Yeah, that is the first place to look. Your barrel may show a marked preference for one load over another, but even a shot out barrel will show better uniformity in your group, than 3-4 inches, especially a walking group. I would bet that it isn't because of a dislike for a specific load, or bullet, assuming that you don't have a very slow twist barel that won't stabilize long bullets? A hot barrel with foreend pressure prints as you describe. If I was betting, I'd say something is wrong with the bedding. Outside chance: loose mounts or windage screws. Almost no chance that shooting a different load will suddenly cure the problem.
In addition to what every one else said and not to be insulting to you but I bought a great shooting used custom gun in 25-06 - at least it was great shooting after I spent two whole evenings cleaning the barrel. Some people just get lazy and let the stuff accumulate until the gun won't shoot anymore and can't be cleaned in 15 minutes and then sell it.
Off course not being too bright, I later sold the gun and it was shooting so much better than when I bought it.
If you said you were getting around 2" groups I would have some hope that some tinkering with bullets and loads may tighten you up to the 1" range but I have yet to see a 3 to 4" rifle shoot well with only a load change. Not saying it is not possible but it is not likely.
First thing I would do is try some 100 gr Ballistic Tips. I have seen alot, in fact most 25-06 rifles that would simply not shoot the 115-117 gr Boattails or 120 gr bullets well at all. Personally I feel it is a twist issue with factory rifles. Some will but nearly all 25-06 rifles will shoot the 100 gr Ballistic Tips very well.
Try this first, if it does not improve groups which I would suspect it will not dramatically, I would say take it to your smith and let him look it over as it sounds like a mechanical problem to me.
If this rifle came in my shop, the very first thing I would do would be to clean the bore to bare metal. Clean it till you think it is clean and then let it soak overnight with Tetras copper cleaner. In the morning if it comes out blue, you aint finished cleaning.
Once totally clean I would recut the crown, cheap and easy to do and will often result in major accuracy improvements even if it is a clean factory crown which are generally a couple thou off the axial alignment of the bore.
After that I would look at the bolt locking lugs, are both baring evenly? Does the rifle shoot well at low level loads and progressively worse as pressure and velocity increases. THis is a sure sign that you have a floating lug and with the lower pressure loads the bolt is stiff enough to support the case but with top loads it flexes the bolt severely.
After that, check the bedding but unless it is extremely bad, this size of groups are not a result of poor bedding alone. Unless the receiver screws are loose.
Check those, scope bases screws, base windage adjustment screws(these slip loose quite often) and ring screws.
Is the scope a proven quality scope? If not get one that is and test the rifle with this scope.
If none of these work, I would say its time to either cut your losses and trade the rifle off or rebarrel it and have it accurized.
What brand of rifle is it? You many have said but I did not notice. If it is a Rem 700 make sure the bolt nose recess in the barrel is clean and free of debris. If there is something mashed between the barrel and the bolt, strange things happen to groups with a Rem 700.
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I appreciate you guys taking the time to respond. When I got this rifle it had a factory stock - it shot around 1" with Hornady ammo. I did not try my handloads when it was in the original Winchester stock(dah!). What I have done is put the barreled action back in the factory wood stock - floated it and bedded the recoil lug. I remounted the scope. Will try the my handloads and see what happens. If this rifle will not shoot the 115 or 120 gr Nosler partitions or the Sierra 120 BTHP then I will trade or sell it. This is rifle will be used on whitetails out to 400 yds. Anyway, it is fun tinkering and trying new stuff.
Yaah, sounds great. So, you have a new stock, and that's where the performance is subpar?
Anyway, here's the deal. Remember what 50 said. You definitely do not need 120 grain bullets to kill a whitetail deer. I use 100 grain Nosler Ballistic Tips in mine, and it works wonderful, on mule deer. I can only believe that a whitetail would not be a problem, at 400 yards.
25-06 with 100 gr Nosler partitions is just fine on mule deer and would be easily adequate for whiletail. At 400 yds, unless you are shooting in hurricane alley there is not a great challenge for a 100 gr bullet.
I would also recommend that you try some 75 gr hollow points just to see if the gun really likes the lighter bullets.
I need to read this stuff more often. At least I can remember a password.
I picked up a Remington Classic when they came out in 25-06. Early mid 90's if I remember.
That gun never shot right. It ends up the rifle was improperly bedded from the factory. Got the gun reworked and it is now a dream. I use factory loads since I don't have a reloading area in my house due to kids and their abilities to get into everything.
Apparantly there was too much tension on the action and barrel de to the bad bedding. It is smooth as silk now and can really do all I ask. Now if I could just cure the buck fever I contracted LAST August. Missed a good one. Dropped everything else.