Mr. Newton’s Quarter-Bore

NewtonsquarterboreA hundred years ago, .30-caliber rifles were small-bores. Soon, though, hunters realized the great power and reach of the .30-‘06, and disabused themselves of the notion that bore diameter defined killing effect. Charles Newton already knew what higher velocity could do. When the ’06 was still less than a decade old, he came up with his .256 Newton, which drove a129-grain bullet 2,760 fps. Head and rim diameters matched those of the ’06; at 2.457 inches, the case was shorter. But the .256 Newton was not a .25-caliber cartridge. Its bullet diameter was .264 (6.5mm). It had a lot in common with the 6.5×55 Swedish Mauser. Neither fit handily in rifles with truly short actions – like that of Savage’s Model 99. So the year he announced his .256, Newton unveiled a more petite round. Its hull measured just 1.912 inches to the mouth. It fired .257 bullets. Newton suggested that Savage adopt his .25 with a 100-grain bullet at 2,800 fps. Savage opted for an 87-grain bullet pushed – according to company tables – to 3,000 fps. Convinced that figure would help sell the round, Savage included it in the name:.250/3000. Eventually the 87-grain load bowed to the 100 in commercial loading, and the named changed to .250 Savage. Given its performance against the backdrop of its contemporaries, you could say the cartridge was the first short magnum!

The Savage 99 is famously the rifle for the.250/3000, though custom ‘smiths have built lovely short-action Mausers for the cartridge.

Newtonsquarterboreammo1Roy Chapman Andrews, explorer and expedition leader for the American Museum of Natural History, called the .250-3000, “the most wonderful cartridge ever developed.” Other hunters seized on its mild recoil. Because the Savage 99 employed a spool magazine, not an in-line tube, pointed bullets could be used. They flew as flat as spitzers from a .30-‘06. Reports held that the little .25 upended game as big as elk. Neither its light bullets nor lever-action rifles of the day, however, proved accurate enough for long-range varminting. Charles Newton had another entry for the ‘chuck pasture. In 1911, he’d convinced Arthur Savage to chamber his .22 High Power in the Model 99. Firing .227-inch bullets at 2,800 fps, this necked-down .25-35 may have inspired the .250. Hunters used the High Power not just on rodents, but also on game from deer to tigers! Meanwhile, accuracy buffs turned to bolt rifles. By the 1930s, savvy wildcatters – J.E. Gebby, J.B.Smith, Harvey Donaldson, Grosvenor Wotkyns and John Sweaney – had come up with a hot .22 on the .250 case. Remington would adopt it in 1963 as the .22-250.

The man behind these developments was enigmatic. Born in Delevan, New York, January 8,1870, Charles Newton worked on his father’s farm until completing his education at age 16. He taught school briefly, then earned a law degree and was admitted to the bar at 26. It may have been his six years in the National Guard that fueled his interest in firearms. In any event, he soon left the practice of law to design rifles and cartridges. In1905, he necked the .28-30 Stevens to .22, starting his trek to the .22 High Power. Between 1909 and1912, he designed the .25 Special on the .30-’06 case, and a similar 7mm. The .25-‘06 and .280 Remington differ little from those early Newton designs. A single-shot enthusiast, he re-shaped the.405 Winchester to make rimmed versions of the .25 and 7mm Specials. With Fred Adolph, of Genoa, New York, Newton developed the .30 Adolph Express on the .404 Jeffery hull – a true .30 magnum! The Adolph Express rounds eventually included .280-.35- and .40-bore rounds. After the 11.2×72 Schuler appeared in 1920, those cartridges were fashioned on that case, with rebated rims to fit standard Mauser bolts.

newtonsquarterborereloadingBesides his .256 Newton and the .22 High Power, the wayward lawyer designed the .22 Newton, a .228 on the 7×57 case. It reportedly launched a 90-grain bullet at 3,100 fps from fast-pitch 1-in-8-inch rifling. He experimented with a Krag necked to .22, firing 68-grain bullets at a claimed 3,300 fps! High impact speeds tore bullets asunder, limiting penetration. So Newton implanted a wire.

This simple device reduced fragmentation 20 years before John Nosler came up with his Partition! As prolific as Charles Newton was in the years leading to the Great War, and as far-sighted as he proved to be in cartridge design, this attorney-turned-gun crank met more than his share of hurdles.

His racy hunting rounds were handicapped by lack of suitable powders (surplus 4831 didn’t become available until after WWII), and his first efforts to form a gun company could hardly have been more poorly timed. He’d negotiated a contract with Mauser in 1914 to provide rifles for barreling to Newton Express rounds. Germany went to war a day before the first shipment was to arrive!

Domestic manufacturers that might otherwise have obliged had huge military contracts to fill.

Newton re-trenched by designing his own rifle. It debuted in January 1917. But, the U.S. entered the war in April, and the government seized control of all ammunition production. Remington could no longer provide cases for Newton cartridges. The budding rifle company went into receivership.

newtonsquarterboreblueprintNewton tried again in 1923, with the Buffalo Newton Rifle Corporation. A lawsuit ensued when John Meeker, of the group funding the enterprise, made off with parts for 260 rifles and assembled them. Newton turned to Marlin for funding but got nowhere. The stock market collapse sucked the remaining life from his firm. The Leverbolt Rifle Company he attempted to start in March 1929 suffered the same fate.

The plucky, brilliant, but singularly unlucky Newton died at his New Haven home March 9, 1932. Not only his cartridges, but also his rifles proved far ahead of their time. Interrupted-thread bolt lock-up would later become common, his three-position safety earning accolades on other rifles.

As the .250 Savage gained a following, shooters schemed to better it.

Ned Roberts chose the 7×57, as it combined the capacity of the Krag with the modest taper of the ’06. Townsend Whelen advised a shoulder of 15 degrees to keep a lid on pressures. Roberts trimmed the brass .07 inch. By 1930, Griffin & Howe had become interested in Roberts’ .25 wildcat and started making rifles for it. Late in 1932, Mr. Griffin determined case trimming was unnecessary. Roberts agreed; subsequent chambers were longer.

In 1934, Remington adopted the cartridge, boosting shoulder angle to 20 degrees and acceding to E.C. Crossman, who suggested using groove diameter in the name to distinguish it from other 25-caliber rounds. Remington chambered its Model 30 for the .257 Roberts. It later appeared in the 722 and 760. Winchester added it to the 54 roster, then to the Model 70’s. Captain Crossman referred to the Roberts as a “super .250.” At 300yards its 87-grain bullet drove through 1/8-inch steel plate that sustained only dents from the same bullets in a .250 Savage.

Like Newton’s .250 Savage, however, the Roberts faded. Its light bullets didn’t shoot accurately enough for serious varminters, and the horse-power standard for deer/elk cartridges was climbing beyond the reach of the .257. Winchester’s .243, announced in1955 (with Remington’s less successful .244) all but iced the Roberts. Loaded to higher pressures, it kicked100-grain spitzers as fast as the .257drove 87 grainers.

While in the 1920s, Ned Roberts narrowed his focus to the 7×57, A.O.Neidner necked the .30-‘06 to form the frisky .25 Neidner. Several versions of the .25-‘06 ensued. When Remington adopted the .25-‘06 in 1969, it had the original Neidner shape (17.5-degree shoulder) and shot 120-grain bullets 2,990 fps. A better .250?“This cartridge is quite similar to the Improved .250/3000 but came at a much later date…. It is made by necking the .308 Winchester case to .25 with no other change.” So wrote P.O. Ackley in his Handbook for Shooters and Reloaders, in 1962. He didn’t see much use for the round.

newtonsquarterborerifle1Well, 50 years later, I disagree. The .25 Souper outperforms the .250 Improved and is a much better fit for short actions than is the .257 Roberts Improved, in which you must seat bullets very deeply. Field & Stream shooting editor Warren Page may have written the first text I read on the round. He pointed out the ease of forming cases: an expander plug gently nudging the .243 Winchester to accept .25-caliber bullets. Necking down the .308 is the long route.

Impressed by this cartridge, I delayed decades before having a rifle built. Then Charlie Sisk came up with a short Remington 700 action and a 24-inch Lilja barrel with 1-in-10-inch twist. He squared the bolt face, lapped the lugs and trued the receiver face and barrel shank. Then he installed one of his heavy .300 recoil lugs. It’s not an ordinary Remington stamping. Charlie machines each from 416 stainless steel, then bores and surface-grinds it by CNC. Charlie favors Brownell’s Acraglas forbedding, and he used it on this 700. “My father plugged a radiator leak on an old Farmall tractor with Acraglas. It’s held for more than 20 years.”

Recoil is hardly more noticeable than that of a .250 Savage. The Sisk .25 Souper gave me seven three-shot groups at or less than .75inch. I did not let the barrel cool or clean it during the trials. There were no sticky bolt lifts – though the loads crowd the top of the tables and, of course, should be approached cautiously. I like to think that Charles Newton would have approved the .25 Souper. I’m sure he could have sold the idea to Savage. Then again, both may have demurred. There’s nothing wrong with the .250/300.—Wayne Van Zwoll


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