The .25-06 wildcat cartridge

Don Caswell

The .25-06 was developed as a wildcat cartridge back in the beginning of the 1920s, nearly a century ago. It was the brainchild of pioneering American gunsmith Adolph Otto Niedner and initially proved to be a popular calibre for varminting and later for medium game hunting.

It developed such a following that it was finally adopted by Remington as a factory cartridge in 1969 and chambered in their Model 700 rifle. Other manufacturers quickly followed suit. In fact, given its capability and popularity, it is curious that it took so long to be picked up as a standard factory chambering.

The .25-06 with its velocity, inherent accuracy and flat trajectory has often been called the king of the varmint calibres. But it is a lot more than that. While its early standing may have been based on its prowess as an extreme range varminting round, with the development of improved bullet construction, such as the Nosler Partition, and slower burning propellants, the .25-06 found a whole lot of new fans for deer and antelope hunting. Naturally, it proved very well-liked on the vast open prairies of the US and its aura and use spread from there.

American hunters, like Wyoming resident Sonny, value the .25-06 for exactly those reasons. When prowling coyotes lurk 200m to 400m away from the ranch verandah, they are in easy reach of his custom .25-06. Deer and pronghorns are hunted for meat and the .25-06 earns its keep in that department too.

The .25-06 is also a great choice for the small to medium-sized antelopes of the African plains. With its long-range capability and mild recoil, the .25-06 is a good option for lighter statured shooters, youth and women who want to chase open plains game the world over.

The 6mm/.243 calibres have earned well-deserved acclaim as both deer and varminting calibres and are still highly thought of in that regard. However, anything the 6mm calibres can do, the .25-06 can do better, without undue recoil, muzzle blast and barrel wear. On game such as the larger deer and big boars, where the .243 calibres can be marginal, the .25-06 has a clear advantage in power and capability.

One of my hunting buddies, Robbie, is a full-time professional wild dog hunter. He works the big open plains of mid-western Queensland. He is good at his job and takes a weekly toll on the wild dogs that wreak havoc on the livestock in that area. A student of ballistics and a crack shot, he has for many years used improved wildcat calibres in .243 for his calling. In recent years though, he has moved to a custom-built .25-06 for its superior range and power. He is more than happy with the results he is achieving, particularly on wary old dogs at extreme range.

It is the 87-grain projectile that is a bit of a benchmark for the .25-06 and the one that its varminting  stature seems to be solidly founded on. The reloading guides indicate muzzle velocities in the range of 3400 to 3500fps can be expected. Assuming a 3400fps MV for the 87-grain projectile gives a flat trajectory out to 300 yards (275m). That is, with the rifle zeroed at 235 yards (215m) there is no more than 50mm (2″) rise above line of sight.

The .25-06 can shoot projectiles as light as 75 grains and the various reloading guides indicate that, with the right choice of powder, muzzle velocities in the 3600 to 3700fps range are achievable. These sorts of velocities narrow the gap between the 25-06 and that 25-calibre hotshot, the 257 Weatherby Magnum. However, to extract that sort of performance from a 25-06 you are really looking at a long-barrelled, custom rifle. The 25-06 can be loaded with projectiles up to 120 grains in weight for hunting medium game. Reloaders can aspire to muzzle velocities for the 120-grain projectile of 2900fps, or better.

There is a good selection of quality factory ammo available for the .25-06. My hunting buddy Grizz uses Federal factory loads with the 117-grain Speer Hot-Cor in his Blaser R93. We have run them over the chronograph at the range and measured an average muzzle velocity of 2850fps with minimal variation around that. They shoot around MOA and perform well on deer and pigs, as we have proved on many occasions. The Blaser is a well-balanced, sweet piece of gunsmithing with a 22″ barrel that enhances its handling and pointability. When we began to play around with handloads for the Blaser, it quickly became apparent that the short barrel would not allow us to achieve the high velocity loads listed for the heavier projectiles, like the 110-grain. The key takeaway point there is the need for a longer barrel, if you intend to handload and want to maximize the ballistic capability of the heavier 25-calibre projectiles.

Like many .25-06 shooters, I reckon the 110-grain projectile is the ballistic sweet spot for this calibre. There are quite a few quality projectiles to select from. I took the opportunity to work up some handloads based on the 110-grain Nosler Accubonds. These bonded projectiles can be relied on to expand rapidly on impact but still retain a high percentage of original weight. The Accubond delivers excellent terminal ballistics on game with enhanced accuracy. It is this sort of combination that is ideal for the .25-06.

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