A Numbers Game
September 23, 2010
Can Kimber's exquisite new 84M Classic Select Grade in .257 Roberts rescue a grand old cartridge?
Rifles can make a cartridge popular--think the Model 94/.30-30 Winchester or Model 700/7mm Remington Magnum--but is it possible for them to save one? It has happened. According to my go-to gun sages Layne Simpson and Jon Sundra, you can trace the resurgence of the .45-70 Government to the Marlin 1895 and later the Ruger No. 3, but the guys were hard-pressed to come up with another example.
It was Kimber's new 84M Classic Select Grade in .257 Roberts that got me thinking about this. I wondered if it could breathe life into an almost-forgotten chambering and wondered why the rifle maker chose Maj. Ned Roberts' creation in the first place.
"Why not?" says Kimber's Aaron Cummins. "Yes, it's kind of a red-headed stepchild among cartridges, but if it had been introduced in a different era, the 6mms may not have made it. The .257 is a great cartridge, and the 84M is the perfect platform for it."
You'll get no argument from me on either count, and I'll get to the rifle itself in a minute, but what about the Roberts? Can it be saved? Will it be saved? Should it be saved?
To that last question, I say unequivocally yes. Most of you already know the cartridge's history. A .25 caliber round based on the 7x57 Mauser case, the .257 Roberts was legitimized by Remington as a factory round in the 1930s. It was originally chambered in Remington's Model 30, followed a year later by Winchester in the Model 54 (and later M70).
Today, Ruger chambers it both in the Model 77 Mk II and No. 1. Those two guns and the Kimber are the only new Roberts production rifles available today.
As a modern round, the Roberts suffers from a flaw not of its own making. As Layne pointed out to me, the cartridge was originally loaded with 100-grain bullets, and rifle builders of the day mated it with a 1:10 twist--a convention that has continued to this day.
Problem is, the twist doesn't always work well with heavier spitzers such as the 117-grain weight you find in Roberts factory loads now. And that's why the loads from Winchester (Power Point +P) and Remington (Core-Lokt) use roundnose bullets. The only spitzer-style loads come from Hornady (117-grain Interlock and SST) and Federal (120-grain Partition).
Kimber 84M Select
|Manufacturer ||Kimber Mfg., 800/880-2418 |
|Action Type: ||bolt-action centerfire |
|Caliber: ||.257 Roberts (tested),.22-250, .260 Rem., 7mm-08 Rem., .308 Win., .338 Federal |
|Capacity: ||5+1 |
|Barrel ||22 in., 6-groove, 1:10 RH twist, custom sporter contour |
|Weight ||5 lb., 13 oz. |
|Stock ||A-grade French walnut, hand-rubbed oil finish, 20 lpi panel checkering, ebony fore-end tip, Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad |
|Finish ||matte blue |
|Trigger ||adjustable; factory pull 31â„2 to 4 lb. |
|Price ||$1,273 |
My experience--both with the Kimber 84M and a Ruger No. 1 I used on an antelope hunt a few years back--is similar to what Layne has seen with his 1:10 twist Roberts barrels. Some shoot the 117 spitzers well; some don't.
The obvious solution is to handload, and although the .257 isn't as popular as some other diameters, you'll find a surprisingly good range of big game bullet choices from Barnes, Hornady, Nosler, Remington, Sierra, Speer and Swift--including many premium styles--in weights from 100 to 120 grains.
I freely confess to being a .25 fan. My favorite is the .25-06 because of its flat trajectory and decent ammo availability. However, for all its merits, the .25-06 is a bit overbore; the Roberts design is more efficient.
Heck, out to 200 yards I'd take the .257 Roberts all day long for any suitable game. I'd certainly stack it up against the cartridge with which it's most often compared: the popular .243 Winchester, which many people believe is the reasonable floor as far as deer calibers go.
The 84M Select Grade employs a three-position safety with indicator and a full-length claw extractor.
It's difficult to compare load to load since the .243 tops out at 100 grains and nobody loads that light for the .257, but let's look at two loads that use similar bullets from the same company.
Hornady's 100-grain BTSP .243 load leaves the muzzle at 2,960 fps, generating 1,945 ft.-lbs. of energy. At 100 yards--the range inside which most deer are killed--this .243 is moving at 2,728 fps for 1,653 ft.-lbs.
Hornady's 117-grain BTSP .257 Roberts load exits the muzzle at 2,780 fps for 2,007 ft.-lbs. of energy; at 100 it's doing 2,550 fps and generating 1,689 ft.-lbs.
Taking our comparison farther downrange, the .243 load is still zipping along at 2,299 fps at 300 yards and generating 1,174 ft.-lbs. of energy; the .257 is going 2,122 fps and generating 1,170 ft.-lbs. at the same range. Both rounds drop below 1,000 ft.-lbs., which most experts consider the minimum benchmark for killing deer, somewhere shy of 400 yards.
The .243 does shoot flatter than the .257, about an inch flatter at 300 yards, thanks to its lighter weight (100 vs. 117) and better ballistic coefficient (.406 vs. .392). However, the .257 has a slight edge in sectional density, meaning it's likely to penetrate better, and it punches a bigger hole.
Just for fun, I ran these ballistics through the HITS (Hornady Index of Terminal Standards) calculator found at that company's website. It's a fun and informative tool/ guideline that converts bullet weight, impact velocity, BC and SD into a rating of how effective a given load should be on game (bullet construction notwithstanding).
Using 100 yards as the impact distance and plugging in the appropriate numbers from the loads above, the .257 has a 755 HITS rating and the .243 a 660--advantage Roberts, by 14 percent.
So shouldn't everyone who owns a .243 immediately sell it and buy a .257 Roberts? Of course not. But look at the disparity. There are about 30 deer-appropriate loads for the .243 and not even half a dozen for the .257, despite the fact that they're darned close in performance. Imagine if ammo companies took some of the excellent bullets available for the Roberts and did as much load development for it as they have the .243.
KIMBER SELECT GRADE
|ï»¿.257 Roberts ||BULLET WEIGHT (gr.) ||MUZZLE VELOCITY (fps) ||Standard Deviation ||Avg. Group (in.) |
|Hornady Custom BTSP ||117 ||2,643 ||20.5 ||0.76 |
|Winchester Power Point +P RN ||117 ||2,620 ||6.0 ||1.04 |
|Remington Core-Lokt RN ||117 ||2,460 ||15.7 ||1.30 |
|Hornady Light Mag SST ||117 ||2,740 ||17.4 ||2.55 |
|ï»¿Notes: Accuracy results are averages of three three-shot groups fired at 100 yards from a benchrest. Velocities are average of five shots measured 12 feet from muzzle with CED M2 chronograph. Abbreviations: BTSP, boattail spire point; RN roundnose |
Frankly, when you look at the range of calibers commonly available here in the U.S., I think the biggest holes exist in the lower end of the thin-skinned big game spectrum. Say you're a youngster, small-framed adult (man or woman) or you're just simply tired of getting your teeth rattled every time you shoot your deer rifle. Your choices are meager: .243 Winchester (or 6mm Remington), .257 Roberts, .25-06 Remington, .260 Remington and 7mm-08 Remington.
Instead of trying to fill tiny performance niches between the .270 Winchester and the .338 Winchester Magnum, maybe it's time for companies to focus on this lower end of the power spectrum.
And recently we've been seeing a small but noteworthy trend of downloading popular cartridges to make them more shootable (Remington's Managed-Recoil, Federal's Power Shok Low Recoil), and I think this speaks to an undercurrent of desire on the part of at least some hunters to take to the field with calibers chosen more for sensibility than extreme capability.
So I think the time is right for a .257 Roberts resurgence, and the 84M is a great place to start.
I've never had the opportunity to hunt with an 84M, but I did take an 8400 WSM Classic in .300 WSM to Namibia several years ago on a plains game hunt. Everything on the 8400--from the bolt to the barrel--is made as trim as it can be without sacrificing accuracy or strength, and the 8400 proved to be a handsome, good-shooting and nice-handli
The 84M Classic Select Grade is all that, in spades. The stock is A-grade French walnut with hand-rubbed oil finish and well-executed panel checkering at 20 lpi. The wood on my sample exhibited handsome grain structure and is complemented nicely by the understated steel grip cap and ebony fore-end tip.
The inch-thick Pachmayr Decelerator pad might not be in keeping with the rest of the rifle's aesthetics, but it is eminently practical. The slim fore-end fits the hand perfectly and fish-bellies ever so slightly around the magazine well.
Gun steel is finished in a matte blue. The 22-inch sporter-contour barrel features a match-grade chamber and six-groove rifling in a 1:10 right-hand twist. It tapers from 1.05 inches in front of the receiver to 0.56 inch at the muzzle.
A slot milled in the receiver allows the washer-style recoil lug to fit seamlessly into the receiver tube when the barrel is threaded into it--a nice touch. The barreled action is wedded to the stock via a well-done combination of glass and pillar bedding.
The slender bolt wears a full-length Mauser-style claw extractor, a hallmark of the 84M, and sports a three-position wing safety and unadorned bolt knob. The hinged floorplate, which has "Select Grade" tastefully etched into it, releases via a lever located inside the trigger guard bow.
Kimber is known for its great triggers, and this one was no exception, breaking crisply and consistently at two pounds, six ounces on average as measured on a Lyman digital trigger scale. There is just a hint of overtravel.
Weight was a svelte seven pounds with a Nikon Monarch 2-8x32 scope aboard. This trim piece of glass--111â„2 inches long and a shade over 13 ounces--proved to be the perfect battery mate for the rifle.
While I didn't get to hunt with the rifle, I did shoot it a lot from field positions at the range. Like most rifles of its ilk, it comes up like a dream but isn't quite as stable on target as heavier rifles are--for me, at least. However, that didn't stop me from keeping controlled but rapid-fire sitting groups inside a six-inch bullseye at 100 yards or prevent me from achieving a high percentage of hits on gongs at 200 yards, helped along by the Nikon BDC reticle.
At first it was a finicky shooter from the bench, producing decent groups that degenerated as soon as barrel heat became an issue; only total cooling would shrink the groups. But as the barrel began to break in--I cleaned the bore every five to 10 shots for the first couple of boxes of ammo--the gun became much more consistent.
The accuracy results found in the accompanying table came after I'd put about 80 rounds through the rifle. Unfortunately Federal wasn't able to provide test ammo (it was just starting a run of Roberts), but of the four loads I tested, three shot quite well.
Overall, it's a terrific package and, as Aaron Cummins mentioned, an ideal platform for the .257 Roberts. I can only imagine how much fun it would be to carry such a lithe, handy rifle in the deer woods. The Classic Select Grade will surely appeal to any fan of exquisite bolt-action rifles, and if you're a .257 aficionado, you'll simply have to get one for the cartridge alone.
Will this rifle spark a .257 resurgence? By itself, likely not. Expensive, fine-wood guns tend to spend more time being admired than fired, and only sales volume gets ammo makers' attention.
However, Kimber is also offering the Roberts in 84M Montana trim: hand-laid synthetic stock, stainless barreled action, half a pound lighter. This version should prove a hard-huntin' machine that will see a lot of range and field time. Now that might revive the great old .257 Roberts.