May 22, 2020
By Allan Jones
In 1915 Charles Newton of Newton Rifle Co. fame created a rifle cartridge for Savage Arms to showcase in the excellent Savage 99 lever rifle. The cartridge pushed velocity boundaries and opened doors for future rounds. We know it today as the .250 Savage.
Newton based this cartridge on a shortened .30-06 Springfield case. A 26-degree shoulder gives the case a decidedly modern appearance. Shortening allowed proper function in the Model 99 action while surpassing the existing .25-caliber performance leader (the .25-35 Winchester). Winchester’s 1899 catalog shows the .25-35 driving a 117-grain RN bullet at 2,000 fps; the current standard is 2,200 fps.
The tubular-magazine rifles that represented most .25-35 chamberings required a roundnose or flatnose bullet. The Savage rifle had a rotary magazine under the bolt and could safely handle pointed Spitzer bullets. The Model 99 action, although not as robust as a bolt action, could handle roughly 20 percent higher pressures than more traditional Winchester and Marlin lever guns.
Newton conceived a velocity of 2,700 to 2,800 fps with a 100-grain bullet, a substantial advantage over even current .25-35 loadings. This was impressive enough for 1915, but Savage wanted 3,000 fps. Maintaining safe pressures with existing propellants, Newton found he could meet that velocity if he reduced the bullet weight to 87 grains. Satisfied, Savage dubbed it the “.250-3000 Savage.”
The .250-3000 remained the .25-caliber leader until the wildcat .257 Roberts went commercial in 1934. Although the 87-grain load was loaded with a bullet sturdy enough to establish a good reputation as a deer cartridge, hunters wanted more. Newton’s original 100-grain loading was resurrected about 1932 and is still loaded to a nominal velocity of 2,820 fps. If you want the 87-grain version today, you’ll need to handload.
In 1986 I got the fever for a .25-caliber rifle and found a couple of newly made bolt guns chambered for .250 Savage. Unfortunately, one had an anorexic 20-inch barrel, and the other had a barrel band. I was hoping for a barrel that was longer and unfettered. Then I happened upon the Remington Model 700 Classic for 1984. It was chambered for .250 Savage and had a 24-inch barrel, so I bought it. It became one of my favorite rifles.
My first accuracy tests at 100 yards with two brands of factory-loaded 100-grain SP ammo were underwhelming. Groups were just under 3 inches. The handloads were better. I had some 87- and 100-grain Speer Hot-Cor SP and Nosler 100-grain Solid Base bullets. They were all loaded slightly longer than the factory loads, yet none touched the Remington’s rifling. Groups ran from 1 inch down to 0.6 inch. Not too bad for a sporter-weight barrel.
My rifle had just enough throat to let me seat bullets out for better accuracy. Other rifles may not allow that because the standard chamber drawing shows no freebore. Typical of 1915 designs, the rifling leade starts at the end of the chamber. You’ll want to establish proper cartridge overall length for your handloads yourself.
Let’s talk rifling twist. Some say the .250 Savage will not stabilize bullets heavier than 100 grains. The SAAMI chamber drawing confirms the standard twist rate is one turn in 14 inches. Original Savage rifles would struggle with long bullets, but a factory tag tied to the trigger guard of my Remington Model 700 said one in 10 inches, which I confirmed by direct measurement.
What settled the long-bullet question with my rifle was competition testing by a friend’s wife. She used a .250 Savage Remington Model 700 Classic for metallic silhouette competition and needed more than 100-grain bullets to “clean the rail” at long range. They tested the Speer 120-grain BTSP, and it shot well. His wife was both hitting and toppling the 500-meter steel rams.
If you have an original Savage rifle, stick with 87- to 100-grain bullets for best groups. If you have the Remington Model 700 Classic, the faster twist will prove to be no handicap with varmint-weight bullets. I have been very satisfied with the accuracy of 87-grain hollowpoints on ground squirrels to 250 yards and beyond.
The .250 Savage has a maximum pressure assignment of 45,000 CUP, 10 percent less than the .30-06. Don’t use outdated data—the cases likely have changed. Speer data prior to Speer Reloading Manual #12 used older Winchester cases for .250 Savage data. In the late 1980s, Winchester improved sidewall thickness in many cases, and that reduced capacity a bit. The new lot we bought for Manual #12 in about 1990 was the thicker-walled version. Loads from the previous data developed in thinner-wall cases shot over the 45,000 CUP SAAMI-recommended pressure when loaded in the new case lots, and we adjusted the load data for Manual #12 to reflect that. The lesson? Keep your data current with your components. Things change.
Given the case size, your first choice of fuel might be a mid-rate propellant. However, that could leave some performance on the table. Compact slow-burners like H414 and 760 gave top-tier velocities with bullets from 87 grains to 120 grains. The “mids” are fine with varmint bullets. For varmint hunting I use 37.0 grains of Reloder 15 under the Speer 87-grain TNT-HP for 2,980 fps, but I move to H414 with 100-grain bullets. A lab-tested load of 38.0 grains of H414 (compressed) stays within SAAMI guidelines and pushes a Speer 100-grain Hot-Cor to 2,740 fps from my rifle.
The .243 Winchester and the 6mm Remington quickly passed the .250 Savage as cross-over cartridges, but legacy is important. The .250 Savage opened the door to higher velocity, and it also spawned one of our finest varmint cartridges: the .22-250 Remington.