By JJ Sutton, C.P.S., C.M.A.S.
JJ Sutton digs into the 243 Winchester Super Short Magnum round's history and the weird circumstances surrounding current production of the 243 WSSM round.
USA -(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 this caliber.
The Woes of the 243 WSSM (which is 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 (read Late Breaking News (below) for detailed back story), 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.
243 WSSM or Winchester Super Short Magnum – Fastest Modern Sporting Rifle Caliber I know
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.
Let’s Bust a 243 WSSM or Winchester Super Short Magnum Myth
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.
Knock knock… Anyone seen any 243 WSSM?
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 (Youtube has shown us that).
All there is to want for; is to find it and find it at more affordable prices – the sooner the better.
Late Breaking News…. The 243 Winchester Super Short Magnum Back Story
Ok, so I have discovered a back story to the 243 WSSM production woes. It boils down to politics. I could not reach anyone at Winchester for comment on the legal aspects of this, but here is the rumored problem. There seems to be a patent on a mathematical formula dealing with ALL Super Short Magnum calibers. The patent isn’t on something someone manufactures physically per say, but basically a theory. Nothing is being manufactured by the patent holder. It is vague and rather surprising, as well as frustrating, considering that most common calibers are in the public domain and readily available for anyone to mass produce. In fact, some of the references used in this formula patent are from ammunition designers who often put their work product freely in the public domain, benefiting firearms and ammunition makers along with shooters. Since it appears to me that the patent deals very oddly with a mathematical formula, rather than a specific, tangible thing one would build. It mentions specifically only “Short Action” rifles, but it isn’t an actual particular shape of brass or bullet that is proprietary. In fact 243 WSSM uses parent brass from another caliber!
It appears odd that the patent was even granted, since shouldered cartridges have been in the public domain for over a 100 years and nothing the patent protects is physically manufactured.
It was expressed to me with surprise and frustration that the patent essentially locks up ALL Super Short Magnum calibers and not just one specific cartridge. My source was also surprised that the patent was awarded due to such vagueness and the fact nothing is being manufactured.
Nonetheless, this is the problem as I see it, and 243 WSSM is right smack dab in the middle of the mess. Winchester created the 243 WSSM and introduced it in 2003. Not too long after that, they were sued for patent infringement. Supposedly, a deal was reached (can not confirm with either party) whereby rather than pay royalties on the ammunition they were producing, an agreement was reached to pay a commission/royalty on rifles built and sold in that caliber. Winchester's purpose was to ensure that there would be ammunition on the market (and that's a good thing). All sounds reasonable to me. Once the supposed deal was reached, Winchester stopped producing the rifles in that caliber. Hence, no royalties! Right or wrong, that is what is rumored. Now it appears the only hope of getting affordable, widely available, 243 WSSM ammunition will be when the patent sunsets and it becomes public domain – less than a year away possibly.
I believe that will happen in 2017 and let us all hope numerous Ammunition Manufacturers are tuned into this if it is indeed a fact.
I confirmed a portion of this from Olympic Arms, Inc. They obviously build a 243 WSSM AR-15 platform, but they also build a .300 OSSM caliber too. With no comment on the 243 WSSM matter, they DID confirm that they are required to pay a royalty on all OSSM ammunition manufactured for their .300 OSSM rifles in order to comply with said patent requirements (PN 5,826,361) even though their rifles are not “Short Action”. Read into that what you will, but it tells me that there could be some truth to this whole settlement agreement with Winchester which appears confidential.
There is a parallel story I wanted to know more about too related to how the 6.5 Grendel came to mass production.
Understanding that in regards to the availability of 243 WSSM now makes an interesting point.
My understanding in this case was that something had to be voluntarily released by Alexander Arms (who trademarked it – NOTE, not patented) so that ammunition could be mass produced by various and multiple manufacturers in order to make the caliber more popular and standardized. I would love, and I mean love, to see something like this happen with 243 WSSM so that more manufacturers would jump on this incredible caliber and get it into production and available in the market place.
The 243 WSSM is that good, in my opinion. But, like many good things, it appears politics is jamming up the works here and keeping the 243 WSSM or Winchester Super Short Magnum a semi-exotic and hard to get caliber.
I asked for some clarification from Alexander Arms about the process of 6.5Grendel coming to mass production to compare what seems to be going on here with the 243 WSSM or Winchester Super Short Magnum.
Here is the response I got from James Reddish, President, Alexander Arms:
“The short answer is that it was not a patented item, it was a trademarked item (which our Beowulf remains to this day). It became pretty obvious to us that the cartridge had universal appeal and application and we came to the conclusion that the full potential of the cartridge could only be achieved if we stopped limiting access to it via the trademark. By that point we had licensed Hornady to produce the cartridge and they offered to sponsor it through the SAAMI certification process. So it is fair to say that we didn’t release our trademark to achieve SAAMI approval, rather we decided to release the trademark and that made SAAMI certification possible. At any rate, time has proven that it was a wise decision and we have never regretted it.”
It appears that for the greater good of the caliber’s sustainability and popularity, Alexander Arms and the caliber’s creators made a selfless decision to allow it available for mass production. This is analogous to Freeware in the software industry, or the fact the AK47 was never patented. A patent that anticipates no tangible physical item to be produced seems strange to me, and I don’t understand why a patent would be sought in such fashion other than to claim and hold that item for ransom. A patent of that nature does not create anything, unless the applicant simply wants to earn dollars off the efforts of someone else who puts real skin in the game of their own. I leave you to make your own judgment.
I would like to think an easy sunset occurs on this mess and we see a surge of renewed interest in 243 WSSM and potentially making way for other yet to be named Super Short Magnum creations. The patent holder can earn his credit for leading the way and showing the innovation of design. Then other manufacturers can get it into production and get us trigger pullers and shooters some of those hot little rounds and start tagging the game we want, at velocities and distances the 243 WSSM pushes.
…All done from the light weight smaller sized AR-15s – genuinely making it the “Modern Sporting Rifle”.
Special 243 WSSM or Winchester Super Short Magnum Note:
VDC Armory LLC ( www.vdcarmory.com ) is offering up to six custom 243 WSSM rifles, using hand lapped barrels from Accuracy Systems, Inc.. Only six will be available this year (2016). Each rifle will come with a rifle case and 2 boxes of ammunition – reloaders will at least have some seed brass! These six rifles are sold on a first come first serve basis.
Two of them have 18” hand lapped stainless steel threaded barrels and four of them have 20” hand lapped stainless steel threaded barrels. Customers will get to personalize the lowers with furniture choices and any extra aftermarket finishes to the builds (like the custom Spartan Bronze or Spartan Steel cerakote or the Orion Design Group’s Lupus Camo pattern custom hydrodip). All six finished rifles will be offered at $1,949 not including finishes. Three are being offered as just an upper for $1,499 and will also include the two boxes of ammunition on a first come first serve basis. Reservations taken at 719.276.0341 or [email protected]
About JJ Sutton, C.P.S., C.M.A.S. :
A Native Colorado resident & life time Hunter. JJ served 7yrs in the US Army during the 90s and logged 12 months down range during hostilities in the Balkins. Mostly work and some play he as traveled/visited 20+ countries. He has served in the Private Security Field for more than 15yrs., as a Certified Protection Specialist and Certified Master Anti-Terrorism Specialist, including the 2002 Winter Olympics, Presidential Security Detail Member with the President & First Family of Haiti, Int’l Celebrities and personalities related to his business in Aspen, CO. Later Security Services throughout Colorado & Caribbean, Firearms Training, Consulting and now overseeing custom design & builds of the AR15s & AR10s put out by VDC Armory, LLC. His current pet project includes a new website promoting the Modern Sporting Rifle like it truly is intended to be with ARHunters.com & social media by the same name.