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A Versatile .243 Winchester

by Jim House

            We owe a lot to gun writers who are good experimentalists who also have some imagination.  One such writer is Warren Page, the late shooting editor for Field & Stream who is generally given credit for initial work that led to the .243 Winchester.  Page, especially popular with me because that was my mother’s maiden name, had been testing a .240 Page when the .308 Winchester case became available in 1952.  He necked the .308 case to hold bullets of .243” diameter and apparently contacted Winchester about commercially developing the cartridge.  When the .243 Winchester appeared, there were some slight changes in Page’s version dealing with the case in neck length and shoulder angle.  The factory .243 case has a 20 degree slope, the same as that of the .308.  In his book The Accurate Rifle (Winchester Press, New York, 1973, p. 210) Page has this to say about the newly released .243 Winchester:

“But when the .243 hit the streets its primary reputation was made less on the game-killing or varmint-busting performance, although these were considerable, than on the amazing accuracy level displayed by the original M70 featherweights in the caliber.  The reason was probably less in the rifles than in the cartridge as factory-made.  It was held to tighter accuracy specifications than most hunting rounds.”

            When the .243 Winchester was introduced, the standard rate of twist was one turn in 10” which would stabilize bullets as heavy as 100-105 grains.  Moreover, it would give such bullets a velocity of approximately 3000 ft/sec producing right around 2000 ft lbs at the muzzle.  Such loads are suitable for medium game.  Velocities of factory loads with 55-60 grain bullets approach 3800 ft/sec making the .243 a flat shooting varmint rifle.  When Remington introduced the .244 Remington about the same time as the .243 Winchester appeared, the rifles had a one turn in 12” twist with the heaviest factory load utilizing 90 grain bullets.  The .243 caught on as a rifle for both varmints and medium game whereas the .244 was considered to be a more specialized varmint cartridge.  Remington eventually changed the twist rate to one turn in 10” and renamed the cartridge the 6mm Remington, but by then the .243 Winchester was enormously popular with the result that just about all rifle makers offer rifles in .243 Winchester and almost no one now offers them in 6mm Remington.

            I have two rifles chambered for the .243 Winchester, a Remington 700 and a Savage Axis.  The Savage utilizes a twist rate of one turn in 9.25” making it handle heavier bullets superbly.  However, it also does extremely with some of the lightweight bullets such as the 55 grain Nosler Ballistic Tip with which I can get five-shot groups measuring under an inch at 100 yards.  The most consistent load that I have used with both of my .243 rifles is with the 95 grain Nosler Ballistic Silvertip with enough Alliant Reloader 17 to give a velocity of approximately 2900 ft/sec.  That load gives groups smaller than one inch in either of my .243 rifles and would be an excellent load for large howling predators.  Bullets such as the Sierra 60 and 75 grain Sierra hollow points also have given excellent accuracy.

            All of the factory loads that I have tried in the .243 Axis shoot well, but the champ is the Winchester load with the 95 grain Ballistic Silvertip bullet.  The advertised muzzle velocity for that load is 3100 ft/sec and the trajectory is very flat.  The bullet has a ballistic coefficient of 0.400 and the factory load has the highest retained energy of the Winchesters loads at 500 yards with the energy being 850 ft lbs.  Although I have tried a few other factory .243 Winchester loads, the 95 grain Ballistic Silvertip will be my choice for long range shooting.

            When I first got the Savage Axis .243 Winchester, it had some features that needed to be modified.  The first was the factory stock and that issue was remedied with a Boyds At-One in the nutmeg color scheme.  It added a little to the weight of the rifle, but it also made it stable to shoot from a bench.  With the adjustments possible, the stock fits my shooting positions which also makes it work well in the field.  The At-One stock replaced the original simply and quickly in a two screw operation.

            The second step in the “Axis Improvement Project” was to replace the trigger.  My .243 Axis is not one of the newer versions that come with the Savage AccuTriggerTM so it is not user adjustable.  My solution, as it had already been for two other Savage Axis rifles, was to install a Timney trigger.  The process is relatively simple as has been described in an earlier blog dealing with enhancing my Axis in .223 Remington caliber.  The trigger was adjusted to give a let off with a pull of just a bit under three pounds with virtually no creep. 

            Like most centerfire rifles, the Savage Axis comes with no sights.  In order to take advantage of the performance of the .243 Winchester cartridge, I added an Athlon 2-12X42 scope.  The adjustments on that scope are precise and the reticule with dots gives an excellent sight picture at different ranges.  With its side focus feature, the scope is an excellent choice for hunting medium game or dispatching distant varmints.

            The .243 Winchester is one of the most popular of centerfire rifle calibers.  It can function as a superb varmint rifle for either small or larger species and it is a good choice for hunting species of deer size.  Based on my reading, the .243 is also quite popular for hunting the smaller plains game in Africa.  It is one of the best do it all calibers as long as it is not chosen for hunting some of the largest game species.  I would not be handicapped if my improved Savage Axis .243 were my only centerfire rifle. 

            My Savage Axis in .243 Winchester caliber isn’t going anywhere soon and neither is my autographed copy of Warren Page’s The Accurate Rifle or his other wonderful book, One Man’s Wilderness.



An enhanced .243 Winchester may be the only centerfire rifle you need.


The Boyds At-One stock fits the Axis perfectly.


Adjustments provided on the At-One stock allow for different shooting positions.


The At-One gripping areas provide for a secure hold on the stock.


With the 2-12X42 Athlon scope attached, the .243 Axis is extremely accurate and versatile.


Popular game loads for the .243 are (left to right) the 95grain Winchester Ballistic Silvertip, the 100 grain Winchester Power Point, the 100 grain Federal soft point, and 100 grain Winchester Power Point Plus (now discontinued).


Popular game bullets in .243 caliber are (left to right) 90 grain Speer, 95 grain Nosler Ballistic Tip, 95 grain Ballistic Silvertip, 100 grain Speer Grand Slam, and 100 grain Sierra soft point.


For varmint loads, bullet choices include (left to right), 55 grain Ballistic Silvertip, 60 grain Sierra hollow point, 70 grain Sierra Blitzking, 70 grain Sierra hollow point, 70 grain Speer TNT, and 87 grain Hornady soft point.


A bullet that makes a .243 a versatile medium cartridge is the highly regarded 100 grain Nosler Partition.