Hell’s Own Cartridge: My Protracted Affair with the .257 Weatherby Magnum

The longest distance I’ve ever driven in one day—656 miles—I drove in order to get my hands on a .257 … Continued

The longest distance I’ve ever driven in one day—656 miles—I drove in order to get my hands on a .257 Weatherby Magnum. It was at Creekside Gun Shop near Rochester, NY, and the nice man said on the telephone that this one had some piece of wood, and that I really had better grab it fast before someone else did. That was all I needed to hear. It was 1966, and I was as poor as owl dung, but I scraped together every cent I had and off I went to Creekside.

The stock was as advertised. In the 1960s, Weatherby Mark V stocks could be dead plain, or have a little figure, or be fancy enough to induce glaucoma; it was all luck of the draw. Being a woodchuck hunter at the time, I proceeded to put together some handloads with 87-grain Hornady Spire Point bullets and a munificent charge of the old H4831, and was astonished when the .257 put five shots into an inch. Back then, you didn’t see minute-of-angle groups from big-game rifles.

I found, however, that as a woodchuck rifle for farmland, it was way too much—too much power, and especially, too much noise. One farmer, who was used to me popping away in his pasture with a .222, came out in a great sweat when I fired the .257 to ask if my rifle had exploded.

So I sold it. As John Barsness has pointed out, the gun-writing business is a cruel mistress that allows us to keep very few rifles, unless we have lots and lots of money. You have to keep turning them over in order to obtain the necessary experience.

After that, I had at least two more Mark Vs in .257 Weatherby, and they left, too, and now I’ve acquired my fourth or fifth, because when the Great Range Officer in the Sky says that I’ve completed my last leg, I’d like to have one on hand. This one is even prettier than the 1966 rifle.

Roy Weatherby introduced the .257 into his family of cartridges in 1948. The other .25s on the market then were the .250/3000 Savage, which was the first round to crack the 3,000 fps barrier, the .257 Roberts, which was dreadfully underloaded then as it is now, and the .25/06, which was strictly a handloading proposition. Ballistically, the Weatherby round was light years ahead of the other three. It was like dropping a Corvette Z06 in amongst a pack of Hupmobiles.

The .257 was Roy Weatherby’s favorite. Today, it’s either the second or third most popular cartridge in the lineup. It’s an exceedingly flat shooter, but without the recoil of the larger-caliber magnums. If you can handle a .30/06, you can handle this round (the muzzle blast, however, tends to be ferocious). After I accepted that it was much too powerful for varmints (except for coyotes, on which it excels) I limited myself to 120-grain Nosler Partitions and found lasting nirvana.

Weatherby says its factory ammo propels this bullet at 3,300 fps, and I recall that the point blank range is something like 350 yards. Weatherby, incidentally, has always been dead honest about their velocities, probably because they have never had anything to hide. If you want to do the range-compensating-scope dance, you can far exceed that.

How does the .257 stack up against its new small-diameter cousin, the 6.5/300? On the one hand, the latter round will considerably outrange the former one; the bullets are heavier, of far higher ballistic coefficient, and go considerably faster. On the other hand, the 6.5/300 is no delight to shoot. Its whopping powder charge produces a cataclysmic report and a fair amount of recoil. Also, the ammo costs a lot more.

And, does one buy the traditional wood-stocked Mark V or the synthetic-stocked Accu-Mark? If you’re looking at it from a practical standpoint, the Accu-Mark is the way to go. When Weatherby says “Accu” they are not kidding. These heavy, synthetic-stocked, fluted- stainless-steel-barreled tackdrivers are the last word in lethality. But I got a traditional Mark V Deluxe with a very pretty stock and French, or skipline, checkering. It’s much too shiny to be a practical hunting rifle. So what? I have enough practical hunting rifles.

Practical isn’t everything.