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Making serviceable .25-35 brass from .30-30s

© 2014 – Ed Harris


Frank Marshall’s and my friend Bill has a long-barreled 1894 Winchester with octagon barrel chambered in .25-35 WCF.  It was made in 1908 and helped feed his family when he was a kid in Montana during the Depression.  That rifle killed everything from grouse to elk.  These days Bill doesn’t deer hunt, but he wanted to get re-acquainted with his old friend and asked me to help work up some small game and recreational loads.  We learned a few things in doing so, and I thought we should share for anyone with a .25-35 who wants to feed it economically.


Factory .25-35 loads feature a 117-gr. soft-point bullet. Some 50-year-old Super-X rounds Bill had and current Winchester ammo chronographed just shy of 2300 f.p.s. from his 26 inch barrel.  Factory loads are expensive and not sold at Wal-Mart.  The Lee data table which came with Bill’s die set lists 20 grains of 4198 with the 117-gr. Hornady. This shot very well and chronographed about 2100 f.p.s.  No deer around our woods here is likely to know the difference.


Lee Data Table:

Bill says that the .25-35 is the most accurate chambering in the Winchester 94 because its small bore makes for a heavier, more rigid barrel. Its 8-inch twist handles quiet, subsonic cast bullet loads very accurately, while getting great penetration because they auger on through, if not driven so fast they blow up.


You can load as little as 4 grains of fast burning pistol or shotgun powder with 85-87-gr. lead plain-based bullets. The Meister or RCBS cowboy slugs drive inch and half groups at 50 yards with iron sights and make little more noise than a .22 LR, but are more effective.  I don’t know whether the factories ever loaded small game rounds for the .25-35 like they did for the .30-30. But when hand-loaded with either jacketed or cast lead bullets designed for the .25-20. the .25-35 WCF makes a fine small game cartridge. 


I got Bill a set of Lee dies, an RCBS .25-20 Cowboy expander and some Meister 85-gr. flat-nosed .258 bullets for initial charge establishment. When the Ideal tang sight on his rifle was zeroed for factory 117-gr. loads at 200 yards, small game loads shot to the sights at 50 yards and gave inch and half groups. So I decided we should get an RCBS mould 25-85CM designed for the .25-20. We tried it with equal results. 


Click on Photo for larger pic



RCBS bullets were cast of wheel weights and shot un-sized in reworked .30-30 brass.  A charge of 5 grs. of SR7625 or 6 grains of PB with 85-87 grain cast bullets approximate the 1300 f.p.s. velocity of the .25-20.  Using 4 grains of Bullseye gave 1120 f.p.s. and 5 grains of Bullseye gave 1200 f.p.s. The fastest cast bullet load which shot acceptably was 7 grs. of  #2400 for 1420 f.p.s.  


We also bought some Remington 85-gr. JSP .25-20 bullets.  Firing expansion tests in water jugs confirmed my memories of factory .25-20 loads. At 1270 f.p.s. using 8 grs. of PB the soft points perforate without expansion and penetrate deeply.  Bumping their velocity to 1400 f.p.s. using 10 grains of #2400 expanded them 0.32 caliber, with no appreciable weight loss. 



But drive these thinly jacketed soft-point bullets much faster than they were designed to go, and they fragment violently, making a non-ricochet varmint load. Testing at 50 yards with 14 grs. of #2400 at 1950 f.p.s. on a $0.17 per pound Food Lion meat manager’s special fryer chicken, pieces of bird were scattered all over Berkeley County. Neighborhood cats, raccoons and foxes appreciated this, as by morning even not even a trace was left!   

We had the best luck forming cases from Winchester .30-30 brass. I used Imperial Sizing Die Wax and the die spacer which comes with RCBS .38/.357 dies to back off the FL sizer for the first pass.  This decaps and partially forms the neck and shoulder, without finishing the case taper..

After pre-forming, case necks are gas annealed.  Then you can full-length resize in a second die pass without buckling the shoulder. Cases then must be trimmed to length.  Lee can provide a custom case length trim gage to use with their .30-30 cutter and lock stud. You won't need to ream case neck. As long as brass is formed in two stages with an inter-draw anneal between you don't lose any. If you try this with Remington or Federal brass you will wrinkle shoulders on half of the cases. Wrinkled shoulders will work once for hunting loads which you “Pop and Toss,” but will develop pin holes if you reload them repeatedly.   




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