A New Look at .27-Caliber Bullets

Long wedded to .30-cals, riflemen have had recent affairs with 7mms and 6.5s. Now, another fling with the .270 is in the air.

A New Look at .27-Caliber Bullets

L-R: .270 SPC, .270 Redding, 6.8 Western, .270 WSM, .270 Win., .270 Weatherby and .270 Howell.

John Krieger’s barrels rank among the best. So, what better choice for a long-range deer/predator rifle? I requested a mid-weight, 25-inch, stainless barrel with steep 1-in-8 rifling. Fred Zeglin supplied a chambering reamer and headspace gauges from his exhaustive inventory at 4D Rentals in Kalispell. “Let me know what the 6.8 Western does that the .270 Winchester can’t,” he said, with feigned innocence. Uh, yeah. As if I had the skills to test the practical limits of either         

A current second-hand Winchester M70 action in John’s shop married nicely to a factory stock from my modest assortment of take-off wood. An afternoon’s work with inletting tools opened the walnut slightly to accept the new barrel.           

To hunters who upend predators with the .223 Rem. and .22-250 Rem., who think the .243 Win. a tad violent and the .25-06 Rem. an indulgence in powder and recoil, packing a .270 makes as much sense as a taking a Peterbilt on grocery runs. But among the faithful are many who pester predators and collect venison with the same rifle. Such fidelity adds time behind the trigger, so improves marksmanship. 

The success of any cartridge depends in part on bullet selection. A new round using bullets of an established diameter has an easier path than one firing bullets shared with no other. The long popularity of .30-calibers in the United States owes much to .308 bullets developed for battle. Hunters’ use of the .30-40 Krag, .30-06 Sprg. and .308 Win. prompted more bullets, which in turn inspired more .30s.           

In Europe 6.5mm cartridges ran a parallel course. In 1900, the 6.5x54 Mannlicher-Schoenauer, a Greek infantry round, joined similar smokeless cartridges fresh in the 1890s. Italy’s 6.5x52 Mannlicher-Carcano (1891) and the 6.3x53R Mannlicher for Dutch and Romanian troops (1892), preceded Sweden’s 6.5x55 (1894) and Japan’s 6.5x50 Arisaka (1897). The 6.5x54’s long, deep-driving bullets in nimble M-S carbines downed Alaska’s bears, even Africa’s big game. The 6.5x55 also grew its fortunes afield, paving the way for friskier 6.5s. The 6.5s newly rooted in the United States — Creedmoor, PRC, RPM and the towering .26 Nosler and 6.5-.300 Wthby. Mag. — have prospered under a flurry of new bullets.

For 6.8 range trials, the author used this Krieger-barreled Model 70 with Leica 2.5-15X Amplus 6 scope.
For 6.8 range trials, the author used this Krieger-barreled Model 70 with Leica 2.5-15X Amplus 6 scope.

The Debut of the .270 Winchester

At the .270 Winchester’s 1925 debut, no other commercial or service cartridges used .277 bullets. Winchester may have wanted to distinguish it from the 7x57, a .284 German development that in the 1893 Spanish Mauser had become hugely popular world-wide. It had also stung U.S. troops in 1898 in Cuba. Hunting rounds firing .284 bullets included Brenneke’s 7x64 and the .275 H&H Mag. 

The .270 Win. is essentially a necked-down ’06, with the same 17.5-degree shoulder and 1.948-inch base-to-shoulder length. It appeared first in Winchester’s Model 54, discontinued in 1936, when it cost $59.75. A charter Model 70 chambering the next year, the .270 accounted for 122,323 of 581,471 rifles produced before the 70’s overhaul in 1963, second only to the .30-06 (208,218). At its 1948 introduction, the Model 721 Remington was offered in .270 Win. Pumps, autoloaders and lever actions followed.           

The first .270 Win. loads sent thin-jacketed 130-grain bullets at 3,140 fps. Still clocking 2,320 at 300 yards, they zapped coyotes like lightning but could fragment on deer up close. For sure penetration on big game and less venison damage, Winchester announced a 150-grain load at 2,675 fps and it flopped. Hunters didn’t pony up for a .270 to get the speed of a .300 Savage!           

Famously, Outdoor Life’s Jack O’Connor adored the .270 Win., reporting quick kills on “javelina to Alaska-Yukon moose.” One year he estimated he’d fired 10,000 rounds in range trials. An assortment of accurate, deep-driving .277 game bullets has since blessed the .270 and two high-octane sequels. The .270 Weatherby, the first of Roy Weatherby’s commercial belted magnums, appeared in 1943, launching 130-grain bullets at 3,375 fps. In 2001, the .270 WSM wrung 3,275 fps from short rifle actions.           

While the Weatherby and WSM have taken elk for me, the less violent .270 Win. has too and remains my go-to deer cartridge. It’s taken its share of coyotes, with big-game bullets that ruin fewer pelts than do the thin-skinned 90-, 100- and 110-grain bullets available to handloaders.

The high ballistic coefficient of this Federal Terminal Ascent bullet fights drag and excels at long range.
The high ballistic coefficient of this Federal Terminal Ascent bullet fights drag and excels at long range.

Enter the 6.8 Western

The new 6.8 Western won’t unseat the .270 Win. at market, but it’s a champ downrange. A shortened .270 WSM, the Western measures 2.020 inches base to mouth, the WSM 2.100. Both have 35-degree shoulders; the 6.8’s .276 neck is .01-inch longer. Maximum overall length for the Western is 2.955 inches, that for the WSM 2.860. Short-action rounds? They’re so advertised. But for those of us weaned on the .308 Win., with an OAL of 2.800 inches, they approach mid-length, with the likes of the 7x57 at 3.071 inches. WSMs, RCMs, SAUMS, PRCs and now the Western are re-defining “short.”           

The squat 6.8 Western is no rocket at the muzzle. Its long-range edge comes from its long 165- to 175-grain bullets with G1 ballistic coefficients to .620. The heaviest WSM factory load has a 150-grain Ballistic Silvertip with a .496 B.C. Exiting at 3,120 fps, that BST dashes ahead of the Western’s 165-grain AccuBond LR, clocking 2,970 fps. But 500 yards out, the Western bullet is moving faster than the WSM and extending the velocity gap.           

Like the .30 T/C, 6.5 Creedmoor and 6.5 PRC, the 6.8 Western is so designed that, as an engineer on the project observed, “… the bullet does the work.” Instead of a huge case and big powder charge to boost muzzle velocity, the Western relies on reduced drag over distance to excel. Its modest charge of efficient powder keeps recoil more civil than you’d expect from a load that boasts more 500-yard energy than the harder-kicking .300 Win. Mag. The 6.8 carries about 20 percent more smash to 500 yards than does the 7mm Rem. Mag., with no more recoil!           

The 6.8’s long, high-B.C. bullets benefited from loads for the .27 Nosler, in 2020 fifth in a fleet of 3.340-inch magnums following the .26 Nosler in 2014. Nosler’s 165-grain AccuBond LR, Winchester’s 170-grain Ballistic Silvertip and Sierra’s 175-grain Pro-Hunter, all factory loaded in the 6.8 Western, are recent. So, too, Berger’s 170-grain Elite Hunter. These long bullets need fast spin for stable flight — faster than the 1-in-10 standard for the .270 (some .270s rifles are rifled 1-in-9 and 1-in-9.5.). Winchester has settled on 1-in-8 twist for the 6.8 Western, while Browning specifies 1-in-7.5.           

I’m told hunters who crave a factory-built rifle for the 6.8 Western can choose from nine Model 70 Winchesters and 14 XPRs. Browning has it slated for 21 versions of the X-Bolt. Factory-built rifles were parceled out to members of the shooting press this past autumn. I wasn’t among the blessed, but reports confirmed the 6.8’s obvious lethality. A bullet landing a ton of energy at 400 yards (a self-imposed limit I’ve exceeded four times in 55 years) will kill any game you’d hunt with soft-nose ammunition.           

I’m delighted with the Krieger-barreled M70 in my rack. The barrel suits my likes, re: length and contour, contributing to fine balance. Neither ponderous nor lightweight, the rifle settles quickly on target. The trigger break is icicle-crisp and unprintably sensitive. This 6.8 Western has also afforded me range and field time with Leica’s new 2.5-15x50mm Amplus 6, an optic as bright and sharp through the lenses as it is handsome. On paper, three-shot groups with factory loads fall inside .75-inch.   

Nearly a century after Winchester introduced its first .270, the stubby, long-nosed 6.8 Western, hurling bullets 30 percent heavier, trumps it downrange. Flatter flight, harder hits and less drift, with only a modest bump in recoil — all told, a ticket to more kills at distance, whatever the game.


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