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American Rifle
Rifle Magazine
February - March 2000
Volume 35, Number 1
ISSN: 0017-7393
Number 203
On the cover...
The Remington Model 700 .250-3000 features a custo
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You don’t hear much about the .250 Savage lately. Overshadowed by more modern short-action cartridges like the .260 Remington and the 7mm-08 Remington, the .250-3000 Savage seems to have settled in somewhat of a purgatory state. In fact it almost seems like there is a conspiracy against the old warrior. Factory ammunition is just about gone, the selection of rifles has dwindled dramatically and even now it’s hard to purchase unprimed brass without a special order.

In its time and around the turn of the century, the .250-3000 was the first cartridge to break the 3,000-fps barrier. Granted it was with a lighter 87-grain bullet, but it did give the added press hype needed to launch a cartridge into greatness. Naturally, when it comes to the history of this cartridge, there are different and varied opinions. Most folks credit the .250-3000 to Charles Newton when actually Harvey Donaldson got the .250 Savage on its feet. I came upon this information while researching another project.

According to Donaldson in his tome Yours Truly, it was his experiments with .25-caliber wildcats that paved the way toward the Savage. Additionally two men, Mr. A.O. Niedner and Dr. Franklin Mann were also working on the cartridge, but it was the data worked up by Donaldson that gave Newton the incentive to develop the .250-3000. However, the fly in the ointment was the case.

Let me quote an interesting paragraph from Donaldson’s book. It reads, “. . . you should understand it was Newton’s idea to use the .30 Krag case necked down to .25 caliber but when he took that design to the Savage company, they told him it was not possible to use a case with such a large rim in the Savage (lever gun) magazine.” It was then old Harv suggested the .30-06 case. In addition, he advised cutting it off to whatever length it would comfortably fit into the Model 99 action, add a slight taper to the case and cap it off with an easy-to-feed, 30-degree shoulder. The .250 Savage was born. At the time, the .250 Savage took off like a rocket. Hunters in all walks of life took to it like bees to honey. In fact some of my closet friends in Maine still swear by this cartridge and continue to harvest deer in the thickets of the pine tree state. For deer-sized game it’s simply hard to beat. Ask any man who owns one.

Even Elmer Keith liked the little .250-3000, and he proclaimed the .250 Savage as “the smallest cartridge in power that I have considered as a long range cartridge for our big game.” He raves about the .250 but for the side of lightweight bullets in the 87-grain class. He goes on to say he has shot mule deer with the Savage but on the whole most took two shots. He also notes that at 300 yards the 100-grain bullet is a better choice, but sadly much of the “explosive effect” is gone. I would think so considering the velocity of the 100-grain bullet in the .250 Savage.

Townsend Whelen had much praise for the .250 but with some reservations. He goes on to boast that one of his friends “used the 100 grain bullet for many years on deer, sheep and goats in British Columbia with very fine results.” Whelen continues gloating over the cartridge but finishes up on sort of a negative note saying he thinks “that a well informed rifleman would hardly chose this cartridge (the .250 Savage now) because the .257 Roberts slightly excels it in every respect.” Slightly excels all right. In recent editions of various loading manuals and personal experience, the difference with a 100-grain bullet loaded with IMR-4350 between a .250 Savage and the .257 Roberts is 122 fps with the Roberts using roughly 21 percent more powder.

In Philip Sharpe’s massive book Rifle in America, he dotes on the potential accuracy of the .250 Savage. Like everyone else he is happy to report the .250 is splendid on varmints and deer, that “essentially the .250 Savage is a 200 yard cartridge but has a considerably longer actual range.” He should have stopped there, as I have trouble with the next sentence. He goes on to say that “Peters (the old ammunition company) recommends the accuracy range of 700 yards but it is doubtful it could be made to perform in a satisfactory manner at such ranges.”

It seems even then folks were starting to hallucinate about pushing the distance envelope without even considering that such practices rarely present themselves and that the large majority of hunters - especially back then with the rifle sights available - were not fully capable of taking game at such long ranges with bullets in the 100-grain class traveling at around 2,700 fps. Even today with the super magnums we have, 300 to 400 yards is really stretching it for anyone but really seasoned or veteran hunters.

In any event, I think the final blow for me came in a recent column by colleague Gil Sengel. He states in the August-September 1998 issue of Handloader (No. 194) that the “demise of the .250 is really unfortunate given the number of hunters who must be interested in our sport if it is to survive.” Gil hit it right on the money; but for those who might look the other way, there is no better cartridge in terms of light recoil, accuracy and effectiveness with the range at which most American deer hunters harvest their game every year.

With Gil’s comment in mind, I was determined to build a showcase .250 Savage. Walking to my rifle rack, I spied a Remington Model 700 in .250 Savage that was introduced to the shooting public in the early 1980s as part of Remington’s ongoing limited-edition classic series of rifles and cartridges. While the stock on the rifle was run-of-the-mill production wood, I decided to press this project farther.

I remembered a conversation with Henry Pohl, now honcho of his own gun stocking firm, the Great American Stock Company (3420 Industrial Drive, Yuba City CA 95993). Henry is from the old school; his great-grandfather started the reputed firm of E.C. Bishop, an original on the American scene when it came to stockmakers. While there, Henry built a fine rifle using a Mauser action encased in a fancy piece of walnut chambered for the 7mm Mauser for me. At that time they called it the Bishop Model 10, and I still have it in my rack.

Because we are dealing with a very classic cartridge, I wanted a very classic stock. The Great American Gun Stock Company lists what they call a “Goudy” classic stock; according to the literature and later when Henry elaborated on the description, Gary Goudy actually built the original patterns for this particular line of stocks. To add a little more credit to this whole affair, the profile actually follows the same design he makes for all his custom rifle customers. Naturally if you don’t like this stock, the company has others in its extensive catalog that will surely please your particular shooting tastes, all profiled in many woods with states of completion from just inletted and profiled to completely finished.

When the rifle arrived - usually 2 to 3 months for a fully dressed and completed stock with all the trimmings - the requests I had laid out were followed precisely. The wood was fancy walnut, dark in tone with a crotch feathering grain pattern on both sides of the butt section. Following this, the grain structure turns into a fiddleback pattern as it makes its way toward the forend. This should add to the integrity of the stock over the years, keeping a constant zero.

To spruce up the stock, I had asked for an ebony forend tip with no spacer and cut to a 90-degree angle to match my other custom rifles. Ditto on the pistol grip cap, in ebony also with no spacers. For transporting the rifle in the field, flush-mounted QD bases were installed, and a Pachmayr black pad was attached with a black spacer at my customary 13 1/2 inch length of pull.

Because the rifle had such an outstanding grain pattern, a high-gloss finish was applied. A very elegant fine-line checkering pattern in a fleur-de-lis style was added complete with ribbons by Mike Jenkins (2295 Kathleen Way, Redding CA 96003). After Mike had received the stock, he was kind enough to call for my input on the style and execution preferred. I told him he was free to apply his artistic talent and experience. The layout fits the stock perfectly, and with full coverage on the forearm, tang and pistol grip this rifle now took on the look of the masters. To get it ready for the range and field work, Redfield bases, high-gloss Browning rings to match the barreled action and a Bausch & Lomb 2.5-10x Balvar scope were installed. With the trigger tweaked to 3 pounds and the scope bench sighted in, I moved on to some handloading.

The only way to capture the versatility the .250 Savage possesses is to load your own ammunition. Right now I believe Remington is the only manufacturer to load the .250 Savage, and that presently only includes the 100-grain load at around 2,800 fps. That’s great for deer and antelope hunters who either don’t have the time or interest to load their own, but for smaller game, varmint hunting and the all-American accuracy nut, handloading is surely the only way to go.

Bullets are always a hard choice, but weights from 60 grains (only from Hornady) to 75, 87, 90, 100, 117 and 120 grains are available from Barnes, Hornady, Nosler, Sierra, Speer and Swift. In all probability the .250-3000 is very handy with weights from 75 to 100 grains, so that puts it into the varmint to deer class - exactly where it belongs. On the extreme end of the scales, the lighter 60-grain bullet is a flatnosed affair from Hornady, and while it will reach 3,600 fps, my gut feeling is that just because of its design parameters I would find it limited in my particular hunting circles. On the other hand, the 120-grain bullet would be more practical at closer ranges than the 100 grain thereby making it popular with the wooded areas of the eastern part of the country.

Since the .250 Savage is what most call a medium-sized case, propellants on your shelf from H-4198 to IMR-4350 will find favor. According to the masters, the Savage seems to thrive on IMR-3031 (many say this is the propellant), H-380, IMR-4064 (veteran writer F.C. Ness was fond of this one) and W-760. Primers are standard CCI 200s with CCI 250s doing the chores on such powders as the newer AAC-2520, H-380 and W-760. At the bench, standard reloading practices apply and nothing out of the ordinary ever surfaced.

Checking my shelves, I found an ample supply of Winchester .250 Savage brass. Resizing all, then cleaning with a liquid medium, case length was then checked. Although most came out of the box below the maximum of 1.912 inches, they were all trimmed to 1.902 inches.

Bullets were pretty straightforward with examples from Hornady, Sierra, Speer, Remington and Swift in all major weights getting the nod. To bring the testing up to a “bakers dozen,” I added a few reduced loads with 12.5 and 14.5 grains of SR-4759 plus the one factory load that was topped off with Remington’s 100-grain pointed softpoint.

Reaching for an elderly set of Pacific Durachrome dies and chucking them into an even older Pacific press for the sake of nostalgia the process began. I haven’t seen too many new Savage loads with newer powders like Accurate Arms 2520, so I picked three for the popular 75-, 87- and 100-grain bullets. IMR-3031 was a favorite of some of the old-timers as was IMR-4064, so it was added to the pile. Overall length of the cartridge with the bullet seated never went over the maximum of 2.515 inches, and all dummy rounds chambered without incident.

Only one load out of the 10 tried went over 2 inches: 38.0 grains of AAC-2520 over a CCI 250 Large Rifle Magnum primer. While the velocity was the highest of the day, the obvious tradeoff was accuracy, but for close quarters on smaller game that really represents no problems.

On the whole, velocity stayed in the 3,000-fps range for bullets in the 75-, 87- and 90-grain class with accuracy hovering around 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 inches at 100 yards. For varmint or small game hunters, any of these loads will deliver the goods with aplomb on all but the smallest of vermin at longer distances. Velocities were all very close showing that powder match to case capacity were right in line with the overall parameters of the .250 Savage.

For deer hunters, the 100-grain offerings and above showed their net worth with IMR-3031 with groups that averaged under 1/2 inch with more than one shooting session. The veterans were right on when they said IMR-3031 powder was the propellant for the .250 Savage. Another traditional powder, IMR-4064, showed its stuff with 1 1/2-inch groups, and Accurate’s AAC-2520 brought three shots down to under an inch. The Swift 120-grain bullet with its additional weight slowed things down a bit to around 2,400 fps with an appropriate drop in accuracy. If I had my druthers for deer at moderate ranges, the 100-grain bullet would be first choice.

A few reduced loads, courtesy of the Speer book, were included that are great for plinking, hunting small game or just educating newcomers to a big game rifle like the .250 Savage. They are extremely easy on the shoulder, very accurate at 50 yards and, when loaded with a small tuft of cotton tamped lightly over the SR-4759 powder charge, are amazingly consistent in the velocity department.

Finally a Remington factory load topped off with a 100-grain bullet showed that handloading can increase accuracy over the long haul. All cases were checked for pressure signs, of which there were none; all ejected smoothly, and to simulate field conditions, all three rounds that made up the groups were fed from the magazine - not single-shot style.

The .250 Savage combined with a rifle that shoots well and feels good, thanks to a custom stock, still has a place in American shooting circles. While other cartridges like the .25-06 Remington or .257 Weatherby might overshadow it from time to time, the .250 Savage is still a classic cartridge worthy of consideration.

Big Game Rifle
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