Tuesday, August 3, 2010

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.)


  1. You can't accidentally chamber either 6.5 Grendel or 6.8SPC into a 5.56/.223Rem chamber. For that matter you can't chamber my .223AckImproveds into a 5.56/.223Rem chamber, as they PHYSICALLY don't fit.

    If the parent case is rimmed or belted, or LARGER, plenty of kabooms are possible but none of these rounds are based on semi-rimmed or rimmed cases and 5.56 is smaller.

    If the military had mixed issue of 5.56 and 6mm variant ARs in service at the same time, you MIGHT manage to get a kaboom by sticking 5.56/.223Rem in 6 and change chambers, you aren't going to do it the other way around. They don't fit and won't fire. With hard military primers, a 5.56 in a 6.8SPC chamber is probably about as likely to just get punted forward against minimal resistance as to kaboom...Jammed guns, could occur in a mixed environment with some excitement happening. Exploding guns, plausible in one direction, impossible in the other.

    FWIW, the MAGAZINES ARE DIFFERENT, as the feed lips and followers are DIFFERENT, so you could easily put a "denial" obstruction with matching notched magazines in your 6mm variant and then a inappropriate magazine wouldn't click into place. Metalwork would not be at all hard to do and you'd never chamber a 5.56 in your 6.

    But if it's YOUR "guerrilla sniper rifle" and you are stocking up and loading for it...6.5 and 6.8 and 6mm BR make as much sense as .243, if not MORE, and you can form brass for both of them from other things.

    This longwinded post brought to you by a person with misc. 6-7mm rifles and pistols, INCLUDING .243 - who also shoots a lot of stuff where you have to make brass from parent cartridges.

    Pavlichenko was a chick that died on October 10, 1974 at age 58. I'm still alive and I own more guns and related tools than I can count, so I don't see any reason to compromise.


  2. 243 is a good caliber, but... you won't get the velocity or the accuracy you are seeking with a 16" barrel. For max vel. you need all of the powder burnt and forming the gas column to push the projectile out at max. To short a tube. You can use faster powders but a possible spike in pressure that goes beyond the maximum SAAMI specs can cause stresses that could be catastrophic. (KABOOM!) I would look up the loading manuals and proper lengths of barrels before proceeding with this project. Do it right the first time. My .02. take it for what it's worth.

  3. I would just stick with the .223 but then again I am a common caliber and streamlined logistics kind of guy. Buy some 75-77 grain match grade JHP and call it good.

  4. I have 1 Thompson Encore Pistol in .243, Not a 300 yd. much less a 1000 yd. piece of equipment in any sense of the word.

    But then again a Urban Rifle would not Usually be required to be effective beyond 200 yds. How many Cities or Towns would have clear shots past that distance. Even the slightest breeze would be near impossible to read because of wind tunnels and shielding that would blow any of the lighter calibers all over Heck and back.

    So for short shots a out to 300 or 400 yds? a .243 would be acceptable,But if I was looking out to that magic 1000 yd.shot I would NOT go with anything less than the .308 win, with a twist of 1 in 10 inches and use heavy for caliber bullets 180 or even 200grain because of wind variances in any Urban or Rural environment. Please remember there would be buildings to block wind in some spots and spaces between these same buildings that would create wind tunnels that would destroy your normal accuracy skills.

    That is my opinion and that of a couple of Long Range Shooters,
    competitors in F-Class that I know. They shoot better than I do so I respect their opinions on this subject.


    P.S. Yes, I am Prejudice in favor the .308 but I´m not alone in this prejudice.

  5. Good article, I have done some shooting with the 243 and it does perform well on deer. I have never thought of it as a long range rifle but I suppose with proper equipment it could score hits at 1000 yards.

    I do have serious doubts on how many people can hit a car at 1000 however. That is a long ways and I doubt if there will be much opportunity to make shots like that in an urban environment unless you're hanging out on a roof top somewhere.

    A 308 at 1000 is coming in at mortar round trajectory not counting windage.

    I like 6.5 caliber best of any of them. It has the best flight characteristics of just about anything out there. The 6.5 X 55 is becoming very popular round with American shooters these days and with good reason. Newer firearms can take higher pressures and the 6.5 Swede brass can take a lot more pressure than a factory loading for the old Mausers. The 108 GR Scenar bullet punches out at way over 3000 FPS and the flight characteristics are great. Brass shows no sign of wear. Check it out it is the only Deer gun I use these days and I believe a better choice for a 1000 yard rifle.

  6. I'm in favor of lightweight/short folding rifles. But, they have to do the job.

    If you look at the tables of what happens to velocity as barrels get shorter, small diameter bullets take a bigger loss than large bullets.

    Faster powder can be introduced to burn before the bullet leaves the shorter barrel, but the action would have to be that much stronger. Pressure goes up much much faster than velocity, so this allows for only a small gain before the action cannot be carried or is unsafe.

    If there is a way to keep 20 inches of barrel, it's worth doing so.

    One of the premises of the Urban Varmint Rifle is to keep the cost low, meaning no custom-built/exotic high-strength actions. Thus, used and new (on-sale) Savage actions that fit the stable Choate folding stock and price-appropriate optics.

    One model of 'scope that hasn't been mentioned is the Japanese-made Bushnell Elite 3200 10x40 matte black fixed-power magnification with mil-dot (round dots, not USMC oval dots) model number 32-1040M. At less than $200, this is a price/performance superstar. There was a Bausch & Lomb 10x40 available a few years ago, but it seems to have been dropped and may be available used or as new-old-stock.


  7. David Tub is the only man ever to shoot a "clean' score of 1450/1450 at Camp Perry in the NRA National High Power Long Range Rifle event. He used a 6mm 115 grain DTAC bullet to achieve this remarkable record. It is worth noting that his rifle barely makes 3,000 fps while using a 29.5" barrel having polygonal rifling.

    It is utterly improbable that a conventionally-rifled 16" barrel chambered for the .243 Winchester can achieve 3,000 fps using a very-low drag bullet of comparable ballistic coefficient to the DTAC. Even 2,600 fps seems to be a bit too optimistic.



  8. Having gone through this exercise about eight years ago, I came upon what I consider the best compromise, and it sure ain't the .243 Win. cartridge.

    There is another and even better .308 Win. variant, and that's the 7mm-08 Cartridge. You get the advantage of the very best cartridge case ever devised, .308 Win., and the very best mid-range bullet ever developed, the 7mm bullet. Ballistics Coefficient for the 7mm bullet is superb and ever better when going from 150 gr. to 165 gr. up to 175 gr. bullets. The 7mm Rem. Magnum cartridge got it's reputation of excellence using the 140 gr. bullet, at 3100 fps. That caliber is even better when using a slightly heavier bullet, shedding only a little velocity at 150 gr. weight.

    In attempting to create my own "Scout Rifle," as designed by the estimable Col. Jeff Cooper, I selected a fast shooting, superbly strong action Savage Model 99 as my platform. Originally chambered for the .300 Sav. cartridge, I rebarreled it in 7mm-08 with a cut down to 20 inches Douglas premium match grade barrel. Using handloads of my own manufacture, and with chronograph to be scientific about it, I was able to achieve 2850 fps with the 150 gr. 7mm Speer SPBT bullet.

    Now, that's not 3000 fps, to be sure; but, remember the barrel is only 20 inches long, and a little over 2 inches of that is taken up in the chamber leaving approx. 17 3/4 inches of barrel to develop the power behind the bullet. Using good powders, I was still able to develop this superb load, and get 3 shots into a nickel at 100 yds., that's 3 shots touching.

    Remember also, you lose 35 to 50 fps velocity for every inch of barrel you take away from the one the cartridge makers use to develop their product, the universal 29 inch barrel. In order to retain as much velocity as possible, I wouldn't go any shorter than 20 inches. That's still plenty compact when fixed to a short forend and collapsible stock, as is the sniper rifle shown.

    I think the 7mm-08 Rem. cartridge is superior in performance to the .243 Win. in the same cartridge case, AND a 1000 yard shot is well within the parameters of this cartridge. How about THEM apples?

  9. I'm sceptical, shooting 168 gr out of my .308 remington 700 my bullets get blown all over the place past 300 yards. One range I shoot has wind over the first 100 yards, no wind for the next 100, then wind in a different direction over the third 100. I can put 3 shots in 1-1.5" @ 300 yds, but the whole group will typically be several inches left or right when the wind is kicking.

    I can't imagine trying to take a shot at 300+ in a complex wind environment with .243.

  10. I've never been a big fan of the 5.56 or 7.62 NATO chamberings as there are many other calibers, imo, that would serve much, much better.

    However, in the last couple of years I have picked up a 5.56 Bushmaster and am in the process of acquiring a 7.62 NATO battle rifle in a carbine config with either folding or collapsible stock.

    The reason: what happens when you run out of ammo for your .243 or .260? What if ammo in those calibers is no longer available because maybe the government cut off the supply or whatever?

    With weapons chambered in the approved NATO cartridges, you can resupply your ammo from your enemy's bodies.

    You could also argue that you can just acquire your weapons from your enemy's deceased too! I'd rather have weapons I've trained and am familiar with though.

    Just a thought.


  11. 16in barrel won't cut it at 1k. I have shot NRA Hp LR for years and tried several different combo's including 6mm. Every shooter that was competitive used the longest tube they could get and still handle. I liked 30in Kriegers. You could shoot hot(but safe) loads and when the throat got too long you could set it back a couple inches and still get enough velocity to compete. I have friends that used the .243 only and did well, but it will get a barrel in about 1-1.2k rounds. I like the 6.5 in a .308 case(rem finally factory loaded these as the .260 Rem) it will last longer and there are really good LR bullets available. I bought 142 Sierra's as they worked great for the money. I have one rifle that has 3k rounds on it, all 142 SMK's at 2950 and it still shoots better than I can hold it. Most shooters change the tube at 2.5k just to avoid it going south in the middle of a match. I don't have a lot of money so I change or set back when I am sure its gone. Also, don't think that a factory barrel (and twist) will get you to 1k, maybe some keyholes but not any accuracy to speak about. Spend a bit and get a good barrel with the twist rate fast enough to stabilize your long bullets, you won't regret spending what it costs. If you need a short rifle think about a take-down of some sort, don't short yourself with a tube that won't work.

  12. .25-06 isn't much off from 7mm-08 and both use common brass. In that performance envelope, 6.5-08AckImp and .260 RemingtonAckImp are also VERY serious contenders in that weight class. There are a lot of options that somewhat overlap, depending on how you load them and how well you shoot. Reamers are easy to come by for all of them and if you aren't up for making your own barrels, there's a number of folks that do.

    If you're going to load for yourself, then pick what you like, if you're going with anything that's not going to be a "GI" round to anybody, figure out your paradigm and pick what you like. Friend of mine zaps deer all day long with his .204 Rugger and another friend swears by .30-06 and .300 UltraMag and they both shoot about the same in the field. Very well, I might add.

    Figure out what your reloading/supplies abilities are, what your ACTUAL rifleman abilities are, and what your tolerance is for recoil. Factor in sound signature, depending on employment, and cost of practicing shooting what you intend to be your "guerrilla rifle".

    If you're an indifferent reloader and/or marksman, "boutique" calibers don't make any sense, and you won't be able to afford to practice with them enough to ever get good at it.

    This isn't a good place to be looking for a Swiss Army Knife caliber. Accurate and unflinching assessment of your resources and abilities is needed, on an INDIVIDUAL basis, to decide what would probably work best for you.

    Can't pick out clothes for another man and some people aren't very good at picking out their own :-)

    Happy Shooting and Practicing.

  13. People, stay focused.

    No, the 243 is not a great (or even good) choice for F-Class shooting.

    Yes, it will surely get the job done in some Urban or Guerrilla role.

    Yes, its ammo is at pretty much any Wally World nationwide.

    IMHO, the point is to figure out an implementation that works for YOU for the subset of circumstances that YOU foresee as applicable in your AO. Once done, practice enough to prove to yourself that you can DO IT.

    Who cares if this is a Contender in 223 or a NEF in 308 or a slug firing shotgun? Just so it and its operator can do the work of Team Freedom, we should all be happy. Save the nit picking for Team Oppression.

    Keep your powder dry,

    Atlas Shrug

  14. Thank you, yet again.