.243 bolt action centrefire rifles review

Official review in Australian Shooter November 2001

In this, our seventh, official Australian Shooter firearm review we looked at a number of hunting-type centrefire rifles. It was decided to test them in .243 calibre because, according to factory ammunition sales, this is the most popular calibre in Australia.
The .243 can handle bullet weights from 60 grains up to 105 grains, from hollow points to ballistic tips and can be used on most types of small to medium Australian game.
The review panel was supplied with two types of factory ammunition for this particular review: Winchester CPX1 80-grain Varmint grade and PMC 80-grain PSPs. This is a good weight for the .243, being right in the middle of the range available. Some of the rifles displayed a distinct preference for one type of ammunition, but all would have successfully executed a headshot on a feral goat at normal hunting ranges.
For the accuracy part of the test, we shot benchrest style at 100 yards only. The individuals chosen to assist us on this occasion are highly experienced hunters, as compared to target shooters, and own rifles in .243 calibre.
Hunting accuracy is not quite the same as target accuracy, although we strive to shoot the best groups possible. Bearing in mind that these rifles would be used to shoot at targets from rabbits up to goats, accuracy of 1.5 MOA would be okay. This may be unacceptable to a ‘varmint’ shooter, but these were all light sporter barrelled rifles and if tighter accuracy is required then a heavy barrelled version would be more appropriate.
Five-shot groups were completed to assess accuracy, but as the barrels became extremely hot, we dropped this back to three shots later in the day.
No attempt was made to use handloads, but the keen reloader will no doubt tune the rifle to his/her own requirements. Likewise, we did not adjust triggers or correct any obvious bedding faults. The rifles were shot straight out of the box as supplied.
All rifles were shot using scope sights and being brand-new were ‘run in’ benchrest style as part of the sighting in process. This is very important, as barrels tend to pick up considerable fouling during their first few shots and this will affect accuracy if not attended to.
Readers may question why certain other brands were not included in this review. Unfortunately, we were unable to procure any other rifles in .243 calibre within the time-frame allowed but examples of these rifles have been tested by this magazine in assorted calibres.
Prices quoted in this review were obtained from an Adelaide gun shop and represent the asking price for each firearm. Prices may vary slightly between shops and states, so it would pay to do some checking before buying your rifle.

The range
SSAA Monarto State range, South Australia

Scoring Procedure

Rifles were scored out of a possible 20 points, which was broken down into the following:
A maximum of five points for all-around accuracy
A maximum of three points awarded for:
• price/value
• design
• weight/handling
• maintenance (cleaning/assembly/disassembly)
• loading

The review team

Review Chairman: Brendan Atkinson - Technical advisor to the Australian Shooter magazine and national benchrest champion in 1990, 1991, 1999 and 2001.

Graham Henley - Graham is a hunting co-ordinator with the South Australian SSAA Hunting and Conservation Branch. He has been a hunter all of his life and uses a variety of firearms and calibres. Graham currently owns and uses a .243 rifle.

Brian Whittenbury - A feral pest control co-ordinator with the South Australian SSAA Hunting and Conservation Branch, Brian is a keen hunter and a long-time fan of the .243 calibre.

Winchester Model 70 Classic Featherweight
Supplied by: Olin Australia Ltd
Weight: 7lb
Magazine capacity: 5
Stock: Wood
Sights: No open sights, a 6x scope used for testing
Safety: Three position
Score: 17
The Model 70 Classic Featherweight is an attractive looking rifle of proven design. The safety system allows the bolt to be operated, with the firing pin locked, when in the intermediate position. There were no problems experienced with the magazine. This rifle, which preferred Winchester ammunition, was easy to use in the offhand position. Accuracy was acceptable.

Browning A-Bolt II Medallion
Supplied by: Olin Australia Ltd
Weight: 6lb, 8oz
Magazine capacity: 4
Stock: Wood
Sights: No open sights, a 6x scope used for testing
Safety: Two position, plus cocking indicator
Score: 18.5 Highest-scoring rifle
The Browning A-Bolt Medallion is a very classy looking rifle. The three-lug bolt only requires 60-degree cocking and is very user-friendly. The reviewers like this rifle, both off the bench and in the offhand position. Accuracy was acceptable with the factory loads and would no doubt improve with handloads and tuning. This unit would be a good ‘carry around’ rifle due to its light weight and general ‘feel’.

Howa Hunter Series 1500 Stainless Walnut
Supplied by: Highland Sports Pty Ltd
Weight: 7lb, 8oz
Magazine capacity: 5
Stock: Wood
Sights: Open sights provided, scope used for test
Safety: Two position, safety works only when cocked
Price: POA
Score: 17
This rifle has one of the best-looking stocks we have seen. Its dark walnut and stainless steel make for a very attractive rifle. Accuracy was found to be fair. The rifle would benefit from careful bedding, tuning and handloads. Those who dread cleaning their firearms will appreciate the ease with which the stainless barrel can be maintained.

Remington Model Seven Stainless
Supplied by: Raytrade Pty Ltd
Weight: 6lb
Magazine capacity: 4
Stock: Synthetic
Sights: No open sights, Fieldmaster 2-7x40 used
Safety: Two position, ‘safe’ locks trigger only
Score: 18 Best accuracy
“A very neat little outfit”, said one reviewer. The review panel liked the Remington Model Seven Stainless and agreed that with its light weight it would be a terrific outfit to carry around in rough, hilly country. Accuracy was very good for a light barrelled rifle. Muzzle blast was noticeable due to the 20-inch barrel.

Ruger M77 Mk II
Supplied by: Highland Sports Pty Ltd
Weight: 7lb, 8oz
Magazine capacity: 4
Stock: Wood
Sights: No open sights provided, Leupold 6x used for the test
Safety: Three position, ‘safe’ locks bolt and trigger
Score: 17.5 Best all-round value
Accuracy with the Ruger M-77 Mark II improved with use and cleaning and would benefit further from tuning and handloading. One reviewer found the bolt release ‘fiddly’. The panel agreed that the magazine fed cartridges smoothly and without any hassles.

Weatherby Mk V Sporter
Supplied by: Nioa Trading
Weight: 6lb, 12oz
Magazine capacity: 5
Stock: Wood
Sights: No open sights, Leupold VariXIII 3.5-10x40 used
Safety: Two position, ‘safe’ locks firing pin
Score: 18
The Weatherby is a class outfit in every respect and this is reflected in the price. The six-locking lug action has a 54-degree lift and was found to be very slick in use. The claro walnut stock has a urethane finish and was easy to grip. The Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad, fitted as standard equipment, was appreciated by the reviewers.

The reviewers agreed that any one of the rifles tested would provide acceptable results ‘as delivered’. Obviously, fastidious owners would tweak their rifles with careful tuning and barrel cleaning and would probably have a qualified gunsmith check the bedding and perhaps adjust the trigger for a lighter pull. However, be aware that any modifications may void the warranty.
In the ‘awards’ section, we came to the following conclusions:
The Ruger seemed to represent the best all-around value, taking price, performance and general usability into consideration.
The Remington demonstrated the best outright accuracy.
The Browning Medallion scored the highest points, just edging out the Weatherby.