By Ralph M. Lermayer
Dedicated whitetail hunters don’t feel undergunned with the .25 bore.
It’s been the subject of countless discussions over the years - the infamous “Ideal Deer Cartridge.” What is it? What should it do? Does it exist? Well, it does, only it’s not a single cartridge but a family of choices all sharing a common bore size: .257. It is perfectly suited to the most hunted, most prized game animal in history. Of all the shots fired at game every season, 95 percent are taken at this animal. In spite of all the bigger-game hype, this quarry is still the No. 1 target.
Of course, the target in question is the whitetail, an animal that can weigh from about 100 pounds for the southwestern variety, up to about 250 pounds for their heavier-bodied Northern brothers. The whitetail is not a particularly large animal as far as big game goes, and it’s built on a frame of hide and muscle that’s not very tough to get through with a reasonably well-constructed bullet.
Getting through a whitetail’s relatively thin rib cage to take out both lungs is no problem for today’s quality bullets, and once inside, moderate expansion is all it takes to raise havoc with the innards. Even the shoulder bone, the bane of many bullets on bigger quarry such as elk and moose, is a comparatively easy task for the likes of a Nosler Partition, Trophy Bonded, Core-Lokt, SST or a host of others in the 100- to 120-grain range launched at modest speeds.
With bullets weighing from 87 to 120 grains, factory .257 Weatherby Mag ammo is suitable for hunting everything from varmints to deer.
For whitetail hunting, there’s little need for molar-jarring magnums launching big, heavy, stout bullets. Bullets weighing from 100 to 120 grains launched at reasonable velocities that can be delivered with pinpoint accuracy are ideal. If the rifle that gets this done is also light to carry and pleasant to shoot, that will only further its perfect status since the hunter can shoulder it faster and, not fearing recoil, shoot it more accurately. Why should anyone put up with the abuse of harder-recoiling cases if it’s not necessary?
This is the realm of the .25 bore - a family of flat-shooting, mild-recoiling cartridges that deliver bullets in the 100- to 120-grain range. All of these cartridges have a reputation for superb accuracy and all are considered mild to moderate on the recoil scale. Current choices run from the vintage .250-3000 Savage up to the latest entry, the .25 WSSM. In that mix you’ll find the likes of the .257 Roberts, .25-06, .257 Weatherby and a new wildcat that’s making a lot of waves, the .25 Remington Short Action Ultra Mag.
The junior in the bunch, the .250 Savage, will drive a 100-grain bullet to 2,900 feet per second, and the 120-grainer to a modest 2,500 fps with judicious handloading. The senior partners, with bigger cases holding more powder, move these numbers up to 3,200 fps for the 100-grain bullet and up to 3,400 fps for the 120.
Factory loads that are highly efficient and loaded with an assortment of premium high-performance bullets are readily available. A few sample boxes should be all it takes to find a factory cartridge your rifle will dote on, and to the handloader, they are all a joy. Through decades of working with the .25 bores, I have had no problem easily finding a bullet and powder combination that would turn in 1 1/2- to sub-1-inch groups with any of them.
As a rule, the .25 bores are not finicky to load, unless you try to drive the bigger cases to redline with the lighter 80-grain varmint bullets. There, as with any maxed-out case, they can be choosy. But with the heavier deer bullets, they behave predictably and tend to deliver precisely what the loading manuals report without a lot of bench time. Unlike other bore sizes, there are no finicky .25s out there.
The bigger options with their increased velocity are probably a better choice if you hunt in areas where the range tends to get long. But in the places most whitetails are hunted - where shots are 90 yards or less - you’ll see little noticeable difference between a 100-grain bullet moving at 2,900 or 3,300 fps, or for that matter, a 120-grain bullet at 2,500 or 3,000 fps when it comes to how fast a well-hit buck will pile up.
The beauty of the .25 bore, no matter what cartridge you choose as a launch vehicle, is it will be pleasant to shoot, easy on the shoulder and ear, and when matched with a quality bullet, deadly on whitetails. Some of the more venerable choices, including the .250 Savage and .257 Roberts, may be harder to find, as these modest loads have taken a back seat to the surge of new magnums. But the .25-06, .257 Weatherby, and .25 WSSM are widely available in everything from single shots to bolt guns. There is a .25 out there for any taste or budget.
Weatherby’s introduction of their Vanguard chambered in .257 Weatherby makes even that prized classic affordable, retailing for under $600. The wildcat .25 RSAUM, at least at the moment, is a custom option only. That may change as the majors begin to listen to the cries of you, the deer hunters, who realize that the ideal deer cartridges - the .257 bore - have been with us for decades. They’re mild, accurate and deadly from point blank to across the biggest bean field.
No deer hunter has ever been considered undergunned with a .25 bore. If you’re fortunate enough to have access to one of the now-discontinued Savage 99s in .250-3000, then you can rest assured trainloads of whitetails have fallen to the roar of that classic combo, especially in heavy timber. If you own a Roberts, a .25-06 or the great .257 Weatherby, then you’re no doubt aware of the potency this bore has on deer. If you’re looking for a new deer rifle, one that’s capable of taking long shots without dishing out a lot of punishment, then take a look at any of the old or new .25s. You won’t be sorry.
Reprinted from the December 2005 issue of Buckmasters GunHunter Magazine