The calibre hunter

Re-discovering an old favourite, Byron Pace bonds with the today’s classic .243 Win – has this all-too-common calibre been underestimated?

For as long as I have owned a firearms licence I have had a .243 Win in the cupboard. Why? Well, it actually had little more to do with anything other than the fact it was available at the time and the guy in the gun shop said it was what we needed. Fast forward a bit, and now with a little more knowledge, I have slightly better reasons for the chamberings I own.

A couple of .243 Wins have come and gone over this period, but I still have one. Today it’s a Kimber Montana. Loaded normally with 69gn hand loads, it has become my lightweight hill foxing rifle and a go-to for roe stalking. However, I had moved away from the cartridge for anything bigger, using a 6.5×55 Swede and .308 Win for much of my hunting. I had always discounted it as a mountain hunting cartridge, but now it appears I was wrong to do so.

The .243 Win takes its parent case from the .308 Win. A very efficient, short action design, the .243 Win was something of a breakthrough in terms of factory-loaded ammunition. It allowed hunters to shoot one calibre for a large spectrum of quarry, from the smallest varmints to medium-sized deer, with moderate recoil and excellent down-range trajectory. Further to that, the 6mm bullet proved extremely accurate and popular, as we have seen in more modern times with the like of the 6mmBR and 6mm Creedmoor.

Loaded down as low as 55gn, and factory loaded to 105gn, it makes for a truly excellent foxing calibre, at the same time as offering good killing potential for small and medium sized deer. For handloaders, the possibility to tap into the long range potential of the 115gn bullet is also available, but is rarely investigated (barrel twist rate has to be considered as well). It may be a surprise to find, that loaded with the lightening fast 55gn projectiles, it easily surpasses the performance from a .220 Swift, and of course is also far more versatile.

Personally I have found the 87-90gn weight to be an excellent compromise to cover foxes and the smaller deer species. Running out at around 3200fps, you will see a 300-yard drop of 6” with under an inch high zero at 100 yards. With the right construction choice, the terminal performance is also ideal. Of course, this excludes one from hunting the bigger UK deer species in Scotland and Northern Ireland (100gn minimum for fallow, sika and red), in which case you will have to step up to 100gn.

Interestingly, at its inception, the .243 Win was really 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 as a general all-purpose cartridge.

Recently I found myself armed with this stalwart of the cartridge world while venturing the mountains of New Zealand. High in the alpine reaches, we were in search of mountain game. In the past I had always convinced myself that with the combination of potential ranges required and game persued, the .243 Win wasn’t really a suitable cartridge for the mountains. However, if you start to speak to hunters on the ground, who live and breathe the species and terrain, you will very often find the .243 Win is the go-to rifle. Certainly in terms of tahr and chamois, it makes for an ideal combination when ranges are kept at sensible levels.

Dig deeper into other species of other classic mountain game, especially outside America where most hunters want to shoot a magnum, and the .243 Win is often the quiet contender. I may look at my own .243 Win with a little more respect. It’s about time it came out to play again.

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