The .243 is considered a good entry level deer gun thanks to its relatively low recoil, but its real attraction is in its versatility. Depending on bullet weight, the cartridge is capable of taking on anything from ground hog sized varmints at medium to long range all the way up to mule deer at medium range. Over 90 grains in bullet weight is considered the minimum bullet weight for use on the larger game.
Essentially a necked downed .308 cartridge introduced in 1955 by Winchester, the .243 remains a popular choice for sporting purposes that include hunting as well as long range silhouette shooting. Therefore, depending on the purpose, different types rifles are available in this caliber, but predominantly they are divided here into the purposes of stalking and bench rifles.
Stalking, or carry rifles are designed for that: to stalk your quarry into the wilderness and then carry it back… hopefully along with your catch. Therefore, a light rifle is of great importance to a hunter on the move. Bench rifles, however, are meant to be as stable as possible for long range, accurate and precise target shooting. Generally speaking with those rifles, the heavier the better. They also most closely resemble the tactical rifles expected to be used by SWAT or the military.
Before reviewing the carry rifles, however, a few honorable mentions. The .243 was developed by Winchester for use in their Model 70. This rifle, along with the Kimber Classic, Browning X bolt and Ruger M77 are all premium and wonderful rifles. This list, is going to look at workhorses, however: rifles that are there to be used and abused without fear of losing money on a hefty price investment by taking it into the wilderness only to watch the weather turn.
Top 10 best .243 rifles on the market
Sometimes looked at as merely an “entry” level rifle for deer hunters, the Savage Axis has developed a reputation for being a strong rifle platform all its own.
It is light weight for stalking through the woods yet made well enough to deliver top notch accuracy for one shot one hit performance.
Out of the box it is no tack driving bench rifle delivering groupings, it is rather designed to hit once, the first time.
Competitively priced and often including a scope package, it is hard to beat the Axis price without sacrificing some good features – precision barrel, floating head space for example - and glowing reputation on anything similar from other manufacturers.
Further, the AXIS has developed quite a few after-market modifications adding to the platform’s versatility.
Not the least of which being a chassis system, such as offered by MDT, that are reserved for more expensive rifle platforms, yet deliver the same results in feel, tactical application and delivery of hits on target.
The Savage - it's the best .243 rifle that offers the best initial value with after market adaptations.
Browning Lever Rifle
The Browning Company began production of the Browning Lever Rifle (BLR) in the 1960’s for sportsmen who like to have that follow up shot a little faster than bolt actions seem to be able to deliver.
What makes the BLR different from other lever guns is that it feeds off of a box magazine, so the use of pointed bullets is not a safety concern as it is with tubular magazines: recoil may cause pointed bullets to set off the primer of the round in front of it – so flat tip bullets were always recommended for such rifles. The detachable box mag of the BLR removes that concern.
Further, the geared action of the BLR makes for the safe use of high pressure loads. Experienced shooters also like that the entire trigger assembly moves with the lever, reducing the possibility of pinched fingers in the rush to get that next round off.
The BLR is a popular choice for hog hunters where semi-automatic rifles are prohibited.
In 1995, Browning made the BLR Lightning – now known as the Lightweight - where the rifle’s receiver is made of an aluminum alloy making it lighter for the hunter who hunts rather than laying in wait.
The BLR is perhaps the best .243 rifle for rapid secondary shots where semi autos are prohibited.
SAKO Tikka T3x Lite
SAKO Tikka T3x Lite series come in a wide variety of calibers, including .243. The tradition of Finland’s two proudest arms makers – Sako and Tikka - linked up with Europe’s oldest continuous gun company, Beretta, at the start of the last millennium. The result is a commitment to quality, with a matching, although not prohibitive, price tag.
The strongest feature of the Tikka rifles is the feel of its action. It rivals the smoothness of an old Enfield or Krag Jorgenson rifle.
While those battle rifles sound the furthest away from a top-quality feel, there is a reason that [too] many of those veterans were cutdown into deer guns: their actions: no rattle, no shifting of direction - the bolt goes straight out and straight back in with minimal effort.
As with most modern rifles, the T3 is also capable of being remounted into a lightweight chassis for tactical applications, increasing the model’s versatility.
The Ruger American series of rifles have made a strong impression with sportsmen on a budget. Ruger has always been a company that offers affordability with rugged reliability. Hammer forged barrel and an integral bedding block for accuracy gives a rifle that hits reliably where it is supposed to after being sighted in.
While there are not many after market upgrades for this model (yet) it supports the Ruger brand’s stereotypical characteristics of rugged durability that shooters have come to expect. Instead, Ruger offers the American in several model variants direct from the factory, including Standard, Predator and Camo, with various optics options.
Another difference between these different versions is that one comes with a threaded barrel option and another with a factory installed muzzle brake. Customization is not the rifle’s strong point but being ready to serve out of the box is. The other point worth mentioning, twice for the record, is Ruger’s price point, usually available for noticeably under MSRP. The Ruger American is a decent choice for the shooter on a budget.
Remington Model 700 BDL
No discussion of a bolt action hunting or target rifle is complete without touching upon Remington short action 700. The Model 700 BDL offers a traditional look in the high gloss American Walnut and richly blued steel. It is also the only model presented here that comes stock with iron sights. The use of a scope, however is not precluded with this model. This series of rifle enjoys a long history of hard use and a bevy of products and how to opportunities to keep it running in top condition. The Remington 700 model also enjoys a wealth of aftermarket options including furniture (up to and including Remington’s own tactical chassis), complete trigger replacements and even after market barrels for a complete custom rifle build. Of course, doing so moves the whole project into the four digits category for the complete package, but for a rifle that is trusted and truly customizable, what does price matter? Only you can answer that.
Remington’s recent financial woes are not unique to this company that has been in business since 1816. And to be honest, quality control has been not a small contributor of the company’s latest series of woes. Never the less, the Remington 700 short action receiver and barrel combination remain the mainstay for military and police as well as trusted by tens of thousands of civilian sportsmen all over the world. Either as is, out of the box, or as a custom build project, Remington is still trusted to deliver.
Remington Model 700 SPS Stainless
Then there is the all weather 700 SPS Stainless with synthetic stock and stainless barrel and receiver. It too has all the hallmarks of the trusted Remington action with all the after market upgrades and accessories. With the added benefit of being weather resistant: the aesthetics of a stainless barrel and action cannot be understated, but the real value is in not worrying about your investment turning orange on you while tending to the business of bringing your game in when the weather changes.
Of the five samples presented here, perhaps the greatest value of out of the box with the greatest amount of customization is the Savage Axis: it offers a good clean shooting rifle for surprisingly low cost with the option to build a truly custom bench OR carry rifle as funds become available. The Remingtons too offer a wide array of after market adaptability, and there are plenty of them on the used market to make the initial cost less painful. The next economical option would be the Ruger: not a lot of after market options for this rifle, but a solid reputation for being a workhorse suggests glitz is not, nor ever was, the focus point. The Tikka is a wonderful, quality rifle that also does not offer a lot in after market, but is a rifle designed to perform when needed and perform in a manner that justifies the price tag: smooth and clean with a flawless trigger out of the box.
Moving on to bench rifles, these are decidedly NOT for trudging through the wilderness. This is because they are a bit heavier for a more stable platform and have longer barrels for reaching out further with greater accuracy.
Savage Model 12 Long Range
The Savage Model 12 Long Range is the quintessential and even traditional bench rifle from its 26” fluted carbon steel, heavy magnum type varmint barrel down to the adjustable accu-trigger that measures between 2.5 pounds down to a slight 6 ounces.
The fluting offers additional strength and aids in cooling down with greater surface area - The rifle itself weighs in at 11 pounds, before optics, and provides a very stable platform for reaching out and hitting the target.
The factory stock has a fiberglass v-block for a free floating barrel making rapid follow up shots no less accurate than the first.
Savage has been a trusted name in hunting and precision rifles for over a century that today remains at the forefront of competitive shooting by mixing traditional craftmanship and cutting edge technology. They do not stay there by producing sub par equipment that fails to meet expectations.
Savage Model 12 Varmint Low Profile
Additionally, Savage offers the Model 12 Low Profile, the same receiver and barrel as the long range, but with a laminated wood stock with a more traditional monte carlo style grip. Additionally, this model sports a stainless steel receiver and barrel. The aesthetics of this rifle are anything but low profile, but offers more in a stabilized bench rifle pushing the .243 round to its outer limits.
The Savages offer what can be considered the best .243 rifle in bench rifles.
Remington Model 700 SPS Varmint
As of yet, Remington does not offer an SPS tactical version of their 700 model in .243. The closest model that offers the closest to that sort of performance is in the SPS Varmint with its 26” long, heavy contour barrel.
Not the only option by Remington in this caliber, it is the model style that offers the most range and accuracy by virtue of that longer and heavier barrel. It tends to bridge the gap between carry and bench: three swivel studs is enough for a sling and a bipod.
Moving through the woods with that barrel may provide additional challenges, however. It does enjoy all the features of Remington’s longest and strongest built action: in after market modifications: stocks, triggers, scope mounts, etc.
And as with all the 700 model rifles, it can be mounted on the Remington tactical chassis giving it more versatility and that alternative look and feel that is very popular with many shooters today.
Remington R-25 GII
This last rifle is not marketed as a bench rifle, but some shooters may prefer to keep it in that class thanks to the 20” barrel.
The Remington R-25 GII has a crowned barrel and fixed stock: features that will keep it off of some, though not all, restricted lists by state. The heavy barrel in a free-floating handguard helps maintain accuracy of follow up shots. Upper and lower receivers are Teflon coated and modeled on the AR10 design and therefore capable of taking advantage of the numerous after-market kits available for that series of rifle – though Remington pretty much offers top of the line Hogue furniture, so that may be a moot point.
Many states may prohibit the use of semi-automatic rifles for hunting, thereby relegating this rifle to the status of target and competitive shooting rifles. Never the less, some states where wild hogs are an issue, allow the use of this type of rifle, and to be honest: if charged by an angry boar, semi auto capability is very comforting.
Finally this action mitigates the relatively comfortable recoil of the .243 further by virtue of the gas impingement recoil system making it a best .243 rifle choice for shooters of smaller stature or those who have recoil sensitivity.
Some of my thoughts
Of the heavier style of .243 rifles, style and intent may still win out over price. The Remington offers all the modern conveniences of a modern sporting rifle but suffers from the political backlash against “black rifles” – even though it comes in a very nice camouflage coating. The Savage Low Profile model, therefore earns its name in perhaps an unintentional way by not appearing as “aggressive” to the uninitiated eye.
Bench, or precision rifles are by their very nature are more expensive than the light weight carry types, so consideration of these already implies a certain amount of acceptance of cost. A Remington SPS out of the box is, ironically, the cheapest option of this set, with after market mods rapidly closing the distance if not surpassing the most expensive rifle here.
So again, the question will return to purpose and preference with price being – for most consumers – a hefty tie breaker. Take as a whole looking at all the .243 rifles presented here, however, the Remington bolt actions may offer the most in name brand recognition, after market options, historical performance, and value: even with the late financial unpleasantness of the company. A healthy, and universally accepted as good, alternative would be the Savage options: the Axis for a light weight and budget primer that can be customized into a light weight chassis precision platform, or the model 12 if the goal is to remain stationary while really reaching out to put quarter inch sized holes in almost anything you can imagine.
The last one for discussion offers an option, as discussed, for those who may have an aversion to recoil. This is not a condition that should be ridiculed because again, shooters of small stature or who are novices can certainly benefit from such a feature. The adaptability of the AR platform also allows for the installation of a collapsible stock (where legal) for further adaptability to various sizes of shooters. Further, while not allowed for many states for game hunting, as stated, several southern states DO allow for the use of semi automatic weapons for hunting wild hogs: a testament to how much those animals are viewed as nuisances. Though to be sure, some of those hogs can get very large (ref: hogzilla), and can be quite aggressive: having multiple follow up shots on hand is never a bad idea when putting oneself in such a position.
As with all firearms purchases, considering the ultimate, or most likely purpose should be the prime deciding factor, followed closely, of course by price. Otherwise, the best solution is to get one of each!