At Kittery Trading Post today, my rheumy eye settled on a heavy-stainless-steel barreled Remington with the bolt handle on the correct, or left side. The nice man behind the counter handed it to me, and my coronary muscle went into overdrive because it was a Remington 40-X single-shot. These rifles are made up in the Remington Custom Shop, as they have been since the early 1960s, and they will shoot. This one was in fine shape, and had the three-lever Remington 2-ounce trigger. It was a Nice Machine, and it had a nice price on it.
But stamped on the barrel was “.244 Remington,” and my face fell with a splat that frightened a nearby kid with his baseball cap on backwards who was fondling a powerful AR-style rifle. What would I ever do with a .244? So I handed the rifle back, and left with a heavy heart and a full billfold. This would not always have been the case.
Both the .243 and the .244 were introduced in 1955, the former by Winchester, the latter by Remington. The driving force behind both was Warren Page, who developed a cartridge he called the .240 Page Super Pouper (and that is the correct spelling, Pouper with a u, not Pooper; it was Lefty’s idea of humor). The Pouper was pretty much an Ackley Improved version of what is now the 6mm Remington; a long neck, very little taper, and about 10 percent greater powder capacity than the factory round. It was a very good cartridge, and Page touted it relentlessly. He took one to New Zealand where he shot most of the red stags on the South Island, and used it to lay low most of the woodchucks in New York State.
Winchester based the .243 on the .308 case, rifled their .243s with a 1-10 twist, and loaded their ammo with 80- and 100-grain bullets. They saw the .243 as a dual-purpose round for deer and varmints alike. Remington made the .244 by necking down the .257 Roberts (which is itself an altered 7×57), using a 1-12 twist, and loading 75- and 90-grain bullets. I believe they saw it mostly as a woodchuck cartridge with pretensions at deer.
The .243 became one of the most popular cartridges of all time while the .244 died, as they say in show biz. I went through a number of .243s and never found one that I really liked. My first, I believe, was a Winchester Model 70 target rifle. I spent half my time cleaning copper out of the bore (which looked like it was rifled with barbed wire) and the other half reaming case necks, which were constantly thickening. This gave me very little chance to think about important things, such as why people could jog faster than my VW Beetle could run in 4th gear.
I also remember another .243, a fancy version of the Savage Model 110 called the 110-P, which came with a California-style stock of French walnut. This was in 1965 or so before Savages became a byword for accuracy, and the thing would not shoot. Every weekend I would be at the range trying to get a group smaller than 18 inches. One day I got three shots into 3/8-inch, and sent the target to a friend of mine at Savage. Next think I knew, Savage was running ads that said “Gun writer shoots 3/8-inch group with Model 110-P.” The rifle, in the meantime, went back to putting them into 18 inches.
As the years went on, I gained great disrespect for the .243 as a deer load. It did not seem to be an efficient killer. However, this was probably because of the wretched bullets of the time, and because it was used largely by people who were terrified of recoil, did not practice, and shot badly. Nor could I get one to shoot with the .22 centerfires. The .243 groups were always a distinct click or so bigger.
I still believe most of this. If I were in the market for an ultra-light-recoiling deer rifle, I’d get a .257 Roberts, and I have yet to find a woodchuck gun (assuming that I see a woodchuck out in the open again) that can match a .220 Swift.
But on the other hand, that is a nice 40X down there at Kittery, and it’s been years since I’ve owned a 6mm in any form. It’s only money, right?