Why not a .270?

Here’s a riddle: What cartridge is faster, more powerful, and shoots flatter than a 6.5mm Creedmoor…with similar recoil? And, is chambered to more rifles, with a wider selection of factory loads and component bullets? 

270 lineup-light: Left to right: .243 Winchester, .260 Remington, 6.5mm Creedmoor, 7mm-08, .270 Winchester. All of these are great deer cartridges, but the .270 is far and away the fastest, most powerful, and most versatile of the group.

At the moment, it’s not true to say that everybody wants a 6.5mm Creedmoor. Right now, everybody wants whatever is ideal (or marginally suitable) for defending the hearth and home against virus-ridden zombie hordes. But I have to believe both happy and sane times will return, and we’ll spend more time thinking about hunting seasons past and looking forward to seasons ahead. I assume the Creedmoor Craze will continue, and everyone who wants a new hunting rifle will be longing for that amazing phenomenon, the 6.5mm Creedmoor. 

.270-general purpose: Left to right: .270 Winchester, 7mm-08, 7mm Remington Magnum, .30-06, .300 Winchester Magnum. All of these are acceptable elk cartridges, with the .270 and 7mm-08 good minimal choices, but fully adequate at moderate ranges.
.270-general purpose: Left to right: .270 Winchester, 7mm-08, 7mm Remington Magnum, .30-06, .300 Winchester Magnum. All of these are acceptable elk cartridges, with the .270 and 7mm-08 good minimal choices, but fully adequate at moderate ranges.

It is a wonderful little cartridge, accurate and mild-mannered. It was introduced in relative obscurity in 2007, and rolled along quietly for a few years. Then, amazingly, it took off, and has become a dominant force in both new rifle and ammunition sales. Folks considering a new rifle, both friends and strangers, often ask for an opinion. Somewhere in the discussion, they’re almost certain to say, “Should I get a Creedmoor?” 

Bighorn-mt-1994: This Montana bighorn was the first wild sheep Boddington took with a .270. At the time he questioned his choice, but he was wrong: The .270 is an ideal choice for mountain game, fully adequate under any conditions.
Bighorn-mt-1994: This Montana bighorn was the first wild sheep Boddington took with a .270. At the time he questioned his choice, but he was wrong: The .270 is an ideal choice for mountain game, fully adequate under any conditions.

 If there’s time, I like to ask about their intentions. Target shooting? Hunting? What kind of distances? Somewhere in the discussion, I’m almost certain to throw out, “What about a .270?” Because: The 95-year-old .270 Winchester is faster, more powerful, and shoots flatter than the 6.5 Creedmoor…with similar recoil. And is chambered in most production rifles, and offered in a much wider array of factory loads and component bullets. This last is a matter of longevity.

Donna sticks-270: Donna Boddington on sticks with her MGA .270. This rifle weighs less than six pounds with scope so recoil is significant, but not appreciably more than a 6.5mm Creedmoor.
Donna sticks-270: Donna Boddington on sticks with her MGA .270. This rifle weighs less than six pounds with scope so recoil is significant, but not appreciably more than a 6.5mm Creedmoor.

The .270 Winchester has been popular since its introduction in 1925. The 6.5mm Creedmoor certainly outpaces it in new gun sales, but there are a lot of .270s out there. Until recently (when the Creedmoor came riding in), you couldn’t give away a 6.5mm in North America. Bullet and load development take time; it will be years before the .264-inch bullet diameter (or any 6.5mm cartridge) can eclipse the .270. 

DSC_6968: When Boddington drew his once-in-a-lifetime Arizona desert sheep tag he chose a .270 without hesitation. The shot was about 250 yards…which is pretty close to Boddington’s lifetime average for shots at mountain game.
DSC_6968: When Boddington drew his once-in-a-lifetime Arizona desert sheep tag he chose a .270 without hesitation. The shot was about 250 yards…which is pretty close to Boddington’s lifetime average for shots at mountain game.

As for speed and power, these are mathematics, not hype. The typical 6.5mm Creedmoor load propels a 140-grain bullet at about 2700 fps. Loads for the .270 Winchester have greater variance (because there are more of them!), but fairly standard are: 130-grain bullet at 3060 fps; 140-grain bullet at 2950 or so; and 150-grain bullet at 2850. 

IMG_0141: This .270 on a left-hand Carl Gustav action was built many years ago by gunmaker Joe Balickie. It groups well with just about anything, easily producing a sub-MOA five-shot group with a random handload recipe using IMR 4831 and a 140-grain Swift Scirocco bullet.

Because velocity squared is a key component in deriving bullet energy, the .270 produces more energy across the board. Recoil energy (equal and opposite reaction) uses the same formula. So, in real terms, the .270 kicks a bit more than the Creedmoor. However, they are in the same general range, and this is mitigated by the fact that, since the .270 requires a longer (.30-06-length) and thus heavier action, .270s average a bit heavier than Creedmoors, which are usually built on short actions, which are lighter. 

IMG_7712: A fine Cape hartebeest, taken in Namibia with the Joe Balickie .270, one shot at about 350 yards. Although more a North American than African cartridge, the .270 is adequate for the full run of African plains game…with the exception of eland.
IMG_7712: A fine Cape hartebeest, taken in Namibia with the Joe Balickie .270, one shot at about 350 yards. Although more a North American than African cartridge, the .270 is adequate for the full run of African plains game…with the exception of eland.

Now it comes down to your intended purpose, and there are pluses and minuses on both sides. The Creedmoor was designed as a long-range target cartridge, using the superior aerodynamics of the long-for-caliber 6.5mm bullets to remain supersonic as far out as possible, yet with minimal recoil. The .270 was intended as a hunting cartridge but, for whatever reason, has rarely been considered a target cartridge in any discipline. This leads to the commonly-held belief that the .270 is not an especially accurate cartridge. I’m not so sure about that.

NM elk 270: This New Mexico elk was taken with the longest shot Boddington has made on an elk, 400 yards. The rifle is a Dakota M76 in .270, using a handloaded 150-grain Nosler Partition. The bull was down on the spot, with perfect bullet performance.
NM elk 270: This New Mexico elk was taken with the longest shot Boddington has made on an elk, 400 yards. The rifle is a Dakota M76 in .270, using a handloaded 150-grain Nosler Partition. The bull was down on the spot, with perfect bullet performance.

Although I have less experience with the Creedmoor, I’ve never seen a Creedmoor that shot poorly…but I’ve never had accuracy issues with the .270, either. In fact, all three of the .270s we currently have consistently produce better groups than any of the several 6.5mm Creedmoors I’ve messed with. Except: A Ruger Precision Rifle (RPR) in 6.5mm Creedmoor was spectacular! The rest, multiple makes and models, shot fine…but, on average, no better than the many .270s I’ve targeted. 

O’Connor Stone sheep: Jack O’Connor, famous for promoting the .270, with one of his last wild sheep, a Stone ram, taken with his famous “No. 2” .270 by Al Biesen on a Model 70 Featherweight action. O’Connor’s rifles have a lot of value, but there are hundreds of good “O’Connor-vintage” .270s on the market…as well as plenty of new rifles.
O’Connor Stone sheep: Jack O’Connor, famous for promoting the .270, with one of his last wild sheep, a Stone ram, taken with his famous “No. 2” .270 by Al Biesen on a Model 70 Featherweight action. O’Connor’s rifles have a lot of value, but there are hundreds of good “O’Connor-vintage” .270s on the market…as well as plenty of new rifles.

There is one area where the 6.5mms win. From inception, the .270 has long been considered primarily a hunting cartridge. Hunting bullets in .277-inch diameter are rich and varied, but since it has not been considered a target cartridge, the .270 lags behind in development of the extremely aerodynamic projectiles so popular today. This is changing, but slowly. Hornady now offers a 145-grain ELD-X. Berger offers “low-drag” .270 bullets in 130, 140, 150, and 170-grain weights, and Sierra offers .277-inch match bullets. 

Pronghorn .270 Steve Johnson: Steve Johnson with a fine pronghorn, taken with a Ruger No. One .270. Among its many purposes, the .270 is absolutely perfect for pronghorn: The power isn’t really needed, but the target is small so a flat-shooting cartridge helps.
Pronghorn .270 Steve Johnson: Steve Johnson with a fine pronghorn, taken with a Ruger No. One .270. Among its many purposes, the .270 is absolutely perfect for pronghorn: The power isn’t really needed, but the target is small so a flat-shooting cartridge helps.

Now it comes down to your intended purpose. If you’re a target shooter, then the Creedmoor gets the nod…that’s what it was designed for! If you’re a deer hunter it’s kind of a tossup. The mild 6.5mms, not just the Creedmoor but also the .260 Remington and 6.5×55 Swedish Mauser, are all marvelous for deer-sized game. Likewise, milder 7mms (7mm-08 and 7×57 Mauser). So is the .270, which is faster and more powerful than any of these. And, being faster, it shoots flatter. At extreme range, the aerodynamic 6.5mm bullets hold up better, but at normal hunting ranges, out to a quarter-mile or so, the mild 6.5mms aren’t fast enough to compete with the .270. 

Tx wt Donna 270: Donna Boddington used her MGA .270 to take this Texas whitetail. Throughout North America, there are no deer hunting situations where the .270 doesn’t fit in well.
Tx wt Donna 270: Donna Boddington used her MGA .270 to take this Texas whitetail. Throughout North America, there are no deer hunting situations where the .270 doesn’t fit in well.

Mountain game, sheep and goats, are in the “deer class” for size. I’ve never needed to make an extreme range shot on either a ram or a billy. Honestly, given the difficulty, effort, and expense of getting there, I wouldn’t take a chancy long shot and I never have. However, mountain hunting is such that terrain dictates the shot, and mountain animals rely on their eyes. Getting close is often difficult, and there are times when shooting at 400 yards and beyond is necessary.

For a serious mountain hunt, I wouldn’t use any of the mild 6.5mm or 7mm cartridges. They just don’t shoot flat enough. I would use the .270 Winchester…and I have, and will again. Pretty much like gun-writing great Jack O’Connor always told us: The .270 Winchester is a near-perfect mountain cartridge…which, by implication, suggests it’s ideal for a lot of purposes! 

When I say “larger game” I’m pretty much thinking elk, but you could include red stag, perhaps moose, and some of the larger African antelopes. Regardless of bullet diameter, a good 140-grain bullet starting at 2700 fps is adequate…but it depends on the distance. I think the milder 6.5mms and 7mms are marginal for elk, especially past 200 yards. Honestly, I don’t think the .270 is overly generous on elk-sized game…but it has the ability to propel aerodynamic 150-grain bullets at meaningful velocity. 

A century ago, early 6.5mms like the 6.5×55 “made their bones” with long-for-caliber 156 and 160-grain bullets, as did the 7×57 with 175-grain bullets. At close range these extra-heavyweights work like gangbusters, but they are invariably round-nose bullets with poor aerodynamics, ill-suited to open-country use. The longest shot I’ve ever made on an elk was just over 400 yards with a .270 Winchester.

I had hand-loaded 150-grain Nosler Partition spitzers to 2900 fps, checked over a chronograph. The day was dead still, one ridge to another. I held just a bit of daylight over the top of the shoulder. The bullet broke the on-shoulder, penetrated through the top of the heart, broke the off-shoulder, and exited. The bull tried to take a step, and went over backwards. Such a shot could be made with a milder cartridge…but I’d just as soon not try! 

The .270 is still chambered in virtually all bolt-action rifles, single-shots, the few slide-actions, some long-action semi-autos, and even Browning’s long-action BLR. And the used gun market is rich with good .270s. Jack O’Connor was the long-time champion of the .270, but he and the Winchester Model 70 are also inextricably linked.

My stepson, Jim, in law enforcement, is mostly a shooter, not a major hunter, but some time back we picked up a 1950s (“O’Connor vintage”) pre-’64 M70 at a good price. The metalwork was sound, but the stock was a mess so we put it in a synthetic stock…and it shoots. Nice rifle. Just for fun, I checked Gunbroker. Right now, they have a bunch of Model 70 .270s of all vintages. After all, in the 27 years of pre-1964 Model 70s, the .270 was the second-most popular chambering (after the .30-06). There are lots of them…and tens of thousands more .270s of all makes and models. 

Unfortunately, right-handed bolt-actions don’t do left-handed me much good, and there were no left-hand M70s until 1997 (and then not many!). With my left-hand affliction, I’m always on the lookout. Joe Balickie is a great custom maker, long retired. I always wanted one of his rifles, but when he was working I couldn’t afford one. A couple years ago he got hold of me and offered a rifle he’d made decades earlier. It was based on a left-hand Carl Gustav action in .270.

I couldn’t resist. Balickie was known for awesome stock work, and it’s one of the nicest rifles I’ve ever owned. It came with a vintage 2-7X Leupold, so my first instinct was to update the scope. I took it to the range, and the first group, with Hornady GMX, measured just over a quarter inch. I left the scope alone! There are lots of gems like that out there…and plenty of excellent brand new .270s as well. Most of us probably don’t need another rifle, but if you’ve got the itch, ignore all the horse-pucky going around and ask yourself, “Why not a .270?” 

IN PRAISE OF PUMP GUNS! By Craig Boddington

Most upland and waterfowl seasons are over. Spring turkey season is coming up fast, so for many of us this is time to shop for a new turkey gun. Fine, but shotgunning is really about familiarity and fit (probably in that order). Turkey hunting is a bit different than most shotgunning because the birds are (more or less) stationary and you aim, but any time you invest in a new shotgun, it’s wise to also expend time and a bunch of shells in practice. Although they taste terrible, there are no bag limits on clay targets. Clays vary widely in speed, angle, and difficulty, but it really doesn’t matter if you shoot trap, skeet, sporting clays, or hand-thrown targets: Every clay you shoot at (and especially every target you hit!) will make you more effective with that new shotgun.

1979 AZ quail: Warner Glenn and Boddington in 1979 after a great morning on Arizona desert quail. Warner has a very early straight-gripped Model 12; Craig’s is his factory skeet Model 12, made in the 1950s. In ‘79 he’d had the gun for a decade, and it had seen a lot of use.
1979 AZ quail: Warner Glenn and Boddington in 1979 after a great morning on Arizona desert quail. Warner has a very early straight-gripped Model 12; Craig’s is his factory skeet Model 12, made in the 1950s. In ‘79 he’d had the gun for a decade, and it had seen a lot of use.

I am probably best-known as a “rifle guy,” not so much as a shotgunner, and definitely not a turkey hunter. The latter is valid: I hunt turkeys, but I am no turkey expert! Shotgunning in general is a slightly different story. The Kansas I grew up in had few deer and zero turkeys, but we had oceans of bobwhites and lots of pheasants.

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44 Magnum: Not just for handguns!

Nobody said it better than Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry Callahan: “The 44 Magnum is the most powerful handgun in the world.” At that time this was true, but the .44’s reign as the most powerful handgun cartridge has long since ended. Today it is surpassed in power by several factory cartridges, including the 454 Casull, 480 Ruger, and both the .460 and .500 S&W. However, these cartridges also surpass the .44 Magnum in recoil.

44 handguns: The .44 Remington Magnum, designed as a handgun cartridge, has been chambered to numerous pistols and revolvers. Boddington’s T/C Contender with .44 barrel and his S&W Classic Hunter are shown with Garrett’s 310-grain super-hard-cat “Hammerhead” load…which will not cycle in all lever-action carbines.
44 handguns: The .44 Remington Magnum, designed as a handgun cartridge, has been chambered to numerous pistols and revolvers. Boddington’s T/C Contender with .44 barrel and his S&W Classic Hunter are shown with Garrett’s 310-grain super-hard-cat “Hammerhead” load…which will not cycle in all lever-action carbines.

The big .44, properly the .44 Remington Magnum, is a handful in a handgun! Some find it difficult to master, but in a heavy revolver it’s really not that bad. It remains my favorite handgun hunting cartridge, very accurate and plenty powerful enough for anything I desire to hunt with a handgun! For years gunwriter Elmer Keith had been experimenting with heavy handloads for the old .44 Special, using that case because the brass was thicker and stronger than standard cases for the .45 Colt.

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REMINGTON’S BIG SEVEN By Craig Boddington

I’m on the record as stating (more than once!) that the 7mm Remington Magnum isn’t one of my favorites. It’s a popular cartridge so this always brings howls from its many fans. More importantly, at least to me, is that it’s not good journalism—or business—to contradict myself. Since I’ve been writing about this stuff for 40-odd years I think it’s possible (and allowable) for my opinions to change over time. But this opinion has not changed: The 7mm Remington Magnum is not among my all-time favorite cartridges.

7 mag line-up: Left to right: 7mm Remington Short Action Ultra Mag, .280 Remington, 7mm Remington Magnum, 7mm Weatherby Magnum, 7mm Shooting Times Westerner, 7mm Remington Ultra Mag. The 7mm Remington Magnum is hardly the only “fast 7mm,” and certainly not the speediest—but it is by far the most popular and most available, a world-standard hunting cartridge.

My reasons are simple: There are lots of excellent cartridges, and it’s impossible to love them all equally. I love the .270 Winchester because it shoots just as flat as the 7mm Remington Magnum…but burns less powder, has less recoil, does fine in a 22-inch barrel, and can be built into a lighter rifle. If I feel I might need (or just want!) more power I’ve generally stepped up to a fast .30-caliber, which can offer more bullet weight and frontal area with similar velocity…albeit with more recoil.

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Your First Overseas Hunt – Craig Boddington

It’s a big world out there with almost limitless opportunities. Transportation has never been faster and remains fairly affordable. It’s a fact that many international hunts are beyond the financial reach for many of us. However, it’s also fact that a lot of amazing adventures lie within the reach of average working folks. To some extent this is a matter of priority, and we’re all entitled to our own hunting dreams. Honestly, good old North America is a pretty cool place, with a wide variety of habitats and game animals. Also, because of our vast public lands, North America offers the greatest opportunity in the world for DIY hunting.

African sunset: Yes, the African sunset is just as magnificent as you’ve heard!

It’s okay with me if you’re content hunting close to home. North America has the world’s largest hunting culture, but according to surveys, most American hunters rarely hunt far from home. Your hunting goals are your business. Hunting is hunting and hunters are hunters; it doesn’t make you less skilled if you prefer to do all of your hunting in your back 40. In fact, I humbly submit that good old American “DIY” public land hunters are among the world’s most skilled.

Because, North America has the world’s largest hunting culture, we dominate the market, and although the percentage is small, we also have the world’s largest group of traveling hunters, tens of thousands annually, including both veterans and first-timers.

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Judging Speed Goats

Judging Speed Goats: Nick Oceanak

You’ve drawn a license for the fastest land animal in North America, the Pronghorn! Well that’s great but how do you know what to look for in a mature buck? The pronghorn is one of the most difficult animals to judge in all North America. I’m speaking in terms of antler size of course! Even after being a professional big game hunting guide in Wyoming for seventeen years I still misjudge pronghorn on the hoof. Now pronghorn are not antelope but are often referred to as such because they closely resemble the true antelope in Africa. So, I will use both terms as I refer to them in this article. We regularly call them “speed goats” as well (because of their similar features to goats and notorious speed).

A mature pronghorn buck harvested with a longbow.
A mature pronghorn buck harvested with a longbow. Photo credit Timberline Outfitters WY

So why are pronghorn so hard to judge? First, their antlers aren’t very large to begin with. Therefore, a difference of twelve inches and fourteen inches is hardly anything at 800 yards but a world of difference up close. Due to the far distances from which you will be looking at antelope, you’ll need to know what to look for. I’m a firm believer that score means very little and that the trophy is in the eye of the beholder. However, to better help you understand what to look for in the antlers of a mature pronghorn I’ll be talking about SCI scoring a little bit. It’s also a good way to convey relative size to other people. You get one length measurement on each side starting from the base and ending at the tip. Then you divide that number by four to find where you will take your four mass measurements. Finally, you get one prong measurement on each side. (ex. figure below)

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To Travel With Firearms

TO TRAVEL WITH FIREARMS …
By: Craig Boddington

At the airport on the way to Argentina: Duffel bag, gun case, and carry-on. A gun case automatically means you’re traveling heavy; overweight baggage charges are part of the deal when you travel with firearms.
At the airport on the way to Argentina: Duffel bag, gun case, and carry-on. A gun case automatically means you’re traveling heavy; overweight baggage charges are part of the deal when you travel with firearms.

Just recently I got back from a “mixed bag” hunt in Argentina: where I did some wingshooting, deer, and water buffalo hunting. I took an over/under Blaser 12 gauge; and a Blaser R8 with .270 and .375 barrels. At this moment I’m on an airplane, headed toward Cameroon. I do not have a gun case in the cargo hold; I’ll be using a “camp gun.” In this article I will be discussing the pros and cons of flying with and without  firearms while traveling to hunt.

Mindsets vary. If you’re a hunter who views a firearm as an essential tool, then, so long as a suitable tool is available, it may not be important for you to bring a favorite firearm. On the other hand, if you’re a “gun guy,” it may be important for you to bring a firearm you consider perfect for game you’re hunting. Destinations vary. Sometimes it’s fairly easy to bring guns; other times it’s a major hassle, but still possible. And there are places where the hunting is great but it is not possible to bring a firearm. You simply must use whatever is available.

I’m both a hunter and a “gun guy.” Given a sensible choice I prefer to bring my own. However, I’ve hunted several places where bringing a firearm isn’t possible. That’s easy: I’ll use whatever is available! Where decisions get hard are situations where practicality and convenience enter in. Essential to consider: Game and hunting conditions; and what firearms are available?

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Getting a Tune-Up with Field Practice

Some of us are smart enough to service our vehicles regularly to forestall problems. Others, unfortunately like me, are constantly late with scheduled maintenance. It’s a testament to good design and manufacturing that I don’t have more mechanical problems than I do.

target shooting, steel targets, Weatherby Magnum
Boddington working out on steel targets, shooting over a pack with the rifle and scope he used in Mongolia, a Blaser R8 in .300 Weatherby Magnum with Zeiss 4-16x50mm scope.

Shooting is a bit like that: Constant maintenance, meaning practice, really is essential to keeping your shooting skills honed. I’m pretty sure all competitive shooters, in all disciplines, and at all levels from beginner to distinguished would agree. Practice is essential not just to get better, but to maintain skill levels.

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Prairie Dogs: The Best Teachers

I probably should follow my own advice, but I’m no different than most in that I often don’t! I’ve often written that varmint shooting offers the best practice there is. Woodchucks in the East and rockchucks in the West are good, likewise small rodents like ground squirrels and gophers… but there’s nothing better than prairie dogs.

Benchrest shooting Wyoming prairie dogs
Gordon Marsh with one of his “long range” prairie dog rifles, a heavy-barreled Savage 116 in .204 Ruger. With a heavy rifle like this in .204 shots can be called through the scope, very difficult with the more powerful .22-250.

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Benchrest Shooting Tips

Serious benchrest shooting is one of the most demanding shooting disciplines. It’s essentially a scientific search for ultimate accuracy. I don’t pretend it’s my game. I’m primarily a hunter, and my preference is to get away from the bench and spend as much practice time as possible shooting from field positions.

However, shooting from the bench is essential for achieving the desired zero, as well as determining the level of accuracy your rifle delivers and which loads produce optimum accuracy. So, although I have never been and probably never will be a benchrest competitor, I do a lot of benchrest shooting.

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