While they each have different strengths and weaknesses, .308 and .270 Winchester cartridges are both proven performers. So, the question central to the 270 vs 308 debate remains: which one should you be hunting with?
I think the majority of hunters and shooters would agree that the .270 Winchester and .308 Winchester are outstanding hunting cartridges. Indeed, they’re both consistently among the most popular centerfire rifle cartridges used in the United States each year for good reason.
While each cartridge offers certain benefits to hunters, there is also a pretty big overlap in their capabilities. For those reasons, understanding their true strengths and weaknesses can be pretty confusing at times. The fact that the .270 and .308 each have very devoted fan clubs can also make it difficult to navigate the debate.
Don’t get discouraged though: in today’s blog post, I’m going to discuss the pros and cons of the 270 vs 308 so you can make an informed decision on which one is best for you.
Before we get started, I have an administrative note:
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270 vs 308: History
Like many other cartridges developed in the United States, the story of the .270 and .308 Winchester begins with the .30-06 Springfield.
The US Army began the search for a new rifle and cartridge after receiving 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. Those efforts bore fruit a few years later with the bolt action 1903 Springfield rifle chambered in the new .30-06 Springfield cartridge.
Using smokeless powder and a 150gr pointed bullet fired at a 2,700fps, the .30-06 Springfield was a gigantic improvement over other popular American cartridges used during that era like the .30-30 Winchester and the .45-70 Government.
Not surprisingly, the .30-06 Springfield was an almost instant success in the civilian market.
While many were satisfied with the .30-06 from the start, wildcatters also quickly started modifying the cartridge for more specialized tasks. Some gun designers necked up the .30-06 to develop bigger cartridges like the .35 Whelen and .400 Whelen.
However, the folks at Winchester went the opposite route and necked down the .30-06 to use .277″ instead of .308″ bullets. They formally released the resulting .270 Winchester cartridge 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).
If you’d like to see how the .270 Winchester compares to its parent case in the .30-06, read the article below:
While the .270 had a very high 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 .284″ bullets like the 7mm Mauser (and more recently developed cartridges like the 7mm-08, .280 Remington, .280 Ackley Improved, and 7mm Remington Magnum), the .270 Winchester used .277″ bullets which undoubtedly hampered adoption of the cartridge to a certain degree.
It’s unclear exactly why Winchester opted for .277″ instead of the much more popular .284″ bullets. Regardless of their reasons though, the design team at Winchester went with that bullet diameter and the rest is history. Interestingly enough, while the .270 Winchester eventually became a gigantic commercial success for the company, aside from the .270 Winchester Short Magnum (270 WSM), the .270 Weatherby Magnum, and the 6.8 Remington SPC, virtually no other mass produced cartridges use .277″ bullets.
Helped along by Jack O’Connor and the famous articles he wrote for Outdoor Life about the .270 over the years, the cartridge gradually caught on with the hunting community. Though some were reluctant to adopt the cartridge, 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. Within a few decades, the .270 Winchester was firmly entrenched as one of the most popular hunting cartridges used in the United States.
While the .30-06 performed very well during both world wars, the US Military again recognized the need for a new rifle and cartridge after World War II. Specifically, the military wanted a new rifle chambered in an intermediate cartridge, capable of automatic fire, and equipped with a detachable magazine.
If you’d like to learn more about the evolution of intermediate cartridges, read the article below.
After a very controversial selection process, the Army eventually settled on the M-14 rifle and the new 7.62x51mm NATO cartridge.
The original 7.62x51mm NATO M80 ball load fired a 146 grain full metal jacket (FMJ) bullet at 2,750 feet per second (2,469 foot pounds of muzzle energy). The 7.62x51mm NATO had virtually the same ballistics as the original .30-06 Springfield load (150 grain bullet at 2,700 feet per second) and also fired a .308″ bullet. However, the 7.62x51mm achieved that performance with a much shorter case (51mm vs 63mm) due to advances in powder technology that occurred after the development of the .30-06.
Though the 7.62x51mm NATO had a very short lived career as the primary rifle cartridge for the US military, it’s still widely used by the military in machineguns and sniper/designated marksman rifles. Additionally, Winchester recognized serious commercial potential with the 7.62x51mm cartridge and introduced the extremely similar .308 Winchester cartridge for the civilian hunting and shooting markets in the 1950s. Providing approximately 90% of the power of the .30-06 in a smaller package, the cartridge soon became very popular and is now one of the most widely used big game hunting rounds in North America.
If you’d like to learn more about how the .308 Winchester compares to the .30-06 Springfield, read the article below:
270 vs 308: Cartridge Sizes
As you can see in the photo below, the .270 Winchester and .308 Winchester cartridges have very different external dimensions.
The .270 Winchester has a significantly longer case length (2.54″ vs 2.015″) as well as overall length (3.34″ vs 2.81″). For this reason, the .270 Winchester is used in standard/long action rifles, while the .308 Winchester is the poster child for short action rifles.
Both cartridges have the same .473″ rim diameter. However, the .308 has a slightly steeper shoulder angle (20 degrees vs 17.5 degrees). Even so, the .270 Winchester has significantly more case capacity due to the much longer case used by the cartridge.Finally, the .270 Winchester has a slightly higher maximum average pressure authorized by SAAMI cartridges (65,000psi vs 62,000psi for the .308 Win).
Note: while the case capacity figures listed below do give a good indication of the differences between the three cartridges, exact case capacities vary slightly according to the brand of brass used.
270 vs 308 Ballistics
By necking down the .30-06 case to shoot smaller diameter bullets, the designers of the .270 Winchester built a cartridge with a higher velocity, flatter trajectory, and less recoil than the .30-06 Springfield. Since the .308 Winchester is essentially a scaled down .30-06, with the exception of recoil (which we’ll get to in a minute) the .270 Winchester has the same advantages over the .308 as it does over the .30-06. However, since most modern .30-06 factory loads have a small edge in velocity (usually around 100-200fps) over .308 factory loads shooting the same weight bullet, the advantage in velocity of the .270 Winchester is even more pronounced when compared to the .308.
This is because the smaller diameter .270 Winchester shoots lighter bullets than the .308 and the .30-06.
For instance, though it’s possible to find .308 ammo shooting bullets weighing as little as 110 grains, most .308 Winchester factory loads designed for big game hunting use heavier weight bullets in the 150 grain to 180 grain range. 150 grain, 165 grain, 168 grain, and 180 grain bullets are most popular for that cartridge. On the other hand, the 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.
Table below compares the four different Federal Non-Typical Whitetail loads: 130gr (.372 BC) and 150gr (.261 BC) loads in .270 Winchester and 150gr (.313 BC) and 180gr (.382 BC) loads in .308 Winchester. This data is for Federal factory ammo using a 200 yard zero.
As you can see, there is a significant difference in the bullet trajectories between the two cartridges. Though the .308 Winchester certainly has an edge over the .270 when shooting 150gr bullets, the 130gr .270 load has more energy remaining and shoots flatter (the .308 has 15-20″ more bullet drop) at 500 yards than both .308 Winchester loads.
The chart below compares how much a 10 mile per hour crosswind impacts those same four loads out to 500 yards.Once again we see that the .308 Winchester load outperforms the .270 Winchester when using 150gr bullets, but the 130gr .270 load has far less wind drift than either .308 load. Since both the 150gr loads have virtually the same muzzle velocity, the primary reason the .270 has more wind drift is because the .308 bullet has a significantly higher ballistic coefficient.
Note: there is quite a bit of overlap with the performance of various 150 grain loads for both the .270 Winchester and .308 Winchester. The .308 Winchester has the edge with these particular 150 grain loads, but there are also instances where certain 150 grain .270 Winchester loads have the edge in terms of trajectory, retained energy, and wind drift.
On the other hand, even though the 180gr .308 bullet weighs more and has a slightly higher BC than the 130gr .270 bullet, the .270 has an additional 490fps of muzzle velocity that translates into a significantly flatter trajectory and less wind drift.
Now let’s talk about recoil.
The table below compares the recoil produced by 130gr and 150gr .270 loads to 150gr and 180gr .308 loads (all shooting a Nosler Partition bullet) when fired from a Ruger American rifle.
Felt recoil will vary from shooter to shooter and rifle to rifle, but free recoil energy is still a useful way to compare cartridges.Interestingly enough, all four loads have almost identical recoil.
However, that makes sense when you consider that the .308 and .270 were designed as lower recoiling alternatives to the .30-06. This fits with the original intent of the designers interested in building a mild shooting and easy to handle cartridge that was still powerful enough for hunting medium sized game at short to moderate range.
So where do we stand with each cartridge?
The .270 Winchester is a very flat shooting and moderately powerful cartridge, especially considering that it’s nearly 100 years old. With moderate recoil that’s roughly comparable to the .308 and noticeably lighter than the .30-06 Springfield, most shooters and hunters can handle it without much trouble.
While recoil is more or less comparable between the two cartridges, typical .308 Winchester loads do not have as flat of a trajectory as typical .270 loads. However, the .308 performs better with heavier bullets than the .270 and is available in a wider range of bullet weights and models.
As we’ll discuss in a minute, this is partly due to the widespread use of the .308 Winchester (and other .30 caliber cartridges like the .30-06, .300 Win Mag, .300 Ultra Mag, and 300 PRC) in long distance shooting competitions. These projectiles quite often take advantage of the latest developments in bullet development and offer advantages in precision and ballistic coefficient compared to the bullets used by the .270.
It’s difficult to pick an accuracy winner between the 270 vs 308 though because it’s something of an apples to oranges comparison. Both cartridges are capable of outstanding accuracy, but the .270 Winchester is used almost exclusively as a hunting cartridge. On the other hand, even though the .270 Winchester does shoot flatter in many cases, military and police snipers, hunters, and practical and/or long distance shooting competitors have all used the .308 Winchester extensively over the years.
For that reason, users of the .308 Winchester benefit from the extensive the research and development that has gone into refining .308″ bullets and rifles for long range shooting in the United States over the last century.
All that being said, while the .308 probably has a slight edge here, both cartridges have the potential for excellent accuracy in the right hands.
If you’d like to learn more about the accuracy of the .308 Winchester and how it compares to cartridge purpose built for long range competition shooting, read this article:
308 vs 270: Ammunition Selection
The .308 Winchester and .270 Winchester are two of the most popular centerfire rifle cartridges in North America. In fact, I’d wager that they’re both among the Top 10 (if not the Top 5) best selling rifle cartridges in the United States each year.
Not surprisingly, pretty much every ammunition manufacturer of note like Barnes, Black Hills, Browning, Federal Premium, Fiocchi, Hornady, Magtech, Nosler, PMC, PPU, Remington, Swift, and Winchester (just to name a few) produce a wide variety of ammo for both cartridges.
Virtually every major style of bullet is available in .270 and .308 as well like the Barnes TTSX, the Hornady ELD-X, GMX, InterBond, InterLock, SST, and V-Max, 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).
Prices and availability vary from region to region, but ammunition for both cartridges is widely available. In fact, if a sporting goods store only carried ammo for three different centerfire rifle cartridges, I’d bet money they’d have .270, .308, and .30-06 ammo.
Basically, there is no shortage of quality .270 Win and .308 Win factory ammunition suitable for hunting.
Both cartridges are also well suited for handloaders and reloading components for both cartridges are widely available. With regards to bullet selection, .308″ bullets in particular are very easy to find. Though only a few cartridges use .277″ bullets, the .270 is extremely popular and there’s a plethora of quality bullets to choose from.
308 vs 270: Rifle Selection
Similar to the abundant ammunition choices available in .308 Winchester and .270 Winchester, there are also plenty of quality rifles manufactured in the two cartridges. Regardless of the cartridge you choose, finding a good deer rifle shouldn’t be an issue.
Both are very common in bolt-action rifles. Of course Remington and Winchester produce the Model 70 and Model 700 rifles in .270 and .308 Winchester. Additionally, the Browning X-Bolt, Kimber Hunter, Mossberg Patriot, Nosler Liberty, Ruger American, Ruger Hawkeye, Savage Axis, Thompson Center Compass, Tikka T3, and Weatherby Vanguard are available in both calibers.
Aside from the Browning BAR, the .270 Winchester is almost non-existent in semi-automatic rifles. On the other hand, the .308 Winchester is relatively common in semi-automatic sporting rifles like the AR-10 and M1A.
Though there is quite a bit of overlap in barrel lengths, .270 rifles often have slightly longer barrels than .308 rifles. That’s not a hard and fast rule though, and 22″ and 24″ barrels are very common for both cartridges.
270 vs 308: Which Is Right For You?
With good shot placement and when using quality bullets, the .270 Winchester and .308 Winchester are ideally suited for hunting medium to large sized game.
They are both incredibly effective (and popular) deer hunting cartridges and hunters armed with the .270 and .308 make up a significant portion of the annual whitetail deer harvest each year in the United States. Both are also great for similarly sized game like black bear, feral hogs, javelina, mule deer, and pronghorn as well as exotic game like axis, sika, and fallow deer.
However, the flat trajectory and resistance to wind drift of the .270 Winchester makes it a really good choice for game that might require a longer shot such as pronghorn or mule deer. The relatively light recoil of the cartridge also makes it easier to handle in a lightweight rifle that’s desirable on a mountain hunt. Jack O’Connor was really onto something with his affinity for the .270 as a sheep hunting cartridge. Those same characteristics also make it a very good choice for mountain goat in Canada or Himalayan Tahr and chamois while hunting in New Zealand.
On the other hand, since it shoots heavier and larger diameter bullets, the .308 Winchester has a clear advantage when hunting larger species moose, elk, and caribou. Especially when using a heavy bullet (180+ grains), the .308 has a significant advantage when hunting most plains game in Africa like blue wildebeest, kudu, and eland.
Now the .308 Winchester is a perfectly capable long range cartridge and plenty of hunters use it on mountain hunts each year. After all, the recoil of the .308 is very similar to the .270. By the same token, the .270 has taken untold numbers of moose, elk and plains game without any issues. For instance, the 150gr Nosler Partition below really did a number on a big kudu bull in South Africa. It’s really just a matter of each cartridge having certain strengths and weaknesses.
Do you primarily hunt deer sized game (including black bear) at ranges less than 200 yards? Both the .270 and .308 will work extremely well under those conditions and there is very little difference between them at short range.
Do you hunt in areas where it might be necessary to take a longer range shot? The .270 Winchester might be the better choice for you. With a significantly flatter trajectory and more resistance to wind, the cartridge does very well on longer shots, particuarly on thin skinned game like mule deer, pronghorn, sheep, or tahr.
Do you want to hunt larger game animals like kudu, eland, red stag, elk, or moose? Both cartridges will work, but the .308 Winchester is probably the better choice in this case since it uses larger diameter and heavier bullets that are well suited for very large or tough animals.
Even though they have slightly different strengths and weaknesses, the .270 Winchester and .308 Winchester are outstanding rifle cartridges. While the differences between them (.270 vs 308) are pretty significant in some respects, they’re both acceptable for a wide range of hunting tasks.
Get a nice 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 well prepared for most common hunting situations.
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The Lyman 50th Edition (197-198, p241-245), and Hornady 10th Edition (p251-355, p474-488) reloading manuals were also used as references for the history of the cartridges and provided data to compare their size and recoil. Ballistic data for the original 7.62x51mm military cartridge was obtained from Inetres. The data used to compare the trajectory and wind drift of the cartridges was obtained from Federal. Maximum pressure obtained from SAAMI (p171 and p172). Case capacities for the .270 Win and .308 Win were obtained from Nosler. I used the Federal Ballistic calculator and ShootersCalculator.com to compare wind drift, the range each bullet goes subsonic, and recoil for the cartridges.