Okay, I know I'll probably get flamed for this, but I think it's something that needs to be discussed. I know it's discussed every hunting season by at least one Outdoor magazine and in every Gun Shop and in every Deer Camp.
The topic of these discussions/heated arguments in deer hunting circles is...
Is the .243 Winchester Too Small For Deer?
The simple answer is Yes...and...No.
First of all, the 243 is a necked down 308 that uses a .24 caliber bullet (6mm). As everyone knows, the 308 is a great round for Deer and other Big Game. That doesn't make all of it's offspring great Deer rounds though!
I've owned a .243 and a 6mm. The 6mm was a Ruger 77V and was without a doubt the most accurate rifle I ever owned. But I only used it for Varmints and never once tried it on Deer sized game.
I did use a 243 with 100 grain bullets one year to take a small buck at about 60 yards. He was feeding along, calm and perfectly broadside. The shot was perfect double lung and he leaped forward at the shot and piled up 50 yards later. Not everyone has had the same experience with this round.
In the past, the 243 suffered from poor bullet construction. Sometimes the bullets blew up on impact, sometimes they didn't expand at all while other times they did exactly what they were supposed to do.
Bullet construction has come a long way over the years, but I still do not consider the 243 an ideal Deer cartridge, especially for beginners. Deer hunters can improve the performance of the 243 by reloading the round with premium bullets.
Sadly, the 243 Winchester is what beginners are handed a lot of the time as their first Deer rifle.
When the 243 Is Not Right For Deer Hunting
One of the problems I see now is beginners headed out to the field with the light 55 to 85 grain loads for the 243. Most of these loads have fragile bullets as they are intended for thin skinned varmints, not a tough old ridge running Whitetailed Buck Deer.
Part of the problem is that so called 'experts' behind the ammo desk and Gun writers are pushing these rounds on unsuspecting Deer hunters because they think lighter and faster is the way to go.
Another problem is that if you're not practicing regularly, you may not be as familiar with the rifle as you should be. Many beginners (okay, most) will get a terrible case of "the shakes" when it comes down to the moment of truth when that buck deer comes into view. Heck, even most of us old timers do! The difference is, those of us who have hunted for years and are experienced, have learned how to control "the shakes" and focus on the shot.
A poor hit on a Deer is made even worse when using a small bullet in a round like the 243. The extra damage caused by a .26 or or 7mm caliber can mean the difference between finding a marginally hit animal or not.
In my opinion, the minimum caliber that should be allowed for Deer hunting is the 243 with a 95 grain bullet. I can't believe the States that allow 22 calibers to be used for Deer. Yeah, I know they'll kill a Deer but so will the 22 Rimfire and even the little 17's. Why not allow them to be legal rounds to hunt Deer with? Having said this, it doesn't mean I think the 243 should be used by beginners. To me, the 243 is to Deer rifles what the 410 shotgun is to wingshooting. Sure, it will get the job done, but it's not for beginners!
How many of you that consider the 243 the ideal rifle for beginners would consider the 410 ideal for beginners to use Goose or Turkey hunting? Even though the 410 is used every year to take both, I don't know anyone who would put 410 in the hands of a new hunter when going after those two birds.
The fact of the truth is that the margin for error is nil when using a small caliber like the 243. Everything has to be just right and everything, including the bullet, has to do it's job. There are other low recoil rifle rounds that give you extra "knock down" than the 243 Winchester round. (FYI: this is no measurement of "knock down" power, just of .ft .lbs of energy)
Speaking of bullets again, if I were going to be hunting Deer with the 243 Winchester, I'd choose either the 95 and 100 grain bullets in a strong design like the Nosler Partition. Forget about using fragile bullets like the Ballistic Tip, even in the heavier bullets, for Deer sized game. A hit on a shoulder blade or other bone could cause the bullet to explode on impact.
When the 243 is Right For Deer Hunters
In the hands of an experienced and seasoned Rifleman, the 243 is more than adequate for Deer sized Game.
I once read an article by an Outdoor writer, I think it may have been Jack O'Connor or Jim Carmichel, that told a story about a man who used the .243 for Elk. He killed Elk every year with his rifle, everyone being a neck shot. He saw no need to buy a "real Elk gun".
Does this make the 243 an ideal Elk Rifle? Me thinks not!
However, in the hands of that Gentleman, it certainly was.
And so it is for Deer Hunting. I know a guy who kills 2 deer a year for his freezer. It doesn't matter what they are as long as they're legal. He has used a 243 Winchester for over 20 years and it's the only "Big Game" Caliber rifle he owns.
Every deer that I've seen him kill has been a neck or head shot. He's hunted out of the same two stands year after year for the last 20 years. His shots range from 30 to 300 yards. In his hands, the 243 is the perfect caliber for Deer.
A seasoned hunter knows how to control his/her excitement when they see their buck. The seasoned hunter has the patience to wait for the "perfect" shot placement opportunity. The seasoned hunter knows which bullets perform best in his/her rifle and they can put those bullets where they need to go at the moment-of-truth.
Many new hunters can not do these things due to a lack of experience. They don't have the experience to wait and to recognize when a Buck is nervous and about to bolt. They haven't learned how to control their breathing when putting the crosshairs on a Buck.
It's for this reason and mainly this reason alone, that I do not consider the .243 Winchester an adequate rifle for Deer hunting in the hands of a Beginning Deer Hunter. As I stated above, there are other great choices of low-recoiling rounds for deer hunting that pack a bigger punch than the .243. Check 'em out before buying your potential new hunter a .243. Nothing's worse for a new hunter than to shoot a deer and not be able to recover it because of a marginal, or a poor, hit. Put the odds in their favor by using a larger round! If you must give a beginner a 243, then by all means make sure you use a premium ammo like Fusion 243 ammo. It's a reliable bullet and one that will work well as long as the shooter does his or her part!