Over at American Hunter  there’s an article entitled Top 5 Underrated Deer Cartridges, to whit:

6.5x55mm Swede / 7mm-08 / .250 Savage / .338 Federal / .257 Roberts

Longtime Readers will know of my love for the 6.5x55mm Swede, so ’nuff said on that topic (although a recent chat with Combat Controller reminded me that in a stiff crosswind, the otherwise-excellent 6.5mm boolet will get blown around more than a little).

I have no issue with the 7mm-08 either;  in fact, I kinda prefer it to the .308 Win simply because it seems to kick my aged shoulder a lot less, for about the same result at the naughty end of its flight.  Here’s an approximate comparison, using the same bullet weight:

The Savage 99 rifle chambered in the .250-3000 cartridge might be one of the best deep-forest small-game combinations available.  Trouble is, not many other  rifles are chambered for the old cartridge anymore (if ever).

As for the .338 Federal, I’m kinda leery about “new” cartridges which don’t do much more than existing ones, and this cartridge almost defines the breed.  Let’s just do a quick comparison of (say) three different cartridges, all shooting the .338’s 200-grain pill:

Okay, the .30-06 has just about reached its upper limit with the heavier 200gr (as opposed to its most-common 165gr weight), so let’s ignore that one.  The .338 is best compared with the .300 Win Mag, methinks, and it’s not bad in that regard — and the per-box cost for each is about the same (a little under $40 for the premium variants).

Finally, we come to the venerable .257 Roberts.  I happen to like this cartridge myself, but let’s face it:  it shoots a bullet of .25x-inch diameter, which means it’s up against our old friend the .243 Winchester.  Ballistically speaking, a sample shows the following: 

It’s not quite an apples-to-pears comparison (despite the 10-grain bullet weight difference), because in the long run, the .257 Roberts costs more than double the .243 Win and that makes for expensive practice.

Which brings me to the summary of the whole issue.  You’re not going to go wrong  with any of the above “underrated” cartridges:  all will do the job as advertised on pretty much most deer in the lower 48.  The problem is that underrated, in the cartridge sense, means nobody shoots them much — which means that all of them pretty much fail Mr. Free Market’s Availability Test (Cliff Notes:  if gun and ammo are separated in transit, will you find a box of your ammo in Bubba’s Bait ‘n Tackle / your guide’s glove box?).  Even in this company, I think you’re more likely to find any of the above ahead of the .338 Federal (which, to my mind almost defines a “fad” cartridge — i.e. invented by a rifle company to drive sales), so even though it’s a decent cartridge, it’s deservedly underrated by the market.

It also means that the ammo for all the above will be way more costly than their ballistic equivalents, and you won’t find too many rifles thus chambered, either.

All that said, if I were to find a (decently-priced) Savage 99 lever rifle in .250-3000, or a bargain-basement Savage Mod 11 in 7mm-08, or a cherry pre-’64 Winchester 70 in .257 Roberts, would I ignore the deal?  Would you?

Update: I fixed the typo which made the .257 Roberts bullet of .243 diameter. Now please excuse me while I go and beat the shit out of my incompetent proofreader…


  1. Biggest point of those cal’s being overlooked is you can’t walk into a lot of small town hardware stores and buy a box because your kid unpacked them from your gear. I am gliding away from 06 and 308 because they hammer a whitetail and cause significant blood shock if your shot isn’t a clean pass through the lower rib cage, because alignment issues due to animal. I am getting to the point where I would rather go back to my scoped 20ga 1100 or a 45/70 loaded lightly. We are in pretty heavy cover so over 150 isn’t likely and shots under 40 are.

  2. I’ve got an early 70’s Remington 700 BDL in .25-06 in the collection. It was a 50th birthday gift from my brother. I don’t think the rifle had more than a box of ammunition through it when brother got it and it lived in the back of his closet for about 20 years before he passed it on to me.

    It is a beautiful rifle. Shoots very well with the standard 110 grain loads. I like the very flat trajectory out to 300 yards. My 4’10” 9 5 pound wife can do some good work with it and she says that it’s about the biggest “real” gun (not counting ARs) that she can comfortably shoot.

    The light high velocity bullets have been a bit of a problem for me. After I got the rifle I took it to upper Michigan to hunt white tail. I was used to carrying an 06 loaded with 150 grain bullets. I took a shot at a nice six point buck that was about 75 yards away. I was shooting through some very light brush and the deer headed for places unknown after I fired. No blood, no hair, nothing. I did find a fresh gouge on a small tree branch. Without getting into the whole “brush gun” argument I do wonder if the 150 grain 06 bullet would have made a difference that day. Or maybe God was just kind to the deer. The next day I took my Mossberg 500 loaded with slugs back to the blind.

    The .25-06 is another one of those really nice rounds – within its limitations – that unfortunately doesn’t pass the Bubba’s Bait and BBQ test. I stick with 06 and 308 as my preferred white tail calibers. Nothing fancy but if a store sells ammunition you’ll find those rounds.

    Now that I’m retired and have a little more time to play I should buy a set of .25-06 dies. I wonder how it would do for feral hogs?

    1. Depends on the size of the hogs. Some of those 600-lb Russians we get in Texas can be problematic with anything less than a .30-cal 165-gr+ boolet. But on anything up to 200 lbs, a quarter-incher like the .25-06 should do just fine.

  3. The .257 Roberts has a bullet of .257- inch diameter, hence its name. It is based on the 7×57 case and was a popular wildcat for years before being “legitimized”.

  4. Yeah, I agree with most of what everyone has said, but I have to add a personal favorite, readily available in surplus, but no, not at your local store:
    7.5×55 at a light 130 gr produces 3000 ft/s at 2608 ft-lbf. A great large hog load.

  5. It’s a sin that the 6.5 Swede should be on that list, but I understand it.

    Local Cabelas. Nearly an entire gondola groaning under the weight of countless varieties of 6.5 Creedmore in a kaladescope of wildly differing brands, weights and differently branded boxes.

    6.5×55. A single stack of Privi-Partisan in 140 gr. loadings.

    And my local Academy has naught of the vaunted Swede chambering, I’m sad to say.

    All the more reason to keep building my stockpiles of the stuff. With a (in my experience) 100%, one-shot kill rate on well over fifty deer over the years, I’ll not call it under-rated, so much as under-appreciated.

    Sunk New Dawn
    Galveston, TX

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