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The Classic 25-20 is Good Varmint Cartridge

June 7, 2008
By KENNETH COBB, For The Inter-Mountain
The 25-20 WCF (Winchester Center Fire), introduced in 1895 in the Winchester Model 92 Short Lever Action Rifle, is just a 32-20 Winchester necked down to 25 caliber. This cartridge was an immediate success; and for nearly 40 years, it was a favorite among farmers, ranchers and trappers.

It is also interesting to know that the first 25-20 cartridge was a black powder cartridge chambered in the older Stevens single-shot rifles. The 25-20 single shot was too long of a cartridge to feed through the Winchester Short Lever Action Rifle. Today, the 25-20 single shot is no longer manufactured.

For its time, the 25-20 WCF was a superior small game and small varmint-hunting cartridge. It was also tried on whitetail deer with limited success. Most firearm writers agree that the ballistics of the 25-20 WCF is just too slow for hunting deer or similar animals. The 86-grain bullet just does not pack enough energy for a clean kill in most cases.

In this state, it is still a good cartridge for coyotes, ground hogs and other varmints at 125 to150 yards. I also think that would be good on turkeys even though many spring gobbler hunters frown on the use of rifles in this season.

The popularity of the 25-20 WCF began to fade in the 1930s with the introduction of the more powerful and accurate .22 Hornet. Today, Remington and Winchester continue to make this cartridge only with an 86-grain soft point or lead bullet with an advertised muzzle velocity of 1,460 feet-per-second. This can be improved to some degree by handloading to a velocity close to 1,700 feet per second. The original 60-grain bullet loading that is no longer made cannot be improved by handloading even with today’s improved reloading powders.

The lever action rifles chambered for the 25-20 WCF did not give outstanding accuracy according to many of the firearms critics, but the moderately-priced bolt action rifles chambered for the 25-20 WCF, such as the Savage Model 23B and the Winchester Model 43, gave better than expected accuracy. The low-priced Savage Model 219 single-shot was also surprisingly accurate at moderate ranges.

For several years after 1950, there were no firearms chambered for the 25-20 WCF, but just a few years ago, Marlin re-introduced this cartridge in their Model 1894 CL lever action rifle. Although I do not recommend hunting deer with this cartridge, it has proven itself very suitable for small varmints and turkeys.

Hundreds of thousands of rifles were made for this classic cartridge in the early 20th century, and I feel that the vast majority of them are still serviceable today. Many of them may be stored in an attic, closet or gun cabinet and forgotten about; they would definitely be fun to try out.

When handloading this cartridge, always remember to use blunt or flat-nosed bullets in rifles that have tubular magazines. The case mouth must also be securely crimped into cannelures on the bullet.

Three handloads for the 25-20 WCF are listed below:

1. Case – Remington

Primer – CCI 400 (small rifle)

Bullet – Hornady 60-grain flat-nosed

Powder & Weight – IMR 4227; 11.0 grains

Note: Small Varmint Load

2. Case – Remington

Primer – Remington 6.5 (small rifle)

Bullet – Remington 86-grain Jacketed Soft Point

Powder & Weight – IMR 4198; 10.5 grains

Note: Good starting load with this powder that is accurate according to the Lyman Reloading Manual

3. Case – Remington

Primer – Remington 6.5 (small rifle)

Bullet – Remington 86-grain Jacketed Soft Point

Powder & Weight – IMR 4198; 12.5 grains

Note: Compressed powder charge



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