The .270 Winchester
By Ron Spomer
Few cartridges in the history of North American big game hunting have captured the attention of shooters quite like the .270 Winchester. Some 86 years after it was introduced, folks still consider it fast, flat and deadly.
And it is.
When brought to market in 1925, the .270 Win. was the best long-range big game round in existence, shooting flatter than anything else approaching its level of power, bumped hard on the heels of the .30-06, the parent case for the .270 and itself a relatively new cartridge. While the .30-06 was being loaded with 150-gr. to 200-grain bullets, the .270 was brought to market pushing a 130-grain spire point 3,100 fps. Soft bullets at the time led to more expansion and “dramatic upset” than some hunters liked, so Winchester brought out a 150-grain load at 2,650 fps, which quickly earned almost no fans because it was too slow. Hunters had already come to appreciate the flatter trajectory of the lighter, faster, ballistically efficient 130-grain bullet.
Prior to 1925 there were no cartridges firing a .277 bullet in America or Europe, which may be why Winchester chose to neck the 30-06 case to that diameter. One of a kind. A stand alone stand out. And that is what it remained until Roy Weatherby came out with his hyper-velocity .270 Wthby. Mag. in 1943. To this day, the only two additional .270s on the market are the 6.8 Remington SPC, a small capacity cartridge designed for AR-15 rifles, and the new .270 Winchester Short Magnum, almost the performance twin of the Weatherby. But neither magnum approaches the popularity of the original .270 Win., which performs better in shorter, 22-inch barrels, recoils less and still hits hard enough for 98 percent of what most of us hunt.
The late Jack O’Connor is credited with popularizing the .270 through his columns and stories in Outdoor Life magazine from the 1930s well into the 1970s. While O’Connor hunted with other calibers, he seemed to gravitate to the .270 for most of his adventures, using it on numerous sheep, elk, moose and even grizzly bear hunts. That was the kind of hard evidence hunters needed to put their trust in what was considered a fairly small cartridge/bullet at the time. If O’Connor could take elk and moose with it, by golly so could we.
Over the years bullets from 90-grains to 170-grains have been built for the .270. I once owned a Ruger M77 that would regularly throw five Sierra 90-gr. Hollow Points into MOA clusters. At 3,500 fps, that was and is great coyote medicine. Hornady 110-gr. Hollow Points at 3,300 fps are poison, too, and just as accurate. While I have played around with a few 150-gr. slugs for elk, bears, and moose, I’ve found our premium, controlled expansion bullets like Barnes TSX, Swift A-Frame, Trophy Bonded Bear Claw, Winchester XP3, Nosler Accubond and the like stay in one piece, retain so much weight and penetrate so well that the flatter-shooting 130- and 140-grain pills perform just fine.
For many shooters the .270 Win. represents the upper limit of tolerable recoil. In an 8-pound rifle firing a 130-grain pill 3,100 fps, the .270 will generate 15.77 foot-pounds or free recoil energy. In comparison, a .30-06 with a 150-gr. bullet at 2,900 fps kicks back with 18.26 ft. lbs. A 300 Win. Mag. with the same bullet at 3,200 fps whacks you with 25.10 ft. lbs. The mild bucking of the .270 makes it easier to shoot well without flinching, a major part of why this round has proven so effective on big game. It makes shooting accurately easy.
As elk medicine, there are better rounds than the .270 Win., but with today’s premium bullets and a good aim, the .270 Win. can and does handily and cleanly terminate any big game animal in North America. I wouldn’t hesitate a second to use it on the biggest elk. For open country mule deer, pronghorns, sheep and goats it’s nearly ideal. In dense cover it’s more than up to the task against black bears, whitetails, elk, and moose. With 90- to 110-gr. pills it’s effective on coyotes, foxes, rock chucks and ground squirrels. The all-round North American centerfire? Could be. Could well be. And even if it isn’t, those who own it love it.