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?” 

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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HOW ABOUT A .30-30? By Craig Boddington

It’s often said that the .30-30 Winchester has “taken more deer than any other cartridge.” Axioms like this are hard to prove and I can’t prove this one. Over the years, I’ve taken deer with numerous different cartridges…but only a handful with a .30-30.

Even so, I think it’s probably true. Introduced in 1895, the .30-30’s original 160-grain load barely hit 2000 feet per second, slow by today’s standards…but faster than any black powder cartridge. Compared to the large-cased cartridges of the day, the .30-30 was a tiny little thing. Early users quickly learned that its new smokeless propellant harnessed a lot of power and flattened trajectory. The .30-30’s also-new jacketed bullet penetrated well and offered a new dimension to bullet performance: Expansion.

In the euphoria over this newfound velocity the .30-30 was often used for large game, elk, moose, and even big bear. Undoubtedly, it still is, and with perfect shot placement (and, in its traditional lever-action platform, with fast repeat shots) it will get the job done. However, in 1895 and today, deer are America’s most widespread and popular big game. The .30-30 was quickly found extremely effective on deer-sized game…and remains so today. No one can estimate how many millions of deer have fallen to .30-30s. Winchester has made 7.5 million Model 94s, most of them in .30-30, and millions still in use. Add in hundreds of thousands of lever-action .30-30s from Marlin, Mossberg, and Savage; a few slide-actions, and a major sprinkling of single-shots. The .30-30’s rimmed case is probably best-suited to traditional tubular-magazine lever actions, but it was chambered to a surprising number of early bolt-actions!

Bruce Duncan with a big Idaho tom mountain lion and his battered Model 94 .30-30 carbine, short, light, easy to carry, for generations the odds-on choice for houndsmen.

Despite the many cartridges that are faster, shoot flatter, and harness more power, the .30-30 remains among our best-selling cartridges. Perhaps more surprising, it remains among the top cartridges in reloading die sales. Admittedly, this is partly because there are so many .30-30 rifles out there. However, I think it’s also partly because the .30-30 remains a useful hunting cartridge, with relatively light recoil and deer-killing efficiency.

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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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Beating Buck Fever

What we call “buck fever” is a strange malady that can do the most amazing things to people. In its minor stages, it causes shortness of breath and acceleration of pulse. This can quickly progress to ague-like shakes that would do a malaria sufferer proud. In its most advanced state almost anything is possible, but classic cases range from being physically unable to manipulate a trigger to ejecting an entire magazine of live cartridges onto the ground without ever firing—and being totally unaware of doing so.

Whitetail Deer Hunt
The closer I got to this buck the bigger he looked! That’s perfect; he came out about 200 yards down a cutline in Georgia pines and there wasn’t much time. I immediately saw he was a “shooter,” so I ignored the antlers and concentrated on the shot. I knew he was good—but he was a lot bigger than I realized!

 

Obviously. buck fever is not conducive to hunting success, especially in its more virulent forms. That said, and this is important: Buck fever can be a good thing! It manifests itself when you are in the presence of a magnificent game animal; it’s simply an extension of excitement, and you might even say that its presence denotes respect for that animal. As hunters, we’re supposed to be excited in the presence of game. If we are not, and are able to take a fine animal’s life with total dispassion, then I suggest it’s time to hang up the guns and bows and take up golf or tennis.

So the key isn’t that you avoid getting excited. Getting excited isn’t just okay; it’s a good thing. What’s important, and truly critical to success, is that you find ways to manage that excitement and hold it at bay long enough to do what you need to do. Naturally, this gets better and easier with experience, but field experience in the actual taking of game is hard-won and can take many years. Also, some of us are more excitable than others. I can’t compare my “excitability quotient” with anyone else’s, but after decades of doing this stuff I’m generally able to control the most serious manifestations of buck fever until the shooting is done—and then the shakes begin.

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