A Thought Experiment: The .25 ACP

Today I’d like to propose a thought experiment. The lowly and loathed .25 ACP is the subject of this experiment. The thoughts I am going to propose have been kicking around in my head for a while. They were brought to the surface recently by Chris Baker’s “Mouse Gun” series.

The idea: what if the .25 ACP had really taken off in 1905 and spelled the end for the .22-family of rimfires? Obviously it didn’t, and obviously at this stage in the game it probably won’t. But let’s imagine an alternate universe where it did.

In this universe…

Winchester takes the lead by chambering its budget-friendly Model 1906 rifle in .25 ACP. Sales are slow at first, but with Winchester behind the cartridge it begins to pick up steam. By 1922 Remington is on board and releases its Model 24 self-loader only in .25 ACP. A handful of prototype Model 24s chambered in .22 are still floating around the market and command a sky-high premium among collectors. Marlin sees the writing on wall; when updating their model 97 and re-designating it as the “Model 39,” they release it in .25 Auto.

  • With Marlin, Remington, and Winchester adopting the little centerfire the dominoes really start to fall. Nowadays most of us know someone who owns a hand-me-down .22. We look at it as antiquated and odd…kind of like we’d look at a gun chambered for 9mm Flobert.
  • Every kid’s first rifle, and every old man’s squirrel rifle is a .25, a la the Ruger 10/25!
  • We do our cheap practice sessions with .25 ACP ammo. Analogs to our carry revolvers are chambered in .25 ACP. Some work OK with the semi-rimmed .25 cartridge as-is. . . and some need moon clips. Revolver forums are full of arguments about the need for moon clips on .25 guns.
  • Ultralight pocket revolvers are available in .25 ACP and they have some serious devotees.
  • You can’t read an article about the defensive use of the .25 without someone saying, “the .25 has killed more people than any other cartridge!”
  • Twenty-five ammo is dirt cheap. We all remember buying $10 “bricks” of Thunderbolt and Super-X .25 Auto ammo at our local department store.

2nd-Order Effects

But what else would this mean? Well, a few things I think. And most of these things make me wish we lived in that alternate universe.

Scalability: This is probably the most important thing for most shooters. Rimfire ammunition has to be produced on special machinery, designed specifically for producing rimfire ammunition. This means that when there is a huge run on the market for .22, ammo makers cannot simply “scale up” production; they are limited by the capacity of the equipment they own (or obviously, any huge additional investment they are willing to make). This isn’t the case with centerfire ammunition.

Centerfire ammo lines are much more versatile. The ol’ .45 Auto ain’t selling so well but we’re outta .38 Special? No problem; let’s tool up half of those machines for .38 Special and increase output. Half the reason for the massive price hikes and lack of availability of .22 a couple of years ago was due largely to an increase in demand, but a very finite production capability. Having our plinkers loaded up with a centerfire round would help alleviate this a little.

Bullets: Our “little guns” would be loaded with “real” bullets. Bullets wouldn’t have to the soft, dirty, heeled varieties we’re used to now. They wouldn’t have to have that cruddy, waxy lube all over them. Bullets could actually be jacketed. If the .25 ACP had enjoyed half the popularity of the .22 Long Rifle there would probably be slew of bullet designs aimed at (no pun intended) small game hunting, self defense, dedicated target shooting, etc…just like the .22 Long Rifle.

Reloadability: Since we’d have a selection of bullets for the .25, we could also reload it! Since this is a tiny case there isn’t much ballistic advantage to be had. And since .25 is now the dominant small game/plinking/affordable practice round, it’s doubtful you could save much money. But if you’re real serious about accuracy, you could work up a load to YOUR rifle, pistol, or revolver.

Cartridge Variations: The .25’s cartridge case could have been lengthened to produce a few variations. Can you imagine a .25 Long Rifle? How about a K-Frame chambered in .25 Winchester Magnum, um, Centerfire (WMC?)?

Reliability: I know the .22 isn’t as unreliable as it often gets made out to be. However, with the exception of a single .38 squib load, I can’t remember ever having a fully-impacted centerfire primer without an accompanying “bang”. Would the .25 be that much more reliable? I think it might! And revolvers chambered for .25 might not need such heavy triggers to ensure reliable ignition.

Origins of this Silly Idea?

It might make some of you mad, but I’m not much of a fan of rimfire cartridges. I don’t own a single .17 HMR, .22 LR, or .22 WMR. I’m not opposed to them, per se, I’m just not a fan and I’ve never seen the need when there’s almost always a centerfire round that will do the job just as well. If there were a centerfire analog to the .22 LR, I’d be the first in line, though!

I want to reiterate one caveat before I close: this is just a silly little thought experiment. I don’t think this will ever happen, nor do I lie awake, tossing and turning, wishing it would. But I sure as heck think it would be neat!

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Author: Justin

Justin Carroll is a former MARSOC Marine and veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan. Leaving service after eight years in the U.S. Marines, Justin continues his involvement with a variety of government agencies to this day. Justin began RevolverGuy.com in late 2016 with an simple idea: provide an source of high-quality information for revolver enthusiasts.

46 thoughts on “A Thought Experiment: The .25 ACP”

  1. The horror. The horror!

    I can’t imagine a life without the humble .22LR!

    What’s next? The U.S. Army adopting the Luger in 1911?

    I need a drink. ; ^ )

    1. Ha, not in this universe! You’d say the same thing in reverse!

      Honestly, the only reason we’re stuck with is because…well, we’re stuck with it.

      1. It is interesting how a product with so many flaws survived and became so popular. Still, I love that little cartridge, and wouldn’t be without a gun to shoot it.

        1. I’m the exact reverse: except for a 10/22 that I gave away to a good friend without shooting, I don’t believe I’ve ever owned a .22. I admit I could be wrong; I’ve bought and sold quite a few guns over the years.
          Maybe I just don’t know what I’m missing!

  2. I think Justin needs a hobby–or medication.
    I’m familiar with the term and concept of ‘mouse guns’, but to call a .25 a mouse gun is to invite the mice you shoot with them to go away, heal up, and invite their friends to come help invade your house. When people came to the store looking for ‘defense loads’ for a .25–some of them actually being serious–we would discuss the fact that if you shoot somebody with a .25, and they find out about it, they’re likely to come back and kick your butt.
    I’d get questions like ‘So, would you let me shoot you with it?’ Reply-‘No, and I wouldn’t let you run over me with a Smart Car; but I wouldn’t recommend it for daily transportation, either.’

    But–uh oh–I do kinda wonder what could be done with a .25 in a carbine…… Ace

          1. I’m starting to think this entire post was part of a con by Justin to get people to buy him .22’s… 😛

          2. Haha, I can see how it seems that way! However, in keeping with my philosophy of shooting the guns I own, I’d much rather that .22 go to someone who would actually use it!

            The comments here have been very entertaining for me. I guess this is as good a time as any to say: I knew there would be some attachment to the .22 if for no other reason that it’s popularity. Imagine the ideas posited in this article (and S. Bond’s comment) had happened and .25 was the dominant “small” caliber these days. If someone (certainly not me, but someone) wrote this article in reverse, pining for a .25 analog in a rimfire cartridge they would truly have seemed to have lost their marbles. Put yourself (this isn’t directed at you, Greyson, just the audience generally) in these shoes. What would you say? I imagine we’d probably see a bunch of comments along the lines of, “why would you want antiquated rimfire technology that is dirtier, less reliable, more susceptible to moisture, harder to manufacture, and can’t be reloaded? Why would we want J-Frames with even heavier springs?”

            What we got is what we got, and I doubt Ruger will be coming out with a 10/25 or we’ll ever see a “training” AR-15 in in .25, or a “quarter caliber” S&W Model 48. But it is fun, for me at least, to think about how a small twist of fate (even an imaginary one) might have completely altered our firearms landscape.

  3. I think SOMEONE . . . (cough, cough) . . . has seriously missed out on something unique and wonderful in the shooting world.

    I can not imagine life without cheap .22LR ammunition to feed a Ruger 10/22, a Super Single Six, a Ruger Mark I, a S&W .22 kit gun. It’s the variety of guns that take this humble cartridge and make life FUN that keeps it alive.

    1. The .25 Auto is a semi-rimmed cartridge. Some revolvers were produced for the .25 in the early 1900s. Ejection reliability with the semi-rim is anyone’s guess, and mine is that it isn’t super positive.

      1. Interesting. My .25 ACP experience is limited, and it ended about 35 years ago, so I learned something new today. Thank you.

  4. I too would live in that word! It is worth noting that Speer has loaded Gold Dot, and Hornady the XTP in this tiny cartridge… As well as offerings from Glaser and MagSafe! What else might we have enjoyed in this alternate universe? The tiniest post ever in a Hydra Shok?

  5. Okay . . . I’ve re-read Justin’s article more than a few times, and have contembobulated his postulations. I can definitely see where he’s going with it. We’d be in the same market situation as today, except minus the rimfire manufacturing peculiarities.

    I would postulate that in 1906, Justin, who might have been marketing director for Winchester, would have renamed the .25ACP to something like the .25 Winchester Special (or some such) and given a slightly more pronounced rim than merely being semi rimmed case. It would still headspace on the rim giving it all the advantages of that type of head-spacing, especially in revolvers. It could also be marketed as the 6.35×16mmR for metric fans.

    Practicality is that nothing would be different over time as we would have grown up with the .25 caliber round for everything. Having a Ruger 10/25 would be the norm, same with a Ruger Mark I pistol in .25 Win. Of course, there’s the Smith & Wesson 25/32 Kit guns.

    The Stevens Arms and Tool Company’s .22 Long Rifle, a/k/a the 5.6x15R, would be a footnote in history with the other rimfire cartridges of the 19th century.

    Would it have solved reliability issues? Perhaps both with regard to ammunition and the guns. With a more substantial cartridge case, it would not have to be loaded to its original 1887 black powder standards. Loaded to smokeless powder specs, it could achieve a bit higher performance level, and with Berdan primers, soft steel cases, and a jacketed projectile, lead bullet residue would be non-existent. Bullet variety could be almost as varied as for the .38 Special. .25 Winchester copper plated lead wadcutters for precision match shooting. Copper plated semi wadcutters for small game, etc, and copper plated RN for everything else.

    The .25 Winchester would have one way interchangeability with the future .25 Winchester Magnum. Wildcat cartridges like the .17 calibers would be based on necked down .25 Winchester Magnum cases and loaded to “Blew The Head Off Rimfire Case” pressures without a hitch. We might also have seen .25 Winchester +P rounds on the market.

    No, I don’t think Justin has lost his marbles. It is a case of what if that might have been a phenomenal manufacturing and mass production advantage had there been the foresight for such a situation. I DO think he’s missing out on a phenomenal training platform, though.

    But the .22LR as a rimfire cartridge is what we have, and it’s still the greatest invention since the percussion cap. Where the hell was Justin in 1905 ?? LOL It would have been a great idea actually.

    1. Since Justin is only a couple years older than me, I have a feeling that in 1905, he was just a twinkle in his great-granfather’s eye.

      I agree that this is an interesting consideration. Maybe this will become the internet debate of the future.

  6. I remember seeing an article in a 1970s gun magazine on miniature guns and the creme de la creme was a half scale Thompson SMG…in .25ACP. I always thought that was neat. Now I’m dreaming of it again.

    Wait. You don’t own a what? Commie.

    1. It just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for me to own something I’m not going to use, no matter how many other people think I *should* own it. But like I said earlier…if you’re buying I won’t turn you down!

      On a more serious note, go easy with the name calling. RevolverGuy is the gentleman’s corner of the internet and such insults, even when made in jest, can easily be misinterpreted without the nuances of voice intonation, body language, and facial expression.

      1. “It just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for me to own something I’m not going to use, no matter how many other people think I *should* own it. ”

        Alas, that reminds me of what my wife was saying back @ mid 2015 about smart phones. She was fine that I had one for work, but didn’t really believe she needed one, thought they were a waste of phone plan money, and certainly couldn’t see the use for one as far as she was concerned.

        Well, fast forward @ 3 months, and when her nephew decided to get married, it was to be on a pig boat (Carnival ‘cruise’), and he picked up her fare to fly to Swampeast Florida as well as the 7 days on said pig boat. When presented with the fact her voice/text phone wouldn’t work, that did it. I got her an android (that she still has) so she could call home. Thank God for international calling plans, because she was all over that device like cheese on burgers.

        She is currently a 63 year old ‘screen junkie’ that’s as bad as some teenagers when it comes to spending time on her android. She occasionally goes to Smartphones Anonymous meetings, but it doesn’t seem to do much good.

      1. What? The miniature Thompson? Sorry, I haven’t been around.

        I am pretty sure it was full auto, yes, but I don’t recall anything but pictures of it displayed on a wooden stand- not a true article and certainly no live fire test. I saw it in at least two magazines from that period, and maybe more. It may have been shown around and written up quite a bit then, so info could be out there. I’ll poke around. Since it was shown displayed with a full-size Thompson and this was before Numrich was making the semis, I’ll make an assumption the owner was a fan of the genre.

  7. I have been trying to buy a 25 Stevens, they were made in short and longs, or a 32 Stevens, they were also made in short or longs, and convert them to center fire. Using the 25acp or the 32acp, 32S&W,32S&W Long, 32 H&R magnum, or 327 Federal Magnum. As you can see the 32 makes more since. But with a little help from Starline Brass with a 25 magnum I think they would set the world on fire! Marlin made a 32 lever action with a hammer that would fire centerfire or rimfire, I haven’t been able to win one on Gunbroker, pockets not deep enough. But I would give a left nut for a revolver that would fire a 25 magnum from a 9 or 10 shot revolver with a 50 grain hollow point at 1200-1400fps from a 2 inch revolver. I am going to get a 25 Stevens rimfire on day and convert it to centerfire. When I do I plan on approaching a small ammo maker and have them make a run of .25 WTB Magnums. The old adage of one in the chest and two in the head and even the jolly green giant will fall down may be able to use less ammo. Just saying!

  8. I want to like the 25 ACP, but my experience can best be summed up at this: it repeatedly failed to penetrate the end of a soup can from approximately 10 feet. Yeah, wouldn’t want to be shot by anything, but, if I had to be, it would be a 25 ACP based on my experience. Heck, even the 22 Short penetrated the end of that can.

    As an armed civilian, there is a lot of merit to the “get off me gun,” and small autos can fill that role, but I think a bit more juice is needed than the 25 offers.

    The idea of amping up the pressure and cartridge length is where it would be at, but then why not just use a 32 going up, or a modern 22 LR or 22 WMR going down?

    Besides, the 22 LR is one of the most fantastic cartridges out there – cheap, easy to learn, and lifts weight far greater than one would expect from such a diminutive little thing.

    1. You sure you didn’t miss?

      I’m sorry if I was unclear. This wasn’t a case for the .25 as-is, this was an imagining of what might’ve been it it had eclipsed the .22. In which case it would have all the benefits of the .22 that you name because of the economies of scale involved.

  9. Could not agree with Justin more and I would be most happy living in a universe where the 25 acp is king over the 22 short/long/long rifle that ‘died on the vine’.

    I have a couple of 22 rifles and 2 ruger MKIII pistols that reside at the back of the safe due to the sad state of 22lr ammo that has been fostered on us over the years since O’bummer narfed everythind up. Misfires galore with everything that I fed my guns – 1 to 3 misfires per magazine. I had friends recommend purchasing CCI mini-mags and custom match grade ammo that was 3-4 or more times the cost of other match ammo and still experienced an unacceptable amount of misfires. I blame the manufacturers chasing bucks at the expense of quality control (and their reputations).

    Interesting concept and a great article Justin. Keep it up!

  10. Justin, your post got me thinking of what a rimmed “25 Long and 25 Magnum” would look like.

    “This article got me thinking. It mentions the evolution of the 25acp into a more rimmed round to better extract from revolvers. I took the idea and expanded/visualized it.

    Below, you will see the proposed “25 Winchester Rimmed Long” and “25 Winchester Rimmed Magnum”. First, the case would have to be lengthened, to prevent someone from shoving it into a 25acp chamber. For the 25 WRL, the max overall length is the same as a 22lr, and the case is lengthened to match. Potentially, the rimmed variants could incorporate an extractor groove, enabling the use of 25acp in 25 WRL/WRM repeaters.”

    See my post on the “I’m With Roscoe” Facebook page for pictures.
    https://m.facebook.com/groups/363427750775359?view=permalink&id=633095380475260

  11. I, too, would prefer this alternate universe, for all the reasons others have mentioned, and one more; I live in California. the venerable .22 LR has been rendered useless for anything other than target shooting here. How so, you say? Lead free ammo requirements. Try finding lead free .22 LR.

    The Winchester offering is nowhere to be found, nor is CCI’s, which reportedly produces underwhelming accuracy for most people anyway. An RWS rep told me they were working on one, but were having difficulty meeting their accuracy standards. That was two years ago, so it’s probably a safe bet that they’ve shelved the project. There is apparently something about the .22 LR, perhaps the heel based bullet, which makes designing a lead free version problematic.

    The “green ammo” meme is gaining traction outside of California, so it’s possible you may be seeing a Ruger 10/25 some day. I actually wrote to Hornady about this. If it’s time to replace the .22 Longrifle, they’d be the ones to design it.

    1. Even if you could find it, John, you might not be able to keep it on paper. The lead-free stuff has a reputation for very poor accuracy, especially as the distances increase. It might be OK for soda cans at 15 yds, but try hunting with it and you might be disappointed.

      1. That’s what I’ve been told by people who’ve tried the CCI load. My 10/22, along with thousands of other .22’s owned by Californians, is now almost useless. Small game here is now the realm of shotguns, archery, and air rifles. That last is funny. You have to have non-existent lead free ammo for your .22, but if you use an air gun, you can hunt with lead pellets as much as you want. Apparently, lead is magically rendered harmless to condors when shot from an air gun. I wonder, does anybody make a Contender barrel in .25 NAA?

  12. I have been to 2 autopsys in my life. They were 1 year apart and the dead men were brothers. Both were six and a half feet tall and high 200s in weight. Both were killed with One shot from a .25. I own the gun from the first shooting.
    Here on the Range I have a Folgers coffee can over half full of .22s that Did Not Go Bang! I have Not One .25 that did not go bang. Reliability of quality .25s is amazing.
    After reading this I went outside where I have a new 55 gallon barrel. I shot it once with a .22 LR Beretta and once with a .25 Beretta. .22 went through one side and flattened out on the other side and was in the bottom of the barrel. .25 went through both sides and on down range. Did this Today.

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