Here’s what you need to know about the 280 Ackley Improved and how it stacks up against the 270 Winchester, 280 Remington, and the 7mm Remington Magnum.
Most hunters and shooters in North America are probably familiar with the venerable .270 Winchester and 7mm Remington Magnum cartridges. However, while those two rounds are very popular for a reason, they are far from the only high quality choices in that size range.
Indeed, the .280 Ackley Improved (280 AI) is one of the newest SAAMI standardized rifle cartridges on the block. The .280 AI was developed by modifying the case from the .280 Remington. Both of those cartridges are very capable performers, though neither is as well known or as widely used as the .270 Winchester or 7mm Remington Magnum.
What do the .280 Remington and .280 AI have to offer hunters, particularly compared to the .270 Winchester and 7mm Rem Mag? Why did the .280 Remington struggle to initially gain traction in the commercial shooting and hunting market? Can the .280 AI really live up to the claim made by some that it can do everything the 7mm Mag can do, but with less recoil?
In this article, I’m going to do a detailed comparison of the 270 vs 280 Remington vs 280 Ackley Improved vs 7mm Remington Magnum in an effort to answer the above questions and parse out the differences between those four cartridges so you can make an informed decision regarding which one will work best for you.
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270 vs 280 Remington vs 280 Ackley Improved vs 7mm Rem Mag: History
As is the case with many other cartridges developed in the United States, the story of the .270 Winchester, the .280 Remington, the .280 Ackley Improved, and the 7mm Remington Magnum starts with the .30-06 Springfield.
The US Army started looking for a new service rifle and cartridge after being on the receiving end of a deadly demonstration of the capabilities of the revolutionary new Mauser rifle and 7mm Mauser cartridge in the hands of Spanish troops in Cuba during 1898. They eventually chose the bolt action 1903 Springfield rifle chambered in the new .30-06 Springfield cartridge.
Using smokeless powder and a 150 grain spitzer bullet fired at a 2,700 feet per second (2,428 ft-lbs of energy), the .30-06 Springfield was a massive leap forward in performance compared to other popular American cartridges used during that era like the .45-70 Government.
For this reason, the .30-06 Springfield was an almost instant success in the civilian market.
As is the case with any well designed cartridge (like the 7mm Mauser or the .30-30 Winchester), wildcatters also quickly started modifying the .30-06 Springfield to accomplish a variety of different tasks. Some gun designers necked up the .30-06 to develop bigger cartridges like the 338-06 and the .35 Whelen.
Others opted to neck down the .30-06 case to use smaller diameter bullets (like the .25-06 Remington), which is what the folks at Winchester did when they modified the case to use .277″ instead of .308″ bullets. The result was the .270 Winchester cartridge, which they released in 1925 with the Winchester Model 54 rifle.
The original .270 Winchester load shot a 130 grain bullet at a velocity of 3,140 feet per second (2,846 ft-lbs of energy). This was an incredibly high velocity for the 1920s and was a tremendous speed improvement over the .30-06 Springfield, which was itself considered a very high velocity cartridge for the day.
If you’d like to learn how the .270 Winchester compares to its parent case in the .30-06, read the article below:
While the .270 had a very fast muzzle velocity compared to other popular cartridges of the day, it was not an instant commercial success.
This was due to a number of reasons, one of which was the fact that the .270 Winchester fired unusual size bullets. Instead of using the much more commonly used .284″/7mm bullets like the 7mm Mauser (and many newer cartridges like the 7mm-08), for reasons that aren’t clear today, the .270 Winchester used .277″ bullets.
This very likely hampered adoption of the cartridge to a certain degree.
However, the .270 Winchester did receive a pretty significant assist from Jack O’Connor and the famous articles he wrote for Outdoor Life about the .270 over the years. Some were reluctant to adopt the cartridge, but many American hunters eventually came to appreciate the flat shooting characteristics of the round as well as the fact that it was so effective on thin skinned game. It didn’t take very long before the .270 Winchester was firmly entrenched as one of the most popular hunting cartridges used in the United States.
Remington made an attempt at knocking the .270 Winchester off its perch when they rolled out the .280 Remington cartridge in 1957.
Also developed by necking down a .30-06 case, the .280 Remington offered hunters a slight ballistic edge over the .270 Winchester and also utilized the more popular .284″ bullets. All things considered, the .280 Remington had a lot of potential and should have been a big success, but the company made a couple of major blunders when they rolled out the new cartridge.
First, they introduced the .280 Remington in their Model 740 autoloader. Later, they also offered it in their Model 742 autoloader and Model 760 slide action before finally offering it in the Model 721 and 725 bolt-action rifles. They eventually got around to offering it in their legendary Model 700 bolt-action, but dropped it after a couple of years before finally reintroducing it in the Model 700 in 1979.
During many of those critical early years, the cartridge was only available in the Model 742 autoloader. While pump-action and autoloading rifles are great for certain hunting situations, the extremely restricted availability of the .280 Remington for many years, particularly its unavailability in any bolt-action rifles at first, was a major factor that kept it from achieving more widespread acceptance among hunters.
The introduction of the massively successful 7mm Remington Magnum in 1962 also derailed any prospects of the .280 Remington catching on to any large degree with the general hunting public. As you’ll see in a minute though, Remington didn’t give up on the .280.
Remington made a massive splash in 1962 when they rolled out their new Remington Model 700 rifle along with the brand new 7mm Remington Magnum cartridge. Using a shortened .375 H&H Magnum case necked down to use a .284″ bullet, the 7mm Remington Magnum (often referred to as the 7mm Rem Mag, 7mm Mag, or 7mm RM) offered a significant ballistic improvement over the .30-06 Springfield, the .270 Winchester, the .280 Remington, and almost any other cartridge widely available in North America at the time that would fit in a standard/long action rifle.
Since it uses a larger diameter case derived from the .375 H&H, the 7mm Magnum has a very large powder capacity and is capable of shooting the same weight bullet faster than the .30-06. Additionally, those smaller diameter .284″ bullets used by the 7mm Rem Mag have a higher ballistic coefficient and more sectional density than .30 caliber bullets of the same weight used by the .30-06 Springfield.
For those reasons, most 7mm Remington Magnum loads have more energy remaining downrange, a flatter trajectory, and (all other things being equal) will penetrate better than .30-06 Springfield loads using the same weight bullets.
And to top it all off, while a few older cartridges like the .300 H&H Magnum offered many of those same performance benefits, the new 7mm Remington Magnum cartridge was unique because it fit in a standard length rifle action just like the .30-06 and similar cartridges like the .270, .280, etc.
With all that in mind, it’s easy to see why lots of hunters and shooters in North America quickly got behind the flat shooting and hard hitting 7mm Rem Mag.
It’s also easy to see why the 7mm Remington Magnum quickly pushed the .280 Remington even further out of the limelight at first. However, the management at Remington gave the .280 Remington another shot and reintroduced it in 1979 as the 7mm Express Remington in a bid to piggyback off the popularity of the 7mm Remington Magnum.
Though dimensionally identical to (and thus completely interchangeable with) the original .280 Remington, Remington claimed the new 7mm Express loads had a tiny velocity advantage over the original .280 Remington factory loads when using the same weight bullet. As you can imagine though, the name change resulted in a lot of confusion between the 7mm Express and the 7mm Rem Mag, which are NOT interchangeable.
So, Remington renamed the cartridge AGAIN after a few years and went back to the .280 Remington, which is what it’s called today.
So, if it wasn’t bad enough that the management at Remington didn’t fully get behind the cartridge and offer it in a bolt-action rifle from the start, they also kept changing its name. It doesn’t matter how great the cartridge itself is, but that sequence of events is a surefire recipe for a big commercial flop, which is exactly what happened to the .280 Remington.
Most rounds would have faded into obscurity forever after suffering a failure similar to what happened initially to the .280 Remington. However, the fact that it’s still hanging around even after experiencing a bunch of marketing fumbles from corporate management is a testament to the inherent strengths of the .280 Remington.
In fact, though nowhere near as commonly used as the .270 or the 7mm Mag, the .280 Remington is much more widely used today than it ever was.
Interestingly enough, the .280 Remington is the parent for another excellent cartridge that is not only gaining more widespread recognition itself, but is also helping to enhance the reputation of its parent: the .280 Ackley Improved.
Parker Otto Ackley, better known as P.O. Ackley, was very well known for developing wildcat cartridges in the latter half of the 20th Century. Among other things, he’s particularly well known for his series of “Ackley Improved” cartridges. Ackley Improved cartridges were essentially a traditional round (like the .270, .30-30, .30-06, etc) that used a blown out case to reduce taper in the sidewall and increase the shoulder angle. The result was a new case with slightly more (usually around 4-5%) powder capacity.
Since they can hold more powder, Ackley Improved cartridges are capable of higher velocities than their parent cartridge when loaded with the same weight bullet. However, the reduced body taper and sharper shoulder can sometimes cause feeding issues with certain rifles.
The actual performance difference between Ackley Improved cartridges and their parents varies, with some realizing a much bigger jump in velocity than others. For example, when using the same weight bullet, .280 Ackley Improved factory ammunition typically shoots 50-150 (usually around 100 fps faster) than most .280 Remington factory ammo.
That might not seem like much, but the .280 Ackley Improved (also known as the 280 AI, 280 Remington Ackley Improved, or 280 Rem. Ackley Improved 40 degrees) hit something of a sweet spot between the .280 Remington and the 7mm Remington Magnum. Not only does the .280 AI offer a noticeable ballistic advantage over the .280 Remington, but it’s also capable of performance nearly on par with the 7mm Remington Magnum.
Additionally, since it has such an efficient design, the .280 AI doesn’t use as much powder as the 7mm Remington Magnum to achieve nearly the same level of performances. For this reason, the .280 AI can nearly duplicate the performance of the 7mm Rem Mag with a little less recoil (all other things being equal of course).
This is why the management at Nosler decided to standardize the .280 Ackley Improve and submit it to the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute (SAAMI) for approval, which it received in 2008.
270 vs 280 Rem vs 280 AI vs 7mm Rem Mag: Cartridge Sizes
The unique roots of the 7mm Remington Magnum and the shared heritage of the .270 Winchester, .280 Remington, and the .280 Ackley Improved are all obvious in the photo below.
First, the .270, .280, and .280 AI are all very similar in appearance: they have the same rim diameter as well as very similar case lengths. However, there are some important differences that set them apart from each other.
As you can see, the .280 Remington and .270 Winchester are identical up to the shoulder and have the same 17.5 degree shoulder angle, but the shoulder of the .280 Remington is moved slightly forward. This prevents .280 Remington ammunition from being chambered and fired in a .270 Winchester chamber.
The shoulder of the .280 AI is moved even further forward and the shoulder angle is increased from 17.5 degrees to 40 degrees. The .280 AI also has a less tapered case than the .280 Remington and the .270 Winchester.
With a completely different lineage than the other three cartridges, the 7mm Remington Magnum has a unique look as well. Not only is it a belted magnum cartridge, but it has a larger rim diameter and a 25 degree shoulder.
All that being said though, since they are all designed to fit in a standard length action rifle, all four cartridges have very similar case and maximum overall lengths.
Not surprisingly, the .270 Winchester and .280 Remington have very similar case capacities while the .280 AI can hold a little more powder because of its less tapered case and steeper 40 degree shoulder. Even so, the 7mm Remington Magnum can hold significantly more powder than the other three, which is due in large part to its larger diameter case.
Additionally, the .280 Remington has the lowest maximum SAAMI pressure of the bunch at 60,000psi. The 7mm Remington Magnum comes next at 61,000psi and is followed by the .270 Winchester and .280 AI, which both have a maximum SAAMI pressure of 65,000psi.
Finally, bullet size is other big distinguishing factor between them. The .270 Winchester also uses .277″ bullets while the .280 Remington, .280 AI, and 7mm Remington Magnum all use .284″ bullets.
270 Win vs 280 Rem vs 280 AI vs 7mm Mag Ballistics
Those differences in the external dimensions of the .270 Winchester, .280 Remington, .280 Ackley Improved, and 7mm Remington Magnum do translate into differences in ballistic performance, though probably not quite as much as you’d initially expect.
This is illustrated in the table below comparing Nosler Trophy Grade and Hornady Precision Hunter factory ammunition loaded with 130gr AccuBond (.435 BC) and 145gr ELD-X (.536 BC) bullets in .270 Winchester, 140gr AccuBond (.485 BC) and 150gr ELD-X (.574 BC) bullets in .280 Remington, 140gr AccuBond (.485 BC) and 162gr ELD-X (.631 BC) bullets in .280 AI, and 140gr AccuBond (.485 BC) and 162gr ELD-X (.631 BC) bullets in 7mm Rem Mag.
All eight loads used a 200 yard zero.Interestingly, the 130 grain .270 load has an almost identical trajectory to the .280 Remington 140 grain Accubond load. The same goes for the 145gr .270 Winchester vs the 150gr .280 Remington load. In both cases, the .270 Winchester has a slightly flatter trajectory, but the .280 Remington has a tiny bit more kinetic energy at all ranges (about 5-10% at 500 yards).
The three .284″/7mm 140gr Nosler loads all use the exact same AccuBond bullet, just fired at different velocities: the 7mm Rem Mag is 50fps faster than the .280 AI, which is in turn about 150fps faster than the .280 Rem. With that in mind, the minor differences in trajectory and retained energy between the three are not at all surprising. The results are also about what you’d expect for the Hornady Precision hunter loads for those three cartridges.
That being said, the .280 AI is clearly a little closer in performance to the 7mm Rem Mag than it is to the .280 Remington Magnum.
The chart below compares how much a 10 mile per hour crosswind impacts those same .270 Winchester, .280 Remington, .280 AI, and 7mm Remington Magnum loads out to 500 yards.As you can see, even though they have a very similar trajectory with both light and heavy for caliber bullets, the .280 Remington has a clear advantage over the .270 Winchester in terms of wind drift. Once again, the 7mm Remington Magnum has the least wind drift. It’s followed closely by the .280 Ackley Improved and there is a slightly larger gap between the .280 AI and the .280 Remington.
Now lets talk about recoil.
The table below compares the recoil produced by the Nosler loads compared above for those cartridges when fired from a 7.5 pound rifle. I used Nosler’s own reloading data published online (available here, here, here, and here). I’m not aware of any rifles that are currently manufactured in all four cartridges, so in the interest of making as close to an “apples to apples” comparison as possible, I just decided to make the comparison with a hypothetical rifle that weighs exactly the same for each cartridge.
Felt recoil will vary from shooter to shooter and rifle to rifle, but free recoil energy is still a useful way to compare cartridges.As you can see, the .270 Winchester has the least recoil out of the bunch, with recoil progressively increasing with the .280 Remington, .280 Ackley Improved, and 7mm Remington Magnum.
This is one of the most interesting points of comparison between the 7mm Rem Mag and .280 AI though. As you can see, that particular 7mm Mag load has a little more free recoil energy than the .280 AI when used in the same weight rifle, but is shooting the same bullet only 50 feet per second faster.
This is because it takes an additional 3.5 grains of powder to produce that additional 50fps of velocity. In this case, it takes about 6% more powder to produce about 1.5% more velocity and this results in about 6-7% more recoil. In other words, that extra powder is resulting in diminishing returns in terms of velocity, but still producing more recoil.
Interestingly enough, Nosler also publishes a .280 Ackley Improved load with a 140gr bullet at 3,222fps that slightly exceeds the velocity of that particular 7mm Rem Mag load above. However, since the .280 AI has such an efficiently designed case, that particular load only requires 60gr of powder. The 7mm Rem Mag load above still has about 3% more free recoil energy than the faster .280 AI load.
That’s not a gigantic difference, but it’s also not nothing either.
So, does that mean the claim that the .280 Ackley Improved can do everything the 7mm Remington Magnum can do, but with less recoil is true?
Well, sort of.
It is true that certain factory loads and handloads for the .280 AI can come very close and even exceed the performance of typical 7mm Remington Magnum factory loads. It’s also true that those .280 AI loads generally require a little less powder and thus produce less free recoil energy (all other things being the same). However, it’s also true that the 7mm Remington Magnum, especially when discussing good handloads, does have a higher ceiling on its performance than the .280 Ackley Improved.
So, yes, it’s easy to find examples of .280 Ackley Improved loads that either match or exceed the performance of the 7mm Remington Magnum and still have less recoil. However, the 7mm Remington Magnum is still capable of greater velocities overall.
Barrel length is another thing you should keep in mind. The Nosler used a 24″ barrel for the .270 Winchester and 7mm Remington Magnum, but a 26″ barrel for the .280 Remington and .280 Ackley Improved in their published reloading data I used above. This undoubtedly has an impact on bullet velocities.
Remember: the gap in performance between many .280 Remington, .280 Ackley Improved, and 7mm Remington Magnum loads (especially the latter two) is pretty small. Indeed, depending on the exact barrel length of the rifles in question, the real world advantage one cartridge may have over the other may narrow considerably, disappear, or even flip in favor of the other cartridge.
Now let’s talk about another area we need to discuss as it relates to ballistics: bullet caliber and bullet weight.
The .270 Winchester uses .277″ bullets while the .280 Remington, .280 Ackley Improved, and 7mm Remington Magnum all use slightly larger .284″ bullets.
Since they use larger diameter bullets, the .280 Rem, .280 AI, and 7mm Rem Mag all have about 5% more frontal surface area (also known as cross sectional area) than the .270 Winchester (.0633 vs .0603 square inches). All other things being equal, a bigger bullet will make a bigger hole, cause more tissue damage, and result in more blood loss.
Once again, that’s not a gigantic difference, but it’s a slight advantage in favor of the .284″/7mm cartridges.
With regards to bullet weight, the majority of .270 Winchester factory loads shoot bullets in the 120-150 grain range. 130 grain and 150 grain bullets are by far the most common.
On the other hand, the .280 Remington is normally offered with 139 grain, 140 grain, or 150 grain bullets, but it’s possible to find a few loads with 156 grain, 160 grain, and 165 grain bullets as well. The .280 AI is similar, with 140 grain, 150 grain, and 162 grain bullets being the basically only choices at this time in factory ammo for the cartridge.
Finally, the majority of 7mm Remington Magnum factory loads shoot bullets in the 139-175 grain range. Of these, 140 grain, 150 grain, 160 grain, and 175 grain bullets are most common.
Here’s one last thing to consider when comparing these cartridges: magazine capacity.
Since it uses a much larger case diameter, most rifle magazines will hold more .270 Winchester, .280 Remington, or .280 AI cartridges than 7mm Remington Magnum cartridges. Typically, a rifle magazine that can hold 4-5 .270 or .280 cartridges will only be able to hold 3 7mm Remington Magnum cartridges.
So where do we stand with each cartridge?
Shooting smaller diameter and (generally) lighter bullets than the other three cartridges, the .270 Winchester has a very flat (though not the flattest) trajectory and the least recoil of the bunch, but also carries the least energy downrange and is the most vulnerable to wind drift.
Typical .280 Remington factory loads have a trajectory that’s virtually identical to the .270 Winchester. However, the cartridge shoots larger diameter bullets that are generally heavier. Those bullets are much more resistant to wind drift and retain much more energy as they travel down range. However, that comes at the expense of a little more recoil than the .270 Winchester.
The .280 Ackley Improved offers a modest ballistic improvement over the .280 Remington in terms of trajectory, wind resistance, and retained energy. Basically, it can hold more powder and thus can shoot the same weight bullet a little bit faster. This comes at the expense of more recoil though. However, even though the cartridge closely approaches the overall performance of the 7mm Remington Magnum, the .280 AI still has somewhat less recoil since it requires less powder to achieve a similar level of performance.
Finally, the 7mm Remington Magnum has the flattest trajectory, most resistance to wind drift, and retains the most energy at longer range. It’s also better suited to using heavier bullets than the other cartridges. However, that comes at the expense of more recoil and the larger diameter case of the cartridge results in a reduced magazine capacity in most rifles.
270 vs 280 vs 280 AI vs 7mm Rem Mag Ammo Selection
While all four are pretty commonly available, the .270 Winchester and the 7mm Remington Magnum are by far the most popular out of the bunch. In fact, those two cartridges are likely among the Top 10 best selling rifle cartridges in the United States each year. I’d wager that the .270 Winchester is a little more commonly used than the 7mm Rem Mag.
Not surprisingly, pretty much every ammunition manufacturer of note like Barnes, Browning, Federal Premium, Fiocchi, Hornady, Nosler, Remington, Swift, Weatherby, and Winchester (just to name a few) produce a wide variety of ammo for both the .270 Win and the 7mm Rem Mag.
The .280 Remington is somewhat less common, but still pretty easy to find with Barnes, Federal, Hornady, Nosler, Remington, and Winchester all producing good quality .280 Remington hunting factory ammo.
The relatively new .280 AI is nowhere near as common as the other two and at this point, only Nosler and Hornady make .280 Ackley Improved factory ammo. For this reason, the .280 AI is best suited for handloading. It’s now possible to buy .280 AI brass (Nosler brass is a particularly good choice), but you can also make your own by fireforming .280 Remington brass.
Additionally, it’s possible to safely (and often relatively accurately) fire .280 Remington ammo in a .280 AI rifle. However, the brass is then fireformed to .280 AI after doing so, which is yet another reason why it’s a good idea to handload if you like the .280 AI.
Buy some of the best .270 Winchester hunting ammo here.
Buy some great .280 Remington hunting ammo here.
Buy some excellent .280 Ackely Improved hunting ammo here.
Buy some really dependable 7mm Remington Magnum hunting ammo here.
Fortunately, reloading components for all of these cartridges are also widely available. Since the .280, .280 AI, and 7mm Rem Mag use the very popular .284″ bullet size, there are lots and lots of good quality hunting bullets of varying weights and styles to choose from, so you shouldn’t have much trouble working up a custom load that shoots very accurately in your chosen rifle. Though only a few cartridges (like the 270 WSM and .270 Weatherby) use .277″ bullets, the fact that the .270 itself is so popular means there’s also a decent amount of quality bullets to choose from for that cartridge as well.
Regardless of the cartridge you choose, you’ll have a gigantic bullet selection consisting of virtually every major style of bullet to choose from like the Barnes TTSX, Berger VLD, the Hornady ELD-X, GMX, InterBond, InterLock, and SST, the Nosler AccuBond, AccuBond Long Range, Ballistic Tip, E-Tip, and Partition, the Remington Core Lokt, the Swift Scirocco and A-Frame, and the Winchester Power Point (just to name a few).
270 vs 280 Rem vs 280 AI vs 7mm Mag: Rifle Selection
The rifle situation is very similar to the ammunition situation with these cartridges: .270 Winchester and 7mm Remington Magnum, in that order, are the most popular, followed by the .280 Remington and .280 Ackley Improved.
Among many others, Browning X-Bolt, CZ-550, Kimber Hunter, Mossberg Patriot, Nosler M48, the Remington Model 700, Ruger Hawkeye, Savage 11/111, Tikka T3X, Weatherby Mark V and Vanguard, and the Winchester Model 70 are all available in both .270 Winchester and 7mm Remington Magnum.
The .280 Remington is currently manufactured by Browning, Remington, and Winchester in their X-Bolt, Model 700, and Model 70 rifles.
Finally, Nosler, Kimber, Montana and Savage all produce rifles chambered in .280 Ack Imp. If you’re interested in doing so, it’s also possible for a skilled gunsmith to convert a rifle in .280 Remington over to the .280 Ackley Improved chambering with a chamber reamer.
Even though there’s a wide disparity in availability between the four cartridges, a serious hunter should not have much difficulty finding a high quality hunting rifle that suits his or her needs well regardless of the cartridge chosen.
Buy a nice .270 Winchester hunting rifle here.
Buy a really good .280 Remington hunting rifle here.
Buy a great 280 Ackley Improved hunting rifle here.
Buy an excellent 7mm Remington Magnum hunting rifle here.
270 vs 280 Remington vs 280 Ackley Improved vs 7mm Rem Mag: Which Is Right For You?
Do you primarily hunt medium sized game like deer, feral hogs, or black bear at ranges within 200 yards? The .270 Winchester, .280 Remington, .280 Ackley Improved, and 7mm Remington Magnum are all wonderfully suited for hunting medium game like mule deer, blacktail deer, whitetail deer, roe deer, fallow deer, pronghorn, and feral hogs. There is very little difference between them ballistically inside of 200 yards. Go with the .270 Winchester if you want the cheapest or easiest to find factory ammo or if you’re sensitive to recoil.
Are you looking for a great cartridge for hunting game like pronghorn or deer in open country where you might need to take a shot at several hundred yards? Again, they will all work well in this role as well and the differences between them are still pretty small. With typical hunting factory loads, the 7mm Remington Magnum and the .280 Ackley Improved have a slight advantage over the others in this regard with a flatter trajectory and the most resistance to wind drift. Of the two, the .280 Ackley Improved has a little less recoil, but ammo is easier to find for the 7mm Mag.
Are you sensitive to recoil? The .270 Winchester has by far the least recoil of the bunch. The .280 Remington and .280 Ackley Improved (especially the Ackley Improved) are both pretty good alternatives to hunters who want a little more powerful cartridge than the .270 Winchester, but with less recoil than cartridges like the the 7mm Remington Magnum and .300 Win Mag.
Are you looking for a great cartridge for sheep, mountain goat, or tahr hunting where you need a heavy hitting cartridge with manageable recoil in a lightweight and easy to carry rifle? All will certainly work to one degree or another. Thanks to Jack O’Connor, the .270 Winchester is considered a classic sheep hunting cartridge if there ever was one. However, the larger .284″ cartridges have more resistance to wind drift and either a similar (in the case of the .280 Rem) or flatter trajectory. This is an area where the .280 AI really shines because it has a similar or slightly superior trajectory and resistance to wind drift when compared to the 7mm Remington Magnum, but less recoil in a lightweight mountain rifle that’s easy to carry in rough country.
Are you a handloader? If not, then you should probably stay away from the .280 Ackley Improved (unless you’re fine with just 1-2 brands as factory ammo options) and go with either the .270 or the 7mm Mag. If you are a handloader, both the .280 Remington and (especially) the .280 AI have outstanding potential. That being said, all four cartridges are generally good options for reloaders.
Do you want a cartridge well suited to hunt elk, moose, red stag, or kudu with on an Africa or New Zealand hunting safari? In addition to all being excellent excellent choices for deer sized game, these cartridges are also suitable for bigger creatures under the right circumstances. Many consider the .270 Winchester to be on the light side for elk and moose hunting, but especially when using heavy, premium quality bullets (like the Nosler Partition), it’s absolutely capable of getting the job done. That being said, the .280 Remington, .280 AI, and 7mm Rem Mag are generally a little better suited for hunting bigger game.
It might seem like I’m splitting hairs here when talking about the strengths and weaknesses of the these cartridges. That’s absolutely true.
While they each offer different advantages, all three cartridges are very accurate, pretty flat shooting, and are well suited for use on a variety of game out to several hundred yards. For the vast majority of hunters, there is very little difference in their performance at typical hunting ranges (inside 300 yds).
The .270 Winchester, .280 Remington, .280 Ackley Improved, and 7mm Remington Magnum are all great rifle cartridges. While there is a large amount of overlap in their capabilities, each one does offer certain advantages. You need to carefully analyze your potential needs and choose the one (270 vs 280 Remington vs 280 Ackley Improved vs 7mm Rem Mag) that you think will fit them best.
Even so, no animal will never know the difference if your shot is placed in the right spot. Get a good hunting rifle chambered in the cartridge that you think fits your needs the best, learn to shoot it well, use quality bullets, and you’ll be all set for most hunting situations.
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The Lyman 50th Edition (p197-198, 212-216), Speer Number 10 (p182-184, 193-196, 201-204), and Hornady 10th Edition (p351-355, 391-400, 406-411) reloading manuals were used as references for the history of the cartridges. The data used to compare the trajectory and wind drift of the cartridges was obtained from Hornady (here, here, here and here) and Nosler (here). Case capacities and reloading data were obtained from Nosler (here, here, here, and here). Maximum pressure obtained from SAAMI (p23 and 28). I used the Hornady Ballistic calculator and ShootersCalculator.com to compare trajectory, wind drift, and recoil for the cartridges.