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The .25-06 and .25-06 Improved

The .25-06 and .25-06 Improved

By J.C. Munnell
©Copyright 2010, Precision Shooting Magazine

I have previously expressed my views as to the possible superiority of the various .25 caliber cartridges to those of one caliber less, and have fully expected to be severely taken to task, cursed at, ridiculed, pilloried, threatened with keelhauling, drawing and quartering, (not really necessary if the keelhauling is done correctly), and promised immediate excommunication from the Universal Church of True Believers in All Things Six Millimeter. That last one seemed o.k., but the others caused me at least momentary concern, since several of the stated acts threatened to end my shooting, hunting and writing careers, or at least cause a considerable delay in continuing with them. That such results have not transpired probably – in order of ascending probability: (a) reflects the innate correctness of my views, (b) reflects the vast open-mindedness of the readership, or (c) demonstrates that no one is reading my exceedingly erudite utterings. Nonetheless, here I am, once more testing the patience and understanding of the readers.

The .25-06 and .25-06 Improved
The three rifles tested for this article. The one on the left is a Remington M-700 ADL switch-barrel gun, with the .25-06 Improved barrel in place. Center gun is a Ruger M-77 Mk II VT. This rifle is now chambered for the Improved version of the .25-06. Right rifle is the author’s ancient Hollow Bolt Ruger M-77 V, chambered for the standard .25-06.

In explaining my fondness for the various members of the .25 caliber cartridge family, I usually list my belief that many of them may very well be the ultimate “crossover” rounds – that is, depending largely upon the configuration of the individual rifle, a .257 Roberts, or a .25-06, for example, can either be a superb rifle for hunting deer/antelope, etc, or else one of the best rifles for varmint/predator shooting, especially at long range. Yes, I know that the .243 Winchester and 6mm Remington are often cited as filling this category and, have been used to slay countless such larger game animals, but I personally do not regard the bullet weights available in 6mm as reliably suitable for such applications, especially if what is usually described as a “raking shot” is the only one presented. Likewise, although there are thin-jacketed bullets available in larger bore sizes, for many reasons I don’t regard .26, .27, .30 or 8mm cartridges as being ideal – or even practical—varmint rounds. Only the .25 caliber bullets are readily available and are eminently suitable for both such uses.

The .25-06 and .25-06 Improved
The two cases in the middle are our subjects – the .25-06 and .25-06 Ackley Improved. The pair on the left are the 6mm/06 and 6mm/06 Improved. On the right are the 6.5/06 and 6.5/06 Improved.

Of the various .25 caliber cartridges which have been manufactured (or even thought up) over the years, I have tried many, including the .250 Savage, .250 Savage Ackley Improved, .257 Roberts, .257 Roberts Improved, .25 WSSM, .25/.284, .25-06, .25-06 Improved, .25 B.C. (.25 x 6.5 Rem. Mag.), .257 Weatherby Mag. and .25 ICL Mag. The latter two burn entirely too much powder – and therefore barrels – to be truly useful as varmint rounds, and are not particularly efficient even with the slowest-burning powders available today, and of the former, the .250 Savage and the improved version really do not offer enough velocity to reach “way out there”. The .257 Roberts, standard and improved, permit the construction of neat light-weight rifles, superbly quick to the shoulder and a joy to use in the deer woods, but, again, are a bit lacking as truly long-range cartridges. The .25 WSSM is simply a dismal wannabe with almost useless brass. This leaves the .25/.284, .25-06, the .25-06 Ackley Improved and the .25 B.C. I have already written on the .25/.284 (TAR, Feb. 2002), as well as the .25 B.C. (TAR, Feb. 2001). I like both very much, but in my opinion, the best of the bunch whenever long shots may be presented are the pair of .25-06s.

The .25-06 and .25-06 Improved
A whole flock of .25s. From left: .25 Krag, .257 Roberts, .257 Roberts Ackley Improved, .25 WSSM, .25/.284, .25-06, .25-06 Improved, .25 BC, .257 Weatherby Magnum, .25 ICL Magnum.

Most sources state the .25-06 was “invented” by A.O. Neidner (or Niedner, depending upon the source) (Editor: See Michael Petrov’s article on Adolph Niedner in the March ‘98 PS. On page 82 is a photo of Adolph’s shop in Dowagiae, Michigan, with the sign on the building clearly saying “Niedner.”) around 1920. Personally, I question the year. The parent .30-06 case had been around for 14 years before that date, and we know that at least Charles Newton was experimenting with a .26 caliber cartridge version at least by 1912 or so (The .256 Newton). I suspect others were doing likewise. Richard F. Simmons, in his 1947 book Wildcat Cartridges, lists a Niedner .25 Hi Power Special, a Griffin and Howe .25 High Power Special, and a Whelen .25 High Power as all being practically the same round. Although he gives no dates of introduction for any of the three, we can see that some pretty well-known experimenters were quite likely involved long before 1920. In any event, the cartridge was already quite long in the tooth when Remington “legitimized” it in 1969. Incidentally, the .25-06 is, in fact, simply the .30-06 necked down to .25 caliber, with no other changes.

The .25-06 and .25-06 Improved
“Hollow Bolt” Ruger Model 77 Varmint in .25-06. Like all M-77V rifles the author has owned, it shoots very well.

Several years ago, while lurking in the aisles of a local gun show, I took advantage of the opportunity to purchase what collectors of Ruger Model 77 rifles would call a “hollow bolt” M-77V chambered for the .25-06. Being intimately (No, not in that sense!) familiar with Ruger collecting, two uncharacteristically brilliant thoughts occurred simultaneously to my somewhat addled mind. One was to buy the gun, since it is a relatively scarce variant, and two “leave the darn thing alone!” Don’t re-chamber, re-barrel or re-stock it and for God’s sake (as well as my own) don’t blow it up. Both of these thoughts I have complied with, and have also shot it a fair number of times.

One of my pet theories concerning the original Model 77 rifle (and one that seems to be getting some play recently) is that the varmint-configuration rifles used much better barrels than did the hunting-weight models. We do know that for the first few years, Sturm Ruger and Company used Douglas barrels on the No. 1 rifles, and perhaps did so into the period of time in which the M-77s were introduced (1968). My theory is that Douglas barrels continued to be used on the varmint rifles for several years after their use was discontinued for the standard-weight rifles. I have never had a M-77V that did not shoot well, whereas accuracy with the lighter M-77s has always been an “iffy” proposition at best. (Note that this does not apply to the more recent M-77 Mk II or Hawkeye variants.) This .25-06 M-77V is no exception to this theory.

Since this rifle was quite obviously never going to be carried in the deer woods, up mountains after sheep or across the plains of south-eastern Montana for pronghorn, the first order of business was to mount a suitable varmint scope. At the time I acquired this gun, nobody wanted “them ole’ barrel rider scopes that used external mounts”, and since the barrel was already drilled and tapped for external barrel-riding windage and elevation mounts, I scrounged one of those “antiquated” Unertl 2" Ultra Varmint scopes in either 15 or 16 power and the mounts to go with it. This scope was used for all my testing with this gun. Subsequently, I put that wonderfully clear glass on another rifle, and mounted a “much more modern” Weaver T-16 on the Ruger. Federal brass was used throughout, as were CCI BR-2 primers and Bonanza (now Forster) dies.

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