Gun Digest

Reloading: Why is the .270 Winchester Still Around?

Though the author never warmed to it, the .270 Winchester has plenty of reasons to prove its worth, not the least of which is its popularity.

The .270 is one of those strange and wonderful cartridges that perform on game far better than paper ballistics would have us believe. I don’t know why, but with the right bullet it simply kills game all out of proportion to its paper trail.

If there was ever a cartridge that made no sense, it’s the .270 Winchester.

The .30/06 was, like it or not, born to be king. After two years of development, in 1925 Winchester brought out “the ultimate big game cartridge.” That quote is from original Winchester literature.

Based loosely on the ’06 case and using a unique .277” diameter bullet, the cartridge became the darling of noted outdoor writer Jack O’Connor. We shooters are a fickle bunch. Why one chambering is accepted and another is not will forever befuddle me. I guess I’m not smart enough to figure it out, but the die-hard fans of the .270 are legion and fierce in their defense of their chosen round.

O’Connor trumpeted the virtues of the .270 to anyone who would listen. After a slow start, it rocketed to fame and today is in the top three of all-time best-selling rifle calibers. I’ve owned exactly one .270-chambered rifle — a Browning BAR I traded for because I wanted the scope.

Out of curiosity, I bought a couple of boxes of shells in 130- and 150-grain weights and had at the target board. I hated it. It was loud, it kicked like a mule, heated the barrel something fierce, and couldn’t put three rounds in a coffee can at 100 yards. I restocked it, sold it and never regretted it.

I have friends who bought a .270 and were so happy with it they promptly sold all their other rifles. I have seen caribou, black bear, elk, and many, many deer killed with the .270. Some of those rifles were as accurate as any you can find, and some of them were beautiful works of art.

The .270 may be a good all-around North American chambering in the minds of some, but to me it fell short because of the limited bullet weights available (now that has been corrected).

The .270 is a high-pressure round, higher by a considerable margin than other standard-length, non-magnum chamberings. The careless handloader can get into trouble with the .270, burning out barrels and treading dangerously on the maximum pressure curve to get full performance from the round.

That’s why I have always preferred the .280 Remington or the 6.5/06 over it; both rounds kick the .270’s butt when it comes to ballistics with like-weight bullets, and do it with lower pressure and less recoil and noise.

But the .270 is one of those strange and wonderful cartridges that perform on game far better than paper ballistics would have us believe. I don’t know why, but with the right bullet it simply kills game all out of proportion to its paper trail.

A long-time friend and .270 fanatic provided some research on the old cartridge, including some of his favorite handloads for his six rifles chambered for O’Connor’s favorite round. I was curious to again try shooting a .270.

We started with his bench gun, a 26-pound Mauser-action/Douglas barrel contraption that resembled a field piece, with 30-inch bull barrel and railroad-tie stock. Shooting it was like being in the vicinity of a gun when it goes off but not actually touching it — I looked through the scope, touched the trigger, and bang.

After five bangs we walked the 100 yards to the target and found only one hole about .3 inches in diameter. Next up was an original pre-64 Winchester featherweight; now, this is what I remember! I don’t think I’ve ever fired a more unpleasant rifle (I know I’ll get plenty of hate mail, but come on, you guys that have one know the truth — the damn gun kicks like a bee-stung mule) and five shots were enough of it for me.

The last rifle we tried, a neat Remington 700 BDL, was almost as bad but more accurate than the Winchester. We were shooting handloads with the 130-grain and 160-grain Nosler bullets, both Partitions.

The way they kicked, I expected the 160-grain Partitions to fell redwoods. My friend told me it was the perfect elk bullet in the caliber.

Here are some of his favorite loads. Please work up carefully to them, and as we have no control over your technique or methods, we can assume no liability for their use.

A Few .270 Loads

With the 130-grain Partition in Winchester cases 47 grains of IMR 4064 and a standard large rifle Federal primer, expect velocity in the 2900 fps neighborhood.

For an elk/grizzly load in the Winchester cases, try the 160-grain Nosler Partition on top of 56 grains of IMR 7828 for about 2800 fps and very mild pressure.

In my friend’s pre-64 Winchester, these two loads shot to the same point of aim at 100 yards, a handy fact if one is inclined to carry two bullet weights on a hunt. If you have a fiendish streak and like to see prairie dogs vaporize in your scope, try in the same Winchester cases a 90-grain Sierra hollow point and 60 grains of IMR 4350 for 3500 fps. (Don’t forget the hearing protection!)

These loads were maximum in our test rifles and are not to be exceeded. I’ll never own another .270, just like I will never own another .30/06. They’re for others who can appreciate them for what they are — American inventions that, in the right hands, continue to bring home the game.

Why is the .270 still around? Simply put, it works.

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