiar with the Model 783, but for those who are not, I will touch on its major design features. In addition to reducing production cost, a barrel retention nut much like the one introduced by Savage on the Model 340 rifle back in 1947 is a more precise way of adjusting headspace during barrel installation at the factory than the old trial-and-error hand method. Breaking at just under 4 pounds on the test rifle, the Crossfire trigger is a slightly modified version of the ProFire trigger of the Marlin X7 rifle. It’s a bit heavier than I prefer on a varmint rifle, but it was quite smooth with no detectable creep or overtravel, so no adjustments were made.
The oversize bolt handle knob is easy on the hand during prolonged shooting, and in the event of a pierced primer or blown case, the shape of the bolt shroud should do a good job of protecting the shooter from propellant gas traveling back through the receiver. A floating head on the bolt goes a long way toward seating a cartridge concentrically in the chamber. A small extractor sliding in the right-side locking lug reliably pulls fired cases from the chamber, and a spring-loaded rod protruding from the face of the bolt flings them out through the ejection port. Minimizing ejection port dimensions increases receiver rigidity.
Made by combining a steel body with a synthetic floorplate, the detachable magazine holds four .243 Win. cartridges. Sinking the magazine release lever deeply into the bottom of the stock reduces the odds of it being bumped in the field. The rifle is also offered chambered for .223 Remington, .22-250, 6.5 Creedmoor, and .308 Winchester.
My test rifle weighed 9 pounds, 9.3 ounces. Utilizing the factory-installed Picatinny rail to attach an old faithful Bushnell Elite 4200 6-24X scope increased heft to just over 11 pounds. The wide, flat-bottom fore-end of the brown laminate stock is nicely shaped for shooting over a sandbag, but since many of the rifles I have used to drop varmints through the decades have worn a Harris folding bipod, I used one of them when punching five-shot groups in paper targets from a concrete bench. A bunny ear sandbag supported the toe of the stock. The stock has three attachment posts, two for quick-detach sling swivels and a third for the attachment of a bipod. The rifle was noticeably more accurate with the Harris Type S bipod attached to the rear post on its fore-end rather than the one in front of it. While the SuperCell recoil pad is not actually needed on a 11-pound rifle in .243 Win., it ranks among the best available.
The .243 Winchester
Returning to the .243 Win. cartridge, the fairly recent introduction of extremely light bullets, such as the Nosler 55-grain Ballistic Tip and Hornady 58-grain V-Max, has made the .243 Win. and other cartridges of its caliber more suitable for varmint shooting than ever before. When seated one caliber deep in the neck of a case, they free-travel a bit prior to engaging the rifling, but they can still be accurate enough to hit small targets at great distances. According to Nosler, the ballistic coefficient of the 0.243-inch 55-grain Ballistic Tip is the same as for the 0.224-inch 60-grain Ballistic Tip, so it does a good job of bucking wind and retaining velocity. It also shoots a bit flatter than ballistics charts indicate. When exiting the muzzle at 3,900 fps and zeroed 2 inches high at 100 yards, the Ballistic Tip strikes 2.5 inches above point of aim at 200 yards, dead-on at 300 yards, and about 7 inches low at 400 yards.
During its 63 years of existence, the .243 Win. has been quite successful at keeping its competition at bay. As good as it was, the .244 Remington introduced during the same year was never a threat to the .243’s supremacy among hunters, and eventually changing the name to 6mm Remington did little to help its cause. The .243 WSSM and the .240 Weatherby Magnum have never been close. Some believe the 6mm Creedmoor will eventually put the old cartridge out to pasture, and while that might be true among competitive shooters, I doubt if it will ever catch up with the .243 Win. in the hunting fields. Too many of the thousands of rifles in .243 built through the decades are still in use for that to happen.
How do the two cartridges compare? Taking a look at gross case capacities first, I filled .243 Win. and 6mm Creedmoor cases from Hornady with water and came up with 55.7 grains for the former and 52.6 grains for the latter. All things, including barrel length and chamber pressure to which the two are loaded, being equal, the .243 can be faster, but everything is not equal. SAAMI maximum chamber pressure is a bit higher for the Creedmoor, and there is also the matter of useable net capacities of the two cases in factory rifles. Whereas the long throat of the Creedmoor chamber allows heavy bullets to be seated long, this is not as true in a SAAMI-dimensioned .243 Win. chamber.
While developing the .308 Win. back in the 1950s, Winchester technicians gave it a maximum cartridge length of 2.810 inches. But when necking down the .308 case for 0.243-inch bullets, they shortened overall length to 2.710 inches. That was done in order to achieve acceptable accuracy with short, varmint-weight bullets, but when longer deer bullets were seated to that length, they displaced powder capacity and combustion area by extending deeply into the case. Factory-loaded .243 ammo is kept within the established maximum overall length, and the same holds true for those who develop load data for various reloading manuals. But since the longer chamber throat and magazine lengths of some rifles will accept longer cartridge lengths, handloaders have never been restricted by the SAAMI maximum length. That allows the use of heavier powder charges, but keep in mind that shooters who exceed pressure-tested maximum charge weights published by various reliable sources are on their own.
The interior magazine length of many rifles is plenty roomy for seating bullets longer. With a length of 2.870 inches, the magazine of the Remington Model 783 will handle cartridge lengths of 2.850 inches. Even so, a SAAMI-dimensioned .243 Win. chamber throat won’t always allow bullets to be seated that long. Those who wish to load the heavier bullets farther out of the powder cavity have the option of lengthening chamber throat with a reamer from Pacific Tool & Die. Another benefit to the long magazine of the Model 783 is it allows chasing the rifling for best accuracy as the chamber throat erodes from many firings.
Chamber throat and magazine lengths in .243 rifles do vary, and some can be long enough to seat bullets far beyond the SAAMI maximum. The magazine of one of my target rifles measures 3.125 inches, and its chamber throat exceeds the SAAMI maximum. With the extremely long Hornady 103-grain ELD-X seated to an overall length of 2.824 inches in the .243 case, the bullet free-travels 0.020 inch prior to engaging the rifling in that rifle. When the .243 Win. is loaded to maximum but safe chamber pressures with bullets weighing 100 to 115 grains, that rifle consistently exceeds 6mm Creedmoor maximum velocity by 100 fps and more.
I have taken a lot of game with the .243 Win. through the years, and though I have no field experience with the 6mm Creedmoor, it is logical that it will perform about the same on deer-size game simply because there is not a lot of difference in maximum velocities possible with the two cartridges. Some say chamber throat erosion is slower with the Creedmoor due to its sharper 35-degree shoulder angle. Assuming this is true, it matters to target shooters, but few hunters will shoot a rifle in .243 enough to wear out its barrel during a lifetime of bagging deer and other game. In the .243’s favor, the ammunition can be found easily in gunshops across the United States as well as other countries. (I have seen .243 ammo left behind by hunters in hunting camps around the world.)
Most factory barrels in .243 Win. have a rifling twist rate of 1:10 inches, and that’s too slow for completely stabilizing today’s extremely long bullets. Nosler recommends 1:8 or quicker for its 105-grain Custom Competition bullet, Hornady says the same for its 103-grain ELD-X and 108-grain ELD Match bullets. Berger recommends 1:7 or quicker for the 115-grain VLD Hunting. Respective lengths of those bullets are 1.230, 1.261, 1.275, and 1.345 inches. While they all are too long to be stabilized by the 1:9.125 twist of the Model 783 Varmint, I was impressed by how fast they could be driven from a 26-inch barrel with a SAAMI-length chamber throat.
Based on the sales of ammo and reloading dies, the .243 Win. has long ranked in the top five most-popular big-game cartridges, and I don’t see it slowing down anytime soon. Even so, I believe the time has come for a quick-twist option in standard-production factory rifles chambered for the cartridge. While the latest heavyweights won’t kill deer any deader than good bullets weighing less, having the option of shooting them is all it would take to bring a grand old 1950’s cartridge up to date. The .243 Win. is just too darned good to ever die.
Remington Model 783 Varmint SpecsManufacturer:
Remington Arms; remington.comType:
.243 WinchesterMagazine Capacity:
26 in.Overall Length:
45.75 in.Weight, Empty:
Brown laminateLength of Pull:
Matte blued barreled receiver; high-gloss stockSights:
None; Picatinny rail installedTrigger:
3.9-lb. pull (as tested)Safety:
Remington Model 783 Varmint Accuracy & Velocity