.270 Winchester Ammo: A Buyer’s Guide

Gun News

There’s a wide variety of .270 Winchester ammo out there, contributing to the cartridge’s reputation for versatility, but it’s only useful if you know how to pick the right load.

There are only a few cartridges as common or as versatile as .270 Winchester. It can be found virtually anywhere, has bagged game all over the world and remains a top seller amongst the full-power rifle cartridges … for good reason.

Today we’ll be going over just what makes this cartridge so great, its best applications and a few top-notch loads of factory .270 Winchester ammo.

270-Winchester-1

.270 Winchester Development

The .270 Winchester, or under its original name .270 Winchester Center Fire or WCF, was first released in 1925 with the (then) new Winchester Model 54 bolt-action rifle, in the time-honored industry tradition of inventing a new gun and a new bullet to shoot with it.

Winchester-Model-54
Winchester Model 54 in 270 W.C.F. Photo: Rock Island Auction Company.

The cartridge was devised by necking down the .30-03 Springfield (not .30-06, although .30-03 is the parent case of both) to accept a .277-inch diameter (6.8mm) bullet.

The original factory load was a 130-grain bullet at 3,140 feet per second (around 3,060 fps is more common now) and it was soon noted for kicking less and dropping a little less at longer range (especially between 300 to 500 yards) as the more popular .30-06.

Those qualities endeared it to the hunting gun writers of the day such as Townsend Whelen and most certainly Jack O’Connor

The buying public took a little while to catch on, but eventually, rifle hunters in the U.S. (especially in the western states) and elsewhere noted its qualities. O’Connor’s tireless advocation for the cartridge and for the Winchester Model 70 rifle (which replaced the Model 54) certainly helped as well.

Today, it’s still one of the most common hunting cartridges worldwide. It’s found on every continent besides Antarctica and has harvested pretty much every game species you can name. 

What’s So Great About .270 Winchester?

The only real ding against .270 Winchester is that it has poor (almost zero) support in semi-autos. Primarily used in bolt-actions, however, the cartridge is great at doing bolt-action things.

Even when zeroed at 100 yards, it drops less from 100 to 400 yards than .30-caliber stalwarts like .308, .30-06 and .300 Winchester Magnum.

NAH Ammo
Some common “all-around” cartridges (left to right): the .30-’06 Springfield (still the king), .308 Win., .280 Rem., .270 Win., .300 WSM, 7mm Rem. Mag., .300 Win. Mag and .338 Win. Mag.

The 130-grain loads of .270 Winchester ammo (historically the most popular) produce about 16.5 foot-pounds of recoil in an 8-pound rifle, marginally less than a 150-grain .30-06 bullet fired from a rifle of the same weight. Although it’s also about 4 foot-pounds less than the 165- and 180-grain loads of .30-06.

The difference is enough to notice, but not dramatic.

The bullet shape (long and thin, but just substantial enough) gives the bullet a slightly higher sectional density and ballistic coefficient compared to a larger diameter bullet of the same grain weight. For instance, a 150-grain Sierra Game King in .277 caliber has a G1 BC of .483 and sectional density of 0.279, compared to 0.226 and .368 (respectively) in .308 caliber.

270-Win-bullet-shapes
Four different styles of .270 Winchester bullets. From left to right: 100-grain HP, 115-grain FMJBT, 130-grain SP, 150-grain RN. Photo: Wikipedia.

However, modern heavy-for-caliber bullets can provide an even higher BC for .270 Winchester ammo. Examples include Sierra’s Tipped Game King 175-grain bullet with a nominal G1 BC of 0.560, Nosler Accubond LR 150-grain bullets with a G1 BC of .625 and Berger’s 170-grain EOL bullet with a G1 BC of 0.662.

In other words, it overcomes air resistance better compared to .30-caliber bullets of the same grain weight. This results in a greater potential for penetration into vital areas.

While .270 Winchester ammo excels at distance, the 6.5mm and 6mm cartridge families still rule long-range shooting and high-power rifle events. While modern, high-BC heavy bullets can narrow the gap considerably, match .270 Winchester ammo doesn’t exist unless you load it yourself.

So, it may be one of the best medium-game cartridges ever made…but it’s not necessarily the best at everything.

Hunting With A .270 Winchester

There are arguably few finer cartridges for game hunting in open spaces. Besides a reputation for excellent accuracy and tolerable recoil, the other benefit .270 Winchester brings to the table is its only moderate drop at distance.

For the eastern U.S., where shot opportunities are usually well within 200 yards and game is smaller-bodied, it’s a bit much. In the West, where shot opportunities can very easily be upwards of 400 yards, that’s where .270 shines.

Jack-oConnor-hunting
Jack O’Connor on the hunt, odds are with a .270 Winchester. Photo: Jack O’Connor Hunting Heritage and Education Center

The cartridge has long-held a stellar reputation for accuracy.

Add manageable recoil, broad factory support (lots of companies make ammo) and favorable ballistics for medium to long-range shot opportunities, and it’s no wonder that .270 Winchester is still a go-to choice everywhere from the plains and mountains of the Western U.S. to the African savannah.

.270 Winchester Ballistics

To gain a better understanding of how .270 Winchester ammo actually performs, we compared the ballistics and trajectories of two loads to those of similar bullets in other calibers. Made using ShootersCalculator.com, all the following tables and graphs were calculated using a 200-yard zero, a 1.5-inch sight height, a 10-mph crosswind and no corrections for atmosphere. Keep in mind that elevation, temperature, humidity and pressure can all impact true performance in the field.

First, here are the ballistic charts comparing Remington’s 130-grain Scirocco II load of .270 Winchester with the 150-grain Scirocco II load of .30-06.

270V30-06Chart
Source: ShootersCalculator.

As you can see, the .270 Winchester load begins with a higher muzzle velocity than the .30-06 and retains its lead at 800 yards. The data also shows that .270 Winchester has less drop, is less affected by wind and reaches its target faster than .30-06 at every range listed.

The trajectory graph tells a similar story.

270-V-30-06-Trajectory
Source: ShootersCalculator.

When comparing modern, heavy-for-caliber, high-BC bullets, the equation starts to change. Here’s a comparison between Winchester’s Expedition 150-grain Nosler AccuBond LR load of .270 Winchester and Remington’s 150-grain .300 Win. Mag. Core-Lokt load.

270V300WinMagChart
Source: ShootersCalculator.

These tables show that while the two cartridges experience a similar amount of drop out to 500 yards, beyond that .300 Win. Mag. starts to sink like a stone in comparison. .300 Win. Mag. is significantly more affected by wind as well, and that starts happening much sooner than the difference in drop rate.

As you can see, some loads of .270 Winchester ammo are capable of doing everything that .300 Win Mag can…and more.

It shows that when using good quality bullets, even smaller caliber projectiles can hit as hard if not harder than average ones of bigger calibers.

So, let’s say you already had a .270 Winchester rifle and wanted to shop for some ammo. What are the best loads to get?

5 Outstanding Choices Of .270 Winchester Ammo

Federal Premium Nosler Partition 130-Grain

Fedeeral-Premium-Nosler-270-Winchester-Ammo

Classics become classics because they just work too darn well.

Jack O’Connor’s favorite handload was a 130-grain Nosler Partition loaded to 3,100 fps, and he harvested game all over the world with it. This load is a game-getter without question and will do what you need it to do as long as you do your job as a marksman. Perhaps a little light for elk, moose or black bear, but easily one of the finest deer, sheep and pronghorn loads ever made. 

Bullet type: Jacketed soft point

Grain weight: 130

Muzzle velocity: 3,060 fps

Muzzle energy: 2,703 foot-pounds

G1 BC: 0.416

SD: 0.242

MSRP: $58.99 per box of 20

Hornady 145-Grain ELD-X

Hornady-Precision-Hunter-270-Winchester-Ammo

The ELD (Extremely Low Drag) bullet is a modern, aerodynamic bullet designed for longer-range hunting. The 145-grain load in .270 Winchester is a good choice for a  do-it-all hunting load. While on the light side for moose or black bears, you will have no issues with good placement.

Bullet type: Tipped hollow point

Grain weight: 145

Muzzle velocity: 2,970 fps

Muzzle energy: 2,840 foot-pounds

G1 BC: 0.536

SD: 0.270

MSRP: ~$50 per box of 20

Remington Core-Lokt 130-Grain

Rem-CoreLokt-270-Winchester-Ammo

Good ol’ Core-Lokt is about as cheap as .270 Winchester gets. Cheap range ammunition is few and far between in this caliber unless you roll your own. It may not be the best long-range cartridge out there, but inside of 400 yards, Core-Lokt has always performed admirably.

Bullet type: Jacketed soft point

Grain weight: 130

Muzzle velocity: 3,060 fps

Muzzle energy: 2,702 foot-pounds

G1 BC: 0.336

SD: Unadvertised

MSRP: $35.99 per box of 20

Winchester Expedition Big Game Long Range 150-Gr Nosler AccuBond LR

Winchester-Expedition-270-Winchester-Ammo

Another modern hunting bullet that makes a good case for itself as a do-it-all load with serious legs is Winchester’s Expedition Big Game Long Range (could they use more superlatives?!) load. It’s loaded with 150-grain Nosler AccuBond LR bullets, with an insane G1 BC of .625. If you wanted a long-range hunting load for everything short of grizzly bears…this is it.

Bullet type: Tipped hollow point

Grain weight: 150

Muzzle velocity: 2,900 fps

Muzzle energy: 2,801 foot-pounds

G1 BC: 0.625

SD: 0.279

MSRP: ~$52.00 per box of 20

Federal Fusion 150-Grain Bonded Soft Point

Federal-Fusion-270

If you wanted a more premium bullet without as premium a price tag, Federal Fusion is a good candidate. The 150-grain bonded soft point load will provide good expansion, making it a good pick for most types of game.

Bullet type: Jacketed soft point

Grain weight: 150

Muzzle velocity: 2,850 fps

Muzzle energy: 2,705 foot-pounds

G1 BC: 0.471

SD: Unadvertised

MSRP:  $44.99 per box of 20


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