Why the .25-06 Remington?

By Glenn Harmaning

Illustration courtesy of Hornady Mfg. Co.

Why choose the .25-06 Remington? It doesn't seem to get much press these days because every possible bit of print and ink seem to be going to sing the praises of the Winchester Short Magnums or an ultra "something or other." The Winchester .25 Super Short Magnum was supposed to duplicate the .25-06, but only Browning now makes a rifle for it. In contrast, all of the major gun manufacturers offer .25-06 rifles. For example, when Kimber introduced their new long action Model 8400, the standard cartridges they chose to offer it in are .25-06 Remington, .270 Winchester, and .30-06 Springfield.

I never did understand the reasoning behind the .25 WSSM when we already have a proven cartridge in the .25-06 that is made even more versatile by recent advances in bullets and powder. (The whole WSM/WSSM line merely duplicates existing, better balanced cartridges. -Ed.) The major American and foreign ammunition makers produce a total of 17 different loads in .25-06.

The .25-06 is one of the classic commercialized wildcats that has stood the test of time. So it must have something going for it. I want to share some of the benefits of this effective and highly useful cartridge. Chuck Hawks has written a couple of good, objective articles on the .25-06 as well as a comparison with the 270 Winchester. Make sure to check those out (on the Rifle Cartridge Page) as well.

The .25-06 was designed as a "dual-purpose" cartridge and is suitable for all CXP1and CXP2 game, which account for the vast majority of all game hunted in the United States. As the term implies, one rifle/cartridge combination designed to cover a variety of hunting and shooting situations.

To say that a cartridge is "suitable" for a specific game species means that it will humanely take the indicated game under the conditions in which the species is reasonably hunted. The .25-06 is suitable for all CXP2 game. From the woods to the canyons, from the mountains to the plains, the .25-06 will take deer, sheep, goats, caribou, and antelope wherever they may be found. Realistically, what more does a hunter need?

The .25-06 has been around long enough to benefit from the newest premium bullet designs such as the Barnes-X, Swift A-frame, Nosler Partition, Remington Core-Lokt Ultra Bonded, and Woodleigh Weldcore. With these bullets, the .25-06 moves into the CXP3 game category, becoming adequate for hunting elk, zebra, and other large animals.

Premium bullets enable the .25 to take any game for which the 130 grain 270 Winchester load is suitable. Jack O'Connor, the Dean of American gun writers, felt that the .270 130 grain was perfectly adequate for elk, and he killed a slew of them with that load.

The late Bob Milek, a well-respected editor, was a fan of the .25 and killed many elk with it while he and his family lived in Wyoming. At the time of his writings the Nosler Partition was the only premium bullet available to the majority of shooters. The first elk I ever killed (a big cow) was with the 117grain Nosler partition. It hit the point of the shoulder at 125 yards; the animal stumbled, fell, and never got up.

Another instance was in the 1973, also in Idaho, when hunting with a neighbor family in the Salmon River country. There were four of us hunting some timber and breaks on one side of a wooded canyon that I estimated to be about 1/4 mile across. At the break of dawn, the father took his 14 year old son, who was on his second hunting trip, to the other side of the canyon to see if the herd we had seen the previous day had moved into that area. The older brother and I went off by ourselves to hunt for elk in some dark timber bordering the area they were hunting. The 14 year old hunter was well versed in rifle shooting by his dad and was shooting a Ruger 10/22 before he could ride a bike. He was carrying a Remington 700 BDL in .25-06 loaded with 120 grain Remington Core-Lokt factory loads. His dad had shot an elk the two days before and today was the last day of the season. We had agreed that if the opportunity presented itself the son could shoot his elk and one other animal for his family. (This was legal in Idaho in those days.)

I had not seen an elk close enough to shoot thus far. His older sibling and I had been stalking through deadfall surrounded by tall pine trees for less than 30 minutes when shots broke the high mountain stillness. They were irregularly spaced, the first shot, then a few seconds later then two more shots. They had come from the area where the dad and his son were hunting.

We abandoned our hunt and hiked out of the timber along the side of the canyon until we could make contact with the Dad and his teenage son. Arriving at the scene, we found two dead elk, a two point and a cow. Three shots from the .25-06 and two dead elk.

The father and his son had come upon 7 elk in a small basin not over 300 yards from our camp. (I wish the older bro' and myself had gone with them that morning!) The 14 year old had shot the cow, which had dropped practically where she stood. The young bull had seen it happen and milled around nervously, giving the young hunter time to shoot once and then again to anchor him very near to the dead cow. By the time we arrived on the scene the rest of the herd was long gone. Since that day, I had no doubts that a .25-06 with a heavier bullet was an "adequate" elk cartridge! I bought my first .25-06 after that hunt, a Ruger M77.

The worst that can be said about the .25-06 is that it realistically needs a 24" barrel to reach its full potential. I've had 22" barreled .25-06 rifles and the muzzle blast was pretty severe, but it still outperformed a 257 Roberts +P.

The slower powders provide optimum ballistics in the .25-06. I still use H4831, the original powder that brought the .25-06 into its own. I have tried virtually all bullet weights in the .25-06. I have settled on four bullets and loads to take maximum advantage of the cartridge's excellent versatility.

The first is my predator/varmint load. This is the 87-grain Hornady Spire point pushed at 3512 fps behind 59.0 grains of H4831. This is the bullet that my Weatherby Mark V shoots the best for explosive power on varmints and predators.

The next load uses a pelt saving for coyotes in prime fur season. It is a Barnes solid 90 grain loaded to 3000 fps with 48 grains of IMR 4350. It is an accurate load that hits hard, but usually doesn't tumble even on bone and pokes little 1/4" holes in the hide that are easy to fix.

As an aside, I should note that this is the only 90 grain load that I use. I'm sure that 90-100 grain bullets are sufficient for most any CXP2 game, since a maximum 100 grain load in the .25-06 essentially duplicates the .240 Weatherby Magnum, a potent deer cartridge in its own right. I have just thought that if I were going to shoot 90-100 grain bullets, I would be better off with a 6mm Remington, 243 Winchester, or .240 Weatherby.

The .25-06 with 115-120 grain bullets put it into an entirely different category. In fact, a Remington ammunition survey done some years ago showed the 120 grain Core-Lokt load was the best selling of the three .25-06 loads they make. This is where the .25-06 treads close on the heels of the 130 grain bullet in the .270 Winchester.

My next around load, the one that I shoot the most, is the 117 grain Sierra Pro-hunter bullet at a MV of 3094 fps with 53.5 grains of H4831. It has been an instant killer on every deer I've shot or seen shot with it. Some may think the bullet is a bit too fragile, but deer are thin-sided animals even for quartering shots; penetration is more than sufficient. All the energy of this bullet is expended in the animal. I've never needed to track any deer shot with this load.

My last load is used when I need to raise my 25.06 into the CXP3 category and hunt elk-sized animals. I know the capabilities of the Nosler Partitions. The 115-grain partition or its 120 grain big brother would be an excellent choice if you need deep penetration on large animals. However, my choice for the best bone-breaking and deep penetrating bullet is the 115-grain Barnes-X at 3100 fps with 55 grains of RL-22. This bullet will not break up and gets to the vitals from any angle on an elk. Don't take my word for it. Try them on your next hunt. The X-bullet is one lethal projectile. And, if you play with the seating depth and keep your bore clean, Barnes X-Bullets will be as accurate as any other bullet you can shoot.

The number one factor in killing any animal is bullet placement. Even before today's premium bullets and loads, the .25-06 had cleanly taken elk. With bullets like the Barnes Triple Shock, the traditional Nosler Partition, and Swift A-Frame, there is no reason whatsoever a good .25-06 rifle should stay at home during elk season. Take it, use it, and bring home an elk!

Recoil in rifles of equal weight is 5 ft. lbs. less than the .270 Winchester shooting a 130 grain bullet. In a 6.75 pound rifle, the .25-06 recoils like a .270 in an 8 pound rifle. This means that you can have a light mountain/stalking rifle in .25-06 that will be within the recoil tolerance of the average shooter. The .270 creates a wider wound channel and has more energy, but we've already established that the .25-06 is an adequate caliber for elk. So, why have more of what you don't need? Instead, why not shoot a rifle with which it is easier to secure good bullet placement?

There are so many cartridge choices for shooters today that it sometimes seems that the latest trend-setting rounds must somehow provide new levels of lethality. Objectively, of course, that is silly. The .25-06 was a fine cartridge at its inception. It was made perfect with the arrival of the slow burning powders, and since its SAAMI standardization in 1969, it has not left the shooting scene. It truly can fit each CXP1 through CXP3 game need in a way that very few, if any, other cartridges can equal. Try a .25-06. You won't be disappointed!

Note: There are two articles about the .25-06 Remington on the Rifle Cartridge Page.

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Copyright 2007 by Glenn Harmaning. All rights reserved.