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 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 (specifically the old .30-03 case, which the .30-06 is descended from) 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 (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.
Additionally, everything else being equal, the smaller diameter bullets used by the .270 Winchester have a higher ballistic coefficient than the larger diameter bullets of the same weight from the .308 Winchester.
However, the .308 Winchester can use heavier bullets than .270 Winchester.
This is illustrated below when comparing four different Federal Premium Nosler Partition loads for the two cartridges. Specifically, the table below compares 130gr (.416 BC) and 150gr (.466 BC) loads in .270 Winchester and 150gr (.387 BC) and 180gr (.484 BC) loads in .308 Winchester.
As you can see, the 180gr .308 load uses a slightly more aerodynamic bullet than those used by the .270. However, the 130gr and 150gr Nosler Partition bullets used in this comparison by the .270 are both more aerodynamic than the 150gr .308 bullet.
This data is for Federal factory ammo using a 200 yard zero.
Not surprisingly, there is a significant difference in the bullet trajectories between the two cartridges.
The .270 Winchester has a slight edge over the .308 when both are using 150gr bullets. However, the 130gr .270 load has an even flatter trajectory with 8.9-15.8″ less bullet drop at 500 yards than both .308 Winchester loads.
With regards to energy, the cartridges are fairly evenly matched to start out with. The gap in kinetic energy grows slightly in favor of the .270 when compared to the 150gr .308 Winchester load at all ranges. However, the opposite happens with the more aerodynamic 180gr .308 Winchester load at longer range.
All things considered, the two cartridges are fairly evenly matched in energy.
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 two cartridges are fairly evenly matched at shorter range, but the .270 has a slight advantage in wind drift that grows as range increases. This is because the .270 Winchester loads shoot more aerodynamic bullets (with the exception of the 180gr .308 load) at a higher velocity.
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 identical 7 pound rifles.
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, with the exception of the milder recoiling 150gr .308 load, the two cartridges 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 is available 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.
Additionally, there are a couple of other factors that are also worth discussing though.
First, the .308 Winchester uses larger diameter bullets than the .270 Winchester.
Specifically, the larger diameter .308″ bullets used by the .308 have about 24% more frontal surface area (also known as cross sectional area) than the .277″ bullets used by the .270 (.0745 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.
This is a definite, though slight, factor in favor of the .308.
On the other hand, many of the .277″ bullets have a higher sectional density (SD) than the most common bullets used in the .308 though.
Sectional density (SD) is a measure of the ratio of the diameter of a projectile to its mass. All other things equal, a heavier projectile of a given caliber will be longer and therefore have a higher sectional density and consequently penetrate deeper than projectiles with a lower mass and sectional density.
Everything else being equal, the smaller diameter .277″ bullets have a higher ballistic coefficient and a higher sectional density than the larger diameter bullets of the same weight from the .308. However, the .308 generally uses heavier bullets than the .270 Winchester.
All that being said, the .270 Winchester still has a slight edge with most bullets in common use, even when compared to heavier .30 caliber bullets.
As an example, 130 grain, 140 grain, and 150 grain .277″ bullets have sectional densities of .242, .261, and .279 respectively. This compares favorably to 150 grain, 168 grain, and 180 grain .308″ bullets which have sectional densities of .226, .253, and .271 respectively.
For the most part, this also applies to ballistic coefficient.
The bullets used in this comparison illustrate those differences well with the .270 Winchester using 130gr (.416 BC) and 150gr (.466 BC) bullets compared to the 150gr (.387 BC) and 180gr (.484 BC) bullets used by the .308.
With the exception of the 180gr .308 bullets, the .270 has the edge across the board with regards to using more aerodynamic bullets in this comparison.
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.
If you’d like to learn more about some of the various hunting ammunition choices for the .308 Winchester and .270 Winchester cartridges, read the articles below:
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.
All things considered, identical rifles chambered in .270 Winchester tend to be slightly longer, heavier, and more unwieldy than rifles chambered in .308.
The Winchester Model 70 Super Grade illustrates these differences well.
When chambered in .308 Winchester, the rifle has a 22″ barrel, an overall length of 42.25″, and weighs 7.75 pounds. The same rifle chambered in .270 Winchester has a 24″ barrel, is 44.75″ long, and weighs 8.25 pounds.
So, the rifle chambered in .270 Winchester is 2″ longer and weighs about a half pound more than the exact same model chambered in .308 Winchester.
Barrel lengths do vary depending on the manufacturer and exact model.
At the same time though, the .308 Winchester is sometimes available in more compact rifles with shorter 18-20″ barrels.
Having a shorter and lighter rifle is more important on some hunts than on others. So, just keep that in mind.
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 like 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 medium sized game like whitetail deer, feral hogs, or black bear at ranges within 200 yards? Both are extremely effective deer hunting cartridges and will absolutely get the job done on medium sized game if you do your part. Both are great deer hunting cartridges and are among the most popular North American hunting cartridges in general, so it’s really hard to go wrong here.
If you’re going to be hunting in thick brush or in the tight confines of a deer stand, remember what I just mentioned about the size difference with 308 vs 270 rifles. That extra couple of inches in overall length of a rifle can be a real headache to deal with when trying to quickly and quietly maneuver for a shot.
Are you looking for the cartridge better suited for long range hunting for game like mule deer or pronghorn in open country where you might need to take a shot at several hundred yards? Both will work, but the .270 Winchester is probably the better choice for you. With a significantly flatter trajectory and more resistance to wind, the cartridge does very well on longer shots, particularly 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? Neither would be my first choice for this sort of hunting, but both cartridges will certainly work and lots of people have used them with success on bigger game. In my opinion, 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.
Regardless of which cartridge you choose, use a controlled expansion projectile and a heavier bullet weight for your elk or moose hunt.
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.
Are you just itching to take a rifle chambered in one of these cartridges on a hunt?
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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.