American hunting cartridges run wide and deep. We’ve made calibers for every niche purpose and animal, and we’ve made dozens of calibers that can supposedly do it all. Two of the more popular hunting rifle cartridges for North American game are 308 Winchester and 270 Winchester.
Both rounds can be considered classics these days and have more than proved themselves on the trail, in the deer stand or blind, and on the range.These two cartridges are worthy competitors, and while they are similar in very many ways, they are also very different.
Why 270 vs. 308?
The main reason why I’m putting these two cartridges against each other is the fact they are often tasked with similar goals. Both are extremely common for hunting medium to large game across western plains, in southeastern swamps, and northern hills.
Next, both have that Winchester moniker. Winchester contributed more to the American hunter than any other company, and I love diving deep into their history. Both rounds are somewhat crucial to Winchester’s later life.
These rounds are also brothers or at least cousins. Both are derived from the famed 30-06. The 270 used the 30-06 parent case and necked it down for the smaller projectile. 308 uses a shorter case and utilizes the same 30 caliber projectile. Family rivalries are always fascinating. The 308 and 270’s relationship is built on attempts to improve and replace the famed ‘aught six’ cartridge.
Both the 270 and 308 give you excellent ballistic performance and have stuck around for so dang long for a reason. They work. They work well, and generations of hunters have passed down their trust in their cartridge. These two are perfect for discussing the nuance between projectile size and case capacity. On the outside, they are very similar, but once you get into the weeds, you see some interesting levels of performance.
|Bullet Weight||90 - 150 grain||125 - 185 grain|
|Bullet Diameter||7.04 mm||7.62mm|
|Case Length||2.54 inches||2.015 inches|
|Max Overall Length||3.34 inches||2.8 inches|
|Case Capacity||67 gr H20||56 gr H20|
|Max Pressure||65,000 PSI||62,000 PSI|
|Parent Case||30-06||300 Savage|
270 History and Purpose
I learned about the 270 Winchester from one of its biggest proponents, Jack O’Connor. As a kid, I read archived copies of Outdoor Life, and Mr. O’Connor presented some amazing info in his columns. The 270 Winchester popped its head out of the ground in 1925. Winchester originally chambered the cartridge in the Model 54 rifle.
With the ballistically minded hunters, the cartridge became an immediate favorite, but it took some time to catch on with the general public. At the time, it excelled in propelling a lightweight round nice and far and retained the ability to easily take down big game. It eventually caught on and became one of the most popular modern hunting cartridges.
It outperformed the 30-06 in most capacities, and that was the point. The 30-06 acted as the 270’s parent case.
The necked-down cartridge gave you the case capacity to propel a 30 caliber round far and fast but downsized the round to .270 inches. This allowed the 270 to gain some serious speed, and speed equals better long-range performance.
308 History and Purpose
The 308 Winchester has a long history connected to the 7.62 NATO cartridge. The 7.62 NATO descended from the 30-06 in many ways, except from the use of the 30-06 case. Instead, the round uses the 300 Savage as its parent case. However, it was designed to replace the 30-06 and provide similar performance for infantry rifles.
The 30-06 was 63.1 mms long, and the 7.62 NATO shortened that to 51mms. This allowed short-action rifles to come to be, and short actions quickly dominated the market. The 7.62 NATO was developed for the military, and Winchester took the 7.62 NATO and commercialized it. There are some differences between the NATO and Winchester loads that are worth noting, so check our article on the differences.
The 308 Winchester did become an immediate success, aided by being chambered in the Winchester Model 70, one of the best bolt action rifles ever. The 308 Winchester went on to become the most popular medium to large game hunting rifle caliber ever. Short action rifles quickly became the favorite of hunters, as well as police and military forces.
Let’s do some quick math here. It’s not my favorite subject, and I’m not great at it, but I’m pretty sure 270 is smaller than 308. That’s bad, right? Bigger is better? Well, sometimes, but ballistically the 270 offers you a faster, lighter, and flatter shooting cartridge. Ultimately the main advantage of the 270, and most 7mm projectiles, is longer range performance.
270 projectiles vary largely in weight and can be as light as 90 grains and as heavy as 150 grains. The 308 projectiles go anywhere from 110 grains to 185 grains. However, the most common and easy to find ammo types are between 147 and 168.
The 270’s big 30-06 parent case offers it a lot of space for powder, and powder equals power. A small bullet with a lot of ass behind it means it goes quite far. The 270 offers much less drop than the 308 and the 30-06 it was derived from.
So a 120 to 130-grain projectile drops significantly less than most 308 caliber projectiles. 308 caliber projectiles tend to be heavier since 308 is bigger than 270. At ranges from 400 to 600 yards, the lighter 270 has much less drop, as much as 20 inches less than the 308. The little round even holds more energy than heavier 308s at this range.
If we take a big hefty 150 grain 270 and put it against a 150 grain 308, we see the inverse. Now the 308 has the advantage with both drop and energy. The same goes with wind drift. A lighter 270 outperforms 308 loads, but when we compare 150 with 150 grain, the 308 has a clear advantage.
Those heavier projectiles might not mean much at longer ranges, but we shouldn’t ignore what a 180-grain projectile can do. These hefty rounds penetrate and tear through thick muscle, fat, hide, and can smash through bone. These qualities make them a more forgiving big game round than the 308. A hefty projectile can cover a multitude of accuracy sins….sometimes. The 270 will get the job done on big game but requires a better marksman for a humane kill.
RECOIL AND MUZZLE RISE
The 270 and 308 are cousins in many ways, and while they perform noticeably differently, one thing they have in common is recoil. Recoil varies greatly from gun to gun, but when you compare two identical rifles in these calibers, you won’t notice much difference.
Now a 180 grain 308 will give you more recoil than a 130 grain 270. However, when we compare a 130 or 150 grain 270 round with a 147 to 168 308 round, the difference in recoil is negligible.
The same goes for muzzle rise. However, it’s worth noting that the popularity of the 308 Winchester has driven an aftermarket for muzzle devices that reduce recoil and muzzle rise. 308 Winchester’s popularity helps fuel the market, and when the market’s fueled, we get plenty of new and better options.
When we talk about ammo prices, we have to consider different ammo types. When we look at high-end cartridges designed for hunting and long-range performance, we see only a slight difference. A box of Federal Premium for the 270 costs a couple of dollars more than the same box of 308. You’ll see this pattern throughout most ammo manufacturers. The older and bigger 270 round costs a little more than 308.
If we sort from low to high, we see 308 has a massive advantage because of its historical background as a military cartridge. The popularity of the round and the fact you can get tons of 308 caliber ‘battle’ rifles means cheap FMJs exist. That lowers the price by roughly 50% from standard ammunition. Heck, if you get steel-cased stuff, it gets even cheaper.
The 270 Winchester exists as an American-centric round, and the 308 and 7.62 NATO has a higher international presence. This tends to influence ammo prices because foreign-made ammunition offers a low price point on average. Ultimately the 308 is the cheaper round.
However, if you are going to be shooting nothing but high-quality ammunition for hunting or long-range target shooting, then both rounds cost nearly the same, with 308 only being a hair cheaper.
270 VS 308 : WHICH IS BEST?
It’s impossible not to love both rounds if you love rifle calibers. Both are rather old and show their age yet still find their way onto the hunting realm every year. Why not? Sure some rounds perform fractionally better, but the 270 Winchester and 308 Winchester have gotten the job done for decades, and their ammo types, rifles, and in general logistics are better than new-fangled rounds.
The 270 Winchester provides you with a cartridge made for a bolt gun. It’s highly accurate, does extremely well at longer ranges, and does so with relatively soft recoil. If you don’t mind a long action, the 270 Winchester will deliver the performance you need out west with little issue.
The 308 Winchester reigns as king for a reason. It’s a stout and powerful cartridge that offers you the power necessary to take everything from deer to bear. Because of its military history, it’s also easier to find semi-auto rifles, magazines, suppressors, muzzle devices, and cheaper ammunition than the 270 Winchester.
The 270 Winchester offers you excellent variety, and 90-grain loads make varmint easily dispatched with minimal recoil, and 130-grain loads take everything from whitetail to elk with well-placed shots. Both offer a lot of versatility, and I can’t say one is substantially better than the other. Both get the job done, and it’s to see why both are so dang popular.
American Cartridges and Values
The 270 Winchester and 308 Winchester are both excellent cartridges. Arming yourself with either and going to the field will see you armed well for North American game.
The 270 Winchester gives you a little more range, but the 308 Winchester gives you a little more smashing power. You can’t go wrong with either, but examine the differences, even the small differences matter.
Examine them, and then compare them to your needs and see what fits better for your needs and purpose.
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