270 vs 30-06 Debate Settled Once And For All

The .270 Winchester and .30-06 Springfield are both great cartridges, but have different strengths and weaknesses. So, the question central to the 270 vs 30-06 debate remains: which one should you be hunting with?

Most hunters and shooters probably agree that the .270 Winchester and .30-06 Springfield are both quite versatile and effective cartridges. After all, there is a reason why they are the two most popular centerfire rifle cartridges used by hunters in the United States.

While there is an overlap in their capabilities, the two cartridges are best suited to different tasks and represent two different ways of thinking. This is part of the reason why each cartridge has such a dedicated and loyal following and why the 270 vs 30-06 debate continues to rage on after so many years.

In today’s post, I’m going to discuss the merits of the 270 vs 30-06 and provide some insight into which cartridge you should be using in various situations.

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270 vs 30-06: Similarities

First, lets start with the areas where the .270 Winchester and .30-06 Springfield are similar.

Both the .270 Winchester and the .30-06 Springfield are descended from the .30-03 Springfield cartridge, which was itself heavily influenced by the 7mm Mauser. Both the .270 and .30-06 are great cartridges for hunting medium to large sized game all over the world ranging from roe deer to moose under the right circumstances. They also have great reputations for accuracy and performance at extended range.

They are also very popular cartridges among hunters and shooters all over the world. Indeed, those two cartridges are among the most commonly used centerfire cartridges in the United States.

For that reason, just about every gun manufacturer produces rifles chambered in .270 Winchester and .30-06 Springfield. The same goes for ammunition, so users of these cartridges have plenty of choices when it comes to good quality guns and ammo.

So, we’ve covered how the .270 and .30-06 are similar, but how are they different?

270 vs 30-06: Cartridge Sizes

The U.S. Army designed the .30-06 Springfield for use in the bolt action 1903 Springfield rifle in 1906 as an improvement on the .30-03 Springfield cartridge. The Army was just coming off the heels of a sobering lesson regarding the effectiveness of the 7mm Mauser in the hands of Spanish troops in Cuba in 1898 and wanted a cartridge and rifle that could compete with the revolutionary new Mauser.

Using smokeless powder and a new 150gr pointed bullet fired at a muzzle velocity of 2,700fps, the .30-06 Springfield was a significant improvement over previous cartridges the military used during that era like the .30-40 Krag and the .45-70 Government.

It didn’t take long for the .30-06 Springfield cartridge to catch on with the hunting and shooting communities and it was soon an extremely popular cartridge in the United States and in North America as a whole.

As good as the .30-06 Springfield was, not everyone was completely satisfied with it and wildcatters quickly started modifying the cartridge for more specialized tasks.

Around the same time gun designers were necking up the .30-06 to develop the .35 Whelen cartridge, engineers at Winchester decided to go the opposite route and neck down the .30-06 to use .277″ instead of .308″ bullets. The resulting .270 Winchester cartridge (also known as the .270 Win for short) was formally released in 1925 for the Winchester Model 54 rifle.

The original .270 Winchester load shot a 130 grain bullet at a blazing fast velocity (for 1925 anyway) of 3,140 feet per second (2,846 ft-lbs of energy).

Though the .270 Winchester was not an immediate success, American hunters appreciated the flat shooting characteristics of the round and the fact that it was so effective on thin skinned game. The cartridge gradually became more and more popular, which was helped by Jack O’Connor and his famous affinity for the cartridge that he expressed in countless Outdoor Life articles over the years.

That’s not to say that the cartridge only became the incredibly popular because of O’Connor. While O’Connor did indeed love the .270 Winchester and used it extensively on hunts all over the world, it was far from the only cartridge he used. The .270 Winchester was also a good enough cartridge and filled a big enough niche that it probably would have been successful even without any help from Jack O’Connor.

The .270 Winchester is something of an oddity when it comes to bullet diameter though. Unlike all the other popular 7mm cartridges like the 7mm Mauser, 7mm-08, 7mm Remington Magnum and the .280 Remington that use .284″ bullets, the .270 Winchester uses .277″ bullets.

It’s unclear exactly why Winchester decided to go with .277″ instead of .284″ bullets with the .270 Winchester. One theory is they choose that particular bullet size based on the obscure 6.8x57mm Chinese Mauser cartridge. It’s also possible they wanted to create a distinctly American bullet size and avoid the 6.5mm and 7mm bullets popular in Europe by building a new brand new bullet diameter 10% smaller than the one used in the .30-06 (.9 multiplied by .308 is .277).

Regardless of their reasons, the design team at Winchester went with a .277″ bullet diameter and the rest is history. Interestingly enough, while the .270 Winchester turned out to be a smashing commercial success for the company, .277″ bullets never really caught on. The 270 Winchester Short Magnum (270 WSM) and the .270 Weatherby Magnum are the only other two mass produced cartridges that utilize bullets of that size.

You can see the heritage of the .270 and .30-06 cartridges on display in the photos below. The .270 Winchester has a slightly longer case length (2.54″ vs 2.494″), but the two cartridges are identical up to the shoulder. Though the .30-06 Springfield cartridge in the photo is slightly shorter than the .270 Winchester cartridge, the SAAMI specifications for the two cartridges overlap and the .270 Winchester and .30-06 Springfield have the same maximum authorized overall length of 3.34″ (84.84mm).

270 vs 30-06 The Age Old Debate Continues
.270 Winchester vs .30-06 Springfield

Since the .270 Winchester and .30-06 Springfield have the same maximum overall length of 3.34″, both cartridges are used in long-action rifles.270 vs 30-06 rim diameter comparison

Due to the fact that the .270 Winchester uses a necked down .30-06 Springfield case, both cartridges also have the exact same case diameter and virtually the same case capacity.

Note: while the case capacity figures listed below do give a good indication of the differences between the two cartridges, exact case capacities vary slightly according to the brand of brass used.270 vs 30-06 cartridge size

270 vs 30-06 Ballistics

The .30-06 Springfield is certainly no slouch in terms of velocity or trajectory, but the .270 Winchester has a clear advantage in both of those areas. Similar to the difference between the 7-30 Waters and the .30-30 Winchester, by necking down the .30-06 case to shoot smaller diameter bullets, the designers of the .270 Winchester were successful in building a cartridge with a higher velocity, flatter trajectory, and less recoil than the .30-06 Springfield.

This is because, when compared to the .30-06 Springfield, the smaller diameter .270 Winchester shoots lighter weight bullets.

For instance, the vast majority of .270 Winchester factory loads shoot bullets in the 120-150 grain range. Of these, 130 grain and 150 grain bullets are by far the most common. On the other hand, though it’s possible to find .30-06 ammo shooting bullets weighing as little as 110 grains, most .30-06 Springfield factory loads use heavier weight bullets in the 150 grain to 180 grain range.

As you can see, the table below comparing the 130gr Nosler AccuBond (.435 BC) in .270 Winchester to 150gr Nosler Partition (.387 BC), 165gr Nosler AccuBond (.475 BC), and 180gr Nosler AccuBond (.507 BC) loads in .30-06 Springfield, there is a significant difference in the bullet trajectories between the two cartridges. Though two of the .30-06 loads utilize bullets with a higher ballistic coefficient and have as much or slightly more energy remaining at 500 yards, the .270 Winchester load still hits 4-8″ higher than all three .30-06 loads.270 vs 30-06 trajectoryNot only does the .270 Winchester have a noticeably flatter trajectory, but that particular load generates 22-36% less free recoil energy than those three .30-06 Springfield loads when used in the same rifle. Felt recoil will vary from shooter to shooter and rifle to rifle, but free recoil energy is still a useful way to compare the two cartridges.270 vs 30-06 recoilIt’s tough to pick a winner when it comes to accuracy of the 270 vs 30-06 because it’s something of an apples to oranges comparison. Most people agree that both cartridges are capable of excellent accuracy, but the .270 Winchester is used almost exclusively as a hunting cartridge while match shooters, military and police snipers, and hunters have all used the .30-06 Springfield extensively over the years.

That’s not to say the .270 Winchester isn’t an accurate cartridge. It most certainly is, but it just doesn’t have the same pedigree as the .30-06 Springfield in that regard and for that reason, there are very few choices available for .270 Winchester match ammo.

All that being said, both cartridges have the potential for excellent accuracy in the right hands.

270 vs 30-06: Ammunition Selection

The .270 Winchester and .30-06 Springfield are two of the most popular cartridges for hunters in the United States. For that reason, virtually every ammunition manufacturer of note like Barnes, Browning, Federal Premium, Hornady, Nosler, PPU, Remington, Swift, Weatherby, and Winchester (just to name a few) produce a wide variety of good quality ammo in various bullet weights for both cartridges. So regardless of whether you want lighter or heavier bullets for either cartridge, you should be able to find what you’re looking for.

Just about every major style of bullet is available in those cartridges as well like the Barnes TTSX, the Hornady GMX, InterBond, and SST, the Nosler AccuBond and Partition, the Remington Core Lokt, the Swift Scirocco and A-Frame, and the Winchester Power Point (just to name a few).

Prices and availability for each cartridge vary from region to region, but ammunition for both cartridges is widely available. In fact, if a sporting goods store only carried ammo for two different centerfire rifle cartridges, I’d bet money they’d have .270 and .30-06 ammo. Ammunition for both cartridges is similarily priced as well.

Buy some of the best .270 Winchester hunting ammo here.

Buy some quality .30-06 Springfield hunting ammo here.

If you’re into hand loading, then you’re also in luck because reloading components for both cartridges are widely available. There are also lots of good quality .277 and .308 caliber bullets to choose from, so you shouldn’t have much trouble working up a custom load that shoots very accurately in your chosen rifle.270 vs 30-06 bullet comparison

270 vs 30-06: Rifle Selection

Since the .270 and .30-06 are such popular cartridges, there are lots and lots of rifles to choose from and virtually every firearms manufacturer produces rifles chambered in both cartridges. Additionally, because the cartridges are the same length and have the same rim diameter, rifles of the same model chambered in each cartridge are virtually identical to each other.

Among others, the Browning X-Bolt, CZ-550, Mossberg Patriot, Remington Model 700 and 783, Ruger American and M77 Hawkeye, Savage 11/111, Thompson Center Compass, Tikka T3X, Weatherby Mark V and Vanguard, and (of course) the Winchester Model 70 are all available in .270 Winchester and .30-06 Springfield.

As anyone who has read a few of his articles in Outdoor Life would know, Jack O’Connor’s favorite rifle was a Winchester Model 70 rifle chambered in .270 Winchester. Even though the Model 70s has been chambered in many other cartridges (including .30-06), and even though many other rifles are available in .270 Winchester, the Model 70 and the .270 Winchester remain irrevocably linked in the minds of many hunters due to O’Connor’s work.

By the way, O’Connor’s Model 70 is currently on display at the Jack O’Connor Museum in Lewiston, Idaho

270 vs 30-06 oconnor model 70

The description reads:

Jack O’Connor’s Favorite Rifle: The Winchester Model 70 Featherweight .270 was purchased in Lewiston in 1959. It was custom-stocked by Al Biesen of Spokane who also fitted an engraved trap-door buttplate and grip cap. It was used by Jack from Botswana to British Columbia on a variety of game, including his last Stone ram in 1973.

Buy an outstanding .270 Winchester hunting rifle here.

Buy a really nice .30-06 Springfield hunting rifle here.

270 vs 30-06: Which Is Right For You?

When using the right bullets and with good shot placement, both cartridges are excellent for hunting medium to large sized game. Indeed, both the .270 Winchester and .30-06 Springfield are great choices if you’re looking for a really versatile cartridge.

They are both extremely effective (and popular) deer hunting cartridges. Indeed, whitetail deer probably make up well over half of the game harvested by those two cartridges each year. The .270 and .30-06 also work really well for feral hogs and black bear hunting. The same goes for exotic game like sika, axis, and fallow deer.

However, this is where the strengths and weaknesses of each cartridge start to diverge.

The flat trajectory of the .270 Winchester makes it great for animals that are more likely to require longer range shots like mule deer or pronghorn. By the same token, the fact that the .270 also has a relatively mild recoil also makes it a great cartridge for mountain hunts where a lightweight rifle is really desirable. After all, there’s a reason why Jack O’Connor liked his .270 so much for hunting sheep why it’s also still such an effective cartridge for mountain goat, Himalayan Tahr, and chamois hunting.

On the other hand, since it shoots heavier and larger diameter bullets, the .30-06 Springfield has a clear advantage when hunting larger species like caribou, elk, and moose. When using a 180 grain bullet, the .30-06 also has a clear advantage when hunting most species of African plains game.

That doesn’t mean that you can hunt elk, moose, or plains game with a .270. After all, lots of hunters have killed untold numbers of those animals with a .270 over the years. If anything, the .270 Winchester is even more effective on really large game (elk hunting in particular) now than it was even 20 years ago because hunters have access to much better quality bullets these days.

For instance, the 150gr Nosler Partition below really did a number on a big kudu bull in South Africa.picture of 270 vs 30-06 nosler partitionThere’s also nothing saying the .30-06 isn’t suitable for long range shots or that can’t also be a great rifle for a mountain hunt.

Like I said earlier, they’re both quite versatile, but that each cartridge is just a better choice for certain applications.

Do you primarily hunt deer, hogs, or bears in an area where long distance shots past 200 yards are uncommon and bullet drop is less of a concern? Both cartridges will work just fine under these circumstances and there isn’t much of a difference between them ballistically inside of 300 yards.

Are you very sensitive to recoil? Do you do a lot of mountain or backcountry hunts where it’s really nice to have a lightweight rifle? Consider going with the .270 Winchester, which has a lighter recoil that’s more manageable in a small and light rifle. With good shot placement and quality ammunition, the .270 Winchester is a wonderful choice for mountain goat, sheep, or tahr hunting.

Do you want to hunt larger game animals like elk, moose, red stag, and eland? Both cartridges will work, but the .30-06 Springfield offers a clear advantage since it can use heavier 180 grain bullets that are much better suited for extremely large and/or tough animals.

As I’ve stated before: the .270 Winchester and the .30-06 Springfield are both great rifle cartridges. While each one may be better suited to specific situations than the others, they are both very solid performers overall. The difference between them (270 vs 30-06) is not as great as it is sometimes made out to be and the animal will never know the difference if your shot is placed in the right spot.

For a more detailed discussion on the .30-06 Springfield and how it compares to some other popular .30 caliber cartridges, or to learn about how the .270 compares to the .308 Winchester, or to learn about other cartridges specifically designed to improve upon the performance of the .30-06, read the articles below:

308 vs 30-06 vs 300 Win Mag: Which Cartridge Should You Be Hunting With?

7mm Rem Mag vs 300 Win Mag: What You Know May Be Wrong

270 vs 308: Which One Should You Hunt With?

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Nosler provided the load data used to compare recoil for the cartridges (here and here). Cartridge case capacities were obtained from Chuck Hawks. The Lyman 50th Edition (p197-198 & 246-250) and Hornady 10th Edition (p351-355, 510-522) reloading manuals were also used as references for this article. Maximum pressure obtained from SAAMI (p28 and p29). I used the Hornady Ballistic calculator and Handloads.com to compare wind drift, the range each bullet goes subsonic, and recoil for the cartridges.

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NEXT: 25-06 vs 6.5 CREEDMOOR vs 270 WINCHESTER: THE RESULTS MIGHT SURPRISE YOU

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19 thoughts on “270 vs 30-06 Debate Settled Once And For All”

  1. Both calibers are wonderful. I think it boils down to what one enjoys shooting and using the most. My preference is the .30-06 because that was what my dad had from WWII.

    Reply
  2. While 270 is certainly flatter out past 300 than a 30-06, the light bullets with their lower BCs mean more correction for windage. Most hunters aren’t very good at judging wind or distance, but are still far better at distance than wind.

    Holdover…if your point of aim is above the animal’s spine into open sky, does it really make much different if you’re 4″ or 12″ over?

    Last, *most* hunters do not practice past 100 yards. Whatever advantage which might be conferred by a flatter trajectory is lost on those guys (not picking on 270 in particular here, I tell new guys the same thing when they get all ga-ga over 7MM RM and any of the 300 mags). Just because they’re flat-shooting doesn’t make them death rays which can compensate for not enough practice.

    None of that is meant as an insult, just what is the case. It’s just that a guy who struggles to hold 3 MOA at 100 probably has such bad technique that a 200 yard shot will probably be a clean miss, or worse, a gut shot.

    I never understood Connor’s love of 270. I suppose if you are ever only going to own one rifle, and never reload, there’s nothing wrong with it. If I want to go light, I get an honest 2900 fps out of 125 NP from my 6.5×55 SE – with a higher BC and SD than a 130 gr 270.

    I’d shoot 200 gr NP/NAB at 2500-2600 over any 270 load at 3100. But that’s just me. YMMV.

    Reply
  3. I have a 30-06 and love it’s strength. However, the recoil is up there and it’s a very loud gun. Have you noticed a difference in sounds between calibers or rifles?

    Reply
  4. I own a 30-06 have had it for years when I purchased i (second hand) it had a barrel bulge and a gunsmith shortened a couple of inches which as a result made it very easy to handle in most hunting situations in north Island heavy bush in New Zealand where it’s length doesn’t tent to hook up in scub when carried shouldered. admittedly it does recoil like a S.O.B. and make one hell of a noise but how many times do you need to shoot at something a day anyway…( you can also ague the same differences in cars can’t we)

    Reply
  5. Why didn’t you use an apples to apples comparison when comparing the ballistics of the rifles to one another? You compared a 130 gr Nosler AccuBond shot out of the .270 to 3 completely different, much heavier weight bullets fired from the 30-06 – a 150 gr Nosler Partition, and a 165 gr and 180 gr AccuBond. That wide range of bullet weights and styles would get vastly different results if they were the same caliber and fired from the same rifle! I see this often in the science world in papers in which people want to get the results they desire. I don’t know you and certainly hope that’s not the case at all here, but your comparison is completely flawed. The only way to compare the ballistics of the two rifles is to compare two identical rifles shooting the same brand and type of bullets of the same weight, for example – shooting a .270 and a 30-06 in Ruger M-77 Mark II, both firing 130 gr AccuBond bullets. That would allow you to truly compare the ballistics of the 2 rounds side by side, apples to apples, and to see what any differences really are. You might get the same results, but there would be no question about it. It couldn’t be said that the 30-06 ballistics were affected by heavier bullets.

    Reply
    • Hi Shawn. You make a good point and I appreciate your comment.

      I did not make the comparison you requested for the simple fact that Nosler does not make a 130gr factory load for the .30-06 nor do they even sell any 130gr .308″ bullets. They do make an 150gr factory load for the .270, but only with their AccuBond Long Range bullet. Their AccuBond Long Range factory load for the .30-06 uses a 168gr bullet.

      The fact of the matter is that these are two different cartridges and it’s extremely difficult, if not impossible, to conduct a true “apples to apples” comparison as you’ve requested in every single respect. Comparing the same style and weight bullets shot from the same rifle is a good start (and that’s what I’ve done when possible), but each cartridge performs better with a different bullet weight. That’s why the ammunition companies focus on a certain weight range of bullets for each cartridge. With all that in mind, I compared the most popular loads for each cartridge (130gr bullets for the 270 and 150, 165, and 180gr bullets for the 30-06) using the same line of factory ammunition (Nosler Trophy Grade in this case).

      Since you brought it up though, Nosler does make the 150gr Partition bullet in .277 caliber. Using one of their recommended hand loads, you’ll get 2,862fps of muzzle velocity from a 24″ barrel. The bullet drops over -51.7″ at 500 yards and has 1,272 foot pounds of energy remaining. This gives it by far most bullet drop of the loads compared. However, due to fact that it has a higher BC (.465) than the 130gr 270 load and the 150gr 30-06 load, it has a little more energy remaining at 500 yards than both of them, but still less than the higher BC 165gr and 180gr 30-06 loads.

      John

      Reply
    • Shawn Osteen,

      There are many ways to compare cartridges, and all have their strength and weaknesses becase declaring something as “best” almost always requires some form of criteria. Everything is a tradeoff, so as the author states, it just depends on what the shooter wants to accomplish. There’s no one right way to do it. “Heavy for caliber”/”light for caliber” is probably a more common way to compare them. If recoil is a factor, I agree that 150 vs 150 is a better comparison because the recoil would be very similar. If pure killing ability is more important, the extra penetration of the heavier bullet may be preferred. I am in the process of replacing my 30-06 with a 280 Rem because I wanted the lower recoil with less drop without having to put up with more wind drift. In my opinion, the 280 is the best of the 3 and isn’t more popular only because of the half-century headstart and military pedigree of the 30-06. Ballistically it’s better in almost every except ft lbs of energy. When comparing the same bullet in the same weight being propelled by the same charge, the wider bullet (7mm) will always start faster, while the longer bullet (.277) will maintain velocity and energy longer. Since I don’t shoot at animals farther than 400 yards (general rule), the slightly higher BC of the 270 150 grain bullet doesn’t offer any real advantage to the slightly flatter shooting 7mm 150 grain. At the end of the day, this is all academic though. Anything 243 Win and up is capable of killing up to elk within its limitations on distance. By the time you’ve stepped up to 270 and above, they all are more than capable. The amount of capability overlap in today’s cartridge market is excessive.

      Reply
  6. Can someone explain to me why people have a misconception that the 30-06 , 25-06, 270, 308,243, 7mm-08, and so on, were derived 30-03 or any other cartridge? research has shown me that the parent cartridge to the 30-06, and anything derived from the 30-06, is actually the 7×57 mauser that was In my opinion, one of the greatest discoveries ballistically. and you will find that the 30-06 is a lengthened, and necked up version of this case. Thanks

    Reply
    • Jason,
      You and I are in agreement that the 7x57mm Mauser was truly a revolutionary cartridge that changed the trajectory of firearms development forever. We can go back and forth debating the details, but I think it’s also pretty much a given that the 7mm Mauser influenced the design of the .30-03 and .30-06 cartridges as well.
      Thanks for your comment,
      John

      Reply
  7. I have owned both, a Remington 700 ADL 270 Win from the mid 70s and a Winchester model 70 30-06 from the 90s. The Remington 700 270 Win was the most accurate rifle I’ve ever shot target with at 100 yds. Three bullets through the X in one ragged hole many years ago. It was unbelievable but true. I have neither now, just a Savage Axis .308 which is no where near either of them in any respect. I should have kept the Remington.

    Reply
  8. Well it is true I have never owned a 270 Win and likely never will. That said I would not feel under gunned with one. Anything that I use a 308 Win, 30-06Sprfd, or 300WM would be just as dead if I shot it with a 270Win. I reload so lack of bullet variety is what keeps me from owning anything in the .277 bore diameter. Same thing is true of .25 bore size as well. To easy to find 100X more selection in .308, .264 and .284. If the .25 and .277 bore size had more bullet weights than they would be much more popular. On top of that OEM’s need to offer faster twist rates. Unless you rebarrel a rifle you can almost never take advantage of the best bullets because the twist rate in many factory built rifles is 2-3 decades out of touch with what has been on the market for a long long time!

    Reply
  9. As usual a very thorough comparison with performance charts. I love this site for that reason. I hope my previous comments show as replies to other posted comments on the article. That is what they were meant for-NOT THE AUTHOR ! Any how , I’m a 30-06 kinda guy being I own 3 and might get another. I once read that even O’Connor admitted the 30-06 was better(paraphrasing).What ever you all shoot- have fun be safe. Both are proficient cartridges.

    Reply
  10. I hunted with a marlin 30-30 for many years. I never lost a whitetail. One shot that’s all. I got a .270 about 13 years ago and have never lost a whitetail with that one either. It is all about shot placement not the big gun. My niece killed an mulley in New Mexico with a .223 . It’s more about the shooter than the the gun. Shot placement is the key to meat in the freezer.

    Reply

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