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223 WSSM

223_wssm

In 2003, Browning and Winchester introduced the 223 WSSM.  For the same reason one should try not to say anything bad about another’s dog, I always try to find something positive to say about a cartridge but sometimes that just is not possible, this is one of those times.

I have looked at it every way it can be looked at.  I have discussed it with others who have more related experience and know far more than I do.  Nothing helped.  The very best comment I got was from my lifelong friend, Roy Runnestrand (whose father mentored my interest in firearms), “It looks cool!”

In the final analysis, the 223 WSSM has the distinction of being, perhaps, the worst factory design ever standardized for a modern cartridge.  Owing to the extremely short neck and excessive relative capacity, it requires use of a chrome-lined bore to give anything approaching acceptable barrel life.


Because it is extremely hard to apply chrome lining to a bore without significantly compromising accuracy, manufacturers that cared about accuracy refused to chamber this round.

The Japanese evidently solved the accuracy problem with chrome-lined bores in the 1940s or earlier.  While this seems to be a very well-kept secret, they built phenomenally accurate 7.7 Arisaka Sniper rifles.  These used chrome-lined bores.

My late friend, Craig Coburn, owned one that would shoot Norma factory loads into a tiny ragged hole at 100 yards until he ran out of ammo and did so every time he could afford another box of ammo to test!

So, it would seem chrome-lining a bore without significantly compromising accuracy is possible; likely very expensive to do, but possible.

Browning and Winchester begged Savage Arms to offer the 223 WSSM chambering.  They sent a chambering reamer and ammunition for Savage to use for preliminary testing.  Savage chambered a barrel and set up to test the resulting gun in their 100-yard indoor tunnel.

Before the person evaluating the gun had fired 50 shots, while allowing considerable time for barrel cooling between shots, he was no longer able to put bullets anywhere on the target because most of the bullets were so severely damaged the jackets failed in flight.  Bore-scope evaluation demonstrated that many inches of the beginning of the bore were severely, monumentally, catastrophically damaged.  The barrel was ruined.

Savage mentioned this to the folks at Browning.  The response: “Well, of course, you have to chrome-line the bore to get acceptable barrel life.”

To which the CEO at Savage responded: “No we don’t, all we have to do is not offer such a poorly designed chambering to our customers.”

As with any high-performance round, barrel heating is a significant concern.  Allowing plenty of time for barrel cooling can significantly increase barrel life.  Conversely, overheating the barrel by rapid firing can render a barrel uselessly inaccurate after surprisingly few shots, even if it does have a chrome-lined bore!  For a varmint hunter this can be a significant concern.

If you own one of these guns, best advice is to use it sparingly and to avoid heating the barrel at all costs.  As noted, this is one of those situations where I simply cannot find anything particularly positive to say.

A final comment, this round and the related 243 WSSM and 25 WSSM all directly infringe parametric SMc design patents.  Amazingly, by being so poorly engineered in all other ways, these rounds do so without providing any advantages the SMc concept offers — improved performance, increased barrel life, reduced barrel heating, reduced felt recoil, and improved accuracy!  Design details matter.  For this reason, this insult to the patent owners is less offensive than it otherwise might be.


The text associated with the cartridge description reflects opinions and conclusions of the author, M.L. (Mic) McPherson. Lee Precision and its employees do not necessarily either agree or disagree with any of his comments. We present these with due deference to his recognized expertise in the firearms field. His acumen extends to handloading and all aspects of ballistics - internal, external, and terminal.
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