When it comes to hunting big game, it’s hard to ignore the 270 Winchester and 30-06 Springfield. Both cartridges see extensive use during rifle hunting season and are the bane of North American whitetail, mule deer, feral hogs, antelope, and elk.
There’s no denying that the 270 Win and the 30-06 are great cartridges that offer a wide range of bullet weights, allowing shooters to tailor their hunting rifle to take on varmints up to black bears.
And although each cartridge has its own merits, hunting forums across the Internet are ablaze with heated debate over which one is the best choice for their next bolt-action rifle.
First Shots: 270 Win vs 30-06 Springfield
Which is going to work better for You? Do you need the knockdown power of heavier bullets fired from the 30-06? Or does a flatter shooting 270 Win fit your hunting cartridge needs?
In this article, we will objectively compare the 270 Win and the 30-06 Springfield to give you all the data you’ll need to make the best choice on your next bolt action hunting rifle.
When you begin comparing two cartridges, it is good practice to start by examining the case itself.
Looking at the 270 Win vs 30-06 cases, we notice that both cartridges descended from the .30-03 rifle round, which we will learn about later in the history sections below. This means that both hunting cartridges will be very similar.
There are only three major differences between the .270 Win and the 30-06, the bullet diameter each cartridge fires, their neck diameter, and the SAMMI max pressure rating.
The 270 Winchester fires a .277” diameter bullet while its larger brother fires a .308” diameter bullet. Simply put, the 270 Winchester is a necked-down version of the .30-03.
As the case capacity between the two is virtually identical, it makes sense that the 270 Win would have a higher maximum pressure as we are shooting smaller projectiles with the same powder charge. This will naturally lead to higher pressures.
Recoil impulse is always something to consider when selecting which caliber you want for your new hunting rifle.
As the case capacity for both the 270 Win and the 30-06 is nearly identical, felt recoil energy is going to be dependent on two factors: rifle weight and bullet weight.
A heavier rifle will typically impart less recoil onto your shoulder, the same can be said for lighter-weight bullets.
Internet forums will often state that recoil is not a huge consideration for big game hunting as the shooter will typically only fire one shot. Generally, I’d agree. However, there is the occasion where a follow-up shot is needed. In that case, I’d want a cartridge with less recoil to help me get back on target quicker.
When it comes to 30-06 and 270 Winchester, the 30-06 is going to have higher recoil. How much you ask? The difference is not as great as you would think.
On average, the 30-06 will generate 25 ft-lbs of recoil energy while the 270 Winchester will slap your shoulder with 20 ft-lbs force. Although the 270 Win does have less recoil, it’s nothing like a 223 Rem!
Shooters will often report that the recoil impulse is different between the two cartridges. Hunters will often describe the 270 as having a sharper more defined recoil and the 30-06 having a rolling recoil impulse throughout the firing process.
Although this is not exactly quantifiable, it is a trend you will discover if you like reading shooting forums or talking about rifle cartridges around the fire at deer camp.
Regardless, the 270 Winchester has less recoil energy and will be a better choice for an inexperienced shooter or one with a smaller frame.
Trajectory is how we quantify a bullet’s flight path to its target measured in inches of bullet drop. As a bullet travels downrange, it is constantly being pulled back towards the earth due to gravity. And in terms of long-range shooting, a flatter trajectory is preferred.
Lighter-weight bullets traveling at higher velocity (FPS) will be affected by gravity less as they will reach the target faster than heavier bullets traveling slower.
Therefore, the extremely popular 130 grain bullet offerings for 270 Winchester, like the Hornady SST Superformance or Nosler AccuBond, offer exceptional bullet drop values well past 500 yards. On average, a 130 grain bullet fired from a 270 Win will have dropped about -38” at 500 yards, which is better than the 6.5 Creedmoor and on par with the 300 Win Mag at that distance.
Although the 30-06 fires a heavier bullet, its trajectory numbers are still very reasonable for the power that it brings to the field. Take for example your typical 150 grain Nosler Partition having a bullet drop of -42” at 500 yards, that’s still very respectable.
The simple truth is that the trajectories of both hunting cartridges are extremely similar. However, the 270 Winchester will be slightly better as it generally fires lighter bullets at a higher FPS.
Accuracy is an extremely difficult metric to quantify as it is primarily dependent on the rifle used and the ability of the shooter.
There’s no denying that some handloads will be more accurate than others, however, accuracy is most often a measure of a shooter’s skill as opposed to the cartridge itself. Both the 270 Win and 30-06 are capable of sub-MOA groups with proper handloads or match-grade factory loads.
Some shooters will report having better accuracy with a 270 Win, most likely due to less felt recoil energy and favorable trajectory.
However, with all things being equal, there should be no difference in accuracy between these two cartridges.
Ballistic Coefficient (BC) is a numerical representation of how well a bullet resists wind and air resistance. It’s a measure of how aerodynamic a bullet is, a high BC is preferred and means the bullet will buck the wind easier.
The way a BC is calculated is rather complicated and irrelevant for this article, however, heavier bullets will typically have a higher ballistic coefficient.
Overall, both the 270 Win and 30-06 have high BC’s and resist wind drift extremely well. Both cartridges have long, slender bullets which help cut down on wind drag.
Furthermore, the added weight from 180 grain bullets available in 30-06 makes it more difficult for the wind to force the bullet off target.
There is not an appreciable difference in BC between these two cartridges. On average, the 30-06 will have slightly higher BCs than the 270 Win, but we are really splitting hairs in this instance.
It’s unlikely most shooters will be able to ascertain the difference in ballistic coefficient between 30-06 and 270 Win, therefore we are going to call this one a tie.
Sectional Density (SD) is the measure of how well a bullet penetrates a target. This is extremely important when hunting big game, as you need a bullet that can punch through thick hide, bone, and sinew.
Sectional density is calculated by comparing the bullet weight and the bullet diameter, the higher the number the more effective it will be at penetrating a target. The higher the SD the deeper the bullet will penetrate the target.
Just like for ballistic coefficient, there is not much difference between the 30-06 and the 270 Win.
The reason for this is the difference in bullet design and velocity between the two. Although the 270 Win is firing a smaller bullet, the bullet’s energy is localized into a smaller area increasing penetration. In contrast, the heavier 30-06 uses brute force to penetrate deep into the target.
In the end, you’ll get similar penetration for both the 270 Win and the 30-06, to the point that I doubt any hunter will be able to tell the difference between the two.
Now we come to the crux of the debate, determining which cartridge is the better option for hunting.
The simple answer is: It depends.
The consensus across North American and European hunters is that the 270 Winchester is better suited for varmint hunting and medium-sized game while the 30-06 is preferred for medium to larger game.
There is some truth to this belief.
The more common and lighter 120 and 130 grain weigh bullets offered for the 270 Win makes it ideal for taking care of smaller critters that terrorize your property like groundhogs, prairie dogs, or coyotes. These bullets offer a flatter trajectory and hit hard, making short work of any varmint in your sights.
The heavier bullet weights for .270 also do extremely well against whitetail, mule deer, antelope, and feral hogs. A 150 grain Nosler Partition or Barnes TSX will have no issue putting meat in your freezer this hunting season.
But what about larger game that is running around North America, is the 270 Win suited for this role as well?
There is a long-held belief that the 270 is insufficient for elk, perpetuated by tale tales around the campfire or armchair hunting forum gurus who spend more time typing than they do in the woods.
The simple truth is that with proper shot placement and bullet selection, a 270 Win is more than enough to take down an elk. However, I would suggest that this is the upper limit for the 270 Winchester, as when we get into even larger game like black bear, caribou, and moose, you’re going to need something with a bit more power.
Enter the 30-06 Springfield.
Though the 270 is a very versatile cartridge, when you need to take down the largest North American game the 30-06 is hard to beat.
With its heavy-hitting 220 grain factory loads like Hornady InterLock or the Barnes Vor-TX Long Range will make short work of caribou and black bears as they hit hard with excellent penetration and expansion.
It’s well established that the 30-06 is the better choice for large game, but does this mean it can’t play in the varmint arena as well? Decidedly not.
Although not as popular, you can find 30-06 loads for 125 grain weight bullets that would have zero issues taking care of varmints on your property.
The well-known Field and Stream columnist, Jack O’Connor, who was perhaps the biggest proponent of the 270 Winchester, openly admitted that the 30-06 Springfield is the more versatile cartridge.
And for good reason! With its wider range of bullet weights to choose from, the 30-06 offers shooters the versatility to take down varmints and bears alike.
The 30-06 can also be utilized on an African safari as well. Though I’d not recommend it, the 30-06 has been used to take down an elephant, however, a 375 Weatherby Magnum might be a better choice for the largest of African game.
Although many hunters might argue that the flatter shooting 270 Winchester is better suited for varmints, there’s no reason that a 30-06 can’t be used for the same purpose.
To summarize, if your hunting aspirations end at hunting North American elk, then there’s no reason to shy away from a 270 Winchester as it can achieve everything you desire with less felt recoil and a flatter trajectory.
However, if you believe there is the possibility that you’ll go on safari one day to the African plains or you’ve always wanted to go to Alaska to take down a caribou, then the 30-06 Springfield is clearly the better choice as it offers you the versatility you need to take down a wide variety of larger game at long range.
Ammo and Rifle Availability
There is no shortage of ammo options or bolt action rifles when it comes to 270 Win and 30-06.
All the major firearm manufacturers like Remington, Winchester, Savage, Ruger, and Weatherby make rifles chambered in both calibers.
However, as the 30-06 has been around longer and it was also a military cartridge, you will find more rifle options available for 30-06 with some semi-auto options also.
As far as price is concerned, factory new rifles will be equal in price regardless of caliber for most manufacturers. However, as the 30-06 was a military cartridge, there are many surplus rifle options on the secondary market if you don’t want to get the newest, tricked-out long-range hunting rifle and prefer the more classic look.
The same situation is true for ammo. There are simply more factory loads for 30-06 than 270 Winchester as the 30-06 has been around longer as was heavily utilized by the US military in the early part of the 20th Century.
You won’t lack options if you opt for a 270 Winchester, but the 30-06 just offers more as it has been optimized and improved upon more.
The price between these two cartridges is about equal. For the cheaper practice ammo, you should expect to pay around $1.50/round while the premium hunting ammo will go for about $3/round at the time of writing.
If you love reloading as I do, then you’re going to have a wonderful time crafting your perfect long-range handloads for both the 270 Winchester and 30-06 Springfield.
There is a wide range of bullets available for both that you can choose from to work up your perfect hunting or long-range target rounds.
However, as the .277” bullet diameter is not commonly used in other cartridges, the 30-06 will offer you more cross-compatibility in terms of components.
For example, if you reload for 30-06 then you can easily reload for 308 Winchester and 300 Win Mag as they fire the same .308” bullet diameter.
Reloading for either of these great cartridges should be a joy as you’ll have plenty of component choices for both, the 30-06 just offers more compatibility with other 30 caliber cartridges.
Continue reading .270 vs .30-06: The Big Game Hunting Caliber Showdown at Ammo.com for comparative ballistic data!