April 03, 2020
The 7.62x25 Tokarev was developed in 1930 and chambered in a then-new Soviet TT-30 semiautomatic pistol, which evolved into the TT-33 pistol. This cartridge was also chambered in the Czechoslovakian CZ 52 pistol and various clones made by China, Vietnam, and the former Yugoslavia. And we can’t forget the Russian burp gun like the drum-fed PPSh-41 from World War II that fought off the German Army and which were also used by the North Korean and Chinese Armies in the Korean War against United Nations forces. Submachine guns and pistols chambered in 7.62x25 Tokarev were used by the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army against U.S. and other United Nations forces in the Vietnam War. The Tokarev has a long and storied battlefield history.
The 7.62x25 Tokarev offers high velocity and power for its caliber and is capable of superb accuracy. Pistols chambered for the Tokarev have been imported into the United States for several years, and you can get caliber conversion barrels for 1911-type pistols to fit a 9mm/.38 Super breechface. Factory ammunition is available at some gun stores and on the internet. Bullet selection in the factory loads, however, is limited to a narrow range of 85 to 86 grains, and most of it is imported. Handloading component bullets, however, are available in a weight range of from 60 to 115 grains.
Handloading allows shooters to take advantage of the 7.62x25 Tokarev’s versatility, although it poses some challenges. First, the bottleneck case’s short neck can be a concern for providing sufficient neck tension to prevent bullet setback during feeding. Second, because most sizing dies are made of steel without tungsten carbide inserts, the cases need to be lubed during sizing, which adds another step to the reloading process. Third, reloaders need to decide which bullet size to use. CIP (the European equivalent of our SAAMI) specifies a 0.311-inch (7.90mm) bullet. However, Sierra and Hornady offer 0.308-inch and 0.309-inch bullets for loading the Tokarev. Even factory-loaded ammunition uses different diameter bullets.
The variety of bullet diameters is likely a consequence of the considerable variation in 7.62x25 Tokarev barrel bore dimensions. Some barrels are cut for .30-caliber bullets and some are cut for .32-caliber bullets. For example, my Zastava M57 barrel groove diameter measures 0.3128 inch, which is ideal for .32-caliber bullets. You should slug your gun’s bore to measure the groove diameter and then use appropriate bullets.
By the way, my Zastava M57 was made in Serbia. It is a current-production clone of the TT-33, albeit with a slightly longer grip that allows one more round in the magazine. The M57 has a 4.5-inch barrel.
One might imagine that accuracy could suffer if the bullet is too small, and if the bullet is too big, it would produce excessive, and possibly dangerous, pressure. For the question of undersize bullets, the answer is to test them in your gun to see how they shoot. My Zastava M57 shoots 0.308-inch jacketed bullets just fine. I have not seen any evidence of tumbling on 25- or 50-yard targets, and accuracy is essentially the same as with 0.312-inch bullets.
Most brass from recent production 7.62x25 Tokarev ammunition is boxer primed and reloadable, even that from overseas. Plus, new Tokarev brass is available from Starline.
I used Lee reloading dies for this project. In addition to the standard die set, I used a Lee Factory Crimp Die (FCD). Unlike the usual Lee FCD for straight-wall pistol cartridges, the one for the bottleneck Tokarev does not post-size the loaded round and does not use a roll or taper crimp. Instead, it crimps like the Lee rifle FCD by applying pressure at the case mouth from the side, producing a crimp ring.
Occasional problems in sizing this cartridge have been reported by other writers. Some chambers are a little tight, and folks have reported that the Lee size die might not size the brass enough to fit properly in tight chambers. I can report that brass sized with the Lee die fit my Zastava M57’s chamber with no problems.
The Lee belling die expanded the neck slightly, resulting in very little neck tension with 0.308-inch bullets, such that the seated bullet could be easily pushed deeper into the case with finger pressure. Consequently, I did not bell the cases when loading 0.308-inch and 0.309-inch bullets. This helped retain neck tension, but it still did not have enough tension to my liking for these bullets. Perhaps the size die needed to size the neck a little smaller. In any case, I found it necessary to crimp bullets to prevent setback.
I found that my PPU brass had thin necks. The PPU 85-grain JHP bullets, which are 0.3065 inch, would sometimes fall into the PPU cases after they were sized. This reinforced my desire that the Lee sizing die had a smaller neck dimension.
The CIP pressure limit for the 7.62x25 Tokarev is 2,500 bar (or 36,259 psi). This is a little higher than the 9mm Luger’s SAAMI pressure limit of 35,000 psi and a little less than the .38 Super’s limit of 36,500 psi. The cartridge’s high pressure translates into a potent cartridge. Ballistics hover in the range of the 9mm Luger +P and .38 Super.
Bullet Shape Matters
Bullet nose shape matters for this cartridge because of the short case neck. Pistol bullets fit correctly at their recommended overall length and have full contact with the case neck. You can load M1 carbine bullets in the 7.62x25 Tokarev, but you must be aware that their shape is not always compatible with this cartridge’s short neck. Some M1 carbine bullets have a long, tapered nose, and when seated, the shank portion of the bullet that measures 0.308 inch might not be in contact with the full length of the case neck. You want full length neck contact to help maintain tension to reduce bullet setback.
When Sierra 110-grain FMJ bullets were seated to the cartridge’s maximum 1.385 inches in overall length, the bullet diameter in front of the case mouth was 0.308 inch. But when I seated the bullet a little deeper at 1.360 inches, the bullet diameter in front of the case mouth measured 0.307 inch as this was now part of the bullet’s tapered nose.
The “best” M1 carbine bullet that I found for the 7.62x25 Tokarev is the Armscor 110-grain FMJ. It has a short nose and can be seated to a variety of overall lengths and still have a 0.308-inch diameter at the case mouth.
I used load data from Hornady, Lyman, Sierra, VihtaVuori, and Western Powders. And most all of my handloads produced some evidence of primer flow in the Zastava M57, just like the factory loads. No primers were pierced. It seemed that primer flow might be a “normal” characteristic of this cartridge in my guns.
Primer flow can be a gun characteristic. For example, one can identify rounds fired in a Glock pistol by the characteristic primer flow into the firing pin’s rectangular slot in the breechface. This does not necessarily mean that the rounds had excessive pressure. It’s just a Glock thing.
Another method for assessing safety is examining fired cases for expansion at the base where the case is unsupported by the barrel’s chamber. Excess expansion here can show up as an imprint of the feedramp in the brass. This means that the brass is expanding past its ability to safely contain the pressure in this region and could result in a ruptured case. The actual pressure might be within standard pressure limits, and the fault could be with the brass or a feedramp cut too deeply and not supporting enough of the case. Regardless of what the actual pressure is, if you see excessive expansion here, the load is too much for that barrel or brass.
Not all brands of brass are equally strong. Measuring the expansion of fired cases ensured that handloads did not produce more expansion than factory ammunition. The data shown in the chart was deemed safe in my pistols, but it does not guarantee that it is safe in yours. Follow published load data carefully, work up from start charges, and watch for evidence of unsafe pressures.
Granted, the loads fired in the M57 were all on the low end of the power spectrum and are roughly 200 fps slower than one might achieve with full-powered loads for a stronger pistol, such as a Model 1911 converted to the Tokarev. But handloading this cartridge for converted Model 1911s is much more complicated and opens up a lot of concerns, ranging from cartridge overall length as dictated by both the magazine (the 7.62x25 Tokarev has a longer overall length than the 1911 magazine can accommodate) and the barrel’s chamber to appropriate component bullet diameter (most 1911 conversion barrels have bore diameters of 0.308 inch, bringing up the whole aspect of oversize 0.312-inch bullets and possible pressure spikes). Handloading the Tokarev for Model 1911s is a topic all its own and would take several pages.
I really like the 7.62x25 Tokarev cartridge. It shoots flat, has modest recoil, and is capable of decent accuracy. As the chart indicates, the accuracy of my handloads in my M57 was pretty good considering the less-than-perfect sights and a creepy trigger pull. While I kept my Tokarev loads on the mild side, more potent handloads can produce more than 500 ft-lbs of muzzle energy, which starts to approach the power of the .357 Magnum. Handloading gives you a wider range of bullets than are available in factory ammunition, and you can load it to the power level that you desire or that is best for your pistol.
One of the fun aspects of this cartridge is the impressive fireballs it can produce. The powders that can do this are H110 and 2400. Power Pistol is also a fire-breather, but it pales compared to H110 and 2400. So if you want to delight your friends, or yourself, with fireballs, the slower powders are the ticket.
7.62x25 Tokarev Accuracy & Results