The .25-20 Winchester (.25-20 Marlin)

By Chuck Hawks

The .25-20 Winchester, or .25-20 WCF, is a neat little small game, varmint, small predator, turkey, and possibly javelina cartridge that was introduced in 1893 in Winchester's Model 92 lever action rifle. In addition to traditional Winchester and Marlin lever action rifles, the .25-20 has also appeared in Remington Model 25 and Marlin Model 27 pump action rifles, plus the old Winchester Model 43 and Savage Model 23 bolt actions. More recent rifles chambered in .25-20 include the Sako L46 and Kimber bolt action rifles, as well as the modern Browning reproduction of the Model 92 and the Marlin 1894 CL lever action rifles.

In the old days Marlin rifles were usually marked ".25-20 Marlin" and Winchester once marketed factory loads so headstamped. The Marlin cartridge is the same as the Winchester cartridge, and the two are completely interchangeable.

The .25-20 case is based on the .32-20 Winchester case necked down to accept .257" bullets. This is an old rimmed case with a gentle bottleneck shape and a 16 degree 34 minute shoulder angle. The case length is 1.32" and the overall cartridge length is 1.592". SAAMI maximum average pressure is 28,000 cup.

The usual bullet weights are 60 grains and 86 grains, but Speer offers a 75 grain bullet (SD .162) to reloaders that is said to be a good compromise between velocity and bullet weight. All .25-20 bullets have flat points due to the tubular magazines of the traditional lever action rifles.

Winchester and Remington offer factory loads in .25-20 that drive an 86 grain flat point bullet (SD .186) at a muzzle velocity (MV) of 1460 fps with muzzle energy (ME) of 407 ft. lbs. At 100 yards the velocity is 1194 fps and the energy is 272 ft. lbs. The maximum point blank range (+/- 3") of this load is about 139 yards when zeroed to hit 1.7" high at 100 yards.

Needless to say, recoil is not a problem with any .25-20 load. The 86 grain factory load generates only 1.3 ft. lbs. of recoil energy in a 6.5 pound rifle.

At one time a factory load using a 60 grain FP bullet (SD .130) at a MV of 2250 fps and ME of 675 ft. lbs. was also offered, but it has been discontinued. The third edition of the Hornady Handbook of Cartridge Reloading shows that using the Hornady 60 grain FP bullet reloaders can achieve a MV of 2200 fps in front of 11.5 grains of #2400 powder in a Remington case with a Winchester primer. 11.9 grains of H4227 powder gives the same bullet a MV of 2100 fps. The ME of that load is 588 ft. lbs. Hornady trajectory figures for their 60 grain bullet at a MV of 2100 fps look like this: +2.1" at 50 yards, +3.0" at 100 yards, 0 at 150 yards, and -8.2" at 200 yards.

According to the Speer Reloading Manual No. 13 reloaders using the 75 grain Speer FP bullet can achieve a MV's of 2008 fps with 12.5 grains of AA 1680 powder and 1901 fps with 12.6 grains of IMR 4198 powder in Winchester cases with CCI primers. The Speer trajectory tables show the following for their 75 grain FP bullet at a MV of 2000 fps: +2.4" at 50 yards, +3.2" at 100 yards, 0 at 150 yards, and -8.8" at 200 yards. The ME of that load is 666 ft. lbs.

Because .25-20 case walls are thin, care must be taken during the resizing and crimping operations. However, as can be seen from the foregoing figures, handloading pays big performance dividends to anyone with a .25-20 rifle.

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Copyright 2002, 2012 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.