The .270 winchester ammo has proven itself as one of the most versatile and effective medium game cartridges in the world. It’s effectiveness on game is so well embedded in our minds that we automatically use it as a benchmark when discussing other calibers.
By the 1920’s the .30-06 U.S military cartridge had proven itself to be a very effective and flexible cartridge for hunting North American game. Taking this a step further, Winchester designers were most likely inspired by the German designed 7mm bore (actually 7.2mm or .284”) as a means to enhance the ballistic performance of the 06. A 7mm version of the .30-06 could utilize a lighter bullet than the 06 and produce a flatter trajectory along with lower recoil.
At this time, U.S citizens still carried a large degree of resentment towards German military technology having only recently been at the receiving end of first, the 7×57 during the Spanish-American war of 1898 followed by the 8mm during the first world war. Anything metric meant trouble and bad memories for some. Winchester avoided this problem by creating a similar but new cartridge caliber of .277” (7mm).
The .270 Winchester was released in 1925 chambered in the Model 54 bolt action rifle. The first factory load featured a 130 grain bullet at a muzzle velocity which closely approached the factory advertised figure of 3160fps from the 54 rifle’s 24″ barrel. It should also be noted that in this same year, Winchester also offered the 7×57 as an option for the Model 54, perhaps as a means of testing the market (and the 7×57).
As much as Winchester hoped that the .270 winchester ammo would become an immediate and immense success, the cartridge (along with the 7×57) went largely unnoticed due to the popularity of the sporterized ex-military .30-06 Springfield. A major problem was that factory loads for the .30-06 featured a 150 grain bullet at an advertised 3000fps, a potentially harder hitting load than the .270 winchester ammo 130 grain bullet.
Fortunately for Winchester, U.S gun writer Jack O’Connor rescued the .270 winchester ammo from obscurity. O’Connor suggested that the .30-06 loads were likely to have been chronographed in extremely long factory test barrels but were unrealistic velocities for sporting rifles. Hunters, generally having no access to a chronograph, relied solely on the factory’s word.
As hunters gradually began to use and experiment with the .270, the cartridge proved its worth, showing excellent exterior and terminal ballistic performance. The 130 grain bullet, though seemingly light, was designed with a stout jacket to withstand high velocity impact. Winchester’s original 130 grain bullet delivered high shock, killed fast and gave outstanding penetration.
Much of the early acceptance of the .270 winchester ammo
can be attributed to the writings of Jack O’Connor. O’Connor bought a Winchester Model 54 .270 during the year of it’s introduction in 1925.
Some hunters felt that O’Connor’s opinions were biased towards his enthusiasm for hunting light game in open country. The cartridge was certainly designed as a lighter version of the .30-06. Nevertheless, O’Connor hunted and took 36 species of game with the .270 and used it in North America, Mexico, India and Africa. O’Connor favored the 130 grain Nosler Partition which he used to take most of his game.
Some of the large game shot by O’Connor with the .270 include Eland, Zebra, Black bear, Elk, 12 Moose and 2 Grizzly bear. He was not however biased towards the .270 and had a list of favorite cartridges including the 7×57, .7mm Rem Mag, .30-06, .300 Weatherby Magnum, .338 Winchester Magnum and the .375 H&H Magnum. To his mind though, the .270 offered a level of power and a flat trajectory suitable for all North American hunting at a recoil level that most hunters could comfortably handle.
As the .270 gained popularity with U.S hunters, negative opinions also arose. Hunters began to complain that the 130 grain loading ruined too much meat and tore large holes in skins. To help with the problem Winchester released a 150 grain load at a very moderate velocity. Ironically, sales of the mild performing 150 grain load were very low. As a compromise and as an easy means of optimizing profits, ammunition manufacturers reduced the powder charge weight of 130 grain loads, lowering muzzle velocities to below 3000fps.
It was at this time that New Zealand government hunters began to utilize the .270 for the mass culling operations on NZ wild deer. The new lower velocity loadings caused abysmal results. After locating a herd of deer, the culler would open fire, quickly shifting aim from one animal to the next. Once the entire herd was culled, the next job was to collect the tails as required proof of the kill. In the South Island of NZ, when Red deer hinds became lean in the winter, the .270 130 grain bullet would pass straight through the chest with either little expansion or simply low energy transfer. Slow kills allowed animals to escape unnoticed by the culler who was focused solely on placing one chest shot after another on successive animals. The .270 was soon discarded for other faster killing combinations.In the U.S, similar comments occurred over several decades, however the widely opposed complaints of either too much meat damage or too little did nothing to inspire ammunition manufacturers. Factory loads remained unchanged till the mid 1990’s when premium options started to become available. Since the year 2000, competition between ammunition manufacturers has resulted not only in more variation of bullet styles, but also a general, major increase in performance all around.
Despite the extreme views of either too little or too much meat damage, the .270 has been an immensely popular mainstream cartridge and most likely will remain so for several more decades. Hunters have come to expect such reliable performance from the .270 that the cartridge is all too often taken for granted, receiving little praise, a utility work horse and for many, an almost boring subject.
The .270 is popular with both factory ammunition users and hand loader’s. With hand loads, like many cartridges, the performance of the .270 can be greatly enhanced but with great economy. Both factory ammunition and hand loading components can be found in abundance world wide and one would have to look very hard to find a gun store that does not stock at least one .270 caliber rifle.