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In 1952 when I was a sophomore in high school, I bought my first gun book. Called Arms and Ammunition Manual, it was a collection of articles by Jack O’Connor, the shooting editor of Outdoor Life. I read that book diligently, wore it out, and eventually got another copy. From that book and O’Connor’s other magazine articles I learned a lot about cartridges and related topics. O’Connor was a teacher and his writing reflected his interest in educating his readers instead of throwing out a bunch of mumbo jumbo and hype. His writing predated super high-tech bullets, ultra-magnums, and wide-spread use of technology in the form of range finders, lighted reticles, and chronographs that we have today. In his writing, O’Connor referred to the .257 Roberts as an excellent all-around cartridge. Is it still so today?
When new products are introduced, fanfare may outpace facts. In the shooting sports this often takes the form of a sponsored hunt and taking some species with a new caliber. I remember reading of one such hunt where the author used a new “magnum” and shot what I believe was a deer at a range of 142 yards. The author proclaimed that the new caliber was a devastating cartridge that killed like the hammer of Thor. A .30-30 Winchester would have done just as well and has been doing so for almost 130 years. However, the new cartridge was put on the “must have” list if you want a successful hunt.
When the .243 Winchester and .244 Remington (later given a faster twist rate and renamed the 6mm Remington) were introduced (both of which use bullets of 0.243 inch diameter), they were praised by a friendly and extensive sporting press. The newer cartridges give higher velocity than the .257 Roberts but with lighter bullets and higher pressures. I do not have anything against the .243 Winchester and I own two. The 6mm cartridges are useful and effective but perform much like the .257 Roberts.
Ever presumed to be a virtue, higher velocities given by the new 6mm cartridges pushed them to the forefront and the .257 Roberts fell by the wayside as did the .250 Savage. This result adds to the list of perfectly good and capable cartridges that have been left behind. The result is that new factory rifles in .257 Roberts are not readily available.
The wildly popular 6.5mm Creedmoor uses bullets having a diameter of 0.264 inch, a mere 0.007 inch larger than those used in the .257 Roberts. Therefore, the .257 falls between the .243 and the 6.5mm but it offers advantages of both. Typical bullets in .257 caliber weigh from 70 to about 120 grains and cover quite well game ranging from varmints to medium species. In my opinion, both the .257 and the .243 are better varmint cartridges than the 6.5mm. The 6.5mm has a faster twist rate and can be used with bullets of up to approximately 160 grains making it better for use on medium game. However, most loads for the 6.5 Creedmoor utilize bullets in the 120-140 grain range. Loaded with such bullets, is the 6.5 a quantum leap better than a 257 Roberts? Under most conditions and for most uses, not really.
With all this said the fact remains that the .257 Roberts used with bullets of lighter weight is a fine varmint cartridge that also performs well on medium game when used with heavier bullets. What do we call such a cartridge? As stated by Jack O’Connor, it is a good choice for all around use. Why isn’t it much more popular? Because it is “old stuff” that cannot quite match the velocity of the .243 Winchester, and the 6.5mm Creedmoor gets almost as much publicity as climate change. However, the .257 Roberts is still an excellent caliber for someone who hunts a variety of game species and wants to use one rifle. The .257 Roberts has lost none of the versatility that Jack O’Connor wrote about many years ago. In fact, with modern bullets and more versatile powders than were available back then, it is even more effective today. I just wish more rifles were available in .257 Roberts caliber.
The handicap with regard to the .257 Roberts is the very limited number of types of factory ammunition, almost none of which are currently to be found in stores. However, just as this piece was being finished, I found several boxes of .257 Roberts ammo in a hardware store in a small town. This is not the situation with the .243 Winchester for which many loads are available with bullet weights from 55 to 100 grains with about every bullet style imaginable. To get this versatility with a .257 Roberts it is necessary to “roll your own.”
With handloaded ammunition, the .257 is a most excellent and versatile cartridge. With the 75 grain Sierra hollow point or Hornady V-Max and the right charge of IMR 4064 or Hodgdon Varget to give a velocity of approximately 3000 ft/sec, five-shot groups at 100 yards normally average about three-fourths of an inch with my rifle. Varmints and predators beware! With 120 grain Sierra spritzer or Speer Grand Slam bullets the .257 Roberts is an excellent hunting combination for larger game. My .257 Roberts is a Ruger 77 Hawkeye and it may well be the finest rifle that I own. With a Swarovski 3-10X42 scope attached, it makes my .243 Winchester rifles superfluous, but I do not plan to get rid of them. Any advantage that they have over the .257 is imaginary or trivial.
I am not going to claim that a .257 Roberts is as effective as a 6.5mm Creedmoor on larger game. However, neither does the 6.5mm make my .257 Roberts less effective than it was in O’Connor’s day. It was and is a useful and versatile caliber. As this is written, vinyl records and film cameras are making a comeback as people are reconnecting with the past. I hope the same good fortune awaits the .257 Roberts.
With a fine .257 Roberts sporter such as this Ruger 77 Hawkeye a hunter is well equipped.
The 7X57 Mauser case (left) resulted in the .257 Roberts (right).
One of the popular .257 Roberts factory loads is the Winchester 117 grain load. The +P loads were introduced in 1974 to increase the pressure level to that of other modern cartridges.
The range of bullets for handloading .257 ammunition ranges from a 60 grain flat point (left) to a 120 grain spitzer (right).
As shown by this five-shot group at 100 yards, the Ruger .257 Roberts is capable of good accuracy.
An accurate .257 Roberts is a superb choice for larger varmints such as coyotes.