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Shooting: The Case of the Quarter Bore

They were once beloved by hunters for their versatility, but are .25-caliber cartridges still as useful today?

Shooting: The Case of the Quarter Bore

Are .25-caliber cartridges the best options for hunters wanting one rifle that can do it all? (Photo by Richard Mann)

In 1915, Savage introduced the .250-3000 rifle cartridge. Also known as the .250 Savage, it’s generally considered the first factory American rifle cartridge to achieve 3,000 fps. It set the stage for several other successful .25-caliber cartridges, and for many years hunters relished these quarter bores. But, as of late, their charm has diminished. We’ll discuss why shortly, but first, let’s look at why hunters liked them so much to begin with.

DUAL-PURPOSE APPEAL

Part of the quarter-bore cartridges’ appeal involves sectional density (SD), the ratio of a bullet’s weight compared to its diameter. Historically, SD has been a controlling factor regarding the nominal weight of rifle bullets as they relate to caliber. Often, the most common hunting bullets—by caliber—have an SD of around 0.25.

This is why the 100-grain bullet is so popular for the .243 Win., why the 130-grain bullet is the standard for the .270 Win., and why the 165-grain bullet is so ubiquitous in the .308 Win. Additionally, this standard SD also establishes the weight range of bullets for a given caliber. Although today we have some very light- and heavy-for-caliber bullets intended for specialty applications, typically, weight range by caliber is about 50 grains, with bullets having an SD of around 0.25 being near the upper-middle of this range.

coyote hunter
Because they shoot both light and heavy bullets well, quarter-bore cartridges are great for deer hunters who also predator hunt. (Photo by Richard Mann)

This might seem like a lot of math and scientific mumbo-jumbo to get to my point, but what it all means is that the common bullet weight range for .25-caliber rifle cartridges is between 70 and 120 grains. It makes these cartridges a viable option for varmints and predators with the lighter bullets and perfectly suitable for big game with the heavier bullets. In short, .25-caliber rifle cartridges are “both-ways” cartridges, ideally configured for little and big stuff.

Historically, such dual-purpose cartridges appealed to hunters wanting a single rifle that would allow them to shoot groundhogs in the spring and deer in the fall. This brings us back to the .250 Savage that started it all for the quarter bores. It would push a lighter bullet fast for opening up rock chucks, and it could also handle heavier bullets for pronghorns, whitetails and mule deer. It was, partly by virtue of how SD influences bullet weight range by caliber, the one rifle cartridge that could do the most, for the most hunters, at that time.

For several years, I hunted with a vintage Savage Model 99 in .250 Savage. Using a handload with a 100-grain Hornady InterLock bullet, I put a lot of deer in the freezer.

OTHER NOTABLE .25S

In the 1920s, gun writer Ned Roberts necked down the 7x57 Mauser to accept a .257-inch bullet for long-range groundhog hunting. It was exceptional for that, but handloaders began loading it with heavier bullets, kind of turning it into a magnum .250 Savage that could also be used on larger game.

Remington legitimized the .257 Roberts in 1934, and consistent with common practice, the manufacturer stuffed it with a 117-grain bullet that had an SD of about 0.25. I’ve lost count of how many .257 Roberts rifles I’ve owned. I’ve used them in Africa for plains game, in the West for rock chucks and in the East for groundhogs and whitetails—with a lot of different bullets. I found, however, that the 100-grain Nosler Ballistic Tip worked well for all those critters, which gave me a single rifle and load for a pile of game.

rifle cartridges
The author necked down the 6.5 Creedmoor to .25 caliber, resulting in a wildcat that has shown promise as a hunting cartridge and received praise from long-range shooters. (Photo by Richard Mann)

In 1944, the quarter bore was taken to true magnum status with the .257 Wby. It would launch an 87-grain bullet at nearly 3,800 fps and drive a 120-grain bullet to a staggering 3,300 fps. It was lethal on everything from prairie dogs to elk but had a bad bark and a bit of a bite on the back end. But with the better bullets being made in the ’60s, the .243 Win. was cutting into the appeal of the .250 Savage and the .257 Roberts.




So, in 1969 Remington launched the most successful of the quarter bores by necking down a .30-06 case to .25 caliber. Thus, the .25-06 Rem. was born. Ballistically, it was between the Roberts and the Weatherby and was all the gun most American hunters needed, for almost everything.

THE PRESENT AND FUTURE

With the arrival of the 21st century came a new trend. Gone were the days of the one-rifle sportsman; hunters in this new millennium wanted a varmint rifle, a deer rifle and an elk rifle. Although some short-action wildcat .25-caliber cartridges like the .250 Savage Ackley Improved and the .25-284 remained popular with handloaders, this modern-day specialization seriously cut into the versatile appeal of a rifle that would go both ways. The 6.5 Creedmoor didn’t do anything to help the .25s remain relevant either, but it might have given us what could possibly become the best of the quarter bores.

.25 caliber bullets
The main appeal of .25-caliber rifle cartridges is their 70- to 120-grain bullet weight range, which is ideal for varmints and deer-size game. If you want a cartridge suitable for both coyotes and whitetails, for example, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better option. Unfortunately, factory loads are limited, so handloading is usually needed to get the most from these cartridges. (Photo by Richard Mann)

As the Creedmoor was finding fame, I necked it down to .25 caliber, creating a short-action quarter bore that approached .25-06 performance. Since then, the cartridge has found favor with long-range competition shooters, and I’ve used it from coast to coast on predators and deer. It’ll push a Hornady 75-grain V-Max to about 3,500 fps, and it will eviscerate coyotes. When it’s loaded with a 110-grain Hornady ELD-X or Nosler AccuBond to nearly 3,000 fps, a whitetail deer does not stand a chance, even out to ranges most of us have no business shooting. Down the road, it might be the cartridge that revives interest in the quarter bore, but it has a steep hill to climb.

Recommended


Between the .243 Win. and 6.5 Creedmoor, there are about 140 factory loads to choose from. That’s more than three times the factory loads available for the .250 Savage, .257 Roberts, .25-06 Rem. and the .257 Wby. combined. Clearly, the market has spoken. Because the quarter bores were very good at doing several things, they’ve fallen out of favor with hunters who want different rifles, chambered for different cartridges, to help them do different things.

The true appeal of the quarter-bore rifle cartridge is versatility. It can handle heavier bullets better than the .243 Win. or 6 mm Creedmoor, and it can shoot lighter bullets faster than the 6.5 Creedmoor or .260 Rem. For varmint hunting, the .243 Win. is better, and for big game, the 6.5 Creedmoor has an edge.

However, if you want an ideal both-ways rifle, nothing can compare to a quarter bore. The problem is that rifle and ammo options are limited, and you’ll have to handload to get the best of what quarter-bore cartridges can offer. The other issue is that once you go down the quarter-bore road, it’s hard to turn back. Yes, they’re that good. As it has often been said, beware the man with one gun.


  • This article was published in the February 2024 issue of Game & Fish magazine. Click to subscribe.

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