If you ask the average American rifle shooter if the world needs another hot new hunting cartridge, it’d be tough to find many to agree right off the bat. But if you laid these specs in front of that same average shooter, they might change their tune: a long, heavy-for-the-caliber bullet with a high ballistic coefficient that produces less felt recoil than a 7mm Rem Mag that can be run in a light, short-action rifle action. Yeah, that’s definitely attractive — and that’s the new 6.8 Western cartridge.
It was engineered as a collaboration between Browning and Winchester, and released to the public in 2021 with hunters as the target demographic.
“The 6.8 Western is the cartridge we turn to for accuracy testing,” said Browning’s director of marketing and communications, Rafe Nielsen, on the Backcountry Hunting Podcast.
Many shooters may ask why two powerhouse companies would introduce a new cartridge in an already saturated market. Do the engineers at Winchester and Browning know something we don’t?
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Going From Good to Great
The cartridge’s designers lowered the shoulder of the .270 WSM, removing roughly 10% of the case’s powder capacity. Lowering the shoulder allowed long, higher ballistic coefficient bullets to seat in the case without encroaching into the powder space.
Fast-twist barrels of 1:7.5” and 1:8” help stabilize the long, heavy .277-caliber projectiles weighing from 162 to 175 grains.
The heaviest bullet you can expect to find in a .270 WSM is 150 grains. With heavier bullets and a higher BC, the 6.8 Western can simply reach out farther with greater accuracy.
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6.8 Western vs. 7mm Rem Mag
According to the BH Podcast, the 6.8 Western, for the most part, nips on the heels of the 7mm Remington Magnum in several categories — again, with a lighter kick.
When both cartridges shoot the same 165-grain bullet weights, the velocity for the 6.8 Western is roughly 2,900 fps, and the 7mm Rem Mag moves at about 3,000 fps. The BC of those bullets is more than 0.600 on the G1 scale, which translates into a projectile that can buck the wind and retain energy at long ranges.
However, the 6.8 Western produces about 15% less felt recoil than a 7mm Remington Magnum. It offers a cartridge capable of taking all of North America’s big-game species — minus the really big bears — in a short-action platform with manageable recoil.
With those features, the 6.8 Western is predictably an excellent deer hunting cartridge that’s capable of making long shots across bean fields on whitetails or steep canyon shots on mountain muleys. It’s especially well-suited for hunting the Great Plains, where shots are routinely at around the 400-yard mark.
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6.8 Western vs. .270 Winchester
The 6.8 Western and a .270 Winchester fire the same-diameter bullet, but their parent cases differ quite a bit. The .270 Winchester was born from necking down the .30-06 Springfield case to hold a .277-inch projectile.
The 6.8 Western was created from the .270 Winchester Short Magnum case by lowering the shoulder and reducing the case’s powder capacity, which allows a longer, heavier, high BC bullet more room to fit into the case.
A 140-grain bullet fired from a .270 produces 1,401 foot pounds of energy at 500 yards, while the 6.8 Western’s 170-grain bullet hits with 1,736 foot pounds The cartridges also have almost identical trajectories, but the 6.8 lands with a larger wallop.
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How It Stacks Up Against the 6.5 PRC
Should you get a 6.8 Western if you have a 6.5 PRC? That largely depends on whether you are a target shooter or a big-game hunter.
The 6.5 PRC allows shooters to hit vital-size targets on large bovines out to 800 yards. However, the 6.5 PRC’s 140- to 153-grain bullets do not carry the same downrange penetration capabilities and energy transfer as the heavy-for-caliber 163-, 165-, 170-, or 175-grain projectiles from the 6.8 Western.
If hitting steel at extended distances or shooting whitetails and pronghorn in open country is what you are asking the 6.5 PRC to do, then sticking with that cartridge is fine. However, if you’re after larger game, like elk, large black bears, or moose, the 6.8 Western will drive heavier bullets at difficult angles deep into the vitals.
Those heavier bullets will retain more energy at longer ranges. Pair that extra power with the larger frontal diameter of the 6.8 PRC, and the cartridge delivers far more thump on target.
Both cartridges also have the charge sitting close to the primer, which allows for efficient ignition within the case, consistent pressures within the chamber, and velocities that stay the same from shot to shot.
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6.8 Western Rifles
There are currently 23 rifle offerings from Winchester chambered for the 6.8 Western. Nine are in the “rifleman’s rifle,” the controlled-feed Model 70. There are also 14 options in Winchester’s budget-friendly XPR line.
Browning’s 6.8 Western lineup includes 18 X-Bolt rifles, including the Western Hunter LR. There are 13 X-Bolt models in 6.8 featuring Browning’s own Hawg Muzzle Brake, advertised to reduce felt recoil by up to 76%, depending on caliber. Not only is this easier on your shoulder, but it also reduces muzzle rise, so a shooter can easily spot hits or get back on target for follow-up shots on game.
For models that don’t wear a brake, recoil sits between the levels of a .270 Winchester and a 7mm Remington Magnum. It is pretty comparable to a .30-06 firing a 180-grain bullet, which comes out to about 20 foot pounds of felt energy in an 8-pound rifle.
Some smaller gun shops, such as the Texas company Hill Country Rifl, have decided not to build guns for the new caliber because some ammunition doesn’t seem to shoot well out of their rifles.
“The Browning ammunition made our accuracy standards of a three-shot half-inch group at 100 yards,” Matt Bettersworth of Hill Country Rifles told Free Range American, “but the Winchester ammunition did not meet our standards. And this was from the same gun.”
Winchester Model 70 Extreme HunterPrice: $1,869.99
Often dubbed “The Rifleman’s Rifle,” Winchester’s Model 70 bolt-action is incredibly accurate for a factory-fresh rifle. This version is built for dead-on accuracy in the roughest hunting environments on Earth.
It features a tough Bell and Carlson synthetic stock that resists moisture like there’s no tomorrow and a free-floating sporter-weight barrel with a tungsten Cerakote finish.
Winchester XPRPrice: $609.99
The Winchester XPR is proof that you don’t have to dump a wad of cash to get a great rifle chambered in 6.8 Western. The company took the proven concepts of the Model 70 and combined them with super-efficient manufacturing processes to come up with a reliable and affordable option for the everyday hunter.
Featuring an advanced polymer stock with a matte black finish, a nickel teflon-coated bolt body, and a rugged Perma-Cote finish on the barrel and receiver, this rifle is made to stand up to harsh conditions and rough environments.
The Future of the 6.8 Western
Predicting the fate of a cartridge is hard. Like the .30-06 Springfield, some survive because of the confidence of troops carrying them in battle and later into the deer woods. Sometimes the cartridge is paired with a rifle platform that flat-out works, such as the 7mm Rem Mag and the Remington Model 700. Some cartridges never make it far beyond the basements they were born in.
If hunters and shooters take notice of the 6.8 Western’s ability to shoot high BC bullets capable of ringing long-range steel or taking game up to the size of a moose, then it should stick around. An inherently accurate cartridge that recoils less than a 7mm Remington Magnum chambered in compact, lightweight, proven rifle platforms should find a place in any rifleman’s arsenal.
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