The enclosed blind was warm, and it was still early; I was unlikely to see anything for a while. Truth is, I was wool-gathering… and when I glanced up there was a very large black boar standing broadside near the feeder. Oops! I raised the rifle, slowly got the barrel outside the window, and took a rest.
The distance was about a hundred yards; without further thought, I centered the crosshairs on the shoulder, a third up from the brisket. The shot felt good, but the pig lurched away, instantly lost behind some cedars. Now I needed to think about this. I’d taken the shot with a .257 Roberts and 117-grain Hornady SST. Hindsight being perfect, steady and at that distance, I could just as well have taken a head or neck shot, but I’d instinctively gone for my comfort zone, the shoulder shot, without considering that this was not a big gun for a large pig.
Well, done was done, and something else might come in. I waited until about 15 minutes after sundown, turned the scope down low, and went to check. The boar was every bit as big as I’d thought; he’d gone about 20 yards and was stone-dead. Impressive!
My History with the .25-Caliber Cartridge
I have never been a huge .25-caliber fan, but over the years I’ve used almost all of them, from the mild .25-20 to the .25-35, on up to the .250 Savage, and then to the fast .25s: The short-lived .25 WSSM, the .25-06, and the .257 Weatherby Magnum. Most popular by far is the .25-06, almost a cult cartridge in Texas. That’s where I was when I shot that boar, and indeed the flat-shooting .25-06 is almost perfect for shooting Texas deer down those long, featureless senderos that defy rangefinders. Perhaps oddly, the .25-caliber that I’ve missed and haven’t used is the .257 Roberts. Wildcatted by gunwriter Ned Roberts in the Twenties, the .257 Roberts was introduced by Remington in 1934. Remington has a long track record of “legitimizing” wildcat cartridges; other success stories have included the .22-250, .35 Whelen, and of course the .25-06!
History of the .257 Roberts
The .257 Roberts is based on the 7mm Mauser (7×57) case necked down. Accurate and mild in recoil, the Roberts took off almost immediately and was extremely popular at least through the 1950s. Able to handle heavier bullets better than the .250 Savage (1915), it is without question a more effective big-game cartridge. However, it also held a primary niche as a crossover varmint/deer cartridge, at least until the simultaneous introduction of the .243 Winchester and .244 Remington in 1955.
Jack O’Connor was a .257 fan for the running jackrabbits he loved to practice on, and the entire O’Connor clan hunted deer and pronghorns with .257s. According to Frank C. Barnes’ Cartridges of the World (Krause 1965, now in its 16th Edition), “The .257 Roberts has often been referred to as the ‘most useful rifle cartridge ever developed.’” Uh, we all have our favorites! Somehow I missed the boat, and until autumn 2018, I’d never taken game with the .257 Roberts.
In my defense, in my time the Roberts has languished in the shadow of the .243 Winchester. Winchester, who considered this cartridge to be both a varmint and big game cartridge, offered the .243 in both 80- and 100-grain loads right out of the gate, with a 1:10 twist that stabilized both loads. This was a good move for Winchester; by the time Remington caught up with the 6mm Remington (an updated version of its .244 Remington) the popularity of the Winchester .243 was unassailable. It still remains the standard crossover varmint and deer cartridge, and generations of hunters (including me!) have taken their first big game with a .243.
Intent Matters: .25s vs 6mm Cartridges
Of course, the success of a cartridge depends on what you intend to do with it. For big game, the .25s offer more bullet weight than is possible with a 6mm, and the Roberts case can propel them at meaningful velocities. For unknown reasons, for many years .257 Roberts factory ammo was mild and handloading was necessary to make it strut its stuff. By about 1990, pressures and velocities were increased, with packaging and headstamps showing “+P”. Loads vary, but Hornady’s Superformance with 117-grain SST is rated at 2950 fps in a 24-inch barrel, which is knocking on the door of .25-06 velocity.
Finally Flexing with the .257 Roberts
Honestly, I never considered my life ruined by lack of a .257 Roberts, but a couple of years ago I ran across a Dakota M76 in .257 Roberts that fit Donna perfectly and we had to have it. It shot well, but it seemed a hard-luck rifle and on several outings nothing happened. This past fall I decided to fix that, so I packed it along for our Kansas whitetail season. In the mix among our
bucks, we have a weird gene that throws a normal antler on one side and ugly trash on the other.
Kansas is a strict one-buck state so culling is difficult—but for sure I’ll take such a buck if I see one. On the fourth afternoon of our rifle season, a grown-up buck strolled into a food plot with a good beam on his left and clubby fork on his right. Without hesitation I grabbed the Roberts and shot him, with an SST, at about 130 yards, on the point of the shoulder. The buck hit the ground so hard it bounced, and never moved!
A .257 Roberts Renaissance?
Interestingly, I’m not the only guy to “discover” the .257 Roberts this past fall. Gordon Marsh, proprietor of LG-Outdoors and Wholesale Hunter, ran across an uncommon Ruger No. One in .257 Roberts at a good price and bought it. I wish I’d seen it first! Gordon had also never hunted with the Roberts, but used it to take a big-bodied Alabama buck. He used the same 117-grain SST; his shot was close, 50 yards, no exit. His buck dropped, got up, and went about a hundred yards before expiring.
New factory rifles in .257 Roberts are scarce these days, but there are plenty of rifles out there, and all the majors offer factory loads. Gordon’s Ruger has a 26-inch barrel and he’s getting quite a bonus in velocity, nearly 3050 fps with that Hornady factory load. This suggests something often suggested in years gone by: the time is past when the .257 Roberts can compete with the .25-06 in popularity, but the Roberts is probably the more efficient cartridge.
Based on the much longer .30-06 case, the .25-06 is borderline over bore capacity. This is not a kiss of death, and with modern powders, the .25-06 will always outrun the Roberts. But I doubt any deer, antelope—or wild hog—would ever know the difference, and, with sound choices in bullets, the Roberts is fully adequate as a light-kicking choice for black bear and elk at moderate range. I’m glad I ran across “old Bob.” I think we’re going to be friends!