The caliber wars were old long before tactical enthusiasts left angry comments on blogs via their cell phones whilst patrolling their local mart store for Isis, and indeed among the oldest debates is 270 vs 30-06. Essentially, 270 vs 30-06 comes down to the same idea of 9mm vs .45 ACP, namely easier to shoot with vs MORE POWAHHHH! Or something along those lines.
Both are great cartridges, and both have been used to do some very fine shooting. Both have put plenty of meat in plenty of freezers…and for other uses. What’s the difference between the two?
The .270 Winchester was introduced in 1925 with Winchester’s Model 54 rifle, a Mauser-derived bolt-action (the Model 70 is an improved version, with a better trigger) which was totally on purpose. Even then, the 6mm and 7mm family enjoyed a certain popularity for having a balance of velocity and “oomph,” making them suitable for hunting deer-sized game at longer range than the .30-30. Winchester necked the .30-03 down to accept a .277-inch (6.5mm) bullet and presto!
The .30-06 was devised a bit earlier. The US armed forces cooked up the .30-03, a .30 caliber round which seated a 220-grain round-nose bullet. Then they heard about the new 8mm Mauser round. Since the Mauser was said to have pretty good reach with a 153-grain spitzer bullet, they wanted to have a bullet like it to keep up. So, they trimmed a bit of brass off the case and crimped a 150-grain bullet in instead.
Well, it worked, and in 1906 the round was dubbed the official bullet of the US armed forces – .30 caliber bullet, model of 1906. Thus, .30-06.
So, the first difference is the .270 uses a smaller bullet, namely a .277-in diameter bullet vs the .308-in diameter bullet of the ’06. What other differences are there?
One is bullet weight. The standard .270 load is a 130-grain bullet, whereas the standard .30-06 is 150 grains.
However another difference is the range of what grain bullets are available. As you decline in bullet size, you decline in the difference between the smallest and largest bullet that can be employed. The .270 starts at about 90 grains and tops out at 150 grains, so about a 60 grain weight swing.
By comparison, the .30-06 is arguably the most versatile cartridge in existence. Light loads are available in the 110- and 125-grain range, all the way up to 220-grain round-nose bullets. The .30-06 can hunt every species in North America and most in Africa, and is routinely used for both.
It shares the same bullet as the .308 Winchester, which is more commonly used in long-range target shooting. However, the shorter case of the .308 Win prevents the same breadth of projectiles.
When it comes to larger game such as elk, moose and similar animals, the .30-06 is better suited and especially the 180-grain bullet. However, the .270 has been used on every game animal up to and including grizzly bear.
In fact, Jack O’Connor – whose favorite cartridge was the .270 – took two grizzly bears with a .270 as well as many elk, moose and much more. It’s a capable round, but requires careful placement for greatest effect. This isn’t to say the .30-06 doesn’t, but it does pack a little more wallop.
That said, consensus is the .30-06 is better suited to all game short of dangerous game, and that .270 is effective on big game in expert hands…but you probably shouldn’t unless you have no other choice.
Remember, there’s a big difference between what can kill a grizzly and what can stop a grizzly. The .270 Winchester will do the latter; the .30-06, even in the stoutest of handloads, is no more than adequate for the latter in expert hands.
Ballistically, the smaller bullet gives the .270 the advantage in muzzle velocity. Standard loads range from around 3,000 fps to 3,600 fps, depending on the powder charge and bullet weight. The .30-06 can generate velocities of 3,500 fps with 110-gr loadings, but the typical 150-gr to 180-gr loads are more commonly in the 2,700 fps to 3,100 fps range.
Flatter trajectory is also a benefit of the .270. Federal Ammunition ballistics for a 130-grain Nosler Partition in .270 Winchester attests that with a 100-yard zero, the bullet drops 2.9 inches at 200 yards and 10.8 inches at 300 yards. With a 200-yard zero, the .270 drops by 6.5 inches at 300 yards and 19.1 inches at 400 yards. By contrast, the 165-grain Partition in .30-06 drops by 3.6 inches at 200 yards and by 13.3 inches at 300 yards with a 100-yard zero. With a 200-yard zero, expected drop is 7.9 inches at 300 yards and 23 inches at 400 yards.
Clearly, the .270 is a bit better for long range work. In fact, innate accuracy at long range has always been one of its chief virtues, both for target work and for western game hunts.
Mule deer, pronghorn, western whitetails and black bear are routinely harvested with .270 rifles.
Another difference, of course, is recoil. Granted, recoil energy is highly relative; recoil force depends on grain weight and muzzle velocity as well as the weight of the rifle. Most people attest that .270 vs .30-06 favors the lighter round. By the numbers, according to the Chuck Hawks recoil table, an 8-lb. rifle in .270 generates 16.5 ft-lbs of recoil with a 130-grain load at 3,140 fps.
A rifle of the same weight in .30-06 generates 20.1 ft-lbs of recoil firing a 165-grain load at 2,900 fps. Remember also that the .30-06 was devised to deliver the most amount of power with the upper limit of what most shooters could tolerate.
By contrast, a .30-30 generates 9.4 lbs of recoil in an 8-lb rifle firing a 150-grain bullet at 2,364 fps. Almost any load of .223 produces less than 5 lbs of recoil. Does this mean a bolt-action rifle is a man’s gun and that black rifle you got is a gussied up plinker?
Actually, yeah. Ha! Just kidding. Besides, you can get an AR-10 in .308 and that’ll punch paper at long range and hunt everything short of dangerous game.
Additionally, very few .270 and .30-06 rifles that are made these days are anything other than a bolt-action. Some semi-autos are made – at this point it’s basically the Browning BAR hunting rifle – but they’re not common at all. There are, of course, a number of surplus military rifles in .30-06…but even those are starting to dwindle.
So, the .270 hurts a little less, has a flatter trajectory and goes a little faster, which makes it suitable for many hunters. It’s also a very capable target round. The .30-06 hits harder with bigger bullets and with the diversity of loadings available, is suited to a broader class of game.
Which is better for you? Well, that depends on what you’ll use it for. Do you prefer one or the other? Let us know!