The .257 Roberts – neither gone nor forgotten

John Denman

With newer propellants and better bullets, something old is becoming new again. Ned Roberts probably had no idea that his wildcat could end up with such a long shelf life. Most people consider the .243 Win to be the main reason for the decline in support for the .257 Roberts, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the .25-06 was the real culprit. At the very least it may have delivered the final blow.

But was there really a ‘final blow’? Reaching back into the 1920s the Roberts was a pretty handy cartridge. Up to that point the .250-3000 was the best you could obtain in a 25-calibre. Being the first ‘quarter bore’ to reach 3000fps, it was a great cartridge. But the Roberts, with its bigger case, courtesy of an even older cartridge for the parenting job, the 7×57 Mauser, allowed heavier bullets, up to 120-grain to be used.

Prolific wildcatter P. O. Ackley didn’t take too long to ‘improve’ the Roberts with a sharper shoulder and more powder capacity. The design added maybe 100fps to some loadings but was attractive because the original Roberts that had been legitimised by Remington in 1934 was betrayed by feeble factory loadings that catered to a few old bolts that still lurked in the dim corners of various gun collections.

With today’s powders and better bullets, the Roberts has been given a new lease of life, its growing fan base often referring to it as the ‘.257 Bob.’ It has become a real handloaders’ round and those who still harbour a secret urge to have one must load for it to garner the best performance. I have to admit that I’m one of those with that desire, and although my last Roberts was the Ackley Improved version back in the 1960s, I resisted that temptation this time around.

Like its parent case the standard Roberts has a tendency for the brass to flow forward. The Ackley Improved minimises this, but a case trimmer will fix the problem. Cases are the Achilles heel of the Roberts though, with restricted supply so you need to look after your brass. Winchester makes limited runs of production while Nosler brass, although more easily available, is incredibly expensive.

It’s not hard to lose the odd case when you’re hunting and seeing a grown man scrabbling around in the dirt looking for a Nosler case is demeaning. I went for the Winchester stuff. Frontier Ammunition is a Hornady spin-off, so you may find some of that around in either loaded ammo, or even as I did, once fired brass.

The Winchester brass is not annealed in production and has a tendency to split at the necks, so you really need to anneal it before you do anything else. But once you do that you will end up with good brass. You should neck size the new brass after you have annealed it and chamfer the inside of the neck. I use a Lee Collet die for neck sizing. Most brass you find today will be stamped +P as well as the usual headstamp. This indicates the brass is strong enough to handle the higher loadings that allow the Roberts increased performance over the factory loaded stuff. Many ‘Bob’ owners have grave doubts about the need for the +P idea. After all, you can neck down 7×57 brass and nobody stamped that with a +P.

Most reloading data for the Roberts will often show maximums that are well below what the cartridge is safe to shoot in a modern action. This is odd because the parent case (7×57) isn’t hamstrung like this, but 40,000psi is a bit on the low side of things. So work your loads up carefully.

The two powders that work best in the .257 Roberts are ADI2209 and ADI2213sc. I favour the 2209 loaded with bullets around 100 to 110 grains, but in my rifle 2213sc is better for the 117-grain bullets a lot of these rifles prefer. With careful loading you can reach to around 2900fps with a 24″ barrel with a 117-grain bullet. I also have a load that registers 3091fps at the muzzle using a 110-grain Hornady ELD-X.

With these velocities the Roberts becomes a viable big game cartridge. It was never designed to be a long-range proposition, but out to 200m a well-constructed bullet like the Hornady 117-grain SST will handle a good-sized deer, goat or pig.

My personal limit is 200m anyway when I hunt game, regardless of what I’m carrying. If greater penetration is needed Nosler Partitions are the ideal stand-by, although so far I have yet to find the 117-grain SST lacking in penetration. Pigs are great animals to test for penetration and they have passed right through, even on shoulder shots.

You can go with lighter bullets down to around 75 grains if you must, but they lose velocity quickly and are really not much good for anything but splattering rabbits.

There’s plenty of info on the various online forums about the Roberts, but be a bit careful about some of the loads that show up there. Some folks can’t help themselves and like to hot-rod everything. If you lust after higher velocity than the Roberts can provide, then maybe a .25-06 is a better choice for you.

Used and loaded correctly, the Roberts is a far better performer on deer-sized game than a .243. I have killed plenty of deer with a .243 and 85-grain Sierra hollow-points, but if I came across a large boar it would likely be lacking. The heavier bullet in the Roberts delivered at a respectable velocity will take out a pig with a well-placed shot. Of course, it’s never going to be ideal for sambar deer because the legal minimum is .270, but plenty of red deer have succumbed to it. And in the United States, elks.

Barrel life is going to be pretty good in this cartridge, but in a hunting rifle you normally wouldn’t fire enough rounds to make that an issue. The standard barrel twist is one in 10″ and remember I said a 24″ barrel was ideal. The perfect action for a Roberts is a medium to long action. Mine is made on a Montana ASR action that used to house a .270 barrel. Short action rifles are around, but they limit the overall length you can seat your bullets to. The short action and magazine means the bullet is seated well into the powder room, so think carefully before you pick up a used Roberts.

Most .257 Roberts rifles today are built by competent gunsmiths. Allan Swan and his son Grant did the work on mine and results have been everything I expected. A custom barrel means you can specify the length of the throat. A 3″ overall length is ideal and makes full use of a long action. There are few factory chamberings available now although Kimber has one and Ruger do occasional runs. This often means that many Roberts rifles are like mine ‑ rebarrelled from something else.

The .257 Roberts is one of those rare beasts, an understated and efficient hunting cartridge that refuses to go away quietly. It is easy to shoot with light recoil that belies its effectiveness. Due to a nagging shoulder problem, my .270 Winchester was rebarrelled to the Roberts and I don’t regret it for a second. Easy to load for and simple to shoot, what more can you ask?

To follow up on my earlier remarks about the .243 Win being the cause of the Roberts slide in popularity, it may be worth considering these figures. Hornady’s website says that a 100-grain Interlock from a .243 starts out at a muzzle velocity (MV) of 2960fps. By the time it reaches my 200m mark that has dropped to 2509fps and the energy is 1398 ft-lb.

The same website using the Hornady Superformance load starts a 117-grain SST out at 2945fps and at 200m that has dropped to 2478fps, a bit slower than the lighter 6mm bullet but its energy is 1595 ft-lb. That’s more than 100 ft-lb extra energy. Consider too that most .243s are rifled to handle 87-grain to 90-grain bullets, and things become tougher for the .243.

I have rifles chambered for both cartridges and love each of them. But I cannot see how the .243 can really be considered the reason for the Roberts’ decline in popularity. If online forums are any guide, there is a revival of interest in the .257 Roberts. Maybe that could result in brass being more available. We can only hope.

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