.270 calibers stand alone among shooting cartridges

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If there’s a class of cartridges that’s in a league of its own, it’s the .270-caliber family.

For starters, it has only three members, and one, the .270 Winchester Short Magnum, is less than 10 years old. Second, they appear to have no logical place in the hierarchy of high-power rifle cartridges. They don’t have a reputation for target grade accuracy, and the patriarch, the venerable .270 Winchester, has spent its entire life trying to escape the shadow of its big brother, the .30-06 Springfield.

Even so, the .270 Winchester is one of the most popular cartridges of all time. American shooters love it because it works.

In addition to the .270, the other members of this class are the .270 WSM and the .270 Weatherby Magnum.

.270 WINCHESTER

Introduced in 1925, the .270 Win. was simply a .30-06 case with the neck constricted (necked down) to a diameter of .277 inches. Winchester made a brilliant marketing move by giving the cartridge a unique, proprietary name instead of simply calling it a .27-06. Its distinctive identity helped ensure its success.

More important, the .270 had a very influential fan named Jack O’Connor, the longtime firearms editor for Outdoor Life magazine. O’Connor wrote volumes about the .270 and seared it into the consciousness of the American shooting public. Even now, you cannot read an article about this cartridge in any magazine in which the writer does not invoke O’Connor’s name.

O’Connor aside, the .270 stands on its own merits. The classic loading pairs it with a 130-grain bullet, which can be driven between speeds of 2,500 feet per second to about 3,200 feet per second. The average factory load is about 2,900 fps.

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Zeroed at 100 yards, a 130-gr. Hornady Spire Point with a muzzle velocity of 2,900 fps will drop 3.4 inches at 200 yards, 12.5 inches at 300 yards and 28.5 yards at 400 yards. Even at that range, it expends 1,222 foot-pounds of energy on its target, more than enough to cleanly kill an Arkansas whitetail.

If the .270 has a weakness, it is accuracy, but that’s highly subjective. Unlike the .308 Win., and the 7mm-08 Remington, the .270 was never meant to be a competition-grade target caliber. On the other hand, my Ruger RSM77 in .270 is the most accurate rifle I own. With a 130-grain Hornady Boat Tail Spire Point driven by 60 grains of H4831SC, that rifle, with no modifications, is capable of printing one-hole groups at 100 yards.

Even so, the .270 is a pure hunting round, designed to kill big-game animals at long ranges. It’s been doing that very well for more than 80 years.

.270 WSM

Introduced in 2001, the .270 WSM was the second in Winchester’s highly successful proprietary series of short, fat magnum cartridges. The .270 WSM is considered the best of the lot because it performs nearly equal to the vaunted .270 Weatherby Magnum, except it packs all that power in a short-action case.

Because the .270 WSM is so new, it doesn’t appear in many reloading manuals. The Nosler Reloading Guide (Fifth Edition) lists two loads with muzzle velocities of about 3,300 fps. At that speed, a 130-gr. Hornady Spire Point will, with a 100-yard zero, drop only 2.2 inches at 100 yards, 8.6 inches at 300 yards and 19.9 inches at 400 yards, where it delivers 1,770 foot-pounds of energy. That makes it sufficient for killing all North American big game except, possibly, the big brown bears.

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Even so, southern hunters have been reluctant to accept the cartridge. You can often find some very fine rifles chambered in this caliber for bargain-basement discounts because area retailers have such a hard time selling them.

.270 WEATHERBY MAG.

Ed Weatherby, president of Weatherby Inc., says the .270 Weatherby is his favorite Weatherby cartridge because it’s the most fun to shoot. Translated, that means it doesn’t hurt your shoulder to shoot it. Weatherby has used it on deer, elk and pronghorn, but he’s also used it to hunt plains game in Africa.

Based on the huge .300 Holland & Holland case, the .270 Weatherby Mag. was necked down to take a .27-cal. bullet and given Weatherby’s signature double-radius shoulder. With a 130-gr. bullet, you can get muzzle velocities close to 3,500 fps. For a big game bullet, that’s insanely fast.

At that speed, a 130-gr. Nosler Partition or Nosler Ballistic Tip zeroed at 100 yards will drop only 1 inch at 200 yards, 2.9 inches at 300 yards, 5.3 inches at 400 yards and 8.2 inches at 500 yards. That’s about as close to perfection as you can get, making it ideal for shooting long distances across bean fields or utility rights of way. With its manageable recoil, you can actually hit your target cleanly at those distances, which makes it a very effective hunting round for just about anything you’ll find on this continent.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>