An interesting round, but one that can stay on the bookshelf.
I recently looked to build a semi-custom rifle for foxing. My calibre choice followed in the footsteps of many foxers – I settled on a .22-250 Rem Improved, which enjoys great ballistics while having longer barrel life than the faster .220 Swift. But in the process of researching which calibre to chamber my foxing rig in, I came across a curious and relatively unknown calibre, which I think is worth sharing.
I have only ever met one person who owned a .22-243 Middlestead, and he could do nothing but sing its praises – although he was reluctant to tell me how many barrels he had gone through over the 10 years he had owned it. That aside, it was an awesome bit of kit, with an impressive ballistic spec.
As can be deduced from the name, it’s based on a .243 Win case necked down with a 30-degree shoulder to .224, firing the same bullet as a .220 Swift. It pushes a tiny bullet at velocities that exceed 4,000fps, which can have detrimental effect on both your barrel and your wallet, with a lifespan unlikely to exceed 1,500 rounds. I guess that’s the price you pay for such flat trajectories.
It is not a calibre you will find on a gun shop shelf, and I don’t believe any ammo manufacturer has ever loaded it, making the .22-243 a real wildcat. Although pre-formed brass is also absent from the reloading catalogues, it is easily formed by running .243 brass through a .22-243 Middlestead die and trimming to length as necessary. Also, owing to the greater case dimensions of this .243 derivative, a .22-250 can quite readily be rechambered to .22-243 spec.
Given the pedigree of the .243 Win, it’s not surprising that necked down to .224 it produces some truly excellent accuracy. Printing tiny groups will be no issue if the shooter and rifle are up to it.
Most of the material I read about the calibre suggested that even the .220 Swift would be eaten up and spat out by the larger-cased .22-243, but the tests I did showed very little advantage. In fact, when firing comparable reloads side by side, any separation was merely academic. I spent some considerable time manipulating powder, bullet and case variables in QuickLoad and QuickTarget, but only once loading bullets above 70 grains was there any advantage worth noting. I was slightly disappointed by this, having initially thought it might be a superior round to the longstanding varmint favourites. If you just want to shoot 70-grain rounds, you would be far better off with a straight .243 Win, providing greater versatility.
Given the special chambering requirements and lack of factory ammo or brass, I think I would stick with the .220 Swift. I am normally the first to latch on to a quirky calibre, preferring to try something a bit more imaginative. But I can’t think of a good reason to own this calibre. With more time spent tweaking the loads it could be made to surpass the .220 Swift, but any benefit is far outweighed by the inconvenience of the calibre. An interesting round, but one that can stay on the bookshelf. BP
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