There were three popular write-in votes when the MeatEater audience selected The Greatest Whitetail Cartridge of All Time earlier this month: the .270 Winchester, the 7mm-08 Remington, and the .25-06 Remington.
Many of you argued that these three cartridges deserved a chance to compete in the October Madness tournament. We were limited to the cartridges selected by the Wired to Hunt crew, but these three write-in options are excellent choices for many big game animals, including whitetails.
We already covered the .270 vs. the 7mm-08 in this Caliber Battle, so now it’s time for the .25-06 to take its shot. If you’re trying to decide between the 7mm-08 and the .25-06, you’ve come to the right place.
As a general rule, the 7mm-08 shoots heavier, wider bullets moving slower while the .25-06 shoots lighter, smaller bullets moving faster.
Midway USA, one of the largest online ammo dealers, offers 7mm-08 cartridges loaded with bullets between 120 grains flying (roughly) 3,000 feet-per-second (fps) and 162 grains flying closer to 2,500 fps.
Eagle-eyed readers will notice that there is one point of overlap: with 120-grain bullets, each cartridge shoots about 3,000 fps. To compare apples to apples, the 120-grain 7mm-08 option in Federal’s Fusion line drops 12 inches at 300 yards with a 100-yard zero and 45 inches at 500 yards with a 200-yard zero. The .335 ballistic coefficient (BC) bullet drifts 27 inches at 500 yards with a 10 mph cross breeze.
The .25-06 of the same weight and line performs slightly better. Its .468 BC bullet drops 11 inches at 300 yards with a 100-yard zero and 40 inches at 500 yards with a 200-yard zero–one and five inches, respectively, better than the 7mm-08. It bucks the wind even better. With a 10 mph cross breeze, this .25-06 only drifts 18 inches.
But the 7mm-08 isn’t out of the ballistics race yet. First, the cartridge shoots a (slightly) wider bullet which will produce a (slightly) wider wound channel. Whether this makes much difference is debatable, but hunting is hard, and we need all the help we can get.
Second, and more importantly, the 7mm-08 can fire heavier bullets that produce more energy at closer distances. These 140-grain bullets, for example, produce 2,525 ft.-lbs. of energy at the muzzle and 1,479 ft.-lbs. at 300 yards. That’s more than even the hottest .25-06 loads, such as this 117-grain option that produces 2,385 ft.-lbs. at the muzzle and 1,354 ft.-lbs. at 300 yards. The energy gap becomes narrower at longer distances, but generally speaking, the 7mm-08 hits harder at the vast majority of distances you’re likely to pull the trigger.
The .25-06 is a legendary varmint cartridge, and it offers flatter trajectories and less wind drift. But the 7mm-08 produces more energy with heavier bullets while still being a relatively flat shooting cartridge that can be loaded with high-BC bullets.
This is a close one, but I think this round goes to the 7mm-08.
Winner: 7mm-08 Remington
These cartridges are close ballistically, but they’re even closer when it comes to recoil, ammo cost and availability, and rifle availability.
Both cartridges are easy to shoot and produce about 12 ft.-lbs. of recoil energy. (For context, a .30-06 Springfield hits with closer to 20 ft.-lbs.)
The 7mm-08 starts to pull away in the availability category. The .25-06 isn’t uncommon–you can find it at your local sporting goods store, and it’s widely available online. But you’ll have more options with the 7mm-08 (29 compared to 23 on Midway USA), and it’s more likely to be in stock (12 compared to 6 on Midway USA).
Same story with rifle availability. Scheels has 12 .25-06 rifles available online, all of which are inexpensive bolt-action hunting rifles. But that same sporting goods store has 40 7mm-08 rifles in stock. All of these rifles are bolt-action, but they run the gamut from sub-$500 Savage models to lightweight mountain rifles from Christensen Arms.
You’re unlikely to notice much difference between these two cartridges while shooting them at the range, but you will notice a difference when you’re looking for a rifle and ammo at the gun store. For that reason, this round also goes to the 7mm-08.
Winner: 7mm-08 Remington
The .25-06 is a great varmint cartridge. As Frank C. Barnes put it in “Cartridges of the World,” “some have claimed it is unsurpassed” with the 87-grain bullet. But while it’s more than adequate for whitetail (as many of you rightly noted), it’s underpowered for larger game like elk and moose.
The 7mm-08 can also be a great varmint cartridge, and it really shines in the whitetail category. You’re unlikely to have to trail a buck very far if you hit him in the vitals with a 7mm-08. The question is, can it jump up to elk-sized animals?
By most accounts, the answer is, “Yes.” In the same reference book, Barnes says that with bullets heavier than 140 grains, the 7mm-08 “is also suitable for heavier game, such as elk.” He’s probably being a little conservative. The success of 6.5mm cartridges on elk, as many of the MeatEater crew have experienced, indicates that the 7mm-08 would be equally as effective. It shoots a wider bullet moving faster than the 6.5 Creedmoor, so while its range might be more limited than a .300 Win. Mag., it’s still more than capable of bringing down an elk.
The same might be said for the .25-06, but fewer people would say it.
Winner: 7mm-08 Remington
In most Caliber Battles, when a cartridge loses the Ballistics category it can often make up ground in the Shootability category. But because the 7mm-08 also offers manageable recoil and better ammo availability, it made a clean sweep of the .25-06.
That doesn’t mean the .25-06 is a bad cartridge. It’s stuck around for 54 years as a standardized cartridge, and it’s been around even longer as a wildcat. It’s a fantastic option for varmint and deer, and it deserves a place alongside the best in that category. But the 7mm-08 is slightly better as an all-around hunter, which is why it wins this matchup.
Overall Winner: 7mm-08 Remington
Feature image via Ray J Gadd.