243 Winchester: Benefits Of This Ammo When To Use It

product photo of 243 winchester cartridge

The .243 Winchester cartridges are a solid standby that has been around for over 50 years and have stood up too many competitors. As an economical cartridge, the performance is much better than expected, and it is well known for its versatility.

About .243 Winchester Ammunition

The .243 Winchester rifle cartridge was released in 1955 and was described as a target/varmint round early on. Soon after it became popular as a hunting cartridge for coyote, pronghorn, deer, and wild hogs.

The .243 Winchester has also been used against larger animals such as elk or even black bears, but often this cartridge is deemed “too light” for that application. Cartridges with at least 90 grains are often seen as acceptable for the hunting of black bears, elk, and other similar sized game.

For varmints, less than 90-grain cartridges can be used quite effectively. The .243 Winchester is also a favorite of target shooters and long-distance shooters due to its accuracy and relatively low recoil.

The .243 Winchester is based on a .308 cartridge with slight alterations to the neck of the casing and a few other minimal design changes. The overall length is 2.7 inches with a bullet diameter of 6.2 millimeters.

This cartridge has been recommended to hunters who may be more sensitive to the recoil of their weapon but still want effective ammunition for hunting deer and other similar sized animals. The .243 Winchester has maintained its popularity for over 50 years despite considerable competition.

When the .243 Winchester cartridge came to market it wasn’t long before its competition was left behind. At the time of its release, the two major competitors of the .243 Winchester were the .257 Roberts and the 250-3000 Savage.

While these rounds were suitable for hunting the same class of game as the .243 Winchester, hunters preferred having more power and greater accuracy with less recoil. The ballistic performance of the .243 Winchester was not substantially better than its competition, however, it filled a niche at the time that hunters were enthusiastic to see filled.

Performance and Design

With the availability of more powerful and newer kinds of ammunition available, it would stand to reason that the .243 Winchester would have gone out of style years ago. However, this effective cartridge is still a popular option for hunters as it offers great power, speed, and has all the modern characteristics seen in rifle cartridges today.

The lower amount of recoil with the .243 Winchester cartridges has been a lead selling point as many hunters prefer less recoil. Although there are more powerful cartridges available, they also come with more recoil and may be more than is needed for hunting deer.

Deer hunters may find that the sleek and fast nature of the .243 Winchester combined with its long-distance accuracy is just what is needed for their next hunt. Target shooters also appreciate this cartridge as it allows them to use their weapon longer due to the lower recoil they experience.

The change to the design that spawned the .243 Winchester was the change in the neck in the case of the .308 Winchester cartridge. While there were several iterations tested before the .243 Winchester cartridge emerged, its parent, the .308 Winchester, was a great starting point.

The .308 Winchester was a respected rifle cartridge and once the .243 Winchester emerged, it was given glowing reviews for its performance in prominent hunting magazines at the time. Given the positive response and the consistently praised performance, Winchester released the .243 cartridge as an officially available ammunition.

Winchester originally offered 90 and 100-grain cartridges which resulted in straight, accurate shots without excessive loss of energy to the bullet before hitting its target. Competing rounds were found to dip more over a greater distance and although they were slightly more powerful on impact, they were marginally less accurate.

Current .243 Winchester cartridges are available with different grains that make them suited for different sized animals. Lower grains can be used for varmints and other rodents, while higher grains are suitable for deer and even feral hogs.

Other than minimal changes and variations in the grains being offered, the design and performance of the .243 Winchester has remained remarkably steady for many years. The enthusiasm of hunters and target shooters has also remained consistent and .243 Winchester cartridges are still in production today.

What Is .243 Winchester Ammo Best Used For?

.243 Winchester cartridges are truly versatile as they can be used for the hunting of many different animals or for target shooting at a distance. Coyotes, woodchucks, pronghorns, several kinds of deer, and feral hogs are common targets in the US.

The .243 Winchester cartridges are compatible with a number of hunting rifles and make a great choice for many kinds of hunting. It’s their versatility and modern type features that may have continued their popularity with hunters, but their performance is well documented.

The tough bullets in these cartridges coupled with the quality materials are mainly what set them apart from other cartridges. Their performance is consistent, and cartridges are widely commercially available.

Despite quality materials and proven performance, it remains under debate whether or not the .243 Winchester is suitable for hunting elk. Although some hunters claim that it has been done and the cartridges have the necessary firepower to deliver, others are less sure.

Local hunting regulations may have more information about the types of cartridges that are legal in your area. Due to the number of debates regarding ammunition and hunting specific species, it's worth checking to see what is recommended.

While there are several documented cases of elk being successfully hunted using .243 Winchester and similar cartridges, safety has been a consistent concern along with humane hunting practices. The .243 Winchester may, in fact, be enough to fatally wound an elk, but hunters generally prefer a clean kill that is humane for their target.

In the end, the .243 Winchester might not be a universal choice when it comes to elk, but it is widely used for many kinds of deer including white-tailed and black-tailed. Since deer are somewhat smaller and considered to be less tough than elk, the .243 Winchester is considered to be a great cartridge for that purpose.

Technical Information

The .243 Winchester got its name from its bullet diameter which is .243 of an inch. It’s a solid cartridge that is versatile and accurate with a bonded core bullet. The .243 Winchester 75 grain cartridge drops only an inch over the span of 200 yards.

The largest .243 Winchester cartridge with 105 grains moves at 3025 feet per second and has 2134-foot pounds of energy when fired from a 24-inch barrel. Lower grain cartridges are also available with the lowest one coming in at 55 grains.

A 55 grain .243 Winchester cartridge can cover 4058 feet per second and has 2012-foot pounds of energy when shot from a 24-inch barrel. There are also 65-grain, 75-grain, and 90-grain cartridges available and all of them have bonded core bullets with quality casings that allow for them to cover long distances with considerable energy.

For deer hunting, you will want to use a 75 grain or greater cartridge in order to ensure the proper amount of firepower for a clean and humane kill. For elk, a larger 105-grain cartridge might be best, but other cartridges exist that might be better options for consistent elk hunters.

Public Perception

In different parts of the US, hunters report using the .243 Winchester cartridges for a variety of game, however many have noted that the cartridges may be somewhat hard on the barrel of the rifle. While this claim has been echoed by others, it has not been substantially tested.  

The most recent general response to the .243 Winchester is that it's a great cartridge for hunters starting out, especially those smaller in stature such as young adults. The reduced recoil can also make it an attractive option for those looking to fire several practice rounds without getting a sore shoulder.

While using it for elk hunting is still debatable and somewhat situational, it is commonly used for wild boar, feral pig, prairie dogs, and other common pests in the US. These animals may range in size, but hunters typically find themselves needing to shoot a hundred yards or more to hit their target.

The .243 Winchester is a great round for accurately hitting targets up to 1000 feet away. As with many other kinds of ammunition, hunters recommend testing cartridges and weapons in different weather conditions prior to taking them on a hunting excursion.

Given the great distance that .243 Winchester bullets can travel, it is recommended to use both indoor and outdoor shooting ranges to thoroughly test the limits and performance of your weapon and the cartridge in different temperatures. Many report that cold weather can impact the velocity at which the bullet will hit a target down range.

It is also worth mentioning that the .243 Winchester cartridges are compatible with some very nice hunting rifles that are suitable for hunters of all ages, stature, and preference.

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