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.243 hunting rifles

Read the whole .243 project rifle review story
Official Australian Hunter review

The chosen rifle and scope combinations
Browning A-Bolt 11 Stainless Stalker with Meopta 4-12x42
CZ 550 American Hunter with Winchester 4-12x40
Remington SPS Stainless with Docter Optics 8x56
Tikka T3 Hunter Stainless with Burris Signature Series 3-10x40
Weatherby Fiberguard Stainless with Leupold VXII 4-12x40

Browning A-Bolt 11 Stainless Stalker
Browning A-Bolt 11 Stainless Stalker
The Browning A-Bolt is a turn-bolt repeater that makes an ideal ‘carry rifle’ with its 22" barrel and bare weight of 6.5lb. Its overall length is just less than 42". It is claimed that this was the first production rifle in the world to have a composite stock.
It is called an A-Bolt because the action, when viewed from end on, resembles the letter ‘A’. The top of the action is drilled and tapped for scope mounts. The fluted three-lug bolt is unusual, in that, it is contained within a non-rotating sleeve and having three lugs means that there is only a 60-degree lift required to open the action. As a general rule, this makes for a fairly stiff bolt lift, but on the A-Bolt, it is not too bad. The knob on the bolt has a 30-degree offset and is very user-friendly, in that, it fits the palm of the hand extremely well.
The bolt face is recessed and contains a plunger-type ejector and the claw extractor is actually fitted into one of the bolt lugs. A substantial metal shroud at the back of the bolt will deflect any gases should a case rupture, as will the gas port in the bolt that vents into the magazine and away from the shooter’s face. A cocking indicator is provided on the bolt and there is a flat surface on the bolt, upon which the owner’s name may be engraved by Browning for a small cost. To remove the bolt from the action, there is a release mechanism at the left rear of the action.
The trigger is fully adjustable and when tested, it recorded a pull weight of 5lb 6oz. It features a chrome-plated sear and a generously wide trigger blade. The safety is mounted on the tang, shotgun style. Pulling it to the rear locks up the bolt and the trigger.
The magazine is a swing-down box arrangement and will hold four rounds comfortably. It is possible, with a bit of juggling, to feed rounds in through the ejection port, but it is much easier to just swing it down and complete the task.
The composite stock is a straightforward no-nonsense style with stainless swivel mounts provided. The recoil pad is black and medium firm. The chequering is quite fine and did not prevent some slippage to sweaty hands on a very hot day in January. There are no cheekpieces and the rifle could be used either left- or right-handed.
The 22" barrel features a right-hand twist of one turn in 10". It is a lightweight sporter barrel and has a deeply recessed crown for muzzle protection. An internal investigation with the borescope showed an extremely smooth finish, with very few machining marks in the chamber area.

CZ 550 American Hunter
CZ 550 American Hunter
The CZ 550 American Hunter has a more traditional look with its blued finish and dark timber stock. Those shooters who do not like synthetics and shiny barrels will appreciate this model and there is something about European craftsmanship that sets their rifles apart. CZ equals Brno and there would be few shooters in Australia not familiar with the Brno rimfire. The centrefires were perhaps not as commonly seen, but Olin (Winchester) Australia plan to change that situation.
The CZ 550 has a bare weight of 7lb 4oz and an overall length of 44.5". The 24" barrel contributes to that. One can easily add 1.5lb by the time a scope and mounts are fitted. It actually looks a heavier rifle, but that is no doubt due to its traditional design and wooden stock.
The Mauser-style bolt-action was smooth to operate and had a solid feel about it. The CRF (controlled round feed) bolt has a cocking indicator and its large, non-rotating claw extractor made easy work of removing fired cases. One bonus with this bolt is the ease in which it can be dismantled for internal cleaning. Follow the instructions in the owner’s manual and it takes about 10 seconds to accomplish. This is a very handy feature, as most bolts require special tools to get them apart.
The top of the receiver has grooves milled into it to accept scope mounts. CZ mounts were included and fitting them was a simple operation. The receiver is fed from a detachable magazine, which held four cartridges. I would have to say that it is one of the more difficult magazines to load that I have encountered. There might be a trick to it, but several of us tried and getting those rounds in was not easy. Maybe it was the shape of the .243 cartridge. It is not possible to load the magazine through the ejector port, but of course one may single-load straight into the chamber if required. According to the owner’s manual, there is a single cartridge feeding device available at extra cost.
The trigger is interesting, in that, it can be used as a normal single-stage unit or by pushing the trigger blade forward, it will then act as a set trigger. This trigger is fully adjustable for pull weight and travel. As supplied, the trigger in normal mode released at 4lb and the set trigger let go at 1lb. The safety on the test rifle was a two-position type and locks both trigger and bolt. A three-positional safety is available at extra cost.
The chrome moly barrel was a lightweight affair with a right-hand one turn in 10" twist. The crown was rolled and recessed to prevent damage. Hawkeye revealed a good overall internal finish with a few small machine markings near the chamber. This barrel ran-in well in initial testing and copper fouling settled down after about 20 shots, which is about normal for this type of barrel.
The walnut stock was made fairly straight for the US market in the ‘classic’ style. It should find favour with right-handed Australian shooters too. The chequering on the pistol grip and fore-end was 18 lines to the inch and very neatly done. Sling swivel points were provided front and rear. A non-ventilated rubber buttplate completed the package.

Remington SPS Stainless
Remington SPS Stainless
The Remington SPS Stainless is part of their lower-priced model range based upon the Remington Model 700 action. The letters ‘SPS’ stand for Special Purpose Synthetic. Originally released as a blued steel version, it offered an affordable option priced at less than $1000. The stainless version costs just a little more. It’s an attractive look, with the 416 stainless steel bead blasted to a silver-matte finish.
I suppose it’s just possible that someone out there is unfamiliar with the Remington M700 action. For their benefit, it goes like this. The Model 700 was introduced to the public in 1962. It has a cylindrical receiver and a two-lug push-feed bolt with a plunger ejector and an extractor almost hidden in a counter-bored area of the bolt face. There have been urban myths about the fragility of this extractor, but in 35 years of shooting Remingtons (as have many of my shooting mates), I have never seen one break. Remington has used this action as a base for all sorts of firearms from hunting, to police and tactical, to military applications such as the M24 SWS, to the 40BX-BR single-shot target models. Just about everybody makes scope bases to suit a Remington, so attaching some optics wasn’t a drama.
The magazine is internal and holds four rounds. With the generous size ejection port, feeding extra rounds in presented no problem, even for my stubby fingers.
The trigger is the new X-Mark Pro and is an improvement over the original system. On the review rifle, it broke cleanly at a fairly constant 5lb, which is much better than previous units as supplied. The two-position safety locks the bolt and trigger.
The 24" sporter weight barrel has a right-hand twist of one turn in 9.125". The crown is rolled and offers some protection from damage when hunting. No provision is made for open sights. The interior of the barrel showed no significant marks or aberrations and the chamber surface was good.
The stock is, well, functional. By this, I mean that to keep the price down, the manufacturers had to economise somewhere. The R3 recoil pad is one of the best in the business, but the stock does not have a solid feel about it. In fact, when we took the rifle apart for photographing, one could flex the fore-end without difficulty. Now, the way they set these rifles up with some fore-end pressure against the barrel makes the whole thing feel quite solid. The problem comes when one tries to free-float the barrel when bedding the action. More on that subject later though.
The chequering on the stock was good and passed the sweaty hands test. Sling swivel mounts are provided.
It’s a nice carry rifle with an overall length of just less than 44" and a bare weight of 7lb 4oz.

Tikka T3 Hunter Stainless
Tikka T3 Hunter Stainless
The Tikka T3 has been described by some as the ‘poor man’s Sako’, but that would be to denigrate what is a fine rifle in its own right. A synthetic model was not available from the distributor in the preferred calibre when we requested it, so we accepted the wood-stocked model. If good looks count for much, then this is a most attractive rifle. I personally don’t like the synthetic T3 stock, but the laminated one is very attractive and there is a ‘camo’ version for those who feel they need one.
The Tikka T3 action features a two-lug push-feed bolt with a Sako extractor and a spring-loaded plunger ejector. Dismantling the bolt is a simple matter and clearly explained in the owner’s manual. Unlike some, it requires no tools to do this job. It has to be said that this is one of the slickest bolts that I have ever worked in a receiver and tilting the action some 30 degrees off the horizontal will see the bolt slide gracefully into place. The top of the action is drilled and tapped and will accept standard Weaver-type scope bases. Integral rails are also provided for using mounts such as the Opti-Lok system.
The factory trigger setting was right on 4lb and can be easily adjusted down if required. The safety is the conventional two-stage type that locks the trigger and bolt. On special order, a set trigger is available at extra cost.
The plastic magazine is detachable and holds three .243 rounds comfortably. A firm push was required to seat the magazine fully home and an audible ‘click!’ is heard when done successfully. Do it incorrectly though, in a hurry perhaps, and the whole thing will fall out when you work the bolt. Some shooters have criticised the use of plastic, but it does not detract from the look of this rifle and besides, it won’t ever rust!
The barrel is of sporter weight and is cold hammer-forged stainless steel. It is just more than 22" in length and is free-floating in the stock. For the .243, the twist is one turn in 10". Examination with Hawkeye showed an above average internal finish with only some minor machining marks. The lands appeared to be quite shallow on this barrel compared to some others, but this is not a bad thing and I have seen custom match barrels with even more shallow lands.
The stock is made from selected oil-finished walnut and is a wooden copy of the plastic stock fitted to the synthetic model. I much preferred the walnut, as I have always felt that the plastic stock detracted from a fine barrelled action. Sling swivel mounts are provided and the rubber buttplate may be adjusted for length using spacers. The stock is very straight and has an ambidextrous palmswell.
The overall standard of workmanship was excellent on this rifle and the fit of wood to metal (always a good indication) was first-class. In fact, when I look back over the years, I don’t think that I have ever seen a poorly made Tikka or one that did not shoot well.

Weatherby Fiberguard Stainless
Weatherby Fiberguard Stainless
The Weatherby Fiberguard Stainless is part of the highly successful Vanguard line of rifles that have enjoyed outstanding sales since their introduction to Australia some years ago. It is common knowledge that the barrelled actions are produced by Howa in Japan and Weatherby in the US take care of the stocking.
If you put a Howa 1500 and a Weatherby Vanguard action close together, there are a few subtle differences. The most noticeable is the Fiberguard bolt, which is fluted and has a different bolt shroud to the Howa. The Fiberguard bolt handle is a different shape with a knurled knob.
The main difference between the two is in the injection-moulded composite stock, which, apart from its obvious cosmetic appeal, uses aluminium pillars under the action to assist with the bedding. Composite stocks and aluminium bedding usually make any rifle almost impervious to impact shifts due to weather conditions (moisture and humidity) causing things to move under the action. This is a problem with wooden stocks, which must be bedded and completely sealed against moisture.
The Fiberguard Stainless has a Bell & Carlson pillar bedded stock with gel coated spiderweb accents, which creates a grippy overall finish. Sling swivel mounts and attachments are provided with this rifle. The same buttpad is fitted whatever the calibre and it proved more than adequate for the .243’s mild recoil. A sling is recommended, as this rifle weighs in at 7.5lb bare weight. It has an overall length of 44".
It’s a fairly straightforward turn-bolt push-feed repeating action, drilled and tapped for commonly available scope bases with the same spacing as Remington to make things less complicated. The action and barrel are made from 410 stainless steel, which has been bead-blasted to give a matte finish. The trigger was okay as supplied, but had a tiny bit of creep and released at almost exactly 6.5lb, which is about normal for a US trigger. No matter, that can be adjusted out. The safety was the usual two-position type and locked both the trigger and the bolt.
The magazine will hold five rounds, plus one up the chamber. That gives one a fair bit of firepower if culling a mob of ferals. Rounds can be easily fed into the magazine through the ejection port, which was wide enough even for my stubby fingers.
The stainless 24" barrel has a one turn in 10" right-hand twist and six grooves. The crown is nicely recessed to prevent accidental damage. Hawkeye revealed a few minor marks in the chamber area, but the throat and bore were quite good.

Factory specifications
Make Weight Length Magazine capacity Trigger
Browning A-Bolt 6lb 9oz 41.75" Swing down 4 rounds 5lb 6oz
CZ 550 7lb 4oz 44.5" Detachable 4 rounds 4lb/1lb (set)
Remington SPS 7lb 4oz 43.5" Internal 4 rounds 5lb 2oz
Tikka T3 6lb 13oz 42.5" Detachable 3 rounds 4lb
Weatherby Fiberguard 7lb 8oz 44" Internal 5 rounds 6lb 2oz

What do you get?
Make RRP manual Owner’s swivels Sling lock Safety target Factory
Browning A-Bolt $1299 Yes Yes Yes No
CZ 550 $1289 Yes No Yes Yes
Remington SPS $1085 Yes No Yes No
Tikka T3 $1110 Yes Yes No No
Weatherby Fiberguard $1129 Yes Yes Yes Yes

The .243-calibre
The object of this review was to test commonly available and affordable rifles in a popular Australian calibre. Tim Bannister had some thoughts on that and made an interesting choice. His chosen calibre for the five rifles was the .243 Winchester. It’s a cartridge a bit like Goldilocks’ porridge - not too big, not too small, but for many applications it’s ‘just right’. It’s also a cartridge with an interesting history.
The .243 Winchester appeared in the US in the 1950s. It was used as a medium- to long-range varmint cartridge by such notable shooters as the late Warren Page, a Benchrest Hall of Famer and said to be the inventor of this and several other cartridges. Cases could be made by necking-down the .308 Winchester brass, if required. Long-range shooting at groundhogs and the like saw the .243 loaded with varmint-type bullets and able to buck the wind somewhat better than the fast-stepping .22-
calibres. Whitetail deer shooters also took a liking to this calibre and using 100-grain loads accounted for thousands of deer.
At one time, it was the biggest-selling calibre in Australia, based upon factory ammunition sales, and there would be few manufacturers who do not produce .243 ammunition. It used to be the calibre of choice for professional kangaroo cullers, but the .223 has since taken over the crown for that particular application. Factory-loaded ammunition and new unfired/unprimed brass is readily available in most gunshops.
I have a personal affection for the .243, as it was the calibre of my very first centrefire rifle way back in 1973. I spent several years experimenting with this calibre, testing loads and doing a great deal of hunting. I was based in Whyalla in South Australia at the time and feral goats were both despised and plentiful. Farmers and station owners wanted them shot on sight and they had no commercial value. The .243 was ideal for the sort of shooting that we did and made short work of feral goats, as long as the right bullets were used. As a general rule, the factory ammunition used bullets that were way too hard for soft-skinned Australian game and I quickly became adept at tailoring suitable handloads for this calibre.
Factory ammunition for the .243 is now readily available, with bullet weights from 55 grains up to 100 grains and many in between. There are hollow-points, ballistic-tips, V-Max, Silvertip, boat-tails and many more. It’s really just a matter of deciding what game you are hunting and then tailoring a loading to suit. Of course, the handloaders out there have even more choices. Components for the 6mm (.243) are no problem at all. Those shooters rebarrelling their .243s could opt for faster twist barrels and shoot even heavier match-grade bullets if desired.
We purchased ammunition from some of the leading suppliers and then Stuart Wong from Olin Australia contacted us and announced that they would donate 800 rounds of Winchester factory ammunition. We are, of course, extremely grateful for this generous contribution. When we totalled it up, we had more than 1000 rounds of factory .243 ammo in bullet weights from 55 grains up to 100 grains.

Read about Accuracy seeking with handloads

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