A Magnum Only by Heritage

A Magnum Only by Heritage
In spite of its name, the .256 Winchester Magnum (the three rounds in the center), which is the .357 Magnum (far right) necked down to .25 caliber, outperforms only the .25-20 WCF (far left).

It’s getting more and more difficult to remember just how much magic was radiated by the word “magnum” back in the magnum-mad 1960s. It meant big belted cases, blinding speed, and vaporized animals at impossible distances.

How, then, did the diminutive, mild-mannered .256 Winchester Magnum ever come by the name? Let’s be realistic: A 60-grain bullet at 2,750 fps is not exactly traveling at the speed of light—and that’s what you get on a good day. Of its more famous .25-caliber brethren—Savage, Roberts, Weatherby—it shades only the .25-20 WCF, and that certainly is not setting the bar very high.

Usually, the magnum name was attached to cartridges that were a more powerful version of a cartridge that already existed. The .44 Magnum, for example, is simply a longer, more powerful .44 Special. Well, back in the 1930s, Smith & Wesson decided the .38 Special needed juicing up and came out with a longer-cased version they called the “.357 Magnum.” Purists will note that it simply could have been called the “.357” as no other cartridge by that name existed, but S&W wanted the magic, and the .357 Magnum delivered it.

The .357 Magnum case intrigued cartridge designers who were convinced it could be necked down into something useful. Remington decided it could be the basis for a hot .22 to use in handguns, while Winchester leaned toward .25. The result was two cartridges that appeared almost simultaneously around 1961: the .22 Remington Jet and the .256 Winchester Magnum. Like most children, the .256 took its father’s name, and just like so many offspring of famous men, it was a disappointment.


The .256 Win. Mag. was intended as a handgun varmint cartridge, but bottleneck cartridges don’t do well in revolvers, so Ruger brought out its single-shot Hawkeye pistol chambered for it, made 3,300 of them, and called it a day. Marlin adopted the .256 Win. Mag. and redesigned its short-throw Levermatic rifle to accommodate it. It was called the Model 62, and Marlin turned out about 8,000. Universal Firearms offered it in the semiautomatic M1 Carbine, and Thompson/Center has offered it in limited quantities of single-shot Contender pistol barrels.


In the 57 years since, writers (including yours truly) have had a field day explaining why the whole idea was doomed from the start. In my own case, such hindsight has been rather rueful because I fell in love with the Levermatic Model 62 and the .256 Win. Mag. cartridge the day the 1964 Marlin catalog arrived in the mail. The word “magnum” hooked me, and the modern, streamlined look of the Model 62 seduced my imagination. Truth to tell, I still have that catalog, and when I open it to that page, I still get that tingle almost 60 years later.

Like many rifle lovers who reach a certain age and level of financial ability, I went looking for a Model 62, eventually found one, prevailed upon Leupold to make me a slightly retro 3X scope, found a period-original George Lawrence leather sling, and began the long road to securing a supply of ammunition.

Winchester produced its last run of .256 Win. Mag. around 1993, and brass disappeared from the market shortly after. Although a few independent makers have flirted with it since, including Jamison Industries (the successor to B.E.L.L.), most of us have had to acquire the wherewithal to turn common .357 Mag. brass into .256 Win. Mag. You can also use .22 Jet brass, but I found it cheaper and easier in the long run to use .357 Mag.

In the process, I learned a lot about fashioning one cartridge from another. Most valuable, perhaps, I learned that one has to be very careful how hot you load the .256 Win. Mag. because the Levermatic is not blessed with a stout extractor and cases stick quite easily. In other words, this so-called magnum cannot even be juiced much beyond its already modest factory ballistics.


What’s in a name? In this case, not much. Taken together with the rifle, though, they make a nice walking-around combination that does fine work on marauding armadillos. And you know what? The armadillos never realize the .256 Win. Mag is not really a magnum.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Tactical Solutions Introduces New X-Ring Takedown SBR Rifle

Tactical Solutions Introduces New X-Ring Takedown SBR Rifle

Keith Feeley of Tactical Solutions sat down with Michael Bane at SHOT Show 2018 to talk about the new X-Ring Takedown SBR .22LR rifle.

All About .300 Blackout

All About .300 Blackout

The .300 Blackout is here to stay, and we take some time to look at new technology surrounding this cartridge. Next, we pit subsonic rivals against each other before stretching the legs of this CQB round out to 600 yards from a short 9-inch barrel.

The Future Of Special Operations Small Arms

The Future Of Special Operations Small Arms

We're taking a look at what the Army's Elite Units are using for service rifles and what the future of SOCOM sniping looks like.

Springfield Armory Saint Victor

Springfield Armory Saint Victor

The SAINT' Victor Rifle delivers a lightweight and agile rifle solution while maintaining effectiveness at extended engagement distances.

Trending Articles

Daniel Defense has blazed a new trail with its first-ever bolt-action rifle, the Daniel Defense Delta 5. Rifles

Daniel Defense Delta 5 Review

Joel J. Hutchcroft - May 31, 2019

Daniel Defense has blazed a new trail with its first-ever bolt-action rifle, the Daniel...

The new Bushnell FORGE riflescope is “the only choice for long-range hunting enthusiasts.” Optics

Review: Bushnell FORGE 4.5-27X 50mm

Sam Wolfenberger - May 01, 2019

The new Bushnell FORGE riflescope is “the only choice for long-range hunting enthusiasts.”

A half-century in the making, the new DGX Bonded is Hornady's best-ever dangerous-game bullet. Ammo

Danger Tamed: Hornady DGX Bonded Hunting Ammo

Joseph von Benedikt - May 23, 2019

A half-century in the making, the new DGX Bonded is Hornady's best-ever dangerous-game bullet.

Crimson Trace enters the riflescope business with the Crimson Trace CTL-3420 4-20X 50mm. Optics

Review: Crimson Trace CTL-3420 4-20X 50mm

Joel J. Hutchcroft - April 29, 2019

Crimson Trace enters the riflescope business with the Crimson Trace CTL-3420 4-20X 50mm.

See More Trending Articles

More Ammo

Plenty of YouTube heroes are reinventing the spiel. But be careful they don't take you down the wrong path. Ammo

Don't Be Misled: .30-06 is Still the Best

Terry Wieland - November 08, 2019

Plenty of YouTube heroes are reinventing the spiel. But be careful they don't take you down...

The new Hornady Handgun Hunter ammo is crafted for hunting many different types of game. Ammo

Hornady Handgun Hunter Ammo - New for 2020

Shooting Times Digital Staff - January 27, 2020

The new Hornady Handgun Hunter ammo is crafted for hunting many different types of game.

When reliability in adverse conditions is paramount, the new Hornady Outfitter Ammo line is called for. Ammo

Hornady Outfitter Ammo Review

Joseph von Benedikt - February 18, 2020

When reliability in adverse conditions is paramount, the new Hornady Outfitter Ammo line is...

The Winchester Wildcat 22 LR Ammo is a good plinking round as well as a reliable small-game hunting round. Ammo

Winchester Wildcat .22LR Ammo

Jake Edmondson - December 13, 2019

The Winchester Wildcat 22 LR Ammo is a good plinking round as well as a reliable small-game...

See More Ammo

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.