By Stan Trzoniec
The .257 Roberts is one of those rounds that evolved from the “golden age” of cartridge development. The famous shooting experimenter Dr. Franklin Mann was a very important part of the .25-caliber concept. After much testing, he concluded that the existing powders of his day would perform much better under a .25-caliber bullet if the case capacity matched that of the .30-40 Krag.
Ned Roberts of New Hampshire agreed with Mann, and he went to work. His choice in brass was the 7mm Mauser, which was necked down to .25 caliber and closely matched the capacity of the .30-40 Krag.
Roberts wanted a cartridge for hunting small game and varmints at longer-than-normal distances. Hovering over barrels of different lengths, twists and groove diameters, he labored for countless hours on his pet project. Considered a workaholic, Roberts wanted to work out all of the details so that if and when the time came for this to become a commercial cartridge, everything would be ready.
Shooting writer Col. Townsend Whelen observed in one of his many books, “I think that no man ever spent so much time in perfecting a cartridge as Mr. Roberts spent on this one.”
Factory ammunition is still being made, though only in very anemic loadings. Handloading is a much better idea, as bullet weights and designs seem to be never-ending in the .25 caliber.
The time finally came. Good news spreads fast, and both the Niedner Rifle Co. and Griffin & Howe showed more than a passing fancy in Roberts’ creation. They chambered rifles for his cartridge (at the time called the .25 Roberts) and made ammunition. More than 600 custom rifles were initially produced for the new round.
Robert’s original case had a 15-degree shoulder angle. Later, as production was imminent, Remington took that angle to 20 degrees. Then, to avoid confusion with the public, E.C. Crossman insisted that the new cartridge carry the same name as the bore, and it was christened the .257 Roberts. A short time later, Winchester chambered its Model 54 and Model 70 rifles for it.
Initial loadings were with 87-, 100- and 117-grain bullets, and since that time, nothing really has changed. Except for some +P loadings over the years, velocities have remained pretty much the same.
As the cartridge moved forward, so did its faithful, but to a point. Jack O’Connor liked the .257 Roberts. He told how he took more than 50 deer, antelope and similar-sized game with it. He favored the .257 Roberts for varmint hunting, using 100-grain bullets for coyotes up to 300 yards. O’Connor predicted that 6mm cartridges would eventually push the .257 Roberts and members of its ilk out of the picture. He was right, of course.
Elmer Keith was another supporter of sorts. He said he would not consider anything smaller than .25 caliber for use on big game, and wrote “it (the .257 Roberts) is an exceptionally accurate cartridge and one with which it should be relatively easy to place shots in a vital area.”
I found this to be the case on my first foray to Montana. The gun was a Winchester Model 70 XTR Featherweight with a Leupold Vari-X III 2.5-8x scope. I still have this rifle in my battery. It has a straight-grained walnut stock, which I hand buffed to a nice, rich patina. To finish it off, a handy 22-inch barrel and fleur-de-lis checkering was applied much like it was in early times. The trigger broke at 3 1/4 pounds right out of the box.
I chose to go the handloading route on this hunt. Topped with 100-grain bullets, my loads regularly printed groups within 1 1/2 inches. I took a nice antelope and mature mule deer with my pet loads.
Today, only Ruger chambers a rifle in the .257 Roberts. Winchester does not list the cartridge in any model rifle (what a shame), and aside from a few special editions like the Remington Classic, you are at the mercy of the custom builders if you want one with special features or wood.
So what really happened to the .257 Roberts? Back in the ‘80s, Winchester introduced a +P version in 100- and 117-grain loadings. Velocity in the 100-grain cartridge was increased to around 130 fps (only 3.4 percent) and only 100 fps (5 percent) with the heavier slug.
Foot-pound equivalent was nothing to brag about, so why even try? At the time, there was a mild resurgence of “nostalgic” cartridges, and with the introduction of the Remington Classic and the Winchester Model 70 XTR, any improvement in ammunition would help boost new rifle sales.
Be that as it may, the .257 Roberts is now lying wounded by the wayside. Rifles are slim pickings, ammunition is still being made, but nothing has changed in the way of new loads offered by the major players. The .250 Savage was never a threat, and that goes for modern times.
The .25-06 Remington now seems to be king of the .25-caliber hill. On the other hand, speed freaks love the .257 Weatherby Magnum, as it reaches around 3,400 fps in the Mark V rifle with a 26-inch tube.
Last year, Winchester introduced the .25 WSSM. This short-action cartridge with a 115-grain bullet hits the screens at around 3,000 fps, much the same as the popular .25-06 Remington. The difference is that the .25 WSSM is chambered in a lighter-weight rifle.
In discussions about the Roberts, the one theme I seem to hear over and over again is that this classic is too slow. Well, okay, maybe. With a 117-grain spire-point bullet, the .25-06 Remington overshadows the Roberts by 10 percent, or roughly 300 fps. But out there where it counts, there’s not much difference in trajectory. I limit my long-range shooting to 300 yards or less. I like that distance, it’s comfortable for me and I never seem to miss. If we take the Roberts with a 100-grain bullet at 3,000 fps and zero the gun for 200 yards, the drop at 300 yards is only 7.2 inches. Now if we take the same bullet, place it in the .25-06 Remington and pump it up to 3,300 fps (still safe and below maximum) with the same 200-yard zero, the drop at 300 yards is 5.8 inches. That, my friends, is only about a 1 1/4-inch difference.
Now, do you still think the .257 Roberts is obsolete?
Over 30 years ago, some renowned gun writers pronounced the cartridge dead. Maybe down, but never out. It’s simply too much fun to shoot!
Reprinted from the November 2004 issue of Buckmasters GunHunter Magazine
Reloading the Roberts
If you purchase a new Ruger in .257 Roberts, don’t walk out of the store unless you have some brass, bullets, a set of dies and some powder under your arm.
Reloading the .257 Roberts follows standard guidelines. I’ve had good luck with either IMR-4350 or H-4350 powders. Both give more than adequate +P type velocities over a wide range of bullet weights from 75 to 120 grains.
Accuracy is on par with most other .25 calibers. Don’t believe the naysayers who constantly dote on the likes of older guns or outdated powders for the bad reputation they might have given to this old workhorse.
Brass is still available. I was very surprised to see that, starting this year, Remington is offering .257 Roberts brass in its new “Consumer Packs” that should now be available at dealers. For primers, stick to standard brands. Hotter or magnum primers are not needed simply because of the Roberts’ conservative case volume.
There is no need to “magnumize” the Roberts, even when using so-called +P brass. This cartridge does best when loaded slightly below maximum, as the extra powder does not help the accuracy or velocity cause one bit.