Tag Archives: 25 caliber

The 257 Blackjack

You may have read my piece on the 25 Creedmoor from a while back, if you haven’t then make sure you go read it after this. In that article about the 25 Creedmoor, I detailed how my nascency in precision rifle shooting began with a twenty-five caliber rifle, and that I had returned again to the quarter-bore. There’s more to that story, however.
One of the main reasons I quit shooting that old twenty-five 0’six, was because there was never a good bullet selection for it. The biggest bullets available were one hundred twenty grain, and they were hardly long-range bullets, with ballistic coefficients not much better than anything else designed in the sixties. That was all about to change, and change for the better. I couldn’t have known how far down the quarter-bore hole I was going to fall when I first made contact with Blackjack Bullets.

The 257 Blackjack next to its larger parent, the 6.5 SAUM

That first conversation I had was with Miles Johnson, the brains behind Blackjack Bullets. Like me he had often hungered for a better bullet for twenty-five caliber cartridges, but he had the intellect and drive to do something about it. Miles is a smooth-talking guy, with very unequivocal purpose in conversation. The kind of guy you could sit around a fire with a bottle of whiskey and watch the stars, and before you know it he might be talking so deep about drag and aerodynamics that you have to start reading the bottle to find words you understand.
Our initial contact began my twenty-five Creedmoor project, Miles’ company Blackjack Bullets was producing the 131 Grain Ace bullet, and I intended to make it the crown jewel of the project. Which has been an extremely superior performer for me lo these short two years, it leaves its six-point-five cousin in the dust. But Blackjack had been working all along on something even more threatening and treacherous, it was their own cartridge that was purpose-designed to make the 131 Ace sing a tune that nobody could touch. That project was the Two-fifty-seven Blackjack, a short action magnum cartridge based on the SAUM case. It would fit in short action rifles, feed from AI patterned magazines, and push the Ace beyond thirty-two-hundred feet per second. It falls somewhere between the old 25WSSM and the 25SAUM wildcat.

The 131 Ace has an advertised G7 BC of .330, my personal experience and testing led me to believe that number is a tad conservative and that the number is more like .340. With an immaculate profile like that, the Ace when launched at these speeds is as flat as most available cartridges you can get, and it cheats the wind from its deviant influence.
Since the twenty-five Creedmoor had been such an outstanding success, I decided that I must indeed have the two-fifty-seven Blackjack as well, I figured it would be an amazing Rocky Mountain hunting rifle. So as soon as Miles had a reamer, we got started on the project.

The Pit Boss. Sporting a 24 inch Proof Research carbon wrapped barrel, and a YHM suppressor adorns the muzzle.

With weight in mind, I decided I would spend the extra cheddar and get a Proof Research carbon fiber barrel with a 7.5 twist. My 25 Creedmoor is a 7 twist, but with the much faster Blackjack I needed a slightly less agressive twist. It was matched to a lightweight carbon fiber stock from Iota Outdoors. Both would be connected with a simple Remington 700 short action. I swapped the factory trigger for a superior one from Trigger Tech, this has been a pretty standard practice for me. On top I mounted my US Optics TS 20X, which I think is perfect comapnion for this lightweight but long range hunting rifle. That said, I have a USO Foundation 25X on the way that might go for a ride on the Blackjack as well.

Trigger and magwell detail, all a perfect fit.

Next, it was time to start load development. Which requires making brass from something else, the easiest seemed to be Hornady 6.5 4S cases, they were cut, sized, annealed, then cut again, sized again, turned, and annealed. The finished product is a beautiful fat and short little case, it looks like the X47 after an all you can eat 24 hr buffet.
Mine is only the third rifle chambered in the Two-Fifty-Seven Blackjack so load data was based entirely from what Blackjack bullets had tried in theirs. I tried several different powders, including H4350, H4831SC, but I ended up getting the best velocity with Alliant RL 26. With 56 grains of powder, I was getting just shy of 3300 feet per second. Fireforming these fat little cases gave some slight variation in velocity, but that didn’t surprise me. I did quite a bit of testing with loads back and forth, which is a tedious process with such a limited supply of brass in which I was so heavily invested. Magnum primers seemed to give the cartridge too much of a pressure spike, and excessive wear to the cases, so I backed down to just a Large Rifle primer, which significantly softened the blow. This change still gave me adequate velocity, but also saved my brass from being ruined prematurely, and eased in extraction from the chamber. The Ace likes to run right around 3200FPS from the Blackjack, and that’s just fine with me.

A typical group from the 257 Blackjack, including a true coldbore shot (left) and four followup shots.

With no shortage of space here in the Rockies, I decided to get the Blackjack out to some significant ranges. I wanted to see how well my projections panned out, and see how close the trajectory lined up with my ballistic computer Trasol. My first distance conquered was 1025, this after confirming a fairly rough zero in the dirt at 150 yards. From there I dialed the indicated 5.3 MRAD, and closed the bolt. One of my favorite things about shooting that far, is the nice delay you have to get a good clear sight picture to watch the impact. The first impact was a touch low, so I corrected the .2 and fired again, making perfect elevation on impact. I then shot it at 1250 yards where it was slightly ahead of the predicted dope, and I had to dial back down half a MIl to get on target. I then stretched it out to just a few hundred feet shy of a mile, and 12.8 MRAD was just the ticket for that range. For the naysayers, that is two MIL’s ahead of the 220 grain 300 RUM I was testing a few months back. And at 1600 yards, the Blackjack is 300FPS faster than the RUM, and only 60 pounds of energy less than the RUM. These are of course estimations made by my ballistic calculator, but they appear to be spot on based on the data I’ve shot to within a reasonable margin of error.

Shooting these 25 caliber heaters through this carbon wrapped barrel can heat it up quick. This rifle was purpose-built to be a hunting rifle, so barrel heat is of little concern. Rare is the occasion that I shoot more than a couple shots, so the weight savings are far more valuable to me in a hunting rifle.

The recoil on the Blackjack is not bad at all, but for a short action I would call it sharp. Obviously, there is going to be some kick from something this spicy, but its certainly not bad, I would compare it to a heavy 308 load, keeping in mind the eleven-pound rifle weight.

One of the many concerns I am hearing from people about this project is the old “barrel burner” comment.
Yep, its gonna get roasted. If it gets to 1200 rounds I’ll consider myself lucky, and then I’ll get another barrel cut and threaded and screw it on in too. That is if I haven’t found something even sharper than the Blackjack by then.
Another concern I have heard from many is about feeding. Short and fat cartridges tend to have feeding issues, especially with steep shoulders like the Blackjack. But to my gratification, I have yet to have a single malfunction. It smoothly feeds from an old beater AICS magazine, which will hold seven of these handsome dandies. Whether the first, or last round from the mag, these hop right into the chamber without any hangups. And single feeding is no problem either, if you just toss them in with a bit of forward motion, so they clear the blunt breach of the barrel, the bolt closes smoothly.

Bolt knob detail. The 257 Blackjack was initially to be called the 257 Pit Boss, I decided to honor the original name by memorializing it here.

A wildcat cartridge is an adventure wrapped in hundred dollar bills, but it is not without its fun and excitement. I am not even close to being done with the 257 Blackjack, hunting season is just around the corner, and I fully intend on putting the Blackjack’s talents to work. With both deer and elk to harvest this fall and winter, the downrange energy, and resistance to wind, this lightweight but potent little rifle is a perfect candidate for these rugged Rocky Mountains that have become my winter range. With any luck, brass will be commercially available within the next few months from at least one reputable manufacturer. Reamers and dies will also soon be available from Blackjack Bullets website, so it may not be too long before this little cartridge is made an honest one.

The Pit Boss has since received its scope upgrade, the US Optics F25X

In the meantime, I will continue to prepare and practice for the hunting season waiting for the next best thing. Miles may have some mad scientist things going on at the Blackjack Lab somewhere in the hills of Oklahoma. The best news of all perhaps is that big names like Berger and Hornady are following the lead, coming out with better bullets for the quarter bore fans like myself. So the future of the 257 Blackjack, as well as my 25 Creedmoor, and any fast twist 25 caliber cartridge will be bright and long-lived.

Donald Trump Junior stretching the 257 Blackjack out to 1230 yards

-CBM

Operation Quarter Lord, the 25 Creedmoor

I suppose you could say I’ve come full circle, I started this game with a .25 caliber rifle, and after many many years I have a new one. I learned much with that first rifle, a Ruger M77 in 25-06, I still have it, and I dont think I’ll ever get rid of it.

My love for the 1/4 bore was cut short, by the lack of high Ballistic Coefficient bullets. There is a good assortment of 115-120 grain bullets, but many of them peeter out long before my then goal of one thousand yards. So despite claiming many of my first’s, the 25-06 went to the back of the safe.
In the defiance of time, I always had a 1/4” hole in my soul. Turns out that I wasn’t alone, and some folks with impressive math skills finally saddled the long range quarter-horse. Black Jack Bullets is a new manufacturer with a specialty in high BC 25’s.
As soon as I had spoken with Miles and Logan, I was convinced that my old love of the 25 needed to be rekindled. I almost immediately started Operation Quarter Lord, my goal; a .257 rifle that I could build light, and haul all over these Rocky Mountains to take antelope, deer, and even elk.
Due to the piles of 6.5 Creedmoor brass I had laying around, I decided to go with the 25 Creedmoor. I wanted to stay with a mag fed short action, and with Black Jack’s new high BC bullet (.330G7) it would outperform even the heaviest 6.5 Creedmoor loads.

From Blackjackbullets.com
Since this story was originally published, Alpha Munitions has produced 25 Creedmoor headstamped brass, you can find it on their website. Petersen Cartridge company has also made some.

The project came together very quickly, parts started arriving, and my gunsmith took minimal arm twisting to spin it up. We started with a Tikka T3 action, then added an X-Caliber .25 caliber, seven twist blank. Cut to finish at twenty two inches, because I dont like long rifles. All that was left, was a chassis system. I have always been a big fan of KRG, so I took this opportunity to get hands on their new Bravo chassis, it’s rigid and intuitive design was a perfect fit for this project that I wanted to keep light, but tight. Everything was cut, chambered threaded, and finished at ES Tactical, Eric does great work, and Im beginning to lose track of how many barrels of his I have.

With a twenty MOA scope base mounted on the Tikka, I mounted up my new scope, the RTS Mod 5 6-24X50 from Riton Optics. You can read more about the scope here: Riton RTS Mod5.
For rings I went with Aadland Engineering thirty milimeter HD rings, Mr. Aadland makes top notch mounts and I’ve always loved the quality.

Now that I had the rifle basically built, it was time to start manufacturing the top fueled cartridges that would make the Xcaliber hum. I started fireforming the Alpha Munitions 6.5 Creedmoor brass. I considered myself lucky to have such high quality components available. Alpha makes probably the best brass money can buy, and their small rifle primer brass was perfect for this high pressure project. To make the 25 Creedmoor brass, I swapped my Redding 6.5 Creedmoor die’s bushing out for a .281. Then I would run the lubed neck over a .257 expander ball. I was amazed at how consistent the Alpha brass was, seating depths were extremely uniform due to the constant neck tension. Looking back, I’d probably go with a .282 bushing, to work the brass less.

I also tried several other brass manufacturers, just for the sake of science. I made 25 Creedmoor brass out of Hornady, Lapua (SP), Federal, and Petersen. As you might imagine, the Federal and Hornady had some pressure issues and stiff extraction with the hottest loads. Even the Petersen was a little sticky, but the small primer cases won the day for sure. Both Lapua and Alpha had zero stiff extraction, but the Alpha took a smidge more powder. This allowed for a non-compressed load, with the best velocity, and no pressure related problems. Alpha is definitely the way to go.
As you can see a few pictures up, Alpha Munitions has since produced 25 Creedmoor headstamped brass, and it is perfect.

With both bullets and brass so rare, I was very slow and methodical in my loading. The long pointed tips of the 131 Ace seemed to fit just fine in my 6.5 seating die, and despite their long nose, they still fit the AI mag. I seated the bullets twenty thousandths off the lands, and charged the cases with 42.7 grains of Hodgdon H4350.

Hornady 120 HP’s were used for fire forming

The chronoed loads with the 131 Blackjacks averaged 2930fps, with single digit SD numbers. The groups fired were easily 1/2 MOA, and if I wasn’t so terrible at shooting groups, they’d likely cut in half. The X caliber barrel obviously was a big part of the accuracy, which wasn’t a surprise to me as the other X caliber’s I have shot were also very accurate. And even though we cut it at 22 inches the velocity was right where I had hoped it would be.

L to R: .25 Ace131, 6.5 Barnes 140, 6.5 Berger 140, 6.5 Hornady 140

The main appeal of the Ace 131 is obviously the BC, which is advertised at .330(G7), I have found that number to be fairly conservative.
Unlike many manufacturers, Blackjack must not inflate their data. After punching in all the data to various ballistic engines, I was consistently shooting over targets by a minute or two. The only way to compensate for it was to true up the BC to a slightly higher number. Once I did that, my Trasol program was predicting the bullet path close enough to make cold bore hits on 1-2MOA targets at 575,840, and 1057, each with a follow up confirmation hit. All this in a very switchy wind as a storm came in, the Ace didnt seem to mind. With my average DA here in the high desert, the Ace should stay supersonic to almost a mile.

My next project for this rifle is hunting season, which is only a few days away. I might make it easier on Junior by just taking the one rifle for both of us, and any deer within half a mile would be foolish to show his tines. With a trajectory nearly as flat as my 7SAUM shooting 183 Sierra Match Kings, but the tender recoil of a Creedmoor, I cant imagine a sweeter little deer rifle. And first chance I get I’ll put it up against wild Wyoming’s pronghorn as well, but the likely precursor will be Rocky Mountain Elk.

My very first elk fell to a single shot from that old 25-06, and with the added power and accuracy of the Blackjack Ace 131 I am very confident both Junior and I can pull it off again.

Im a hunter at heart, so thats where I always turn towards. But the 25 Creedmoor would really shine in a competition setup. With its light recoil, super flat trajectory, and great accuracy, it would stand ahead of most of it’s 6.5 competitors.

This project is still very fresh, so I will continue to update this post with new information as I get it. There will be acompanying youtube videos soon, on both the rifle and its components. Follow my social media pages for frequent updates, and for answers to your questions. And follow the links here in the article to get to those mentioned.

-CBM

Edited to add:

The video

So far in the fall/winter season of 2018, we have managed to kill three mule deer with the 25 Creedmoor, and two elk. Shots varied from 220yds, 500yds, and 600yds on the deer. And both elk were shot right at 300 yds with a neck shot.


The smaller of the two deer, shooting position off in the distance.
The larger of the two deer, taken in a good snowstorm

In the fall hunting season of 2019, Operation QuarterLord took another two deer. The first one, a small mule deer at an astounding 1100 yards. The second one, a larger three-point was taken at 450 yards. Both of them took a single shot through the vitals, and neither of them made it more than a few steps.