Modern .243 Winchester Loads – The Kansas Project
Date: Nov 10 2022
The first time I hunted deer, at the age of 12 (shirt-tailing into a big annual family camp with a neighbor), I took a buck. I shot that forkhorn mule deer after being left to my own devises, sneaking into a herd and shooting him offhand at about 100 yards. The factory-loaded Power-Lokt took out both lungs. A couple years later, I hunted elk – under similar circumstances – shooting a 5x5 bull. After tracking it through deep snow for miles, I took the bull broadside through the lungs at 200 yards with a handloaded Nosler Partition. That bull didn’t make it out of my sight.
Both animals were taken with a Remington Model 700 ADL, chambered in .243 Winchester. I used that rifle to take many more big-game animals before leaving high school, and too many varmints and predators to accurately recall.
I eventually burned the barrel out of that .243 Winchester, feeding it too many hot-loaded 60-grain Sierra hollowpoints. It was never replaced, and I had not shot another .243 Winchester since. But when Linda Powell, O.F. Mossberg & Sons’ press relations guru, invited me to join her and a group of gun writers in Kansas in early December, nostalgia got the best of me, choosing Mossberg’s Patriot Predator chambered in .243 Winchester (currently retails at $519). The barrel is threaded to accept the GemTech Tracker suppressor I intended to use during the hunt.
Forty-some years ago I loaded nothing but old-fashioned cup-and-core softpoints and hollowpoints, and only Hodgdon and IMR powders that were already classics when I was young. Those loads obviously worked quite well, as I never found the cartridge lacking. In this series, I was curious to see how advancements introduced since the late 1970s and early 1980s might have changed the dynamics of my old favorites.
All listed powders either did not exist or had not reached American shores when I was young. Most Finnish-made Vihtavuori powders have actually been around quite some time in Europe, undergoing continuous improvements for temperature stability and cleanliness. N140 is one of my accuracy favorites, while N560 is a newer formula that includes increased nitroglycerine content that coaxes higher velocities out of many popular cartridges. N555 is one of the company’s newest – introduced to fuel the Creedmoors – a high-energy, temperature stable, “anti-fouling” formula.
Hodgdon’s Superformance is also relatively new, the magic dust that fuels Hornady’s velocity boosted Superformance ammunition. Winchester’s StaBALL 6.5 appeared in 2019, the first temperature stable, copper-erasing ball powder and obviously inspired, again, by the 6.5 Creedmoor.
Shooters World powders are undoubtedly new to American shooters, though they are made in the Czech Republic by Lovex Propellants, which has been supplying European shooters for quite some time. They include updated chemical stabilizers to offer improved consistency, cleanliness and make them more environmentally friendly. Long Rifle is another 6.5 Creedmoor ideal, SW-4350 offering a burn rate slower than other 4350 powders.
Alliant Reloder powders are a handloading staple, with the newest examples offered here. Swedish-made Reloder 16 is an accuracy and velocity favorite in my 6mm Creedmoor, including TZ Technology that offers exceptional temperature stability. Swiss-made Alliant Reloder 26 includes EI Technology that introduces temperature insensitivity plus added velocity in the .243 Winchester.
Western Powders Accurate 4350 provides a more temperature stable formula than my old .243 Winchester standby- IMR-4350, and a burn rate slower than H-4350. H-4831sc is one of the Extreme Series of Hodgdon powders, offering stability across a wide range of temperatures. Finally, IMR Enduron powders – IMR-4451 and IMR-7977 used here – were introduced in 2015 and feature both temperature insensitivity and a copper-fouling eraser. N140 was the fastest powder used, while Reloder 26 was the slowest.
When contemplating “modern” in relation to bullets, I had in mind a couple monolithic copper numbers from Hammer Bullets and Hornady’s new CX, and some heavier VLD/ELD-style bullets from Berger and Hornady. Then I recalled the .243’s standard 1:10 twist rate and I needed twist rates in the neighborhood of 1:9 to 1:8 to shoot the bullets, so they were abandoned. I was still determined to maximize ballistic coefficient (BC) and terminal performance. Digging through my 6mm bullets, I found a Nosler Partition 85-grain, Berger VLD Hunting 87-grain, Hornady SST 95-grain, Berger Classic Hunter 95-grain and a Sierra GameKing SBT 100-grain.
The outfitter who was to host our Kansas adventure, Ted Jaycox (Tall Tine Outfitters), happened to be an old friend, so I’d hunted his properties before. While I bowhunted thicker riverine habitats from treestands, I could not dismiss the greater percentage of habitat consisting of prairie and Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) sprawl. I wanted to be prepared for a long poke if one of the area’s legendary Boone & Crockett contenders appeared across those open environments.