Choosing the Best 243 Bullet for Deer

It was undoubtedly one of the best ideas the designers at Winchester ever developed. The .243 hit the consumer market in 1955, and deer hunting has never been the same.

Prior to the arrival of the .243, deer hunters were divided equally among 30-30 enthusiasts and those that preferred the hard-hitting power of the 30-06.

In 1952, Winchester engineers introduced the .308, a rendered version of the venerable 30-06 with a much shorter cartridge.  The .243 uses the same case as the .308, with just a smaller neck.

The accuracy, flat-shooting trajectory, and hitting power of the .243, combined with very little recoil made it a favorite for both small and medium game hunters.

It is estimated that more whitetail, pronghorn, and mule deer have been taken with a .243 than any other caliber since 1955.

How good is a 243 for deer hunting

There are two types of deer hunting in the continental United States, eastern whitetail hunting, and the wide, expansive long-range hunting of mule deer in the west.  Not surprisingly to enthusiasts of the .243, this caliber works well in both styles of hunting.

Whitetails often give you just a glimpse at ranges of 75 to 150 yards, through the heavy brush, timber, and low-hanging foliage that dominates the eastern landscape from the Great Lakes to the Everglades.

The .243 with its lightweight design, allows a hunter to carry it effectively for long hours of stalking without the strain of packing a heavier hunting rifle.

The flat trajectory of the .243, combined with a very light recoil reduces trigger flinch, allowing more accurate shots in the split seconds it sometimes takes to get off a round.

In the west, the .243 along with its cousin the .308 is unparalleled at distances of 200 yards. The bullet from both calibers is flat at 200 yards.  The .243 doesn’t drop as much over distance as the heavier .308 while still delivering solid foot-pounds of pressure at ranges up to 400 yards.

Mule deer hunters that rely on an accurate shot over the vast distances of the American plains, Rocky Mountains, and amidst the arid deserts of Wyoming, Utah, and Nevada love this caliber.

What is the best 243 bullet for deer

Ask a dozen hunters what the best .243 bullet for deer is, and you’ll likely get a dozen different answers.  While opinions may vary, ballistics do not. 

There are generally five bullets considered the top of the line when it comes to deer hunting.  All range from 80 to 100 grains in the .243, and each has slightly different characteristics.  You’ll be able to determine what round works best for your style of hunting from the ballistic chart below.

Best 243 Bullet for Deer

Mule deer hunters will prefer the Hornady American Whitetail cartridge in spite of the slightly confusing name. At 2960 fps it delivers the most power at 1945 foot-pounds in a 100-grain bullet.

The Power-Shot by Federal delivers the most power overall in just an 80-grain bullet, and with a blistering speed of 3330 fps it is much faster than the other cartridges, but the higher price reflects this superiority.

Whitetail hunters don’t usually need the extra power in their rounds since shots are almost always closer, and the animals hunted are usually much smaller than mule deer. Federal, Sellier and Bellot, and Nosler all offer good quality ammunition in 90 to 100-grain bullets that have very similar ballistic characteristics.

Best grain 243 for deer

Conventional wisdom is often bad advice in many situations, but when it comes to selecting the best grain bullet in a .243 for deer hunting, the consensus among amateur and professional alike is the 100-grain bullet.

A 100-grain bullet, fired from a .243 with the proper amount of powder in the shell is effective to a quarter-mile in deer hunting.

Many consider the .243 “too light” for serious deer hunting, but the ballistic charts tell a different story. Combine a 100 grain .243 bullet with a muzzle velocity around 3000 feet per second and you’ve found a round that can effectively, humanly, and accurately take large-bodied deer to 400 yards easily.

243 range for deer

There is more to hunting at long range than simply hitting the target. For generations, the standard for humanly killing a deer is to deliver a round with a minimum of 1000 foot-pounds of energy.

The problem with a .243 is that the range extends well beyond the 1000 foot-pound threshold.  If you can reliably hit targets on the range from 500 to 600 yards, that doesn’t mean you should try to take a deer at that range.

A look at the ballistic charts of 90 to 100 grain .243 bullets indicates high power at close range, but after 400 yards, the foot-pounds of every round, no matter the manufacturer, drop below the 1000 foot-pound designation.

Does that mean you won’t be able to kill a deer beyond a quarter-mile range? No, it doesn’t, but to do that you must be able to deliver a clean heart/lung shot or a head shot with very little margin for error.

Shooting at extreme range is the prime reason game animals are wounded, maimed, and then often lost as hunters try to cover the terrain between where they took the shot, and where they think the wounded animal may be.

In the vastness of the American West where most of these long-range shots are attempted, the wind is a constant factor, almost as much as bullet drop is.

A .243 is flat at 200 yards, but at 500 yards the bullet will drop 45 inches. That means a long-range shot is going to require a little guesswork on your part.

Even a moderate 10 mile per hour wind can push a shot a foot off target at 500 yards, add in that extreme bullet drop and you’re guessing at best, and gambling at worst.

Shorter range shots are much safer for the hunter, and much more humane for the animal. A 200-yard shot zeroed in on the heart of the largest whitetail or mule deer drops the animal instantly where it stands.

243 for mule deer

Best 243 Bullet for Deer

Mule deer are a completely different species than their animated, nervous cousin the whitetail. Mule deer hunting is a vastly different sport than whitetail as well.

Mule deer will flush from draws, timber, or heavy brush and move into open country. You won’t find that in the darting, jumping, twisting flight of a whitetail.

Mule deer will always stop on the top of a ridge, then look back at you, offering a split-second profile shot.

Experienced hunters have learned to wait for this last profile opportunity before these burly bucks drop into cover, often to disappear forever.

The .243 is a great round for mule deer hunting.

The high-speed flat shooting .243 is custom made for the wide expanses you’ll find in mule deer hunting.

You can take mule deer at short ranges of 50 to 75 yards in heavy timber, but more than likely you’ll find your shot at a longer distance. Few mule deer are taken beyond 400 yards, no matter how convincing the post hunting bragging sessions are. 

With mule deer hunters, most take their animals between 100 and 250 yards. This holds true in Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, Idaho, and Utah where the largest concentration of native mule deer thrive.

If you’re after trophy-sized mule deer bucks that can weigh up to 300 pounds, you want to avoid the 80-grain bullets commonly used by whitetail hunters in .243 caliber.

The stopping power of a 100-grain bullet at a few feet above or below 3000 feet per second is more than enough to deliver a single, humane, “drop them in their tracks” shot in profile or head on through the front of the chest.

The .243 has earned its reputation as an excellent mule deer rifle over the past six decades since its introduction by Winchester back in the mid-1950s.

The .243 is the perfect round for medium, to long-distance mule deer hunting.

Tips for choosing 243 bullets for deer

There are a few considerations in choosing the right .243 bullet for deer hunting.

The first decision is based on whether you’re after whitetail or mule deer. A huge whitetail is just an average mule deer.

The biggest mule deer bucks can rival small elk in size, ranging in extreme cases up to 450 pounds.

A monster whitetail buck is almost always less than 200 pounds, though rare, record-setting bucks have been taken.

The body size of your prey is a big factor in selecting bullets, that’s why the 100 grain .243 slug is so popular. It can deliver the 1000 foot-pounds required to humanly kill a deer up to 400 yards while retaining all the ballistic flight characteristics hunters enjoy with the .243 caliber.

A smaller grain bullet is perfectly fine for whitetail hunting and for smaller mule deer does.

A growing number of western hunters now pursue whitetails in Wyoming, Montana, and Colorado as frequently as they do mule deer.

Whitetail deer have made major intrusions on previously “muley” only areas.  Agricultural lands, bottomlands near streams, and areas heavily brushed with willow thickets are growingly popular whitetail habitat in the Mountain West. The .243 is a great cartridge for hunting in these conditions.

Conclusion

The .243 is relatively late to the deer hunting party, but it has made its impact, becoming the caliber of choice for both whitetail and mule deer hunters across the vastness of the USA.

A .243 in skilled hands is a deer harvesting machine effective on shots of 50 yards through heavy brush, or out to 400 yards in open country.

The .243 has legally taken the place of the .22 long rifle (a cartridge that has illegally taken more deer over time than any other) as the preferred caliber when it comes to American deer hunting.