The .243 Winchester in the Henry Long Ranger Rifle
By Chuck Hawks
Henry RAC (www.henryusa.com) designed their strong Henry Long Ranger rifle specifically for short action (.308 length), high intensity cartridges. The initial cartridge offerings were .223 Remington, .243 Winchester and .308 Winchester.
These chamberings make sense for an initial release. The .223 is the best selling of all centerfire rifle cartridges and ideal for Class 1 animals (varmints and small predators), .243 is the best selling combination (Class 1/Class 2 game) cartridge and .308 is the best selling all-around big game (Class 2/Class 3) hunting caliber.
Guns and Shooting Online reviewed the original Long Ranger carbine (20" barrel) in .308 Winchester caliber and we liked it a lot. It is hard to beat a lever action carbine in the woods.
On the other hand, a 20" barrel is really too short for all-around (not just woods) hunting use. The factory ballistics for all high intensity or high velocity cartridges are derived in 24" test barrels and cutting the barrel shorter than 22" typically results in considerable, often unacceptable, velocity loss. Consequently, in our review we suggested Henry introduce a "rifle" version of the Long Ranger with a 22" barrel.
Guns and Shooting Online subsequently published articles suggesting other short action cartridges for the Long Ranger, including .257 Roberts, .260 Remington, 7mm-08 Remington, .338 Federal and .358 Winchester. I think the .223, .243, .257, .260, 7mm-08, .308 and .338 should be offered in a rifle with a 22" barrel, while the 20" carbine should be offered in .257, .308 and .358.
Of all the Class 2 calibers (for animals weighing between 50 and 300 pounds) offered in or suggested for the Henry Long Ranger, the .243 is the least suitable for use in a 20" carbine barrel. It has the highest muzzle velocity (MV) and therefore the most to lose in a short barrel. It shoots the lightest bullets and therefore its killing power is most drastically affected by velocity loss. Of all the standard short action calibers, the .243 most needs a Long Ranger rifle with at least a 22" barrel.
The .243 Winchester's greatest advantages include:
Along with these advantages come certain disadvantages. The most important being the light kicking .243 is at the lower end of Class 2 cartridges in terms of killing power. Less kick where the butt stock meets the shoulder typically also means less killing power when the bullet meets the animal.
As Gary Zinn argued persuasively in his article The .243 Winchester: Its Capabilities as a Deer Cartridge, most common 95-100 grain factory loads and equivalent handloads retain adequate killing power (Killing power Score, or KPS) for Class 2 game out to around 200 yards, even though the MPBR (+/- 3") of these loads is around 300 yards.
Gary used a minimum G&S Online Rifle Cartridge Killing Power Formula KPS of 15.0 for Class 2 game. This equates to the killing power of the traditional .30-30 150 grain FP bullet at 175 yards, which we know from long experience to be an adequate deer slayer.
Here are the killing power results for a couple of typical .243 factory loads from Gary Zinn's seminal article "The .243 Winchester: Its Capabilities as a Deer Cartridge":
Federal Power-Shok 100 gr. JSP, MV 2920 f.p.s. (22 inch bbl.) / ME 1894 ft. lbs., BC .355
Hornady Superformance 95 gr. SST, MV 3125 f.p.s. (22 inch bbl.) / ME 2060 ft. lbs. BC .355
I generally use a KPS of 12.5 or better as the minimum for Class 2 animals, which is a less rigorous standard. For example, the traditional .357 Magnum/158 grain load scores 12.7 from a rifle at 100 yards and the Remington .30-30/125 grain Managed Recoil load scores 12.9 at 100 yards. These loads are about as light as I can recommend and they should only be used on the smaller Class 2 species inside of 100 yards.
Using this 12.5 KPS standard stretches the effectiveness of the .243 to around its MPBR with typical factory loads using 95-100 grain bullets from barrels at least 22" long. Again, this only applies to the smaller species of Class 2 animals. As you can see from the figures above, the Hornady Superformance .243 factory load (a very hot load) using a 95 grain SST bullet at a MV of 3125 fps from a 22" barrel scored a KPS of 12.6 at 295 yards.
The average deer hunter would be well advised to stalk to within 200 yards, or less, before attempting a shot with a .243 carbine. As I have written many times, it is accurate bullet placement, not raw power, that is (by far) the most important factor in killing power and recovering downed animals. Make darn sure you can guarantee a solid hit in the vitals before attempting any shot with your .243 deer rifle.
Avoid .243 bullets lighter than 90 grains for hunting Class 2 game. Generally speaking, 90-105 grain 6mm bullets are intended for hunting Class 2 animals, while 85 grain and lighter bullets are primarily intended for use on Class 1 animals (weighing less than 50 pounds).
The Henry Long Ranger Rifle
Despite the current interest in and commercial promotion of long range shooting, most North American big game animals are still shot within 100 yards and the accuracy of the average hunter in the field has been demonstrated to fall off drastically beyond about 150 yards. Although dozens of brands of hunting rifles are offered in the popular .243 Winchester caliber, I can think of only one other lever action rifle offered in .243.
A Henry Long Ranger rifle in .243 makes a lot of sense for the savvy hunter. It is suitable for both right and left handed shooters, unlike bolt guns, and it is ideal for beginning shooters and others who cannot tolerate heavy recoil. Many athletes, long time hunters and older hunters have sustained shoulder joint or rotator cuff damage and need to avoid hard kicking rifles. Here is how we summarized the Henry Long Ranger in our recent Guns and Shooting Online review:
"The Long Ranger is an ideal woods rifle, as it has a fast, smooth, rack and pinion action with a six lug, front locking, rotary bolt. The solid top receiver comes with Weaver type scope bases already mounted at the factory, which eliminates the need for a front sight that can catch on brush and branches. Detachable, steel sling swivel studs and a contoured, effective recoil pad are standard equipment."
"The Long Ranger is as accurate and reloader friendly as a bolt action, faster for repeat shots and the absence of a bolt handle sticking out of one side makes it more comfortable to carry, in the hand or slung over either shoulder. It balances between the hands and points naturally. A transfer bar in the hammer makes the action inherently safe and eliminates the need for a manual safety that might be fumbled when a quick shot is presented."
The .243 Winchester is a very popular cartridge around the world. It offers flat trajectory and very light recoil in a cartridge adequate for most Class 2 game at reasonable ranges. In addition, it is absolutely deadly on varmints and small predators as far as you can get the bullet into the vitals.
The Henry Long Ranger is one of the most interesting deer rifles to hit the market in a long time and it has great potential. In the original Henry Long Ranger carbine with its 20" barrel, the .243 is an adequate deer cartridge at woods ranges. This rifle/cartridge combination should be especially useful in restricted spaces, such as the tree blinds widely used for deer hunting east of the Rocky Mountains in the USA. A rifle version of the Long Ranger with a 22" barrel would serve to extend the usefulness of the .243, particularly in the western US, where bigger deer and longer ranges are more common.
Note: A full length article about the .243 Winchester can be found on the Rifle Cartridges page.
Copyright 2017 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.