September 23, 2010
Easy-on-the-shoulder cartridges can make you a better hunter.
The .257 Roberts still makes for a devastating deer gun. This one was built on a Model 70 action by Nathan Chesney of Hillbilly Rifles.
As I write this, I have just put the finishing touches on my 2007-2008 whitetail season. My last hunters have hit the road, my guides have returned to their real jobs, and the last trophies have been delivered to the taxidermist. But like every season, some trophies still lay unclaimed in the South Texas brush, lost to poorly placed shots from unnecessarily powerful cartridges.I take note of caliber, bullet, shot distance, shot placement, and the distance each animal runs after the shot. Over the last three seasons, hunters on one of the ranches I run took 92 deer and 27 hogs. Of those, my tracking dog ran down 21 deer and eight hogs. Two hogs and four deer were never recovered, although Tuffy gave it his all.
Further digging revealed that all but four of the animals that had to be tracked more than 50 yards were shot with magnum rifles. All but one animal that was wounded and lost were shot with a magnum of some sort. That revelation inspired me to go back a few more years, and the results were pretty much the same: The majority of poor shots were made with magnums.
Those figures are not, in my opinion, an indictment of magnums. Rather, they indicate that horsepower does not make up for poor shot placement. And given equal shot placement, bigger cartridges have little real advantage because, well, dead is dead. When stuck through the heart of even the biggest whitetail, a 117-grain, .25-caliber Hornady softpoint at 2750 fps is every bit as deadly as a 180-grain, .30-caliber Triple-Shok launched at 3150 fps from one of my magnum thirties.
One reason smaller cartridges have fared so well over the years is that just about any hunter can shoot them well. Conversely, the list of hunters who can deliver accurate shots consistently with hot magnum cartridges is much shorter.
Another reason more moderate cartridges perform so well on deer is that most of the projectiles loaded for them were designed for shooting deer-sized game. Tough, premium bullets are designed to withstand high-velocity impacts with beefy shoulders, not to open up on the thin skin of a dainty deer. Often, those premium numbers are just starting to upset when they exit. They wouldn't be my first choice on elk or kudu, but softer bullets like the Hornady softpoint or Sierra GameKing are downright deadly on deer when launched at moderate velocities.
Those "not-so-premium" bullets are downright deadly when driven at more pedestrian speeds. Two of my favorite shoulder-friendly deer cartridges are the .257 Roberts and the .260 Remington.
My first experience with the .257 Roberts came here in Texas. My friend, Paul Brust, showed up with his .257 and proceeded to drop everything he shot in its tracks. Several other .257-toting hunters have shown up over the years, and all were equally deadly on game up to 300 pounds.
The .257 Roberts (left) and the .260 Remington (right) are all the cartridge any deer hunter needs.
Despite coveting one for many years, I just acquired my first .257 Roberts. That lovely little custom number was built by Nathan Chesney at Hillbilly Rifles. Chesney built the rifle on a Model 70 action with a fluted Bartlein barrel, a Bansner stock, and Williams bottom metal. Thanks to its 1:9-inch twist, it shoots under a half-inch with the heavier 115- to 120-grain bullets I prefer, and it is flat-out deadly on deer.
Factory offerings are few, but Ruger chambers the Hawkeye for the "Bob," and Remington offers it through the Custom Shop. Kimber offers two rifles in .257 Roberts this year, the lightweight Montana and the beautiful, French-walnut-stocked Select Grade.
Things are looking up for this fine old round in terms of factory rifle availability, but the pickins are slim in the ammo department. Hornady offers a Light Magnum load that launches a 117-grain SST at 2940 fps, and a standard load that sends a 117-grain BTSP at 2780 fps. Federal offers a 120-grain Nosler Partition at 2780. And Remington loads a 117-grain Core-Lokt at a sedate 2650 fps. Fortunately, the .257 Roberts is easy to handload.
I've slain a mountain of game with the light-kicking .260 Rem. It works splendidly, dropping deer in their tracks and driving those long, 140-grain pills right through every deer-sized animal I've ever shot. My clients have fared equally well with the .260. Sadly, this easy-on-the-shoulder cartridge also comes up short in factory ammo and rifle selection.
On the rifle front, Kimber, Remington, and Ruger offer a few rifles in .260. Unfortunately, Kimber and Remington's rifles have a 1:9-inch twist, which is not the best choice for stabilizing those long, 140-grain bullets. It does okay with 120-grainers, but a rifle with a 1:8-inch twist, like those from Ruger, offer the best chance at tack-driving accuracy.
Factory ammo is limited, but fortunately, it's pretty darn good. Federal loads a 140-grain GameKing at 2700 fps and a 120-grain Ballistic Tip at 2950 fps. Remington offers four loads, including a 120-grain AccuTip at 2890 fps, a 140-grain Core-Lokt Ultra at 2750, and two 140-grain Core-Lokt loads: a standard-velocity number at 2750 fps and a managed-recoil load at 2360. All work well on whitetails, but the Core-Lokt Ultra will even do the job on elk and African plains game with proper shot placement.
They'll Never Know The Difference
Neither of the above cartridges will impress armchair ballistics gurus or gun-store magnum-maniacs, but savvy shooters know how well these cartridges work, as evidenced by the rising popularity of the .260 Rem. among hunters and long-range shooters. And take it from me, no deer shot through the boiler room with either of these accurate, easy-on-the-shoulder beauties can tell the difference between them and the hairiest magnum. Your shoulder, ears, and wallet, on the other hand, will thank you for making such a wise choice.