270 vs 30-06: The Original Big-Game Cartridge Battle

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The 270 vs 30-06 debate might be the most argued of all cartridge comparisons. No doubt our forefathers argued over .50- vs .54-caliber muzzleloaders and buffalo hunters debated the 45/70 vs 45/90. But for modern big-game hunters, the 270 vs 30-06 is the original, full-fledge cartridge battle. The reason for that, of course, is because for a very long time, fans of both could make a very solid claim that their pet cartridge was the best big-game medicine, period. Both cartridges were also enormously popular.

The 30-06 has a military heritage behind it, and the 270 Winchester had the great Jack O’Connor singing its praises. It used to be when new hunting rifles were introduced, the first two cartridges they were chambered for were the 30-06 Springfield and the 270 Winchester. Times have changed, and the first chamberings in new rifles today are the 308 and the 6.5 Creedmoor. But nothing will ever change that fact that the 270 Winchester and the 30-06 Springfield are two of the most iconic big-game hunting rifle cartridges of all time. So, let’s revisit the 270 vs 30-06 question, starting with a closer look at each one.

30-06 Springfield Overview

With modern bullets, the classic ought-six is more effective as ever and still a can’t-miss choice for most big game. Richard Mann

Also known as the 7.62x63mm, the 30-06 Springfield has been called the “Thirty Government” and, more commonly among hunters, the “ought-six.” It was the first really serious and highly effective military cartridge for the U.S. Army, and it remained in service until after World War II when it was replaced by the 7.62x51mm NATO/308 Winchester. The original ballistics of the 30-06 Springfield was a 150-grain bullet at 2700 fps, but that, of course, has now been substantially eclipsed—even by the 308 Winchester.

F&S rifles editor Dave Petzal summed up the great ought-six this way: “What the Army achieved in the ’06 was a cartridge that struck an ideal balance between power and recoil. It has killed every kind of big game in North America, but its kick can be managed by just about everyone.” Former F&S shooting editor Townsend Whelen once wrote, “For all North American game a good .30/06 is never a mistake.”

A hunter with a rifle sits behind a huge African eland bull.
Not only is the 30-06 one of the most trusted big game cartridges in America, it enjoys that same reputation worldwide. Richard Mann

Today’s 30-06 Springfield ammunition is typically loaded with 150-, 165-, or 180-grain bullets, though a few options exist with bullets as light as 125-grains. Some like to tout the fact that the 30-06 can use bullets as heavy as 220 grains. This is mostly a holdover from back in the day when bullets could not withstand high velocity impact. A 220-grain bullet form a 30-06 sounds wicked, but it’s abilities have been eclipsed with faster moving, lighter-weight, modern projectiles. That said, with today’s excellent bullets, the 30-06 remains one of the very best all-around big-game cartridges. To echo Whelen and Petzal: You still can’t go wrong here.

Read Next: The Best 30-06 Big-Game Loads

270 Winchester Overview

Two 270 Winchester cartridges laying flat on a white background
Both Jack O’Connor and Townsend Whelen doted on the 270 Winchester. Richard Mann

The 270 Winchester was introduced in 1923. The cartridge is really nothing more than a 30-06 case necked down to accept a 0.277-inch diameter bullet. What many do not realize is that the 270 Winchester, with its 0.277-inch diameter bullet, is actually a 7mm. Seven-milimeter rifle cartridges fire a bullet that measures 0.284-inch in diameter, which equates to 7.21mm, but 7mm rifles have a bore diameter—the distance between the lands—of 0.277-inch, which is how they got their 7mm name.

The 270 Winchester has been used for big-game hunting all over the world. It’s typically loaded with 130, 140, or 150-grain bullets suitable for big game, but bullets as light as 100-grains can be had for varmint and predator hunting. There are other 0.277-caliber rifle cartridges, such as the 270 Weatherby Magnum, the 270 WSM, the 6.8 Western, and even the 6.8 Remington SPC. However, the only 0.277-caliber rifle cartridge to reach iconic status has been the 270 Winchester.

Gunwriter Jack O’Connor was a big champion of the 270 and once wrote, “Assuming a cartridge can make its way on merit alone, that cartridge is the .270 W.C.F.” In his Mr. Rifleman book, Townsend Whelen wrote, “I think a good 270 with good loads is the finest weapon a wilderness lover can get for wandering all over the continent.”

A hunter with rifle poses with a harvested aoudad ram with plains in background
The author took this aoudad ram with a 270 Winchester, which has been a favorite for western big game hunting for a full century. Richard Mann

270 vs 30-06 Ballistics

When it comes time to compare centerfire rifle cartridges of a different caliber, it’s hard to find a level playing field. This is partly because there are so many different loads with so many different bullets for each cartridge. For this comparison I’ve kept it simple and stuck with what is arguably the best big-game bullet ever created: the Nosler Partition. Federal offers two Nosler Partition loads for each cartridge, and head-to-head, they effectively illustrate the variances between these two classic cartridges.

Velocity & Energy

Keep in mind that the cartridge cases for the 270 Winchester and the 30-06 Springfield are practically identical in terms of capacity. The main difference in ballistics comes from bullet diameter, weight, and ballistic coefficient. In our comparison here, the 270 Winchester will have the velocity advantage, but because of the heavier bullets it uses, the 30-06 will have an energy advantage. But, how much of a difference is there and is it enough to matter?

The 270 Winchester runs about 7% faster and the 30-06 hits about 7% harder. The differences are so minimal that its hardly worth noting. However, if long-range performance is important to you, the distance at which the velocity drops below a speed that will allow the bullet to upset as designed is noteworthy. For its best terminal performance, the Nosler Partition should impact at around 1800 fps. With the 270 Winchester, velocity drops below 1800 fps at around 600 yards and at about 520 yards with the 30-06. This gives the 270 Winchester an 80-yard yard advantage in terms of terminal bullet performance/reach. For most hunters, that simply won’t come into play.

Advantage: Tie

Chart showing the ballistics of the 270 vs 30-06.
Richard Mann

Trajectory & Drift

The hallmark of the 270 Winchester has always been how flat it shoots. It’s one of the reasons it has experienced so much popularity as a western big-game cartridge. At 500 yards, the 270 Winchester will shoot about 14% flatter than the 30-06. If reaching out to long range is important to you, you may be thinking that this doesn’t matter because if you know your drop, you can click in a shooting solution. However, mistakes in range estimation are common, and a mistake of 25 yards at 500 yards can result in as much as 9 inches of additional drop with the 30-06 but as little as 6 inches with the 270. As for wind drift, the differences are so minimal that it’s a wash.

Do the differences in trajectory and wind drift between these two cartridges really matter? For most big-game hunters, no. Out to around 200 to 250 yards there’s just not enough difference to be concerned with. Beyond that range, 130-grain 270 Winchesters loads will shoot a bit flatter, which can make getting hits at longer ranges somewhat easier.

Advantage: 270 Winchester

270 vs 30-06 Recoil

There is a diffidence in recoil, especially when heavy-bullet 30-06 Springfield loads are compared to lighter-bullet 270 Winchester loads. Out of an 8-pound rifle, a 180-grain 30-06 load will recoil with about 20 foot-pounds of force. Out of the same rifle, a 130-grain 270 load will recoil about 20% less. For a 270 Winchester shooting 130-grain bullets to recoil with 20 foot pounds of force, the rifle would have to weigh 6.5 pounds. If you like lightweight rifles and you don’t like recoil, the 270 Winchester is a better option. This is one reason it has always been popular with mountain hunters who want to carry a powerful but lightweight rifle.

Advantage: 270 Winchester

Final Thoughts on the 270 vs 30-06 Debate: Emotions vs. Ballistics

A harvested African kudu bull posed on the ground with a rifle leaning against it.
The author took this kudu bull in Africa with a 30-06. Richard Mann

From a pure ballistic standpoint, I firmly believe that if you can do it with a 30-06, you can do it with a 270 Winchester. There’s a wide selection of ammunition for both cartridges that will allow you to tune your rifle to the exact big-game animal or pursuit you have in mind.

I had an uncle who was a deplorable example of the human species, and he constantly bragged about his ought-six. He and his mouth left me with an unjustifiable but lifelong disdain for the 30-06. I was not alive when it won the wars everyone gives it credit for, and I’ve always liked the 308 Winchester better. In fact, practically speaking, if the job at hand is too much for the 308 Winchester, you’re going to need a hell of a lot more than a 30-06. On the other hand, a 270 Winchester was my first centerfire rifle, so I’ve got a soft spot for it because, well, we grew up together.

Emotion and personal preference are really what the 270 Winchester vs. 30-06 Springfield debate comes down to. If your daddy or granddaddy was an ’06 man, then that’s probably the cartridge for you. If they liked the 270, then you’ll probably like it better as well. Emotion does not help a cartridge shoot or kill any better, but when two cartridges are so close in performance, emotion might matter most. Pick the one you like, proclaim it the best, and ignore everyone else. There’s a 50% chance you’ll be right.

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