It’s easy to assume that the .257 Weatherby Magnum and the .25-06 Remington are more or less interchangeable. Both classic quarter-bores are legendary varmint and medium-game cartridges, both have roots in the wildcat business, and both shoot lightweight bullets really, really fast.
But even though those bullets have the same diameter, these cartridges don’t hail from the same families. The .25-06 is a necked down .30-06 while the .257 Weatherby (like many Weatherby cartridges) is a necked down .300 H&H.
The .300 H&H case is longer and wider than the .30-06, which allows the Weatherby to hold about 20% more powder than its quarter-bore counterpart.
That extra powder adds velocity, but is it enough to give the .257 Weatherby the edge over what some consider the greatest varmint cartridge of all time? Read on to find out.
Ballistics As mentioned, the .257 Weatherby flies faster. There’s really no way around it. Some older published ballistics data indicates that both cartridges push a 120-grain bullet about 2,900 feet-per-second, but the latest data from Weatherby lists velocity for a 120-grain bullet at 3,305 fps—about 300 fps faster than the .25-06.
That extra 300 fps creates an advantage that holds true throughout each cartridge’s range of bullet weights. This 100-grain Federal Trophy Copper .25-06, for example, leaves the barrel at 3,210 fps. Weatherby’s 100-grain offerings leave a 26-inch barrel between 3,500 and 3,600 fps.
That added velocity translates to more power and less bullet drop downrange. At 500 yards, the .25-06 mentioned above delivers 991 ft.-lbs. of energy after dropping 35 inches (with a 200-yard zero). The Weatherby has only dropped 29.7 inches using a Barnes TTSX bullet and still delivers 1,117 ft.-lbs. of energy at that distance (with a 200-yard zero).
Less holdover and more long-range energy are ideal for open country hunts, and that’s exactly where the Weatherby shines.
Of course, that added power comes at a cost to your barrel. The .257 Weatherby will burn out barrels more quickly than the .25-06, especially if the barrel is not given time to cool and is not properly cleaned.
In addition, Frank Barnes notes in “Cartridges of the World” that the Weatherby’s velocity advantage shrinks considerably in barrels shorter than 26 inches.
Prairie dog hunters might struggle with short barrel life, but for the rest of us, neither drawback is a major concern. This round goes to the Weatherby.
Winner: .257 Weatherby Magnum
Shootability There’s one additional downside to ultra-fast cartridges: recoil. The recoil from a .257 Weatherby Magnum is a good deal stiffer than the .25-06. While the .25-06 imparts a manageable 11-12 ft.-lbs. of energy, the Weatherby delivers 15-17 ft.-lbs., even with a heavier gun.
However, while the .257 technically dishes out more recoil energy, these number deserve some context. The .25-06’s recoil is comparable to a 6.5 Creedmoor while a .257 Weatherby is closer to a light-shooting .270 Win. or a hard-hitting 7mm-08.
Neither cartridge, in other words, is a shoulder breaker. In fact, Terminal Ballistics Research calls the .257 “light recoiling” and “genuinely enjoyable” to shoot. If you’re concerned about recoil, you don’t have to worry about either of these quarter-bores.
The .25-06 is also significantly cheaper and easier to find. Weatherby’s cartridges are used by a dedicated group of hunters and shooters, but you’re less likely to find them at your local sporting goods store.
Midway USA, one of the largest online ammunition dealers, lists 25 options for the .25-06 Remington offered by all the big ammo makers. For the .257, that number drops down to 11, and only a few companies produce the cartridge.
The .25-06 costs less, too. The .257 Weatherby runs between $3.10 and $6.15 per round while the .25-06 can be had for between $1.42 and $3.70 per cartridge.
Slightly less recoil and significantly greater savings gives this round to the .25-06 Remington.
Winner: .25-06 Remington
Versatility The .257 Weatherby and the .25-06 Remington are loaded with the same kinds and weights of bullets. Weatherby lists 80-, 100-, 115-, and 120-grain bullets in its specification chart, and the .25-06 boasts a similar range from 75 grains to 120 grains.
Both cartridges are ideal for varmints and medium-sized game, but most hunters agree that the .25-06 is underpowered for large game. The question is whether the Weatherby’s added velocity allows it to punch above its rival. As you might expect, there is some controversy about this.
Frank Barnes claims the .257 can take "almost any North American big game" and that it's been used successfully on elk, moose, brown bear, and bison. Terminal Ballistics Research is more cautious, arguing that the .257 can be used to take elk-sized game but that proper bullet selection is crucial. “On heavy game the size of elk, the .257 is adequate but not ideal,” they say.
Weatherby’s Zach Hein told me that while there are other cartridges in the Weatherby line that are more ideal for large game, the .257 is “absolutely” an elk round, and he verified that it’s been used to take everything in North America over the years.
Fans of the .25-06 will point out that the cartridge has been used to take elk-sized game as well, and they’d be right. But based on the folks I’ve spoken to, the .257 Weatherby has a longer track record taking larger game, which means it’s taking this round.
Winner: .257 Weatherby Magnum
And the Winner Is… If you’re concerned about ammunition cost, you should go with the .25-06. Otherwise, the .257 Weatherby is the clear winner. Recoil is stiffer, but not enough to be a turn-off for most people. The Weatherby is faster, hits harder, drops less, and can punch above its weight class.
That sounds like a stellar cartridge to me.
Overall Winner: .257 Weatherby Magnum