The .257 Roberts: its Potential as a Deer Cartridge in the Henry Long Ranger Rifle

By Gary Zinn

Hornady Superformance .257 Roberts +P ammo
Hornady Superformance .257 Roberts ammo with 117 grain SST bullet. Illustration courtesy of Hornady Mfg. Co.

The .257 Roberts cartridge does not deserve to be shoved into obscurity. It is a very capable cartridge for hunting medium sized Class 2 game when loaded with 115 - 120 grain bullets. Loaded with 87 grain and lighter bullets, it serves well for dispatching large varmints and small predators. Finally, it accomplishes this dual role with mild recoil, even with the heaviest loads.

Those who reflect on the decline of the .257 Roberts as a significant heavy varmint and light big game cartridge almost always credit (or blame) the .243 Winchester. It is clear that the .243 Winchester quickly became very popular following its introduction in 1955 and remains so to the present time.

However, the .243 Winchester cannot match the .257 Roberts as a big game cartridge, although the .243 is arguably a more efficient heavy varmint round. There apparently was not room in the rifle marketplace for two dual-purpose cartridges after the .243 Winchester was introduced and it bested the .244/6mm Remington, .250 Savage and .257 Roberts in the popularity contest, for whatever reasons.

My purpose here is to propose (or plead for) a resurrection of the .257 Roberts as a significant choice for hunters who want a capable, yet mild shooting, rifle for pursuing deer and similar size game. Specifically, I hope that Henry Repeating Arms Co. will chamber their new Long Ranger lever action rifle in .257 Roberts. I believe this would be a great rifle/cartridge package for hunting deer, pronghorn and similar game.

However, before Henry could justify offering the Long Ranger in .257 Roberts, they would have to be convinced that hunters would buy it. Hunters, in turn, would need to be convinced that the .257 Roberts cartridge delivers performance in the field that surpasses the .243 Winchester, which is already being offered in the Long Ranger rifle. Therefore, my main task here is to sell the proposition that the .257 Roberts is a better Class 2 game cartridge than the .243 Winchester.

The .257 Roberts (then and now)

Firearms experimenter Ned H. Roberts created what was to become the .257 Roberts commercial cartridge during the mid-1920s. Basically, he necked down the 7x57mm Mauser case to take .257 inch diameter (standard .25 caliber) bullets. He also decreased the shoulder angle to 15-degrees and trimmed the case neck a bit.

The Roberts .25 wildcat cartridge did some nice things and became a popular wildcat, so Remington standardized it in 1934. The commercial Remington version of the .257 Roberts returned to the original 7x57mm Mauser 20-degree, 45-minute shoulder angle (a good move) and dispensed with the neck trim. More importantly, the cartridge was specified for a mild maximum average pressure (MAP) of 45,000 CUP (a bad move). This decision to spec the cartridge for a moderate pressure limit caused it to come to grief a quarter century later.

The .257 Roberts was the premier combination varmint/deer cartridge until the .243 Winchester and .244 Remington were introduced in 1955. These cartridges were highly touted by Warren Page, the Shooting Editor at Field & Stream magazine, and appeared to be ballistically superior to the .257 Roberts. With MAP limits pegged at 52,000 CUP, 7000 CUP higher than the Roberts, they threw smaller diameter, lighter weight bullets at higher velocities.

Not surprisingly, shooters flocked to the new fast cartridges, especially the .243 Winchester. (The .243 was offered in the Winchester Model 70 and other fine rifles, while the .244 was offered in the clunky Remington Model 722.) The .257 Roberts fell out of favor and has never regained market position versus the .243 Winchester.

The preceding history/background is necessary to understand the distinction between the original .257 Roberts cartridge and its later variant called the ".257 Roberts +P." Simply put, the .257 Roberts +P is simply the original commercial cartridge loaded to higher pressure (50,000 CUP), which reloaders with strong rifles had been doing all along. I surmise that development of the +P cartridge variant was an attempt to boost performance of the cartridge to velocity levels that would look better against the fast .243s.

It is a shame that Remington did not specify the .257 Roberts for a MAP of 50,000 CUP in the first place. If nothing else, it would have saved a lot of later confusion.

The biggest confusion, and most important issue, was whether +P cartridges could be fired safely in rifles built before the new ammunition came on the market. Discussing this issue in detail is outside the scope of this article. All I will say is that anyone who has a .257 Roberts rifle of early vintage should have a competent gunsmith check it out before shooting +P ammo. (Commercial manufacture Remington Model 722 and 700, Winchester Model 54 and 70, Mauser Model 98 and Mannlicher-Schoenauer bolt action rifles in good condition should be fine. -Editor)

That said, I will simply refer to the cartridge and rifles chambered for it as ".257 Roberts" hereafter. Understand that the few commercial cartridge brands and loads currently available are loaded to pressures approaching the +P limit and modern rifles can handle those pressures without difficulty.

Performance of modern .257 Roberts factory loads

The hottest commercial .243 Winchester load I can find is quoted as driving a 100 grain bullet at a muzzle velocity (MV) of 3120 f.p.s. (22 inch barrel). By comparison, the fastest heavy bullet .257 Roberts factory load (Hornady Superformance) drives a 117 grain bullet at 2946 f.p.s. MV (24 inch barrel). The .243 cartridge/load, being faster, must be better, right? Wrong!

Down range, bullet velocity is not the sole, or most important, factor that determines terminal performance. Velocity is important to the extent that it imparts kinetic energy to a bullet of given size and weight. Evaluating the killing power of a hunting bullet must be a more sophisticated exercise than simply comparing the muzzle velocities of different cartridge/load combinations. Fortunately, there is a reasonably straightforward way to do this.

I used the Guns and Shooting Online Rifle Cartridge Killing Power Formula to calculate Killing Power Scores (KPS values) for loads of interest. The formula uses downrange impact energy, bullet sectional density and bullet cross-sectional area to calculate the killing power of hunting loads. (The cross-sectional area of a .257 inch diameter bullet is 0.0519 sq. in.) For a given load, the formula is:

KPS at y yards = (Impact Energy at y yards) x (sectional density x cross-sectional area), or simply:

    KPS = E x (SD x A)

My judgment is that an adequate KPS value for hunting deer and similar Class 2 game is KPS 15. I call this the "baseline" KPS value for deer cartridges and loads. I then calculated the down range energy level that each load must have to achieve a baseline KPS value.

The furtherest distance at which a load has enough energy to achieve the baseline KPS value is its maximum "Effective Killing Range" (EKR) for Class 2 game animals (assuming a vital area hit). I noted the Effective Killing Range of the load. (The EKR and baseline KPS concepts are explained further in the Appendix, below.)

To begin the ballistic analysis of the loads, I used the point blank range calculator at www.shooterscalcualtor.com to calculate a +/- 3 inch maximum point blank range (MPBR) for the load. (Assuming a +1.5 inch line of sight.) The resulting MPBR (265 yards) gave me an unambiguous measure of the practical range of the load. I also noted the zero distance of the load.

Next, I developed a trajectory table for the load using the ShootersCalculator trajectory calculator. From the trajectory table, I recorded muzzle energy and energy at 100 yards and other relevant distances. The downrange data are needed to do hunting capability index calculations. (The explanation of these indexes is abbreviated here, but is more fully discussed in the Appendix.)

I show data workups for three .257 Roberts factory hunting loads below. In each data set, the first line lists information about the load. The remaining (bullet pointed) lines summarize the results. Hopefully, this process will become clear after we look at some data.

Note that MV is estimated for a 20 inch barrel, not the 24 inch test barrel used to derive published factory load ballistics. I chose 20 inches, because the Henry Long Ranger rifle has a 20 inch barrel. MPBR and zero distances are rounded to the nearest five yards.

.257 Load #1: Nosler Custom, 115 gr. BT bullet, BC .459, MV 2700 f.p.s. (20 inch barrel), ME 1862 ft. lbs., MPBR = 265 yards (zero at 225 yards)

  • 100 yard KPS = 20.7 (Energy = 1602 ft. lbs.)
  • 200 yard KPS = 17.7 (Energy = 1371 ft. lbs.)
  • 265 yard KPS = 15.9 (Energy = 1235 ft. lbs.)
  • EKR = MPBR = 265 yards

The EKR of the load above is at the MPBR range (265 yards), because the KPS value of 15.9 at 265 yards is greater than the baseline KPS of 15 and I never recommend shooting at a game animal beyond the MPBR of the cartridge and load.

The next load is the hottest Roberts factory load of which I am aware, driving a 117 grain bullet at an estimated 2845 f.p.s. from a 20 inch barrel.

.257 Load #2: Hornady Superformance, 117 gr. SST bullet, BC .390, MV 2845 f.p.s. (20 inch barrel), ME 2103 ft. lbs., MPBR = 275 yards (Zero at 235 yards)

  • 100 yard KPS = 23.2 (Energy = 1771 ft. lbs.)
  • 200 yard KPS = 19.4 (Energy = 1483 ft. lbs.)
  • 275 yard KPS = 16.9 (Energy = 1292 ft. lbs.)
  • EKR = MPBR = 275 yards

Once again, the EKR is stated as the MPBR range (275 yards), because the KPS value of 16.9 at 275 yards is greater than the baseline KPS of 15.

.257 Load #3: Federal Vital-Shok, 120 gr. Nosler Partition bullet, BC .391, MV 2700 f.p.s. (20 inch barrel), ME 1943 ft. lbs., MPBR = 265 yards (Zero at 225 yards)

  • 100 yard KPS = 22.0 (Energy = 1631 ft. lbs.)
  • 200 yard KPS = 18.4 (Energy = 1360 ft. lbs.)
  • 265 yard KPS = 16.2 (Energy = 1203 ft. lbs.)
  • EKR = MPBR = 265 yards

Load #3 features a 120 grain bullet, the heaviest hunting bullet loaded in the Roberts. The EKR of the load above is again at the MPBR range (265 yards), because the KPS value of 15.9 at 265 yards is greater than the baseline KPS of 15.

To summarize, the .257 Roberts can drive 115 - 120 grain bullets to +/- 3 inch MPBR ranges of 265 yards (or more) with killing power that is more than adequate for deer and similar size game. Remember, this is from rifles with 20 inch barrels. The Roberts is not a puny quarter-bore cartridge!

The .257 Roberts is a better deer cartridge than the .243 Winchester

I am only stating what the numbers show. The hottest .243 Winchester factory load I was able to identify for the article The .243 Winchester: Its Capabilities as a Deer Cartridge specs out as follows.

.243 Win.: Doubletap 100 gr. Swift Scirocco II, BC .384, MV 3120 f.p.s. (22 inch barrel), ME 2162 ft. lbs., MPBR = 300 yards (Zero at 255 yards)

  • 100 yard KPS = 20.4 (Energy = 1826 ft. lbs.)
  • 275 yd. KPS = 15.0 (Energy = 1339 ft. lbs.)
  • 300 yd. KPS = 14.4 (E = 1282 ft. lbs.)
  • EKR = 275 yds. (KPS = 15.0)

Once again, here is the strongest .257 Roberts factory load, as detailed above.

.257 Load #2: Hornady Superformance, 117 gr. SST bullet, BC .390, MV 2845 f.p.s. (20 inch barrel), ME 2103 ft. lbs., MPBR = 275 yards (Zero at 235 yards)

  • 100 yard KPS = 23.2 (Energy = 1771 ft. lbs.)
  • 200 yard KPS = 19.4 (Energy = 1483 ft. lbs.)
  • 275 yard KPS = 16.9 (Energy = 1292 ft. lbs.)
  • EKR = MPBR = 275 yards

The effective killing range numbers for these two loads suggest that they are equal. However, the comparison is not quite that simple.

Note that the EKR of the .243 Win. load falls 25 yards short of its MPBR. Meanwhile, although I declared the EKR of the .257 Roberts load to be equal to its MPBR of 275 yards; the KPS of the .257 load is 13% greater than the .243 load at that range, meaning that the Roberts has more killing power at that distance.

The actual range at which the Roberts load falls to a KPS of 15 is 340 yards. That is well beyond the MPBR of the load.

Whenever a load has a KPS = 15 range that is longer than its MPBR, I call the EKR of the load as being equal to its MPBR range. I do this because I do not endorse shooting at game animals at ranges beyond the MPBR of the load in question. (All three of the .257 Roberts loads have KPS = 15 ranges that are longer than their MPBR distances.)

The .243 Win. load detailed above is a very strong one. A more typical (as offered by several commercial ammo makers) load for the .243 features a 100 grain bullet at 2920 f.p.s. MV (22 inch barrel). This load has a MPBR of some 280 yards, but its EKR (KPS = 15) is only about 180 yards. All of the .257 Roberts loads listed above blow this .243 load away.

Hornady HITS scores for .257 Roberts and .243 Win. hunting loads tell the same story. HITS scores at 100 yards for the .257 loads are 718 (Load #1), 773 (Load #2) and 772 (Load #3). The 100 yard HITS score for the strongest .243 Win. load, detailed above, is 694. (Hornady HITS is explained in the Appendix.)

What if .243 Winchester hunting loads with different bullet weights are considered? Loads with 95 and 90 grain bullets have EKRs of 205 and 175 yards, respectively. I rest my case that the .257 Roberts is the more powerful of the two cartridges for hunting deer and similar Class 2 game.

The Henry Long Ranger rifle

Henry Long Ranger
Illustration courtesy of Henry Repeating Arms Co.

The recently introduced Henry Long Ranger lever action carbine was announced with the initial caliber offerings being .223 Remington, .243 Winchester and .308 Winchester, with more calibers promised in the future. My hope is one of these will be the .257 Roberts. Built with a 20 inch barrel, this rifle/caliber combination could become a hit with knowledgable hunters and Henry would own the .257 Roberts rifle market.

Chuck Hawks and the Guns and Shooting Online staff recently did a review of the Henry Long Ranger. Based on personal inspection and range testing, Chuck wrote the following summary assessment of the rifle:

"The Long Ranger is an ideal woods rifle, as it has a fast, smooth, rack and pinion action with a six lug, front locking, rotary bolt. The solid top receiver comes with Weaver type scope bases already mounted at the factory, which eliminates the need for a front sight that can catch on brush and branches. Detachable, steel sling swivel studs and a contoured, effective recoil pad are standard equipment."

"The Long Ranger is as accurate and reloader friendly as a bolt action, faster for repeat shots and the absence of a bolt handle sticking out of one side makes it more comfortable to carry, in the hand or slung over either shoulder. It balances between the hands and points naturally. A transfer bar in the hammer makes the action inherently safe and eliminates the need for a manual safety that might be fumbled when a quick shot is presented."

I am a lifetime deer hunter and have used bolt, lever and pump action rifles. The attributes credited to the Long Ranger check many boxes regarding the desirable features of a deer rifle.

To my knowledge, the only currently available .257 Roberts production rifle is the Kimber 84M Hunter bolt gun. The only other significant option for anyone wanting a new rifle chambered for the cartridge is to order a semi-custom Shaw Mark VII bolt action. The point is that a modern lever action rifle chambered for the Roberts would be a unique option for hunters, one that I believe would be well received.

A note about recoil

I mentioned earlier that the .257 Roberts has a reputation for being a mild shooting cartridge. I did some estimates of recoil with the heavy hunting loads I have featured. Assuming a field ready weight (rifle, scope, sling and cartridge load) of 8.5 pounds, the recoil of the Long Ranger rifle would fall between 9.0 and 10.0 ft. lbs., depending on the load in question. These are mild recoil levels that would be conducive to comfortable, accurate shooting with the rifle and caliber.

Conclusion

I said at the outset that the .257 Roberts did not deserve to be shoved into obscurity. I feel this even more strongly after making a detailed examination of the performance and capabilities of the cartridge. Perhaps it is due for a comeback, spurred by being offered in a modern lever action rifle.

Appendix: HITS, KPS and EKR explained

Hornady H.I.T.S.

The Hornady H.I.T.S. classification system uses an online calculator to produce a numerical HITS score for rifle cartridge loads. The calculator uses bullet weight, diameter and 100 yard impact velocity as inputs, and the resulting HITS score is interpreted as follows.

  • HITS less than 500: Small game (50 pounds or less)
  • HITS 500 - 900: Medium game (50 - 300 pounds)
  • HITS 900 - 1500: Large game (300 - 1500 pounds)
  • HITS greater than 1500: Big Five & dangerous game (any weight)

Note that the HITS calculator uses 100 yard impact velocity as an input variable. Thus, HITS scores are keyed to that distance. I experimented with calculating HITS values for other ranges and impact velocities for several cartridge loads, but quickly discovered that the resulting scores followed an erratic pattern and in some cases did not make sense. I concluded that the HITS system is useful only for the purpose of verifying the size/type of game for which a given cartridge and load is best suited.

Killing Power Score (KPS)

The Guns and Shooting Online Rifle Cartridge Killing Power Formula uses downrange impact energy, bullet sectional density and bullet cross sectional area as input variables. Calling the output variable of the formula "KPS" (Killing Power Score), for a given load the formula is:

KPS at y yards = (Impact Energy at y yards) x (sectional density x frontal area), or simply:

    KPS = E x (SD x A)

For instance, consider the following .30-30 Winchester factory load: Hornady 150 gr. Interlock RN, MV 2350 f.p.s. (20 inch bbl.), SD .226, A = .0745 sq. in.

This load produces 1232 ft. lbs. of energy at 100 yards. Thus, the 100 yard KPS of this load is:

    KPS = 1232 x (.226 x .0745) = 20.7

This is merely an example, as KPS can be calculated for any range. This capability is important in ways I will demonstrate.

The KPS formula makes a lot of sense to me. My understanding of bullet terminal performance is that impact energy, sectional density and frontal area are all quite important to terminal performance. The KPS formula combines these variables in a direct, easy to calculate way.

Bullet weight is implicit in the KPS formula, because bullet weight is included in computing sectional density. (SD is the ratio of a bullet's weight in pounds to the square of its diameter in inches.)

Bullet velocity is not neglected, because velocity is the most important factor in calculating kinetic energy. Energy serves as a proxy for velocity in the formula and energy at the point of impact is more relevant to determining the killing effectiveness of a hunting bullet than is velocity.

Whenever any of these variables change, the KPS number changes proportionally. For instance, between 100 and 175 yards, the energy of the 150 grain .30-30 bullet decreases by 27.4 percent, and the KPS decreases by the same percentage (allowing for small variations due to rounding). Therefore, KPS numbers generated from different data inputs (E, SD, or A) are directly comparable. This comparability can be applied not only to different loads for a particular cartridge, but also can be extended to comparisons of different cartridges.

Effective Killing Range (EKR)

Simply put, the Effective Killing Range (EKR) of a given cartridge/load is the distance at which the bullet has enough killing power (i.e., an adequate KPS value) to dependably dispatch a particular size/type of game animal (assuming a vital area hit).

Using deer and similar size game as an example, some popular cartridges, such as the .270 Winchester and .308 Winchester, are so powerful that there is no question that they will dependably fell Class 2 game out to their MPBR range or beyond. However, for milder cartridges, such as the .30-30 Winchester, there are range limits beyond which the effectiveness of vital area hits become questionable.

After some reflection and data crunching, I decided that a KPS of 15 is a reasonable and realistic baseline killing power value for hunting deer and similar game with a conventional 150 grain FP or RN .30-30 load. This translates to an effective killing range of 175 to 180 yards.

I realize that setting a KPS of 15 as a baseline power standard for the .30-30 load is a judgment call, but I am comfortable with it. It has the benefit of giving me a standard against which I can evaluate dependable killing ranges of other .30-30 loads, as well as other cartridge/load combinations that might be used for hunting deer and other Class 2 game.

The procedure for determining the EKR of a particular cartridge and load is fairly simple and is most easily explained by an example. My example is a Federal Premium .243 Winchester load with a 100 grain soft point spitzer bullet. This is a standard 100 grain .243 Winchester factory load at a MV of 2960 f.p.s. from a 24 inch barrel. (I adjusted this to a more normal 22 inch barrel length for a .243 hunting rifle.)

.243 Win: Federal 100 gr. JSP, MV 2920 f.p.s. (22 inch bbl.), BC .355; (SD x A) = (.242 x .0464) = .0112

I started with the baseline KPS for the .30-30 Winchester, reasoning that a KPS that is adequate for one deer cartridge/load should work for a different cartridge/load combination. Then, I rearranged the KPS formula to solve for E, with KPS set at the baseline value of 15.0 and (SD x A) = .0112 for the 100 grain .243 bullet.

    E = KPS / (SD x A) = 15.0 / .0112 = 1339 (ft. lbs.)

The result means that the KPS of the load in question will be equal to 15.0 at the range where the energy of the bullet falls to 1339 ft. lbs. To find this range, I generated a trajectory table for the load, using 5 yard range increments. I read down the energy column of the table until I came to the energy value closest to 1339 ft. lbs. This was 1346 ft. lbs. at a range of 180 yards. Thus, 180 yards is the Effective Killing Range of this load.

Anyone who disagrees with the baseline KPS I used here may change the analysis to use any cartridge, load and ballistic parameters they feel accurately reflect effective killing power and range, for deer or other game. The point is that KPS and Effective Killing Range can be very useful tools for shooters who want to evaluate the killing performance of different cartridges and loads.

See The G&S Online Rifle Cartridge Killing Power Formula: Implications and Applications and Determining the Effective Killing Range of Rifle Cartridges for fuller discussion of the killing power formula and effective killing range concepts.




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