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6 mm's: how good are they?

I think of few circumstances under which one is more impressionable than immediately after taking one's first head of game. IF it's a clean, one-shot kill it prompts us to be rather satisfied with ourselves as well as with the gun we used. At that particular moment in time that musket we're holding is beyond price; it's the best damn rifle ever conceived and one which we'll use and cherish forever.

Such was my frame of mind back in 1965 when I took my first head of game, an antelope, on what I considered to be my first real big-game hunt (that is to say, outside the state of Ohio where rifles weren't allowed for deer). I was using a 6 mm Remington handloaded with a 100-grain Sierra spitzer to around 3,150 feet per second (fps). Making that rifle even more special was the fact it was my first custom gun built up from a maid-to-order barreled action which I stocked myself. While it wasn't quite in the class of a Miller/Crum rifle, it sure was beautiful to me!

To say I was impressed with the performance of the tiny .24 caliber that day would be putting it mildly. That prong-horn dropped in its tracks. When I finally reached my downed trophy after about 325 yards, the fact I had shot too high and accidentally spined the antelope didn't cool my ardor for the 6 mm a whit.

Not that I needed any more convincing, but a few days thereafter I collected a mule deer which also dropped in its tracks. And that one wasn't spined; just shot fairly through the chest.

I was doubly convinced the .2j would be my caliber for life.

I was quite deadly with that 6 mm ... as well I should have been. I had built the piece two years earlier and in the interim have probably put 2,000 rounds through it in load development work and sniping at Ohio chucks, crows and an occasional red or gray fox. It was a genuine 3/4-minute rifle, extremely pleasant to shoot, and I knew the trajectories of all my tack-driving handloads cold . . . on out to 400 yards. In short, me and my 6 mm rifle were on intimate terms.

In the ensuing years I eventually took about a dozen muleys, whitetails, prong-horn, black bear and a couple exotics using either a .243 Winchester or 6 mm Remington. Today I no longer use the 6 mm's for game. Why I don't, despite the excellent record I compiled with them, is going to take some explaining. To have any chance of doing so in a convincing fashion I'm going to have to back up a bit to 1955 when the .243 Winchester and .244 Remington (which became the 6 mm Remington) were introduced and look at what was claimed for these cartridges, how they were perceived, and what they were capable of doing from a pure ballistic standpoint.

The fact that Remington and Winchester both unveiled cartridges of identical caliber in the same year was hardly coincidental. Both were aware of the other's development programs and were spurred on by the editorial exposure given the wildcatting efforts of Fred Huntington of RCBS and Warren Page. Prior to that, few American shooters were even aware there was a .24 caliber, much less that it had been around for some time. The U.S. Navy took delivery on a trial basis of 10,000 James Paris Lee-designed straight-pull rifles back in 1895 chambered for the 6 mm Lee cartridge. Winchester (who made the trial military guns), as well as Remington produced sporting rifles for the 6 mm Lee (or .236 Navy). Winchester stopped production of commercial ammo back in 1935 but the basic case is still with us today in the form of the .220 Swift.

The Europeans also gave the .24 a try. The Germans were first when in 1908 the firm of Halger necked down an 8 mm Mauser case and called it the .244 Halger Magnum. The British followed a couple decades later with the .240 Flanged Nitro Express, .240 Belted Rimless and, in 1955, the famous Holland & Holland firm necked down their voluminous .300 belted case to get the .244 H&H Magnum.

Nothing much came of the early 6 mm's and I'm not exactly sure why. All I know is that despite an ancestry going back 60 years on these shores, when the .243 Winchester and .244 Remington were introduced in 1955, they were for all intents and purposes regarded as being of a totally new caliber.

Winchester arrived at their cartridge by necking down the .308 Winchester (7.62 NATO) with no other changes. Remington got their .244 by necking down the .257 Roberts and adding more shoulder angle. Though quite dissimilar in appearance, both cartridges had about the same internal capacity, hence were capable of similar performance given equal payloads and barrel lengths.

Anyway, to make a long story short, the .243 was hailed as the first truly "dual purpose" cartridge to span the varmint/deer category and excel at both. In the late 1950s there was no shortage of flowing reports in the various gun magazines that were just surfacing back then of how the .243 "did it all"; yet those proclamations were of ten based on very limited field experience. I can recall reading more than one article describing the .243 as the ultimate deer rifle based on taking one animal!

Remington's .244, on the other hand, didn't fare so well. For lack of ten grains of bullet weight it was perceived as being more of a super varmint cartridge than a dual-purpose one. Handloading a 100-grain bullet would have been the logical solution but Remington had chosen to use a 1:12-inch twist for the .244 (the .243 used a 1:10-inch) and it couldn't be counted on to stabilize the longer 100-grain spitzer slugs. So the .244 was not only perceived as being a varmint round, it couldn't be handloaded to do what the .243 could. The end result was that while the .243 was an instant, spectacular success, the .244 died a slow, agonizing death.

There was never any question that both the .243 and .244 were (and are) superb long-range varmint rounds. What few doubts that did surface in various articles from time to time had to do with the caliber's effectiveness on deer and antelope. But the doubters were few and the consensus was that it was indeed a dynamite number for either. Indeed, field reports indicated an extremely high incidence of one-shot kills, far out of proportion to the .24's diminutive bullet size or what its optimistic paper ballistics should have indicated. And I have no doubts that those field reports were generally true.

The reason for the .243's spectacular success in the field (and the .244's success for those adventurous individuals who used them, despite the bad rap), is a testament to the adage "Where you hit 'em is more important than what you hit 'em with." I think my own experience with the 6 mm Remington as recounted earlier is typical. Owners of .24s find them to be highly accurate and because of their lack of recoil are capable of shooting up to the gun's potential. And because they use those same rifles in the off-seasons they are much more familiar with them than with a rifle they'd normally shoot only a week or two each year.

Familiarity breeds confidence; a confidence that is brought into the game fields and is reflected by the number of one-shot kills. I'd even go so far as to say that, as a group, the .243/6 mm user is the best rifle-man extant (excluding .22 centerfires). I base that rather brash statement partially on that familiarity aspect I spoke of, and my belief that this group contains the highest percentage of handloaders.

If you detected a bit of cynicism in my description of the .243's effectiveness as a game cartridge, it is only due to the wisdom and experience that 20 years provides. I can assure you that back in the late 1950s and early 1960s I was as enamored with the .243 as all the stories I read told me I should be. I wasn't in a position to do much about it, however, until 1963, the year Remington rectified its mistakes with the .244 and reintroduced the round as the 6 mm Remington; it was the same cartridge but loaded with a 100-grain spitzer bullet. The equally new Model 700 rifle chambered for it now sported a 1:9-inch twist. I remember agonizing for months over which .24 to go with but in the end opted for the "new" 6 mm. At that time I had a few years' handloading experience under myb elt and the slightly larger case and longer neck of the Remington round won out.

In any case, the new 100-grain loading, the name change, and the new Model 700 rifle combined to breathe new life into the old .244. Two years later in 1965, Remington followed up with a new 80-grain varmint load bearing the 6 mm headstamp. For the past 18 years now the 6 mm has been competing grain for grain with its arch-rival Winchester counterpart.

For the next dozen or so years the two .24s competed against one another in the ballistic charts on more or less equal footing. Then, in the late 1970s, standard test barrel lengths were reduced from 26 inches to a more realistic 24. This resulted in Winchester lowering the nominal velocity for the .243's 100-grain loading to 2,960 or 110 fps lower than before. The 80-grain load plummeted even more--150 fps down to 3,350.

The 6 mm Remington specs, on the other hand, stood up pretty well under the cold light of field-length barrels; in fact, only 60 fps was lopped off the old 100-grain specs and a mere 20 fps from the 80-grain figures.

In comparing current Winchester/Remington 6 mm specs one must keep in mind that most production rifles today in both calibers are furnished with 22- rather than 24-inch tubes so you can deduct about 60 fps from the velocities. Handloaders, however, can recoup that loss, not by "souping up" (which is definitely not recommended), but by using the more efficient bullets offered by the various component bullet makers. Using the 100-grain spitzer BT bullets of Nosler, Hornady or Sierra as examples, you can add almost 100 fps and 100 foot-pounds to 300-yard figures (assuming the same muzzle velocity) simply by virtue of those bullets having more streamlined shapes.

Based on my own experience with various .243s, I find the current specs a bit pessimistic. Bearing out that contention is the data from the DuPont, Hornady, Nosler, Speer and Sierra reloading manuals, all of which indicate the typical .243 with a 24-inch barrel to be capable of 3,025 to 3,050 fps with optimal handloads.

Given these realistic performance parameters, then, what can we reasonably expect from these .24s on deer-size game? Are they really as good on game as they are on varmints and if not, why not? The answers to these questions must be couched amid a tangle of qualifiers.

Like I said, I no longer use the 6 mm's on big game. For varmints and predators on out to as far as I can hit 'em, they're terrific. I can't see how anyone could actually need more gun. But for western hunting I have come to rely on more powerful rounds, even though I personally had extremely good luck every time I pointed a .24 at game. My position is based on the fact that all but one of these assorted critters were taken between 75 and 225 yards. Only that antelope I mentioned earlier was taken at long range. Fortunately, I was always able to get within reasonable distance whenever I had a 6 mm in my hand. But I've witnessed several episodes where other hunters weren't so lucky and wounded game despite good bullet placement. In most instances the animals were recovered but that's not the way a sportsman wants to take his trophy; he wants a quick, humane kill.

It's impossible to say, of course, what the result in each of those situations would have been had a larger caliber been used, but I'm convinced some of them would have ended much quicker. And remember, I'm assuming the gents totin' .24s to be the best riflemen in our game fields today. It's just that there's a limit to what you can ask.

Within reasonable ranges, say 250 yards, I'd personally have no qualms about shooting a big muley buck standing broadside or even quartering away. But there are no such guarantees in hunting and I've made enough mule deer hunts to know that shots a lot longer than 250 yards present themselves. I try very hard to get as close as I can before pulling the trigger but that isn't always possible. Sometimes the trophy of a lifetime shows itself further away than we want to shoot. And I'm enough of a realist to know it's tough to refuse the "now or never" situation at a trophy animal.

As for antelope, they're only half the size of a big buck and inhabit the kind of open country where a mortally wounded animal isn't likely to escape, but again, ranges can be very long and high winds are almost a dead certainty. Those factors, combined with the realities of the 6 mm's downrange ballistics make for a 300-yard pronghorn rig; beyond that I'll take more able for research, as well as for just plain fun reading. It is a reprint of the 1887 edition of E. Remington & Sons' Sporting Arms and Ammunition Catalog. It is a full 8-1/2-x 11-inch format, and is 34 pages thick. Each page has been copied from the original, including the woodcuts of the firearms Remington was selling at that time. Boy, I wish the prices in this catalog were current! In browsing through this fascinating reproduction edition, I find that the 1887 price for a Remington .41 rimfire Double Derringer was just $6. Of course I could pop for another $2.50 and have a derringer engraved and equipped with pearl stocks. Their New Model Army Revolver, (1875 Army) in .44-40 caliber would set me back a whopping ten bucks in blue, or nickelplated. If I decided to opt for the top of the line model which would again sport nickel plating, engraving, and pearl stocks, I'd have to start saving until I could come up with $24! I'll have to give that some serious thought.

This antique catalog copy also features hunting clothes, reloading tools, holsters, gun cases--even ice skates! For anyone interested in antique arms, especially Remingtons, this book is a must. An original specimen of this scarce catalog would set you back plenty, but thanks to the Rolling Block Press, this valuable reference work is available for just $5 per copy postpaid. To obtain a copy, send to the Rolling Block Press at P.O. Box 5357, Buena Park, CA 90622-5357.
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Title Annotation:rifle ammunition
Author:Sundra, Jon
Publication:Guns & Ammo
Date:Apr 1, 1984
Previous Article:1858 Remington replica from CVA.
Next Article:Handgunners shoot for big buck$.

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