.25-20 Winchester

George Carlson/georgewxxx 

    Starting out as a varmint/small game round, the .25-20 W.C.F., or repeater, not to confused with the single shot version has been used for game up to moose. Subsistence hunters up in Canada’s Northwest Territory’s, claim an easily carried box of 50 in your pack will make meat for a long time. With quiet stealth skills, natives have learned how to get close enough to place an 86-grain. bullet in the ear of a moose or elk. In the 8th edition of “Cartridges of the World”, the editor added a comment, that his Uncle dropped two bull elk with 3 shots from a 92 Winchester in .25-20. In all honesty, the only living thing that has succumbed to my 1892 Winchester is flickertail gopher out in our pasture. Visions of nailing a fox never materialized.

    The cost of loaded ammo is one reason people try their hand at reloading. A 50 round box of Winchester from Old Western Scrounger http://www.ows-ammunition.com/ is over $40. Ten-X http://www.ten-x.com/ will load your old brass for $14.00 a box. If you cast your own bullets, and use once fired brass, the cost of doing it yourself should drop to less than 6 cents a round depending on where you buy your components. . New brass and loaded ammo are still available from Remington, Winchester, and a few others. The one-grain powder capacity difference between Remington & Winchester brass can make a huge difference in the dynamics of pressure and velocity.  So, be aware that if you work up loads using one or the other stay with that brand. And by all means segregate lots especially when trying to squeeze the most out of your gun. Probably because of the interest in lever action cowboy guns, .25-20 components should be available for a long time. In a pinch .32-20, and .218 Bee brass could be used if needed. I have some very old UMC, and WRA brass that I've annealed just because I think it's neat to fire 50 or 60 year old brass.

    Cast bullets weights that are applicable in the .25-20, usually range from 60-86 grains. However, gleaning other published material, bullets up to 115 grains can be found. True to his penchant for heavy bullets, 'ol Elmer Keith said the Ideal #257306 (115 grain) over 10 grains of 2400 was one of his better loads. Can you visualize him even shooting something as small as a .25-20? Well I've experimented with that bullet in my 92 & 43 Winchesters both with a 1-14 twist, using 10 ½ grains of 4227, and at 50 yards, it's still stable. Trying heavy weights like the 257325, 257231, 257306, produced tipping or keyholes unless you found the right combination, and that means pushing the pressure to the max. The Winchester rifles are strong, but the brass is the thin. Brass in the .25-20 limits how far you can push the envelope. An older Marlin 27 & Winchester 94's with 1-12 barrel might work with 110+ grain bullets if the pressure signs don't stop you. Most slide action guns are the weakest in this caliber. Trying head to head accuracy comparisons with a Remington model 25 and Winchester model 92 the cases started to show pressure signs in the 25 with any load at factory level pressures or above. I'd bet the Marlin 27 pump would be the same.

    I'm stuck in a rut as far as powders go. Maybe it's because I've accumulated so much of the old standard powders from 30 to 40 years ago. If new powder is what you want to use you'll need to interpolate, and go to the standard reduction of 10%. Shotgun trap powder such as 700-X or Red Dot are the fastest.  On the slow end, H-322 turned out very dirty with much unburned powder left in the bore. But a dirty bore doesn't mean bad groups. 13 grains of H-322 and the 88 grain 257312 will surprise you with sub 2” groups at 100 yards. When Winchester discontinued it's 680 I stocked up a lifetime supply, not knowing 1680 would be marketed by Accurate. Winchester 680 was the standard that all other powders had to achieve to prove their worth. The size of the .25-20 is a limiting factor to what powder you can use. 14 grains of IMR 4198 comes up to the top of the neck. Tapping the case on the bench, you can bring it down so a 257420 can be seated without compressing too much. Loading a box of 50 that way is a labor of love. If 2 ½” groups satisfies you, and that happens to be all you have on hand for components, go to it! On the other end of powder burning rate chart 3.5 grains of Red Dot and the 257312 produced 1 1/4” honest iron sight groups. I'd love to try my 43 Winchester with a scope, but it's never been drilled and tapped, and I don't intend to decrease the value of it just to satisfy my ego.

    If I remember right, Kimber's model 82 Custom Classic in .25-20 that was produced only a few years, came without sights. I lusted for one, but I could never justify a super expensive .25-20 in the battery. Another “shouda” gun was on the rack in a pawnshop in Klamath Falls Oregon. During my Tour of duty with Uncle Sam back in the early 60's a 219 Savage with two extra barrels tied to it with bailing twine was passed up, but not forgotten. The 219 with a 30-30 barrel installed had a .218 bee, and a .25-20 hanging along side of it. Savage also made a 23-B for 18 years and it is the ugly duckling of the crowd, but a stellar performer on the target.

    The little 257463 & 257420 weighing in at 72 & 73 grains respectively are my all out favorites. 11 grains of 4198 being the most accurate in either with a average velocity of 1500 FPS. Any of the rifles I've used if you stay at the 1500 fps range with any cast bullet, it'll probably be the most accurate. The 87 grain 257312 with a flat nose profile that when seated looks identical to the 257420, and will shoot less than 2” at a 100 yards; with 13 grains H322, 10 grains 5744, 9 grains 2400, 5 grains Unique, or 4 ½ grains of any fast shotgun powder. The 257464 gets used less because of its round nose shape.  But if you’re target shooting with a lever, or using a bolt gun, don't pass up a chance to use this fine bullet. 5 grains of Unique will keep groups under 2”. I had a brief chance to compare my favorite Winchester loads in a now discontinued Marlin 1894CL, and the gun did not like anything I run through it. Might be the 1-16 barrel or the fact that marlin supposedly used longer chamber reamers.

    Bolt guns like the Savage, Kimber, Winchester, and single shot rifles aren't subject to the same nose profile limitations, so the 257388, 257418, 257464, 257463 can be used if you take the time to work with different powders, and seating depth's. One of the best loads is 9 grains 5744 and the 78 grain 257488. I've used both XMP-5744 and the older MP-5744, and prefer the older version. Some of the larger stick type powders can be a pain to meter and measure.  So for them, I rely on plain 'ol Lee scoops. After developing a consistent technique by eyeballing the amount of powder and weighing about every other charge, I soon had the scale going unused for rest of the session. I've tried the same load using .257 & .258 sizing dies, and have settled on the .257. Why? I can't say for sure. The chamber pressure's changing at different velocities, and bullet design can make it confusing.

    Those thin necks don't take much abuse and buckle easily while seating without some flair on the mouth, so I made my own M die using an old 44 cal depriming die with the decapping pin removed. It's just big enough to fit over the case mouth and flair it to however you want. Herter's used to sell special expander plugs for cast bullet users for any caliber you wanted. You can do the same yourself by buying the next larger plug and reducing it to fit your needs, but I'd still fit it on a spare die body and have a three die set. The only problem with that is the tension on the bullet. Lever magazine spring tension and recoil make it necessary to crimp if your bullet isn't tight enough to keep the bullet from pushing back into the case.   A lot of these steps and procedures can be eliminated if you’re just shooting from a bench, and loading directly into the guns chamber.


Back to the Casting Fellows Homepage