Free shipping on BCA uppers and riflesFree shipping on BCA uppers and rifles

.243 vs. 308 Winchester: Ballistics, Hunting, Ammo Selection, & More

308 vs 243
February 9, 2022 Edited October 25, 2023 4960 view(s)
.243 vs. 308 Winchester: Ballistics, Hunting, Ammo Selection, & More

A tale as old as time as soon as something new gets released -- people want to make it better.

So it went with the .308 Winchester and .243 Winchester cartridges.

But was it really an improvement? How do they stack up today? Let’s take a look!

 

Histories

.308 Winchester

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.

308 Ammo on Workbench

 

.243 Winchester

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.

243 Winchester Ammo on Workbench

 

Pratical Applications

Hunting

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.]

Deer standing in a field

 

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.

Shooting Firearm Long Distance from Benchrest

 

Ballistics

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.

243 vs 308 Ballistics Chart

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.

308 Ammo in Magazine

 

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.

308 and 243 bullets on workbench

 

Conclusion

.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.

We sell the best value AR-15, AR-9, and AR-10 rifles, uppers, barrels here at Bear Creek Arsenal; shop your next build here!]

Related posts
Comments

Please login to comment.

Don't have an account?

Sign Up for free
Shawn McKinney
February 24, 2022
I'm a long time .243 fan and have multiple rifles chambered in it (including a BCA AR10). I enjoy coyote hunting with them and know a ton of other coyote hunters in my area (Southern IL) that all use .243 for their predator hunting. Ammo as you mentioned has been extremely hard to come by, and I honestly hate to see this caliber fade away. However, with all the 6mm flavors out there, and seems like more variations popping up all the time, I'm just wondering where does it end? Soon those calibers won't be supplied with ammo and will become a thing of the past as well. Only time will tell if they have the same longevity as the .243
Donald Mayes
February 24, 2022
Great article and have many of your products. Outstanding customer service
Richard Bone
February 26, 2022
Me too and you are totally right
Richard Bone
February 26, 2022
My 1st rifle was the 6mm and it was not quit big enough back in the day. I have 243s and dropped an antalope at 450yds while in the military I've shot everything from 223 up to the 50 cal the M60 was a fun gun for GQ but during the early 80's and during Desert Storm the M1A was my gun I loved it and you could shoot as far as I could sea. I shot at and sank several sheep floating in the ocean thinking they could be mines. Then I was there to sink/blow up mines. I have several 308 rifles but my favorite at home hunting is the 300WM but the 243 will kill anything in AZ here but the 308 just has better knock down.
Jason Martin
February 28, 2022
What about the 7mm08?another low recoil-highly accurate round based off the. 308,that has fallen by the wayside! I have several bolt action rifles &a T.C. encore pistol chambered in 7mm08,perfect for women &children-now everyone is going to the 6.5 grendel for the same applications.But I've shot deer&hogs at 300yds with my 7mm08 pistol &further with the rifles!if ammo was easier to get I would like to have a ar in 7mm08,but I guess it would be basically the same as a grendel!,Capt J
Bill
April 9, 2022
When I was in Vietnam in 1968-69 I was given the M-16 mattel marvel toy. I complained quite a few times to the Generals at III MAF HQ about us using such a little bullet, the 5.56 or 223. I told them I wanted one that shot the same round the M-60 machine gun shot,(the 308) Finally after all these years I'm going to have a rifle like the one I carried over in Vietnam. Also I am going to have a matched twin in 308. Being on a limited income makes it difficult to put these together. I have both lowers in the gun case now and am looking forward to soon (in a few months) ordering my first upper, probably the 308 first. It has taken me over 50 years to realize this dream so a very important thing in my life. I hope I can get a real nail driver set of rifles from BCA. I've hunted for years with both the 30 06, and 8mm Mauser. A pair of fancy AR rifles will probably be the last firearms I will ever buy. This is very important at a personal level to me. Thank you Bear Creek for not only making this product but also for making your firearms in an affordable price range for someone like me. I am doing the best I can to budget around till I can order my uppers. At the pins and needles point because I am so close to achieving this dream. once again, Thank You Bear Creek!
Bernie
July 13, 2022
Thank you for your service in nam I hope you achieve your goal very soon god bless
Luke
July 13, 2022
What about the 300 win mag?
Copyright © 2024 Bear Creek Arsenal, LLC. All Rights Reserved.