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By the end of the 1920's Arthur Savage’s .250-3000 had become a popular cartridge - even if this popularity would soon dwindle. Ned Roberts was busy experimenting with a .257 caliber wildcat based on the 7x57 case which would soon become the .257 Roberts. Adolph Neidner and Col. Townsend Whelen were also helping Roberts, but at the same time both men were working on their own .25 caliber wildcats based on the .30-06 case. Whelen was developing his own line of proprietary cartridges based on the .30-06 case, Neidner was the gunsmith and arms company owner instrumental in making Whelen’s ideas a reality.
With powders of the day, a .25/.30-06 was far too overbore and could not obtain velocities much more than 100fps over the Savage. Throat erosion was also horrendous in the wildcat and projectiles of the 1920's had soft jackets which quickly led to fouling. For the time being the 7x57 case seemed to be the optimum capacity for the .257" caliber and in 1928 Neidner commenced building rifles for Ned Roberts .25 caliber cartridge. Whelen refrained from adopting the .25-.30-06 as a proprietary cartridge which remained a wildcat for several decades.
In the early 40's the .25-.30-06 had a new lease on life when DuPont released IMR4350 powder. It wasn't until the late 40's when the Hodgdon Company obtained and began selling military surplus H4831 that the .25 caliber wildcat hit top gear. Previously the wildcat cartridge had been known as either the .25 Whelen or .25 Neidner but by the 40’s was simply known as the .25-06. With the Second World War over, hunters and varminters began to take an interest in the flat shooting cartridge. The .25-06 grew in popularity until finally, in 1969 Remington adopted and introduced the cartridge as the .25-06 Remington. Since that time the .25-06 has gained a huge following and is now ranked one of the most popular cartridges in the United States. The .25-06 has the distinction of being the first wildcat to have been based on the .30-06 case and lessons learned probably helped towards the development of the .270 Winchester.
Remington initially introduced two loads for the .25-06, an 87 grain bullet at 3500fps and a 120 grain bullet at 3220fps. Taken from a factory test barrel, these velocities were rather optimistic for sporting rifles and were later advertised at a more realistic 3440fps and 2990fps respectively. The .25-06 is now loaded by every major American ammunition manufacturer although ammunition can still be hard to find in many locations in the U.S and worldwide.
The .25-06 is not popular in Europe. In the South Pacific, it's increase in popularity came largely due to the writings of Australian gun writer Nick Harvey and New Zealand gun writer Graeme Henry. Currently, throughout the U.S, Australia and New Zealand, the .25-06 has an almost cult status. This is not a very popular cartridge but those who use it, love it. Gun writers continually try to promote the .25-06 but due to the lack of both rifles and lacking a variety of factory ammunition in gun stores, the .25-06 is mostly favored by hunters who reload and is often housed in custom rifles.
When the .25-06 is loaded to optimum performance, it is best described as a spectacular, fast killing medium game cartridge. Velocity means everything to this cartridge and any increases in velocity translates directly into an extension of the range at which the .25-06 is able to obtain fast killing.
The cut off point for fast killing with the .25-06 is generally around 2600fps. At impact velocities below 2600fps, wounds may be wide and clean killing but the results are nevertheless delayed. The .25-06 fully loses its ability to produce even remotely fast kills at impact velocities of 2200fps with ordinary chest shots.
Factory loads can be somewhat lagging in comparison to carefully developed hand loads, especially if factory loads are used in the more common 22” barreled sporters. Generally speaking, factory loads suitable for medium game tend to lose the ability to create hydrostatic shock at ranges of around 120 yards. There a couple of exceptions, particularly the 115 grain Winchester Ballistic Silvertip which deals a heavy blow out to around 200 yards.
In contrast, hand loaded 100 grain bullets (both flat based and boat tailed) driven at 3300fps are capable of delivering hydrostatic shock for fast, on the spot kills out to between 240 and 250 yards. At the more rarely achieved 3400fps, fast killing is pushed out between 270 and 280 yards, very similar to the 7mm Remington Magnum and .270, albeit with lighter projectiles. The 117 to 120 grain bullets hand loaded to 3000fps tend to produce hydrostatic shock out to ranges of between 190 and 230 yards.
As both hydrostatic shock and wide wounding diminish at longer ranges, shot placement becomes ever more critical. At these ranges, like all of the small bores between .243 and 6.5mm, the hunter needs to avoid rear lung and neck shots, instead aiming for the forward most shoulder bones in order to effect maximum wounding. On tough animals such as wild Boar, this shot placement requires a suitably constructed projectile. Failing this, shots should be placed through the chest from quartering angles to again maximize wounding while avoiding the heavy shoulder shield.
Debate is always rife regarding the game weight limitations of the .25-06. The .25-06 is often declared a lighter medium game cartridge but realistically the .25-06 would fit the needs of most hunters world wide. This is an ideal cartridge for a great many of the worlds deer species so perhaps it is best regarded as simply either a medium game or deer cartridge rather than a lighter medium game cartridge. On light medium game, the .25-06 is a spectacular killer to say the least. On larger medium game, the .25-06 can be relied on to produce clean kills. This cartridge is really at its limit on Elk sized game for ordinary hunting / cross body shots if fast humane kills are to be expected. The .25-06 will indeed handle much larger animals with carefully placed head and neck shots but should be considered extreme.
As to the question of which bullet weight is best suited to medium game, many authorities assume that the heavier 117 to 120 grain bullets are the only choice. While this bullet weight is usually the most reliable, there are several 100 grain projectiles which when driven at full velocities are simply dynamite on medium game. Readers are encouraged to experiment as much as possible to find the best load for individual hunting situations.
Besides its good performance on deer, a major strength of the .25-06 is that it is an extremely good caliber for those with intermediate rifle and cartridge experience wishing to graduate to a large caliber. The .25-06 has a small but very noticeable increase in recoil and muzzle blast (noise) compared to the .243 Winchester. The step up from the .243 to the .25-06 may seem small to experienced shooters but it is a large step for youths and women.
Over the years, there has been quite a few variations of both barrel contour and length in factory rifles - mostly to the detriment of the .25-06. A 22” barrel is really too short for the .25-06, not only for velocity but also muzzle blast. The now discontinued Winchester featherweight XTR was a very difficult rifle to steady and shoot straight on the mountain tops during gusty winds. By contrast, the 1990’s Ruger M77 semi varmint barreled .25-06 was too heavy for most hunters. There is definitely a delicate balance which requires careful consideration when choosing a .25-06 rifle for older teenagers, women or hunters of a light build.
The .25-06 gives optimum performance in a 24” barrel, unfortunately many rifles feature a 22” barrel. These shorter barrels make factory velocities seem lagging and in the loadings listed ahead, hunters using factory ammunition in 24” barreled rifles can expect around 70fps above 22” barrel observations.
Remington who initially commercialized the .25-06, produce three loads for the .25-06. These include the 100 grain Core-Lokt listed at 3230fps for a realistic 3160fps in 24” barrels and 3090 in 22” barrels, the 115 grain core bonded Core-Lokt Ultra at 3000fps for 2930 and 2860fps and the 120 grain Core-Lokt at an advertised 2990 for 2920 and 2850fps respectively. As game projectiles go the Core-Lokt and Core-Lokt Ultra are among the very best. Nevertheless all of these projectiles have relatively poor BC’s and while performance at close range is emphatic, kills beyond 250 yards can be very slow.
Winchester produce four loads for the .25-06, the 90 grain Positive Expanding point at an advertised velocity of 3440fps delivering a very fast 3370 and 3300 in shorter barrels, the 110 grain Accubond at a true 3100fps in all barrel lengths down to 22”. Due to Winchester’s Lubalox friction reducing coating, the 115 grain Lubalox coated Ballistic Silvertip runs at 3060fps in all barrel lengths and lastly the 120 grain Positive Expanding Point at 2990fps giving around 2920 in 22” barrels.
The 90 Grain PEP load is designed purely for varminting and is at its absolute limit on game weighing up to 60kg (130lb). For all-round use, Winchester’s 110 grain Nosler Accubond load combines high BC’s and explosive performance with optimum penetration. The Accubond gives deep penetration on light bodied animals but will not penetrate vitals from tail on shots on larger bodied deer. Winchester suggest that the Accubond is best suited to light thin skinned game however the 110 grain Accubond optimizes the performance of the .25-06 for those who wish to hunt game the size of Elk (320kg/700lb) which are truly the upper limit for this versatile cartridge.
The 115grain Ballistic Silvertip (BST) at 3060 fps is designed specifically for light to medium sized deer species. Internal wounding is very spectacular at close to moderate ranges and vivid at longer ranges of around 300 yards. The 115gr BST does not produce deep penetration but is ideal for cross body and quartering shots on deer species weighing up to 150kg (330lb).
Winchesters traditional 120 grain PEP is a mild but reliable performer. The PEP produces clean kills on medium game but is not a deep penetrating projectile. This load is popular with many hunters simply because of its economy, especially in comparison to the price of modern premium loads. That said, the 115 grain BST does everything the PEP can do, and delivers a better blow at longer ranges.
Federal offer the 120 grain Speer Hotcor in their classic line at 2990fps for a realistic 2920fps in 22” barrels. This is an extremely good game bullet and for those wanting an economical all-round load for the .25-06, this Federal offering really shines. Like Winchester, current Federal Premium loads also feature Nosler projectiles. The lighter 100 grain Ballistic Tip (without Lubalox coating) is advertised at 3210fps, giving a realistic 3140fps in 22” barrels. This load is excellent for lighter medium game out to moderate ranges as well as clean killing at longer ranges although performance would be better if the velocity could be lifted to above 3200fps in 22” barrels.
Federal’s 100 grain Barnes Triple shock load achieves similar velocities but produces the extreme opposite in performance to the BST. The Barnes bullet requires heavy muscle and bone to initiate fast kills. If the Barnes does not strike major muscle and bone on medium game the animal will very often travel great distances before succumbing to blood loss, even though damage to the vitals may be thorough. This suggests that the Barnes does not meet enough resistance to dump it's energy on broadside shots. On heavier animals or well placed shoulder shots on lighter animals the Barnes delivers it's shock, causing fast kills. The TSX is ideal for wild boar and adequate for Elk but for lean bodied deer, gives poor performance.
Federal’s other offerings are the 117 grain Sierra GameKing and the 115 grain Nosler Partition at 2990fps for 2920fps in shorter barrel lengths. The Sierra is an outstanding longer range deer bullet, again, with suitable shot placement. This projectile opens to a very wide diameter, will almost always produce an exit wound on typically lean bodied animals and produces fast kills. Likewise, the 115 grain Partition is an extremely reliable projectile. To some extent, the Partition does away with the need for the GameKing load. The Partition opens quickly and produces just as wide a wound as the GameKing but also produces far superior penetration - ideal for wild boar as well as woods hunting or deer at awkward angles. The 115 grain Partition is capable of giving full body length penetration on lighter species of Whitetail deer. .
Hornady list two standard loads featuring the 117 grain SST and 117 grain BTSP Interlock, both at 2990fps. The 117 grain SST is also offered as Superformance (formally Light Magnum) load at 3110 for a hot 2970fps in shorter barrels.
The SST is definitely the most violent wounding of all .25 caliber projectiles, ideal for cross body and quartering shots on medium bodied game, producing very fast kills. Jacket core separation usually only occurs after 8” of penetration therefore this projectile always maintains its integrity during penetration into vitals on cross body shots. The SST is an excellent choice for use on game weighing less than 90kg (200lb). This load will handle heavier game but is not as predictable and reliable as Federals 115 grain Partition load.
Hornady’s latest innovation is the 110 grain GMX. Unfortunately, at this time of writing, the 110 grain load has not been tested for this knowledge base.
The .25-06 is vastly more popular amongst hand loaders than factory ammunition users. Brass is both easy to obtain and easy to form from .270Win cases. The best powders for the .25-06 are the slow burners such as IMR 4831, H4831sc, N160 and N165. Achievable velocities for 100 grain bullets in 24" (600mm) barrels are between 3250 and 3300fps for an average of 3275fps while some rifles may achieve 3400fps as an exception to the rule. 117 to 120 grain bullets run between 3000 to 3100fps for an average of 3050fps. From 22” barrels, velocity loss is in the order of 70fps, translating into 3200fps and 2980fps respectively.
Hornady produce several projectiles for the .25-06 ranging from explosive long range varminting projectiles through to the deep penetrating InterBond. Varmint projectiles include the 75 grain V-Max, the 75 grain hollow point and the 87 grain spire point. Medium game projectiles include the 100 grain spire point, the 110 grain InterBond, the 117 grain Interlock BTSP, 117gr Interlock round nose soft point, the 117 grain SST and lastly, the 120 grain Hollow point.
The Hornady 117 grain SST is one of the best .257 offerings available. Unlike other SST designs, this particular bullet is designed to produce much more uniform wounding and deeper penetration. Head and neck shots tend to be extremely violent, body shots tend to be outwardly less spectacular and internal (vital) wounding is extreme. The SST is neither in-expensive nor expensive, priced in such a way that the hunter can afford to use it for practice on varmints to hone skills but expect excellent performance on Deer. On small game, this SST is not as violent as one might expect, eluding to its design premise. None of the .257” bullet designs are particularly ideal (perhaps emphatic is a better word) for game weighing over 90kg (200lb) and up to 150kg (330lb) however countless heavy animals have been taken throughout the world with .25-06 and this is the expectation. In this regard, the 117 grain SST does its best to optimize the performance of the .25-06 in an all-around manner.
Hornady’s 110 grain InterBond is an extremely good bullet for use on animals weighing between 80kg and up to 180kg (400lb). This projectile can be pushed to work on game weighing up to 320kg (700lb) but is not nearly as effective as a heavier cartridge. The hunter cannot expect exit wounds on large bodied medium game when using the InterBond however internal wounding is vivid. Like all small bore projectiles, but even more so for core bonded designs at lower velocities, the InterBond needs to strike bone in order to effect wide wounding.
Sierra produce a range of inexpensive but highly useful projectiles for the .25-06. An extremely popular lighter game bullet is Sierra's 100 grain BTSP and driven at 3300fps the Sierra is a spectacular killer on light animals. Wound channels and exit holes can be incredibly large and blood vapor clouds are not uncommon. The Sierra's spectacular performance is due to a combination of bullet blow up combined with bullet spin. Fragments of the Sierra move in such a way, that if they could be frozen in time, they would look like a telescope photo of a spiraling galaxy. Moisture and air is compressed and superheated ahead of the bullet creating traumatic results. This performance, spectacular though it is, does not lend itself to deep penetration. The Sierra can fail to penetrate onside muscles and bone on game approaching 80kg (176lb) therefore it is best used on light bodied animals or if used on larger animals, at ranges beyond 200 yards. The counterpart to the 100 grain GK is the 100 grain Pro-Hunter, an equally fast killing bullet at moderate ranges but with a stout jacket for greater reliability when hunting medium weight game. Both make an excellent combination for hunters who mostly target lighter species of game.
Sierra offer the same combination with the 117 grain GameKing and 117 grain Pro-Hunter. The 117 grain GameKing is ideal for hunters on a budget wanting an outstanding load suitable for sniping medium sized deer at ranges between 250 and 350 yards. The 117 grain GameKing is ideal for lighter medium game at both close and longer ranges but for heavier animals weighing between 90 and 150kg (200 to 330lb), the GK produces best performance at ranges beyond 250 yards.
The 117 grain Pro-Hunter produces performance almost identical to the 120 grain Speer Hotcor. The Pro-Hunter produces excellent expansion with best results being created inside 250 yards. The Pro-Hunter produces reasonably deep penetration and is suitable for animals weighing between 90 and 150kg (200 to 330lb) at close ranges where other .257” projectiles would normally suffer bullet blow up.
Nosler’s 100 and 115 grain Ballistic Tip projectiles perform exactly like the Sierra .257” projectiles on impact creating violent, fast bleeding, fast killing wounds. For lighter medium game, these are spectacular performers. The only difference between the Nosler BT and Sierra GK is that the Ballistic Tip projectiles have higher BC’s although the differences aren’t huge.
The 100 grain Nosler Partition fired from the .25-06 should never be under-estimated for use on medium game. The Partition is ideal for game weighing up to 90kg (200lb) but is also adequate for heavier animals in a pinch. The Partition is cheap in comparison to new premium projectile designs yet it is reliable in both its ability to produce fast expansion, wide wounding and adequate penetration. The Partition is also available in the weights 115 and 120 grains, both are adequate for game weighing up to 180kg (400lb). The Partition projectiles are truly the go-to bullets for reliable performance on larger medium game in the .25-06.
As has already been described, the 110 grain Nosler Accubond also optimizes the performance of the .25-06. This is a rather expensive projectile but its cost is well justified. The Accubond has a very high (for .257’) BC of .418 resulting in high retained velocity for excellent down range wounding. A higher BC is the only major difference between the Accubond and the older Partition projectiles. Apart from this, penetration and wounding are the same.
Both the Accubond and Partition bullets have the potential to produce exit wounds on medium game providing suitable bullet weights are chosen. Exit wounding is not only helpful for creating a blood trail but also prevents vacuum locking and clotting in the chest cavities of game. Single side wounds can often result in animals escaping large distances of between 100 and 300 yards, suffice to say, the Nosler projectiles aid fast, clean killing immensely.
The Speer range of projectiles is similar to Sierra’s offerings. Speer produce a 100 grain BTSP and a 100 grain Hotcor as well as 120 grain Hotcor and 120 grain BTSP.
Although Speer’s 100 grain bullets are very useful (like the Sierra offerings), the 120 grain Hotcor/BTSP combination is extremely effective. The 120 grain Speer BTSP has a high BC of .480 while both the jacket material and core material of the projectile are soft and frangible. The 120 grain Hotcor is an emphatic killer on medium light through to medium weight game out to 300 yards while BTSP comes into its own for sniping game at ranges of 300 yards and beyond.
The deepest penetrating .257” projectiles are the Barnes TSX and XLC projectiles. Barnes produce a 100 grain TSX, a 100 grain XLC and a 120 grain TSX. Barnes offer the 100 grain bullet in two styles in an attempt to ensure at least one of these styles will be accurate within a hunter’s individual rifle. Both have the potential to be very accurate however care needs to be taken with the coated XLC projectile, case mouths should be flared slightly to minimize damage to the XLC coating. As lighter medium game bullets, all three offerings are poor performers in comparison to other brands. Although internal wound channel diameters are usually the same width as those created by conventional soft points, the Barnes bullets do not let off enough energy on immediate impact to initiate hydrostatic shock. Unless front leg bones are broken with the Barnes, lighter medium game almost always run considerable distances after being shot. The Barnes 100 to 115 grain bullets are best utilized on game weighing between 90 and 320kg (200 to 700lb). Good resistance equates to wide wounding while penetration remains uncompromised. It is worth noting that the 6.5mm Barnes bullet is quite different in its performance and produces fast spectacular kills on animals as light as 40kg (90lb).
One last bullet worth mentioning is the Berger’s 115 grain VLD hunting bullet. Like the 120 grain Speer BTSP, this is a highly frangible projectile and not ideally suited to larger bodied animals at close ranges. This particular VLD is best suited to lighter bodied game weighing up to 60kg (130lb), perhaps heavier game at a push, out to ranges of around 625 to 650 yards. BC is a very high .523.
At this time of writing the .25-06 is once again disappearing into oblivion as newer cartridges hold the limelight. The .25-06 has always just hung on in popularity by a thread. To a large extent the .25-06 has been poorly promoted by both manufacturers and gun stores. Rifle production has been inconsistent and rifle configurations have been less than optimal. On top of this the choice of factory ammunition has been very limited and in the case of premium ammunition, too expensive for gun store operators to keep in stock and above the budget of the majority of hunters. This is a terrible shame as the .25-06 is an immensely useful cartridge. There are times when I have been asked - what is the flattest shooting, hardest hitting cartridge with the least amount of recoil. Hands down the .25-06 has these attributes. Nevertheless, I have been unable to recommend this cartridge due to the lack of rifles and suitable factory ammunition on gun store shelves.
For this cartridge to survive, all of the above issues need to be addressed to make the .25-06 more useful to factory ammunition users. Although the .25-06 is recognized for its strengths as an intermediate shooters cartridge it is also highly respected by experienced hunters. This cartridge is not just ideal for younger hunters but also for experienced hunters who wish to retire to a mild cartridge with an X- factor of its own.
The .25-06 does have its limits, this is not an exceptionally deep penetrating cartridge when loaded with conventional projectiles, while at longer ranges killing is sometimes slightly delayed. Nevertheless both of these limitations are easily overcome. Penetration issues can be avoided by matching the right projectile to the job at hand and slow killing at longer ranges can be avoided by again matching the projectile to the required task, combined with a point of aim directed to strike the forwards locomotive muscles and bones prior to penetration through vitals. With due consideration the .25-06 can be relied on to produce instant collapse of medium game animals time after time.
The .25-06 is truly spectacular for its size. Low recoil for maintaining good shooting habits, outstanding accuracy, a flat trajectory and tremendous shock on game are hallmarks of this greatly under utilized cartridge.
Note: loads 9 and 11 for warm hand loads in 24” barrels. Nosler Partition, 117gr SST and 117gr Interlock have similar BC’s and trajectories where velocity is identical. Please also note the large variations in impact velocity of all loads at 300 yards.
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