.25-06 Remington Handloads
Date: Mar 03 2020
Remington’s .25-06 is likely the single quarter-bore cartridge assuring .257 bullet sales remain brisk – the .257 Roberts is a distant second. It is certainly my favorite. The quintessential Western cartridge, it’s one of those rare combinations that comfortably tackles anything from small varmints and predators to heavy big game; though it has become fashionable among gun writers to minimize any round’s capabilities, as if we will be held personally accountable for any negative experiences. Thus, handloaders will typically see the .25-06 touted as suitable for nothing larger than pronghorn or deer.
Chat up any long-time .25-06 Remington owner, and you’ll likely hear tales of performance well beyond the terminal ballistics presented on paper. I’ve shot bull elk with mine and wouldn’t hesitate to do so again – with proper bullets, of course. Despite the poor ballistic coefficients of most .257 bullets, I’ve used my .25-06 to make some of my longest big-game shots. At the other end of the spectrum, I used the .25-06 to collect scads of coyotes for the fur market to help pay university tuition.
Noted gunsmith A.O. Niedner is credited for creating the .25-06, necking down the venerable .30-06 Springfield in 1920. Remington didn’t adopt the cartridge until 1969. It took wildcatters until the end of World War II to wring noteworthy performance from the necked-down .30-06 following the availability of slower-burning propellants such as IMR-4350 and IMR-4831, options that are quite viable today.
This project included components already on hand, as the nature of magazine deadlines left little time. As such, my brass collection proved somewhat eclectic, including cases from Hornady, Winchester, Federal, Remington and Speer. Average water capacities were 72.5, 71.4, 70.5 and 70.3 grains (Remington and Speer), respectively. CCI 200 Large Rifle primers were used throughout. Powders were chosen from both old standards and newer, temperature-insensitive formulas. Bullets were a mix of vintage and new designs.
The Interarms Mark X rifle used for testing was built in Yugoslavia, when that country still existed. It was purchased as a barreled action that was trued and glass-bedded into a quality Bell & Carlson stock by an experienced gunsmith. The original owner was a big fan of the Mauser-style, controlled-feed mechanism. I received the rifle as a guiding tip after that client shot a Boone & Crockett elk with an identical rifle chambered in .300 Weatherby Magnum. I was gifted that rifle initially, but then offered the .25-06 in trade later – a decision I’ve never regretted.
In all honesty, a growing bowhunting addiction meant I didn’t hunt with that .25-06 much for the past 30 years, but close friends certainly have. They borrow this rifle frequently, meaning it has accounted for a couple big Coues’ whitetails and three B&C pronghorns, a trophy Persian ibex, several bull elk, black bears, mule deer, whitetails and wild boars. It is a “highly-experienced rifle” and has continued to shoot respectable groups despite collecting occasional scratches and dings. It now features a Bushnell Elite 6500 4.5-30x 50mm scope with a DOA reticle. The big scope was added while experimenting with extreme-range bullets with windy-day southern Idaho rockchucks in mind.
Bullets were selected from on-hand stock, and loads (some long proven) cover the gamut of .25-06 capabilities, from small-varmint shooting to larger big game. Hornady’s red-tipped 75-grain V-MAX is one of the lightest .257 bullets commercially available (Sierra offers a 70-grain BlitzKing) and is perfect for ground squirrels and prairie dogs to 500 yards. It features a .290 ballistic coefficient (BC) (compare that to the .242 BC of a 50-grain, .224-caliber V-MAX) so carries pretty decent long-range, windy-day ballistics. Temperature-stable, copper-erasing IMR 4451 Enduron proved perfect with this bullet, with all three test groups printing less than an inch. Fifty-eight grains provide a .50-inch cluster at a sizzling 3,695 fps, a welcome combination of velocity, accuracy and low velocity spread.
Hodgdon H-4350 did best with a near-maximum 58.5 grains at 3,411 fps, including single-digit extreme velocity spreads. These groups were actually a bit of a surprise, as the rifle has typically done its best work with long-for-caliber, heavyweight bullets. Varget provided only ho-hum accuracy.
Sierra’s 87-grain Varminter SP is a classic in the quarter bore, offering a respectable .293 BC combined with explosive terminal performance on even small varmints like ground squirrels. Like most Sierra bullets, it also proved consistently accurate, with seven of nine loads sending five shots into less than an inch at 100 yards. Three loads nipped at the coveted half-inch mark, including a .63-inch group with 54 grains of Ramshot Hunter at 3,246 fps, and .65- and .60-inch groups with 47.5 and 48.5 grains of IMR 4064 at 3,271 and 3,355 fps. The heavier charge also turned in low extreme velocity spreads. Fifty-six grains of Alliant Reloader 19 broke an inch at 3,126 fps.
Hornady’s relatively-new 110-grain ELD-X promises to work well on deer and pronghorn. This is also a bullet I experimented with when thinking of extreme-range coyotes and rockchucks, as it promised to expand on the latter. The 110-grain, ELD-X has a BC of .465, one of the highest in .25 caliber. I’ve long considered a .450 BC a long-range threshold, and this bullet is one of only five or six .257 bullets to break that mark. The 110-grain ELD-X did well over 47 and 49 grains of IMR 4451 Enduron (.70-inch group at 2,818 fps and .78 inch at 2,873 fps). Fifty-three and a half grains of Alliant Reloader 22 provided a .63-inch group combined with impressive 3,020 fps velocity. Hodgdon 4831 proved the most consistent powder with this projectile, with 51.5, 52.5 and 53.5 grains producing .59-, .75- and .68-inch groups at 2,783, 2,831 and 2,887 fps, respectively. In my experience, ELD bullets can prove a touch fussy about seating depth, so don’t be afraid to test various overall loaded lengths.
Nosler’s 115-grain Ballistic Silvertip is another long-range-ready option, with an excellent BC of .453. As a quick aside, Nosler’s more frangible 115-grain Ballistic Tip Hunting bullet accurately duplicates results in all loads I’ve tested with the Silvertip. The Combined Technology Ballistic Silvertip includes a Lubalox exterior coating to reduce fouling and friction for longer barrel life, and a controlled-expansion design to hold together following punishing bone hits or when driving deep into larger game. I wouldn’t hesitate to pursue elk with this bullet, understanding shot placement is all important.
Accurate 4350 produced a .56-inch group with 49.5 grains pushed to 2,797 fps. All IMR 4831 loads printed less than an inch, with the best measuring .45-inch at 2,724 fps with 49.5 grains. Reliable IMR 4350 proved itself yet again, with 47 grains producing a .38-inch group. This load has consistently produced one-hole groups when I do my part. Forty-eight grains grouped into .47 inch. IMR 4350 has been my go-to powder in this bullet weight class for 30 years. Despite newer, more temperature-insensitive propellants, IMR 4350 continues to produce my most impressive 115 – and 117-grain .25-06 groups.
The “antique,” paper-boxed Remington 117-grain roundnose softpoints included here were purchased on clearance years ago. They proved effective on wild hogs and white-tailed deer shot at treestand ranges, expanding and typically dropping game in its tracks. Ballistically they mirror Hornady’s InterLock RN, as well as 117-grain RN bullets used in factory Weatherby .257 Weatherby Magnum ammunition. These aren’t match-grade bullets by any means, and accuracy was likely affected by my rifle’s generous free-bore and the long jump into the lands. But they certainly provided groups perfectly adequate for centering 12-inch big-game vitals. The .243ish BC doesn’t mark them as long-range fodder. Hodgdon H-1000 proved the velocity champ, the fastest powder in this bullet class with velocities from 2,962 to 3,106 fps, and accuracy hovering around 1.5 inches. Ramshot Big Game produced a sub-one-inch group with 46 grains of powder, plus 2,858 fps velocity. Hodgdon’s H-4831 proved the most consistent with all loads printing less than an inch; the best measuring .50 inch at 2,650 fps with 50.5 grains of powder.
The Nosler 120-grain Partitions used for testing came from an old paper box I’m certain accounted for a couple of bull elk. Despite the .25-06’s purported marginal status on elk, bulls shot at 150 to 300 yards all failed to get out of sight after impact. The 49-grain IMR-4350 charge (2,825 fps) is my original standby and still a dandy, producing a .46-inch group in this test. Vihtavouri N-560 didn’t disappoint, with 52 grains producing an impressive .43-inch group when pushed to 2,865 fps. A 53-grain charge of N-560 at 2,932 fps produced a .68-inch group, providing a bit more knockdown and penetration energy with an accuracy margin that falls well within standard deviations.
Experience has shown my .25-06 Remington is fairly tolerant of bullet designs and brands within the same weight class. The 117-grain roundnose loads, for instance, translate well into spitzer or poly-tipped bullet loads. You’ll also read frequently that Nosler Partitions seldom provide noteworthy accuracy, but my rifle obviously likes them. Still, loads listed should carry over well to other 120-grain styles and brands, either long-range bullets or big-game bone crushers.