A few years back at the NRA Long Range Nationals, when most shooters were using 7 MOA windage, National Champion John Whidden was using only four. When asked “What caliber?” he answered: “Just a .243 Win.” After a pause and the question: “What muzzle velocity?” he grinned and answered: “3300 fps.” This past summer, when Whidden won the Long Range Nationals once again at the inaugural Camp Atterbury matches, he was using the same set up for Any Rifle.
Now a five-time NRA High Power Long Range National Champion, Whidden—the owner of Whidden Gunworks, a custom high performance rifle shop—was kind enough to share with SSUSA the six major reasons why he chooses to shoot .243 Win. for Long Range Any Rifle competition.
Low recoil compared to other calibers: “About 11 years ago after building a .300 WSM, I realized that the recoil was hurting the quality of my shots,” Whidden mused. “The .300 WSM shot great, but I didn’t always have the best shots with it. Subsequently, I built a great 6.5 mm-284 Norma, which was a great shooter, and I also had a very accurate 6 mm benchrest gun. My rationale in switching to the .243 Win. was twofold—to achieve wind performance equal to the 6.5 mm-284 Norma, with similar recoil to the 6 mm BR.”
He found the right handload: “I use Lapua brass, PMC primers (Russian, similar to Wolf), Vihtavuori N160 single-base powder, and Berger 105-grain Hybrid bullets. I switched to the Hybrid bullets at the beginning of 2015. Previously I shot the 105-grain Berger hunting VLDs. During testing, I found that the Hybrids were just as accurate without having to seat the bullet into the lands. The velocity of this combination when shot through the excellent Bartlein 5R barrels (32-inch) is around 3275 fps.”
One seating depth for multiple loads: “Additional details of the load include the fact that the bullets are jumping from .035- to .060-inch. I only use one seating depth for ammunition for multiple guns and the bullets jump further in the worn barrels than in the fresh barrels. The bullets are pointed up in our Bullet Pointing Die System and are moly-coated. The moly does extend the cleaning interval a little bit, probably 20 percent or so. The Lapua .243 Win. brass is all neck turned to .0125-inch thickness.”
Unique loading process: “I load my ammo on a Dillon 650. The powder charges are weighed, and of course I’m using our own Whidden Gunworks dies. The brass is full length sized every time, and I run one of our custom sized expanders in my sizer die. The expander measures .243-inch which yields the desired .001-inch neck tension. In my experience, the best way to get consistent neck tension is to run an expander in the case neck at some point. When sizing the case neck by a minimal amount such as is the case here, I don’t find any negative points in using an expander in the sizer die.”
Great ballistics: “My .243 Win. shoots inside a 6.5 mm-284 Norma with 142-grainers. Nothing out there is really ahead of the .243 Win. in 1000-yard ballistics unless you get into the short magnums or .284s—and those carry a very significant recoil penalty … I went to the .243 Win. because it had similar ballistics but had much less recoil. It doesn’t beat me up as much and is not as fatiguing.”
No anticipation: “When I shoot the .243 Win., there’s no tensing-up, no anticipating. The reduced recoil allows me to break and shoot very good quality shots. I find I just shoot better shots with the .243 Win. than I ever did with the 6.5 mm-284 Norma.”
Lead image of Mr. Whidden by Jim Powell, and the Berger Hybrid bullet courtesy of MidwayUSA