The .243 Urban Varmint Rifle
Lyudmila Pavlichenko sends:
The goal of this exercise is to find a commonly available but very effective caliber for use out to a maximum one thousand yards from a very compact and lightweight bolt-action rifle.
How compact? With a folding stock and a short barrel - perhaps even 16 inches - so that it meets the BATFE overall length regs and still fits into a gym bag or a back pack for urban and suburban toting convenience. Let’s face it, some days you might not want to stroll around town with your Remington 700 slung over your shoulder.
You can select many fine calibers, from .223 to .338 or beyond, and everybody has their favorites. But the goal of this caliber is not to stop elk or moose or military APCs in their tracks or to bust through cinderblock walls, so smaller is better in terms of recoil and the weight of the rifle platform. At the upper end of modern varminting we’re talking about 200-pound feral hogs, wild dogs and in some places even whitetail deer, among other highly destructive pest species, so that is what the caliber must be made for. Nothing much bigger than that.
Now in the end, we want the projectile leaving the barrel at over 3,000 fps, or you’re just not in the league you need to be in for true long range excellence. We want all three sides of the ballistic triangle: high muzzle velocity, high ballistic coefficient, and great accuracy. For a high ballistic coefficient make the bullet (the part that flies through the air, not the entire cartridge) l-o-n-g. (Ballistic coefficient or BC: the difference between bowling balls and javelins of identical weight thrown at the same speed. If you can’t guess which will fly further, stop reading now.)
It’s been demonstrated conclusively that even relatively tiny but l-o-n-g bullets are effective against enemy soldiers in combat. A case in point is the .223 Black Hills M262 cartridges firing 77 grain bullets, especially when compared to the dismal 62gr “green tips.” Field reports from our snipers and designated marksmen say that the humble .223 Black Hills 77gr bullets are creating very serious wounds even out at 700+ yards, comparable to the .308 in their terminal effects. (This is primarily when fired from M-16 A4s and A5s with 4X Trijicon optical sights.) So 77 grains is enough mass in a long, skinny bullet to “put the hurt on,” even though this “heavy” .223 is only going out of the muzzle at about 2,800 fps.
But since we want to get the speed back up to over 3,000 fps and in a slightly larger bullet, we have to start with a bigger shell-case than the tiny .223 Remington / 5.56mm. The anemic .223 brass just doesn’t have the powder capacity we need. So look for a genuine high velocity round that has standard loadings in the 3,300 fps range while firing bullets exceeding the weight of the Black Hills 77 gr. The .243 Winchester, a necked-down .308, nicely fits this bill.
Then we find the longest bullet we can for it, and we have a super deadly l-o-n-g bullet still going out of the muzzle at over 3,000 fps. That’s the goal: a long, fast bullet at least 100 gr. in total mass. This would be superior to the deadly Black Hills 77 gr .223 caliber bullet, both in mass and velocity, but with a much higher BC for outstanding velocity retention at long range. Yet in terms of recoil, it would still be a lightweight, so it could be loaded into a lightweight six-pound folding-stock rifle and still be comfortable even for small folks and non-riflepersons to shoot.
For non-ballisticians a simple example of the aerodynamic principals involved in short versus long bullets is to compare the 30-06 to the .270 Winchester, which is a necked-down “thirty-ought-six.” Both have common factory loadings of 150gr, but the 30-06 projectile is shorter and thicker. Both start out of the muzzle at about 3,000 fps, but the longer and slimmer .270 helps it retain its velocity further. (Yes, I know the serious reloaders are already tearing my numbers to shreds, but I am trying to introduce general principles.)
(You can also get a nice l-o-n-g bullet with a slippery high BC in a .30 caliber and still achieve 3,000 fps, but then you have to step up to true magnums like the .300WinMag and many others, and most mortals consider them very punishing to fire, even from seriously big and heavy rifles. To say nothing of .338 Lapua and all the way up to fifty caliber Browning. Yes, you need these big guns to get out to 1,500 yards or further, but if you see all of your varminting inside of a thousand, why punish yourself with a heavy, awkward, hard-recoiling rifle? Even a .270 or a 7mm Remington Magnum might be at the far end of what is needed.)
My proposal: Get a .243 and load the heaviest bullets made for it, in a barrel with a twist that will stabilize it, such as 1 by 9. The heaviest standard factory loading for it is about 100gr at 3,100 fps coming out of the barrel. The necked-down .308 caliber known as the .243 was primarily made for “varmints” so folks were mainly loading little-bitty short bullets to hit tiny groundhogs out to about 500 yards, and not much further than that. If you want to “tack-drive” a tiny target at 200-500 yards, you want a lighter, shorter, ultra-high-velocity bullet, but they will quickly shed their velocity due to their low BC past much more than that range. For close to medium range work in .243, you might see 60 gr bullets stepping out at 3,700 fps. That’s fast, folks!
But for thousand yard match competition or long-range military or varmint use, the .243 solution would be to use a much heavier and longer bullet. Interestingly, the .243 can win thousand-yard matches against the latest exotics when launching a 115 grain slug with a very high BC. For reloaders, the necked-down .308 case of the .243 can pack enough powder to launch the 0.585 BC 115 gr DATP projectile at 3150 fps! You probably won’t find that in a factory loading, but the cartridge and the rifle can take it. But even the now-available factory 100gr hunting loads at 3,000 fps would be extremely effective against large varmints at all ranges.
Now, there are at least a dozen or two other calibers in the 6mm/.243 to 7mm/.270 range that could be considered for this same mission tasking, and no doubt every shooter has their own preferences. So why choose the .243 from among that cornucopia of calibers?
The .243 Winchester is made from a necked-down .308 case, so in a pinch finding brass for reloading would not be a problem. (Good projectiles might be scarce, so bullets should be bought in bulk for reloading.) Its overall cartridge length places it into “short” bolt actions. And unlike most in its class, the .243 is not an “exotic” or soon-to-be-orphaned caliber, nor is it a forgotten wildcat round from the gunny history books. It is also not a corporate “UltraSuperMag” flavor of the month, nor is it somebody’s great brainstorm from last year that he’s trying to sell to hunters, cops or the military. The .243 will not be a "here today, gone tomorrow" caliber, slipping below the surface without a ripple.
The .243 has been popular since its debut in 1955, almost as soon as its father the .308 was created. Almost every manufacturer with a rifle chambered for the .308 also sells rifles chambered in .243. That is to say, the .243 is chambered in almost every bolt-action rifle made in America in the past fifty years. That’s a lot of rifles, folks! It’s a mainstay caliber and ammo can be found almost everywhere you find standard rifle ammo like .270 Win and good old 30-06. But you can load the .243 into a six-pound folding-stock rifle that your little sister can shoot accurately, without flinching from the recoil. Who doesn’t want a six-pound, thousand-yard varmint rifle that you can throw into a hiking pack?
Your math may vary:
$400----Used bolt-action rifle in .243Win
$200----Choate folding stock for that rifle
$300----Bushnell 4X12 scope or similar
$900----Thousand Yard Varmint Rifle
A safety note about using any “necked-down” calibers that are derived from the shell casings of other calibers. Remember that seriously bad ka-booms can happen when (for only one example), a .270 is accidentally jacked into its brethren 30-06 chamber (or viceversa) and the trigger is pulled. Ditto the .260/.308 or I suppose even the .243/.308, though I don’t know if you can force a .308 into a .243 chamber, and I don’t plan to try. The point being, don’t mix up your cartridges if you have plenty of flavors at home, some of which could wind up being mistaken for one another while rolling around on your shooting table. If you are careless in this regard I suggest you do all of your shooting from behind a boron-carbide ceramic wall with a polycarbonate viewing slit, with just a string tied to the trigger. But we are human and mistakes happen, so in all seriousness, exercise caution.
(Personally, I’m guessing that the military was worried about this potential problem when the brass nixed the superb 6.8mm offering of a few years back. Yes, this Famous Specops Unit or that SWAT team swears by 6.8 it in their ARs, and I fully “get” that. But in the Big Army, it’s just too easy to see identical magazines with two different calibers being mixed up in the heat of battle. But if you do go the necked-down route to high velocity, at least maybe think about a much smaller caliber that won’t get mixed up with its bigger brother. You can’t mix up the battle-rifle .308 with the hot little .243, not even if they are the same from their rims right up to their shoulders. From the neck up they are nails to needles, and even a blind man could not mix them up…probably. End of the safety announcement about mixing up calibers and blowing up rifles.)