A tale as old as time as soon as something new gets released -- people want to make it better.
But was it really an improvement? How do they stack up today? Let’s take a look!
We’ve told this story before, but it can be told again. .308 Winchester doesn’t have the coolest backstory, but at least it’s quick.
During and after World War II, the US Military was using .300 Savage for a whole wack of tests and development ideas.
Frankford Arsenal (the actual US Arsenal) saw the tests and liked the results.
The engineers at Frankford started tinkering with the design and after a little trial and error ended up with a cartridge that was almost identical in ballistics to .30-06.
Since what they had created was smaller and more efficient, it was clearly a much better cartridge.
Smaller equals it being lighter and lighter means the warfighter, airplane, or whatever else can carry a lot more of it.
In 1952 Winchester introduced this new cartridge as .308 Winchester and it was a smash hit in the hunting world.
And just two years later, NATO named it the 7.62x51mm and adopted it as one of their standards.
Not long after .308 Winchester hit the market, people started to tinker with it also.
Warren Page, an editor for Field and Stream, was one such tinkerer. Being a big fan of the 6mm Lee Navy he was immediately interested in necking .308 Win down to a 6mm bullet.
Not long after in 1955, the .243 Winchester was born and introduced by Winchester with their Model 70 hunting rifle and Model 88 lever-action rifle.
Both of these calibers do great in hunting game, just about anything in North America can be taken with .308 Win as long as you get close enough for some of the bigger stuff.
.243 Win has a bit more limitations as we’ll see in a moment, but it is still an amazing deer slayer.
For many states, .243 Win is basically the smallest and lightest cartridge that is still deer legal.
This makes a great option for younger hunters or people looking for the lightest recoil they can find.
[Make sure to also check out our article about Hunting with an AR-15.]
Long Range Precision
.308 Win has long been a staple of long range shooting, more because of its availability and military pedigree than because of its effectiveness -- but it’s still pretty effective.
Things can get dicey after 800 yards or so, but accurate fire out to 1,200 yards with .308 is totally doable.
.243 Win has the potential to be a great long range cartridge. Ballistically it is very close to 6mm Creedmoor, just with slightly higher speeds and slightly lighter bullets.
The major downside is that there is almost no match-grade ammo on the market for .243 Win.
If you handload, this can be overcome.
While it likely won’t win any PRS matches, it’s still a great round to give a shot if you have a rifle for it.
Both of these rounds can reach out pretty far and both of them are top-tier options for hunting game.
But .308 Win carries a lot more energy and for that reason can harvest game at longer ranges.
.243 Win just loses power too quickly with its lightweight bullets.
If you subscribe to the adage that you need at least 1,000 ft.lbf of energy, .243 Win drops below that at about 300 yards.
.308 Win on the other hand stays above it until about 600 yards.
Now granted, if you handload you can really change those numbers up.
What gets really interesting is when you start looking at newer cartridges like 6.5 Creedmoor alongside these two old warhorses.
Twist Rate & Bullet Selection
Something a little problematic about .243 Win is that it can handle such a huge range of bullet types.
If you want some real varmint-killing screamers, you can get 58-grain factory loads pushing 4,000 FPS.
On the other hand, if you want to keep ballistic energy and beat wind better for a long distance, you can get 110-grain A-MAX factory loads.
However… those two rounds need radically different twist rates to really get the most out of them.
While .243 Win can in theory do a lot of work with just one chamber, in application you need to pick what your goal is when you pick your barrel.
There is a big difference in stability and what bullets you can effectively send between a 1:7.5 and a 1:10 twist.
Off The Shelf
Another point to consider is how often you see these two ammo types on the shelf at your gun store or hunting shop.
While .243 Win stayed in stock longer into the pandemic than some other types, once it was gone -- it’s been almost impossible to find.
Where I buy ammo has only 1 type of .243 Win in stock right now, but they have 22 types of .308 Win/7.62x51 NATO
.243 Win falls into the area of specialty hunting and isn’t getting the production line time that things like .308 Win is getting.
It’s going to be a long time before we see loads of .243 Win on the shelf again.
Does It Come In AR-10?
Well, we know that of course, .308 Win comes in AR-10s. But .243 Win?
Yes, yes it does.
Because .243 Win is just a necked down .308 Win case, it’s actually pretty easy to get an AR-10 in .243 Win.
Everything is the exact same, you just need a .243 Win barrel.
It really is that easy.
And The Winner Is…
For its day, .243 Winchester was a lean and mean cartridge that really pushed some crazy speeds.
But against modern cartridges like 6.5 Creedmoor, 6mm Creedmoor, 6 Dasher, 6 GT, and a lot more -- it has lost a lot of ground.
There is nothing wrong with .243 Win, but it isn’t eeking out every ounce of high-speed, low-drag like it was in 1955.
It’ll still drop a deer dead and there are loads of great hunting ammo options out there for it.
But you could do the same with a number of other cartridges and expand your options and range.
Between the .243 Win and the .308 Win, I’d take .308 Winchester. Sure, it has a bit more recoil. But it is still one of the most versatile and widely used cartridges ever made.
.243 Win was a stepping stone to the bleeding edge 6mm cartridges we have today. It might be long in the tooth these days, but it is still a great deer dropper that has packed freezers for over 70 years.
.308 Win would still be my pick for most applications, but that’s just because it’s cheap, available, and a great jack of all trades.
[We'd like to extend a huge thank you to David Lane for his hard work on this article! Leave a comment below and check out our Guide to 6.5 Creedmoor.