JJ Sutton, C.P.S., C.M.A.S. writes [via ammoland.com]
To begin with, there are statements in this article that are purely my own, and my opinions are obvious and blatant. Nonetheless, I really hope there are some good tidbits in here that grab people’s interest. As importantly, am I hoping to get some attention from ammunition manufacturers on the .243 WSSM, which was truly ahead of its time.
The .243 caliber cartridge is a historically proven caliber. I would wager it has been used on almost every continent since its introduction in 1955. It is proven as a hunting caliber across North America, throughout Europe, Africa and so on. It was also proven as a competition caliber in long range precision shooting before more modern fads and technology started edging in on its accolades.
In a few particular circles, it has been efficiently used as a Law Enforcement sniper caliber as well.
The original caliber has a heritage that makes the conversion to a Super Short Magnum seem very reasonable and, generally, a pretty good idea. Improved technology in propellants and the physics behind shorter, wider casings help boost performance. Ballistics shine as well. I am sure arguments can be made against this next statement, but the introduction in 2003 of the .243 WSSM (Winchester Supper Short Magnum) gave the round about a 10% boost in key performance areas of velocity, accuracy and effective Range.
Mechanically speaking, what really torpedoed the chances of the .243 WSSM being well embraced, was how it interfaced with Bolt Action platforms. It was not originally looked at in relation to semi-autos, I think that is where .243 WSSM or Winchester Super Short Magnum shines brightest.
Reading through blogs, forms, and rifle owners’ comments on the .243 WSSM, they all point to one key failure. Namely, feed and function related issues. The overwhelming complaint expressed about this round was how hard it fed or failed to feed. The incredibly steep shoulders of the case from neck to fat magnum body meant it had a really hard time feeding in a bolt action platform. The performance of the cartridge wasn’t in question if it made it into the chamber and the trigger was pulled.
The way bolt actions operate meant there was not enough engineering put into getting that short little round keg of spitfire up and into the chamber. The ammo designer probably spent a lot of time designing the round, but gun makers didn’t do enough to allow it to mechanically function. Instead, they just hoped to retro fit it into existing platforms. It is far more costly to design and manufacture a new receiver format than a new cartridge.
While long range shooters and hunters were, and are, focused on traditional (bolt action) feed issues, the mechanical performance failings of the .243 WSSM are simply solved by introducing it into a modern sporting action. That just so happens to qualify the AR-15 platform actions as perfect!
I think there could be wide eyed masses of semi-auto shooters waiting for a round like this that they could affordably upgrade their ARs with and have a great hunting caliber available.
The design and function of the AR-15 platform perfectly offers the mechanical solution which the .243 WSSM lacked in a bolt action.
The magazine and bolt interface in the AR-15 is simple. First, the design of the magazine provides uniform tension on the cartridge from three sides: from the bottom, and from feed lips on each side. When a loaded AR-15 magazine is inserted and seated in the action, the cartridge alignment is such that it is more directly in line with the chamber and the feed ramps support the rest of the chambering. The incredibly defined shoulder of the .243 WSSM is no longer the hindrance it presented to a bolt action platform.
With cycling problems solved, it provides one of the highest velocity options in the AR-15 platform: pushing a factory 55gr bullet a screaming 4,050+ fps muzzle velocity with a mid to long range effectiveness like never before. Heavier grain bullets are probably more preferred for most game options but still – 4,050+ fps!
Larger and heavier AR-10 platforms have been chambered to allow traditional, long cased .243’s, and they perform well, too. I would easily venture there are WAY more AR-15s sitting around than there are AR-10s on the market, that in just a few moments and by popping out two take down pins that AR-15 can now be converted with an upper to a hunting rifle just that easy.
Major manufacturer Olympic Arms was quick to recognize this high performance caliber and how it fits into the AR-15 platform. Olympic Arms produced their first .243 WSSM production rifle in 2004 and included production models in their 2005 catalog. I hear nothing but great things about those production rifles. A couple of specialty manufacturers are putting out some nice custom work as well: Accuracy Systems. Inc. in CO and Dedicated Technology in MN.
You may have heard that one of the reasons the .243 WSSM withered on the vine was that it “burned up” barrels too fast. Nope. Not factual. The round was introduced in 2003. A lot of modern technology helped it get its primary and supporting characteristics.
First, know that the shape, mathematics, and engineering behind the case design is very important. Although such technical aspects are way above my head, I know they are important to the performance of Super Short Magnum cartridges. I understand they chrome lined the barrels of the first bolt action rifles put out but I never read about barrel erosion issues from any consumer.
Secondly, in order to get the best burn rates and pressures from any of the propellants used, it meant it usually was accompanied by high heat. High heat is the enemy of quality metals. Modern propellants are capable of getting burn rates and pressures at lower temperatures. Stay with me here . . .
The engineering of the Super Short Magnum maximizes science to get better performance. Better powders have reduced heat and reduced heat equals lower erosion potential in the throats of the barrels. That covers Thermal and Chemical erosion concerns.
Lastly, better available steel for barrels busts the myth of barrel erosion from a mechanical perspective. Quality barrels commonly of a stainless steel variety, are better, are harder, combined with improved technology, simply do not produce excessive barrel wear.
In fact, Tom Spithaller, Director of Sales, Olympic Arms, Inc., told me their .243 WSSM demo rifle, made in 2004, is still used regularly, and has approximately 8,000 rounds thru it. It is still holding tight groups with beautiful performance and no erosion issues from a barrel made of 416SS. I am pretty positive that far exceeds what a normal hunter or recreational shooter would put thru their barrel in a life time (in this caliber).
The best advice though is to take the time to properly break in a barrel per the barrel maker’s recommendations. Once you have a correctly seasoned barrel and it is on your hunting or mission specific rifle don’t rapid fire it and allow it to get excessively over heated. It will last a long time. Save that abuse for your recreational, competition, and fun range time with calibers that are more affordable to shoot. Which using AR platforms is just a quick change of an upper.
Seriously, finding .243 WSSM is the adult version of a never ending Easter egg hunt. I have had several cases on order for MONTHS (like close to 12 months) and still nothing. I asked a connection I know, who announced he would be hanging with Winchester at the Live Fire Day before SHOT Show 2016, if he could PLEASE ask Winchester what were the chances of getting some .243 WSSM in production… nothing, crickets.
The distributors who have heard of it have never seen it, and others have never heard of it. An ammunition company who advertised the caliber said there was no way they could get brass (so why list it damn it?). I even called up Peter Pi founder of CorBon (www.corbon.com ) on his cell phone to see if they had any interest in it. He turned me over to the production manager and he never gave me a response which I took as a no.
I have since found a tip for what seems like a good source for brass if you are a reloader – I am not. Check out Hill Billy Brass. ( www.hillbillybrass.com )
If I won the lottery, I would order up 50,000 rounds of the stuff and get it into the market so I could start cranking out more .243 WSSM chambered AR-15s. I think it really is a “Must Have”, all around, screaming fast AR-15 Caliber. No joke. I personally think the .243 WSSM most excellent for varminting, small game, medium, and even some Big Game at the appropriate distances. It easily can bring down a Bull Elk at 350yds.