Rambling Thoughts on the .257 Rifle Cartridges
by Greg Ritchie
The .257 calibers, or the Quarter Bores, so called because the bullet diameter is 1/4", are arguably the Rodney Dangerfield of rifle cartridges as they get no respect. i do not think that any of the .25 caliber cartridges have ever been in the top ten best selling list as long as such lists have been kept. Take a good look at them and you find that the quarter bore cartridges are really quite adequate for their intended role. Factory ammunition is available for all of the cartridges discussed here, although it may be somewhat hard to find. Handloaders will find bullets commonly available in .257 caliber from 75 grains up to 120 grains. Let’s take a quick look at at them.
25-20 Winchester. Introduced in the 1890’s for the Winchester model 92. This was the 32-20 case necked down to .25 caliber and intended as a small game and varmint cartridge. The cartridge fell out of favor in the 1930’s when it was superseded by the likes of the 22 Hornet and the 218 Bee. The cartridge was revived by the Sport of Cowboy Action shooting where it is moderately popular. There is controversy over the cartridges suitability for deer sized game, but the fact remains that the James Jordan Buck, the largest typical buck ever taken in the United States, was taken with the 25-20 WCF. My hand loads using IMR4198 powder pushed the 75 grain Speer bullet at a leisurely 1800 FPS.
25-35 Winchester. Introduced in 1895 as a chambering for the 1894 Winchester rifle. This cartridge pushed its 117 grain bullet at around 2350 feet per second. I have absolutely no experience with this round. Don’t think I have even seen one of the cartridges but once or twice. But I do envision the cartridge as a good one for the new eastern hardwoods hunter who may be recoil sensitive.
250-3000 Savage. Introduced in 1915, this cartridge has the distinction of being the first sporting cartridge to reach the 3000 feet per second mark, hence the 3000 in the cartridges name. This was done with the 87 grain bullet as it was determined that this was the heaviest .25 caliber bullet that could reach the 3000 FPS mark with this cartridge. The rifle was given a slower twist to fit the 87 grain bullet. The cartridge was subject to lots of controversy because the 87 grain bullet was considered too light and explosive for deer sized game and the rifles with their 1:14 twist would not stabilize heavier bullets. Some 45 years after the cartridge was born the twist was changed to 1:10 and the rifles became a decent dual purpose cartridge. Unfortunately a few years too late, as the cartridge had already been superseded by the .243 Winchester. My introduction to the 250 Savage came in the 1980’s when my mentor, Pete Williams acquired a Remington 700 in the cartridge. If memory serves he loaded the cartridge using 87 grain and 100 grain bullets and IMR4350 powder. I do know his velocities fell 100 - 200 feet per second below factory figures. I used that rifle to take a few groundhogs.
25-45 Sharps. Introduced in 2008 by the Sharps Rifle Company, this was an attempt to re-create the 250-3000 Savage in the Modern Sporting Rifle. An attempt that succeeded. The cartridge does have the same flaw that the Savage offering had, its inability to accept heavier than 87 grain bullets. But the reason that the Sharps offering will not accept heavier bullets is entirely different as the twist rate of the Sharps is adequate for the longer bullets. The 25-45 Sharps is hampered by its overall cartridge length. The longer 100 to 120 grain bullets protrude deep into the case and the bullet ogive enters the case mouth leaving a gap between the case mouth and the surface of the bullet. Still, the 25-45 Sharps is a very good choice for the hunter using a MSR in the pursuit of varmints and deer. Modern 87 grain bullets can be had that are more in the realm of big game bullets, unlike the 87 grain bullets of yesteryear. Sharps advertises a muzzle velocity of 3000 FPS with the 87 grain bullet out of a 24" barrel. My loads using the 87 grain bullet, 223 cases formed to 25-45 and H335 powder yielded 2800 to almost 2900 FPS out of my 20" barrel.
257 Roberts. Legitimized by Remington in 1934, the 257 Roberts started life as a wildcat based off the 7mm Mauser case. Often hailed as the perfect quarter bore cartridge, the "257 Bob" enjoyed the reputation of being one of the most popular cartridges under .30 caliber during the middle of the last century. My experience with the 257 Roberts is limited to an uncle whose only rifle was the 257 Robert. I have only fired it a few times. While my uncles rifle was used only on deer, it would undoubtedly make a fine multi-use rifle, suitable for varmints and deer. A quick look at my Speer reloading manual shows the 87 grain bullet launched at up to 3381 FPS, the 100 grain bullet at up to 3113 FPS and the 120 grain bullet at up to 2793 FPS. This is all out of a 24" test barrel.
25 WSSM. This is a cartridge that I expected great things from, but it seems to have fallen into obscurity. Introduced in 2004, the 25 Winchester Super Short Magnum has all the attributes to make a very accurate cartridge. A short fat sharp shouldered case paired with a short action makes for a very stiff platform that burns most, if not all of its powder in the case. 75 grain bullets have an advertised velocity of just under 3800 FPS and 120 grain bullets are just under 3000 FPS. This combination should have been a winner.
25-06 Remington. Introduced in 1969, this was another wildcat legitimized by Remington. It ad it’s start in the 1920’s when it was looked at as not any better than the smaller 257 Roberts. Advancements in powder have made this cartridge a fine performer since though. This is my choice in the .25 caliber line up. I have never fired a factory 25-06 cartridge, but published Figures put the 100 grain bullet at 3230 FPS and the 120 grain bullet at 2990 FPS. My own hand loads using Reloader 19 powder pushes the 87 grain bullet out of the 26" barrel of my 25-06 at 3450 FPS. The 100 grain is 3225 FPS, and the 120 grain using Reloader 22 powder is 2930 FPS. The 87 grain bullet is a favorite for groundhogs, giving me a working trajectory out to 400 yards. With a 300 yard zero the 87 grain bullet has a trajectory that looks like this. +3" at 100 yards, +3.5" at 200 yards, 0" at 300 yards, and -9" at 400 yards. The 120 grain bullet has a trajectory that looks like this. +4" at 100 yards, +5" at 200 yards, 0" at 300 yards, and -11 1/2" at 400 yards. Compare that to the darling 6.5 CM! Another thing with the 25-06. I find that I can zero the rifle and it is close enough to use without having to re-zero when switching bullet weights. Within an inch at 100 yards, and 3 inches at 300 yards, a trait it shares with the 270 Winchester. I really like the 25-06 as a groundhog rifle. It does have its drawbacks though. First, it is LOUD! Second, it does have some recoil. It is not uncommon to lose sight of your target through the scope at the shot. Finally, it is an over bore cartridge. While fine as a groundhog rifle where you only take a few shots a day, the barrel would become toast in short order if shooting over a prairie dog town where you may make hundreds of shots per day.
257 Weatherby Magnum. Introduced in 1944, this is the magnum cartridge I would want to own if I liked magnum cartridges. 87 grain bullets at 3800 FPS, and 117 grain bullets at 3400 feet per second. This cartridge shoots laser beam flat. And the Weatherby Mark V is a beautiful rifle. What’s more to say?
The 25 calibers, oft overlooked, oft maligned. But very useful. From squirrel to elk, there is a quarter bore that is up to the task.
Rambling Thoughts on the .257 Rifle Cartridges
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