Winchester introduced the .243 Winchester cartridge in 1955 for their Model 70 rifle and for their Model 88 lever action. The cartridge was immediately adopted by Savage for their Model 99 lever action, and shortly thereafter by a host of rifle makers worldwide.
Common folklore has it that the .243 was a wildcat developed out of the .308. However, because the .308 came out in 1952, only three years prior, there was precious little time for any wildcatting to have made much of an influence on factory developments. The roots for the .243 actually go back a long, long way and involve other countries besides the USA. The Germans, for example, experimented with a .24-caliber cartridge nearly identical to the 6mm Remington in 1895. The British had successful .24-caliber rifles in the 1920’s.
Be that as it may, the .243 Winchester is very popular, and has been so since its introduction. The basic idea behind it is to eliminate the need for owning two separate rifles, one for varmints and another for deer/antelope. The .243 is supposed to cover both bases, and it sort of does. Some use it on deer and say it works well. Similarly, we know of folks who shoot elk (in the head) with the cartridge and declare it suitable for elk hunting. Yet, we know of some instances of this cartridge’s failure to stop antelope, and those were with outstanding marksmen shooting the rifle at reasonable ranges, the weapon stoked with Nosler Partition bullets.
We’d use this cartridge on coyotes and like-sized game, and nothing bigger. The .243 is seductive in that it has little recoil, minimal report, and propels its missiles downrange at high velocity. It looks like a big game cartridge. The tendency, then, is to use it as a big game cartridge. When the inexperienced shooter has initial success at, say, small deer with his .243, he will then try it on bigger deer. If by chance he succeeds, his confidence in the rifle and his ability to use it thus increases. Aha!, he figures, he’s got the answer. He will use his .243 on everything. He’ll simply place his shots well, which the performance of this cartridge makes relatively easy. Sadly, that kind of thinking lets him in for the chance of extreme disappointment one day. That well-placed shot will ultimately kill, but the game will not die where it was hit. In some cases, it will live long enough to go miles before expiring, never to be found. The cost to the shooter will be wounded and lost game, loss of confidence in the rifle and, worse, loss of belief in himself.
The light bolt-action .243 can be an outstanding varmint rifle for casual field use, woods wandering, or stuck into a boot on the tractor for whacking coyotes in the alfalfa field. We don’t feel it is a big game rifle, unless your big game weighs less than 100 pounds.
Hereupon, our report on three nice walnut-stocked blue-finished bolt-action rifles in .243 Winchester.
We chose a Ruger Model 77R Mark II, a Remington Model 700 BDL and a Winchester Model 70 Classic Featherweight for this test. All were equipped with walnut stocks, 22-inch barrels (Winchester’s was actually 21-3/4) and blue finishes. These rifles had short actions that were well suited to the .243 cartridge.
Our Ruger Model 77R Mark II had a free-floated barrel with very little room between the metal and the wood. The classic-shaped stock was made of matte-finished walnut, but the pores were not filled so the stock finish looked somewhat unfinished. The checkering was sharp, attractive and fully functional. The sling swivel studs, the black rubber buttplate and the black plastic pistol grip cap were all well fitted. The rifle came with scope rings, but no iron sights. The barrel was only 9/16-inch in diameter at the muzzle. However, the taper doesn’t start until 1-3/4 inches forward of the action, making the rifle heavier than necessary.[PDFCAP(1)].
To the credit of Sturm, Ruger & Co., someone has been listening to our (or someone else’s) complaints about sharp edges. There were no sharp edges anywhere on the action or bolt, and we congratulate Ruger for their efforts. Fit and finish were very good. The metal had a smooth and shiny polish on most surfaces, except for the aluminum alloy floorplate which was matte black. All the rest of the metal parts were steel. The bolt body was left white, but nicely polished to match the receiver. The bolt knob had a suave semi-matte finish. The trigger was also finished “white.” This rifle had a full-length Mauser-type extractor. More on it later.
The Ruger had a three-position safety, mounted on the right side at the rear of the action. The safety’s fully forward position was Fire. The mid-position locked the trigger only, which allowed safe loading and unloading. All the way back locked the bolt and the trigger. We lament the old Ruger tang safety. The Model 77 used to have a sliding safety mounted on the top of the wrist, which was ambidextrous, very convenient and fast. We wonder why Ruger dropped it.
The Remington Model 700 BDL had a glossy finish on wood and metal. The stock had a black forend tip with a white-line spacer. The buttstock had white-line spacers setting off the black plastic buttplate and pistol grip cap. The stock also had skip-line checkering. The receiver and floorplate had what Remington calls “Enhanced Receiver Engraving” that was nicely done. It was a classic scroll pattern, interesting and tasteful. The floorplate had a rather inappropriate (for this caliber) bighorn ram on it, but it, too, was well done. The trigger guard and floorplate were made of aluminum alloy, while the rest of the metal parts were steel.[PDFCAP(2)].
The BDL’s barrel was slim, with the taper beginning just forward of the receiver. Diameter at muzzle was 0.66 inch. The first six inches of the barrel was free-floated, and from there forward the forend exerted lots of upward pressure on the bottom of the barrel. The forend tip itself did not contact the barrel. This must have taken considerable care on the part of Remington.
This Remington rifle alone of our three had iron sights. These consisted of a crude-looking but effective sliding-ramp adjustable rear and a hooded bead-on-a-post front. The rear notch was a huge U, and the adjacent flat tops were slightly wide-angle-vee shaped to help center your eye in a hurry. It was hard, though, to get one’s face low enough on the Monte Carlo-type stock to make easy use of the iron sights. The rifle was stocked for a scope. We had to remove the rear sight to clear the objective bell of our test scope. Like all Remington 700s, this one had a recessed-head bolt with a tiny yet functional spring-clip extractor and a plunger-type ejector.
Our Winchester Model 70 Classic Featherweight was a knockout. The stock was made of pretty nice fancy walnut. Its finish was superb. Matte-finished, yet glowing, it fully filled the wood pores and let us see all the beauty of the wood. Under magnification, the stock surface shows cross-polishing. A lot of care went into this stock finish. The checkering had a decorative flowing line of smooth wood with an opposing-curve pattern that looked great. The forend was checkered in a wraparound manner, the curve meeting itself underneath the forend in an attractive pattern.[PDFCAP(3)].
The Winchester’s forend had a tasteful Schnabel shape and was much slimmer than the forends of the other two rifles tested. The stock’s buttpad was red rubber with a black spacer that looked appropriate. There was a black plastic pistol grip cap that begged to be replaced with a Niedner-style checkered one made of steel—but plastic works OK, and is lighter.
The Featherweight’s metal finish was not quite shiny and very evenly applied. This was really done right! The barrel was drastically reduced in diameter, beginning right in front of the receiver. It continued slimming to the muzzle, at which point it measured 9/16-inch in diameter. The extractor was the Mauser controlled-feed type, as found on the famous pre-’64 Model 70. The bolt had jeweling, a nice touch that will give Remington lovers a touch of envy, because the Winchester’s jeweling was more carefully applied. The trigger guard was made of aluminum, but all other metal parts were made of steel. The magazine well was blocked slightly forward to make this Model 70 function perfectly with the short .243 cartridge.
Wood and Metal Finishes
In our opinion, the Winchester had a finish that would put most production, and some custom, rifles to shame. We felt it set an example for other rifle makers to match. We think shiny guns are out of place in the game fields, and the Remington’s metalwork was as shiny as its stock. However, the Model 700 BDL’s metal had a smoothly polished blue finish that was very well done. Fit and finish were quite good.
The Ruger looked functional with its flat stock finish, but we’d like less gloss on the steel of a working rifle. We’re sure the wood finish was durable, but it needed to have the pores filled to keep dirt out, and for looks. (Sloppy finishes make for cheap-looking rifles.) Yet, this rifle had a classic shape and aura that neither of the other two rifles quite achieved.
All three rifles had hinged, finger-opening floorplates to ease unloading and cleaning operations, and all worked easily and correctly. There was no slop in any of them when closed. This was remarkable only in that it’s a bit uncommon to see these things working correctly. Usually, Winchester Model 70 floorplates require severe pressure to open, and some Rugers and Remingtons take lots of off-center pressure to close, but our three worked perfectly.
Handling and Feel
The bolt of the Remington was hard to open (lift), something that seems common these days on Remingtons, but it slid easily fore and aft with minimum rattle. All metal parts fit well and felt good with minimal slop. Ditto the Ruger and Winchester, though the Ruger had a bit more bolt rattle than we’d like. The forends of the Ruger and Remington were relatively fat, which some varminters will like. Most of our test shooters preferred the sliminess of the Winchester, at least for offhand work.
We did some field-testing simulations that revealed a few shortcomings. This was a simple test you can do yourself. We made sure the rifle was empty, then cocked it and engaged the safety. On command, we shouldered the rifle, put the sights (scope) on our target, dry fired, worked the bolt as quickly as possible, and dry fired again.
The Ruger’s slick bolt knob caused us to miss the fast reload. The Model 77R’s safety was hard to take off, but it at least stayed off. The Remington’s safety came on when we slammed the bolt back and forth. While working the bolt, the outside edge of our right hand inadvertently dragged the safety rearward to the fully engaged position, making it impossible to fire the next shot unless the safety was moved forward again. However, the BDL shouldered well for the first “shot.”
We had a bit of trouble getting the Winchester Model 70’s safety all the way off (the three-position lever’s throw was long), but it shouldered very fast and held on-target well. It had the slickest and most “professional” feel to its bolt throw. There was no excessive noise or rattle, only a rock-solid, confidence-building “chunk-chunk” feel to moving the bolt.
The Winchester’s trigger, out of the box, released at a hefty 5-1/2 pounds, but there was no creep and no perceptible overtravel. As we have mentioned in the past, the Model 70’s trigger was adjustable. The Remington and Ruger rifles didn’t have any such adjustment.
Our Remington’s trigger pull broke at 4-1/4 pounds and was clean and tight, a decent trigger indeed. The Ruger’s trigger required 5-3/4 pounds of rearward pressure to release and had very minimal overtravel. It felt good, but was much too heavy.
We’d like trigger pulls on sporting rifles to be crisp and clean and break at around 3 to 3-1/2 pounds. Very few rifles come like that today, because of the potential for lawsuits from accidental discharges. Frankly, we’re getting tired of poor triggers on firearms.
We mounted a 12x Leupold fixed-power scope on each of the three rifles to wring out the maximum of their potential. However, if we owned one of these rifles, we’d equip it with a 2-1/2x to 4x scope, small and compact enough to match the nature of the firearm and the nature of our intended uses.
During shooting, our Winchester Model 70 had a minor shortcoming. When the magazine was filled with five rounds, the top round was difficult to chamber. However, the remaining four cartridges chambered readily. In our opinion, four rounds should be plenty for any expected use. The Remington and Ruger each held only four.
The Featherweight seemed to prefer, slightly, the lighter 80-grain bullets. We felt that is how it should be with a two-purpose rifle. The lightest bullets, used for the smallest game, ought to shoot the best. The heavier bullets, used on larger game, can be a little less accurate and still allow you to make hits. The rifling twist of the Winchester Model 70 was nicely matched to the expected uses of the rifle. This rifle’s smallest average groups, and the best of the test, were 1.2 inches at 100 yards with Winchester 80-grain PSPs.[PDFCAP(4)].
We were a bit disappointed with the accuracy of all three rifles. Perhaps more time to find the best load, plus adjusting upward pressure on the barrels at the end of the forend, would have fine-tuned them. However, even the worst average groups of 2.2 inches with the Speer Nitrex 100-grain ammunition out of the Winchester would be good enough to bag a deer within reasonable range. We noted the Nitrex load’s best accuracy was achieved out of the Remington Model 700.
The Ruger was hampered by its stiff trigger, and we found some stiffness in extraction. Some fired cases came loose from the extractor before they were ejected. The extractor on this Ruger didn’t actually control feeding. The rounds were not caught by the extractor as they slid upward out of the magazine. They were loose and uncontrolled until they were driven home into the chamber, at which point the extractor snapped over the rim. To be fair, rounds in the Winchester were not caught until they were pretty far into the chamber, but they were eventually caught.
We’d pick the Winchester Model 70 Featherweight over the other rifles in this test. Of all the .243’s we’ve seen over the years, only a few stand out, and one is this Winchester. It’ll do anything you’d expect of a .243. It has enough accuracy, looks good enough to knock your eyes out, handles like a dream, and has nothing we don’t like. It’s not too often we can say that about one of our test rifles. You can get lighter rifles in this caliber. Ultra Light Arms can shave probably two pounds off the test weight. That might be important to you, but it’ll cost you big bucks. You can certainly get more accurate rifles, but we bet this one will be a performer with just the right load. What more could you want from a rifle? The Model 70 Featherweight is a winner.
If you have a severe case of flinch-itis, buy a heavy but good .243 and work with it to cure the problem. The Remington Model 700 BDL will satisfy many such shooters, and looks good to boot. We prefer dull rifles, but lots and lots of shooters, many women among them, are unhappy unless the rifle glows in the dark. We can’t fault the Remington, except for its hard bolt lift. Some graphite, carefully applied, may help this problem, but it should have been fixed before the rifle left the factory.
Concerning the Ruger Mark II, its inletting and fit are well done. We can’t fault its appearance, but for the open-pored stock finish. We could complain that the metalwork is too shiny, but even that is well done. An overall matte finish like on the floorplate would be nice. However, matte finishes don’t hold their appearance as long as shiny ones, so this Ruger, and any shiny well-blued rifle, will look pretty good after many long years of hard service. We like the Ruger’s classic appearance a lot. The Ruger represents good quality for the money. It will do a good job for a very long time, though you will want to have a trigger job done to make it more shootable.
All three rifles rated a buy from us. There was not a loser among them, but we still felt the Winchester Model 70 Classic Featherweight was the best of this lot.