At the top end of the .243 Win capabilities, it is a little underpowered, and placement has to be good.
Like a large proportion of UK hunters, my first full-bore rifle was in .243 Win: a second-hand Sako 75 (a joint firearm held between my dad and me). This was to be our primary rifle for several years, before moving on to the 7×57 some years later. The calibre was of limited consideration – I knew little about it and was more concerned about getting a half-decent rifle. But before long I was shunning the ‘default’ pair of .308 Win and .243 Win, chosen by many to tackle the UK deer spectrum. I saw it as following the herd. Obviously rifle availability was a big part of this, and it was self-fulfilling, as more people made a calibre decision based on off-the-shelf rifle opportunity.
I would say things have changed a bit now, and hunters have become more savvy. Custom rifles have never been so popular, and with that comes a calibre choice as long as time. Having said this, after shooting many rifles and calibres, I have come full circle and returned to the stalwarts of modern UK hunting. My last rifle buy was a .243 Win Kimber Montana.
The .243 Win takes it parent case from the .308 Win. An efficient, short-action design, the .243 Win was a breakthrough in terms of factory-loaded ammunition. It allowed hunters to shoot one calibre for a large spectrum of quarry, with moderate recoil and excellent down-range trajectory. The 6mm bullet proved accurate and, as we have seen in the likes of the 6mm BR, this was just the beginning of its potential.
Loaded as low as 55 grains, and factory loaded to 105, it makes an excellent foxing calibre while offering good knockdown power for small and medium-sized deer. For hand loaders, tapping into the long-range potential of the 115-grain bullet is available but rarely investigated. Loaded with the lightning-fast, 55-grain varmint bullet, it easily surpasses the performance from a .220 Swift.
I have found the 87-grain bullet an excellent compromise to cover foxes and smaller deer species. Running out at around 3,200fps, you are looking at a 300-yard drop of six inches with under an inch high zero at 100 yards. This excludes one from hunting the bigger UK deer species, in which case you will have to step up to 100 grains. The 105-grain Geco is excellent for this, being a relatively inexpensive choice while still providing good accuracy with suitable carcase performance.
The new 95-grain Superformance from Hornady is ballistically fantastic, but sadly can’t be used at home on red deer as a result of legislation on bullet weight. In terms of long range accuracy, many hunters will be pleasantly surprised by how good the .243 Win is, and my rifle is the most accurate I have ever owned, dropping bullets into less than 2in at 400 yards.
Interestingly, the .243 Win was intended as a long-range varmint cartridge, with barrel twists reflecting this. Soon people realised that the calibre could be used for much more than this, leading to where we are today.
It is tempting to say the .243 Win could be the answer to all, but be cautious. Beyond lightweight foxing loads, bullet selection for quarry type is important. At the top end of the .243 Win capabilities, it is a little underpowered, and placement has to be good. That is why some estates insist on calibres larger than .243 Win when stag season comes around. It does offer tremendous scope, if used with some thought and attention. BP