UPDATE: We have a winner! Tyler's .243 Win. edged out Garrett's 6.5 Creedmoor on a 104-83 vote. Voters who picked the .243 mentioned its low recoil, solid ballistics, and fond memories of their first deer rifle. Many also picked the .243 because "it's not the 6.5 Creedmoor." Now Tyler's .243 is slated to match up against K.C.'s .30-30 Win. Be looking for that head-to-head to drop later today. Thanks to all who participated!
This matchup is like an early-round game between the Kansas Jayhawks and the San Diego State Aztecs. Like the Jayhawks, the .243 Winchester has been a mainstay of the whitetail woods for decades, and its resume includes thousands of pounds of harvested venison. The 6.5 Creedmoor is far newer, but it’s shown itself in recent years to be an up-and-coming powerhouse, more than capable of competing with the other big programs.
Tortured metaphors out of the way, let’s get this game tipped off.
Click here to vote on the other side of the bracket, Clay's .300 Win. Mag. v. Spencer's .308 Win.
Like countless hunters before him, MeatEater’s Tyler Jones took his first whitetail buck with a .243 Winchester. He still remembers how much he paid for it (“$243 of my own money and my dad chipped in the rest”), how big the buck was (a small six point), how far it ran (13 yards), and where it died (“just out of sight on the edge of the sendero”).
But the .243 has more to offer than just nostalgia. The small cartridge might be good for first-time hunters, but even veteran hunters can use and appreciate these lightweight, handy rifles. Tyler used his .243 to make one of his most difficult shots on a deer: a free-handed poke from 293 steps on the last day of the season.
“I like the mobility I have with the youth stock, and despite being somewhat lighter, the caliber is manageable with recoil and follow up shots,” he said. “I feel super confident in the ability of the caliber based on 25 years of experience with it.”
Easy maneuverability and limited recoil make the .243 a great option for any hunter, and you don’t sacrifice too much in the ballistics category, either. The .243 is a necked-down .308 Win., and that extra case capacity allows it to sling a 90-grain bullet over 3,100 feet-per-second (fps). That produces nearly 2,000 foot-pounds (ft.-lbs.) of energy at the muzzle and 966 ft.-lbs. of energy at 500 yards. The bullet is still traveling 2,200 fps at 500 yards, and with a 100-yard zero, has dropped about 35 inches.
For a cartridge that only produces about 11 ft.-lbs. of recoil energy, that’s pretty damn good.
The 6.5 Creedmoor is the youngest October Madness participant, but it’s racked up quite a reputation since its introduction in 2007. It began its career on the competitive circuit, and that’s partially why MeatEater’s Garrett Long likes it for whitetail.
“I compete with the Creedmoor all spring and summer, so transferring over the same gun and cartridge in the fall is a breeze,” he said. “I’m confident in my system, I know the bullet will perform, and I know the bullet is going to land on the X.”
The Creedmoor’s success as a competition cartridge highlights several of the qualities that make it great for whitetail. First, it’s accurate. While most of a rifle’s accuracy comes from a well-built barrel and action, some cartridges tend to be more accurate than others. The Creedmoor benefits from a modern cartridge and chamber design, and so, all else being equal, it tends to be more accurate than older options like the .243.
The Creed is also easy to shoot given the power it offers. While recoil depends on rifle and load construction, the Creed produces something around 13 ft.-lbs. of recoil energy. That’s a little more than the .243’s 11 ft.-lbs., but the Creed offers nearly 400 additional ft.-lbs. of energy at the muzzle. These 130-grain bullets, for example, leave the barrel at 2,850 fps with 2,344 ft.-lbs. of energy. They’re still traveling over 2,000 fps at 500 yards (fast enough for full bullet expansion) and hit at that distance with 1,171 ft.-lbs. of energy.
A soft-recoiling cartridge is more fun at the practice range, and as Garrett also told me, “a cartridge is only as good as the shooter.” The Creed’s balance of power, recoil, and accuracy gives hunters the ability to root a whitetail buck to the ground–both because of hydrostatic shock and an accurate shot to the vitals.
So, who you got? Comment below to cast your vote. If you want to explain your reasoning, feel free. But you don’t have to. The cartridge that gets the most votes by 11:59 pm MT on Tuesday, October 3 will advance to the next round.