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The Ultimate Reloading Manual
Wolfe Publishing Group
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  • alliant reloading data
  • reloading brass
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The Ultimate Reloading Manual
hornady superperformance

The .250 Savage

Author: John Barsness / Wolfe Publishing Co.
Date: May 01 2008

The cartridge most twenty-first century hunters call the .250 Savage (if they call it anything at all) was originally named the .250-3000 Savage, because it was the first commercial cartridge to attain 3,000 fps at the muzzle. The exact date of the .250’s introduction is a little obscure, but it happened within a year or so of 1912. With the powders of the day, the heaviest spitzers bullet that could be pushed to 3,000 fps weighed 87 grains, something that turned out to be both a blessing and a curse.

The cartridge’s designer was Charles Newton, who later manufactured his own line of rifles and ammunition. Newton designed the .250 for a 100-grain bullet at 2,800 fps or so, but the Savage people saw the publicity value of 3,000 fps, so lowered the bullet weight slightly. This really had no bearing on how well the .250 killed anything, but somehow the hunting public has always had the perception that a 100-grain bullet is the minimum required to cleanly kill deer. Eventually .250 ammunition was offered with 100-grain loads at 2,800 fps or so, and is to this day, though most people who used the 87-grain load found it also worked fine – or at least it did with bullets designed for deer, not woodchucks.

The biggest effect the lighter bullet had was on rifling twist. For decades, the standard twist in .250 barrels was one turn in 14 inches. This was plenty for stabilizing an 87-grain spitzer but marginal even for some 100-grain bullets, and anything heavier had to be roundnosed to reduce length. Starting around 1970, some commercial .250s appeared with one-in-10-inch twists. This helped accuracy with 100-grain bullets, but still isn’t quite enough for the finest accuracy with 110- to 120-grain spitzers at .250 velocities.

John took this big mule deer doe in Montana's Missouri Breaks with one shot from a
Winchester Model 70 .250 Savage and a handoad using the 100-grain Speer Hot-Cor.

All this affects how the cartridges should be handloaded. Older rifles and even some newer ones have the one-in-14-inch twist – or a slight variation. I have owned maybe 10 rifles chambered for the .250 Savage, one an original takedown 1899 Savage that simply would not shoot any 100-grain bullet well, and even some 85- to 90-grain bullets. Eventually I measured the rifling twist and found it to be one in 15. This sort of variation wasn’t uncommon in the days when all barrels were cut-rifled. Aside from that, I have also found a one-in-14- inch twist in a Winchester Model 70 made in the late 1980s, long after Savage itself changed to a one in- 10-inch twist in 99s.

In addition, many bullets are much longer for their weight than they used to be. Aside from boat tail bases, some have plastic tips. Others have far more jacket material than the bullets of 1912, and some are made entirely of copper or its alloys. The “correct” rifling twist for any bullet depends on the length of the bullet, not its weight. Many older .250 Savages with one in- 14-inch twists won’t stabilize, say, an 85-grain Nosler Ballistic Tip, when they will stabilize a very short 87-grain spitzers such as the Speer Hot-Cor (the heaviest spitzers that shot well in that one-in-15-inch twist rifle I owned). And very few one-in-14-inch twist .250s will stabilize a 100-grain Barnes Triple- Shock.

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