Prior to the introduction of the .22 Hornet in 1930, a Winchester Model 92 in .25-20 was considered to be just the ticket for varmint shooting. Introduced during the mid 1890`s, the .25-20 is one of the few cartridges to survive the transition from black to smokeless powder. This fine, mild mannered little cartridge simply refuses to die. In addition to the Winchester and Marlin lever action rifles, the Winchester Model 43 bolt action was available in this chambering from 1949 until it was discontinued in 1957. During the 1950`s, Sako also chambered a few L46 rifles for the .25-20, mostly for the Australian market.
Even during the ages of supper-zappers, there definitely is a market for rifles in .25-20 among American shooters. Kimber once chambered a few of its Model 84 rifles for this cartridge, and Browning produced a few Winchester Model 92 reproductions in .25-20. The only standard production rifle presently available in .25-20 is the excellent little Marlin Model 1895CL.
The.25-20 has put its share of venison in larders during its day, but it is no deer cartridge by any stretch. It is, however, a fine turkey cartridge and destroys very little of the eating part of a big gobbler. If the .25-20 is suitable for hunting any four legged creature larger than the groundhog, it is probably a potent enough cartridge for javalina.
The only readily available jacketed bullets suitable for handloading the .25-20 for the lever action rifles with tubular magazines, are the 60 grain Hornady and the 75 grain Speer. Both are of flat nose form, but the cannelure on the Speer makes it a better choice for lever action. Other bullets of spitzer form can be used in bolt action rifles but should never be used in rifles with tubular magazines. Actually, the owner of a rifle in .25-20 can live happily ever after with cast bullets, and a number of molds are available from several sources. H4227 is an excellent powder for the .25-20 WCF.
The 25-20 Winchester Center Fire was developed for the short action of the Winchester Model 1892 lever action rifle. It is the repeating version of the older 25-20 single shot, but is based on the 32-20 necked down. There is a difference in opinion as to when it was actually introduced. Some authorities say 1893, others 1895. In any event, it was quickly adopted by a majority of the gun manufacturers and achieved considerable popularity. The Winchester lever action 1892 and modernized Model 65, the Remington slide action Model 25, Marlin slide action 27 and lever action 94, and the Savage bolt action repeater Model 23, were all available in 25-20 WCF. Marlin has re-introduced the 25-20 WCF in their Model 1894CL lever action. Winchester also loaded this same chambering with a slightly different bullet shape and headstamped it 25-20 Marlin.
Prior to the 22 Hornet and the 218 Bee, the 25-20 WCF was one of the most popular small game and varmint cartridges. It was also advertised as being suitable for deer and similar animals. No doubt it has killed plenty of deer, but it is not a satisfactory big game cartridge by any standard. Today it is universally outlawed for big game hunting. On smaller animals, the 60 grain bullet is quite effective for 100 to 150 yard varmint shooting. The 86 grain soft point or lead bullet does a fine job on rabbit or turkey to 125 yards. A great many rifles were made in this caliber and are still in use by trappers, ranchers and farmers. Under certain conditions, the 25-20 repeater is still a useful small game number. It will probably be around for a good many more years. The 60 grain bullet can`t be improved by handloading, but the 86 grain can be stepped up to over 1700 fps.
Ownership of a Winchester Model 1892 lever action and later a Winchester Low Wall single shot in this caliber allowed ample opportunity to test its potential for small game and varmint hunting. It will do the job, but has serious range limitations due in part to bullet design. The 60 grain high velocity load achieves its maximum expansion at a range of between 50 and 70 yards. Beyond that good bullet placement is essential if the animal is not going to crawl off and die a lingering death. At ranges out to 50 yards the bullet expansion will ruin most of the edible meat on small game. The 86 grain bullet is a better load for meat hunting although lower velocity requires good distance judgment at ranges beyond 75 yards.
On the other hand, the 25-20 is one of those cartridges that can be improved to a satisfying degree by handloading. The 86 grain bullet can be loaded to deliver around 1700 fps, but the 60 grain bullet can`t be improved much over the factory load. The 25-20 is also capable of very good accuracy when fired in a single shot or bolt action rifle. Both Winchester and Remington continue to offer this caliber with only the 86 grain bullet.
.25-20 Winchester (.25-20 WCF)