I don't think there's much doubt that deer of one kind or another constitute the most popular and most widespread game animals in the United States, and that continues on into Canada. The caribou is also part of the deer family, but then again so are elk and moose. For the purposes of most of this discussion, elk and moose are not included when I say that the 270 Winchester is probably the most favored deer cartridge ever developed. And it was developed quite a while ago. Winchester came out with the Model 54 Rifle in 1925, and introduced the 270 at that time; much like Remington, 37 years later, when in 1962 they introduced the Model 700 Rifle and the new 7mm Remington Magnum. In 1937, Winchester replaced the Model 54 with the significantly improved Model 70. It was the paring of the Model 70 Rifle and the 270 Winchester that made the magic.
Essentially, the 270 Winchester is simply the 30-06 Springfield necked down from 0.308" to 0.277". Same shoulder angle, same body length, but a little longer case for the 270 to provide additional neck length. Also, right from the start, the made-tough brass for the 270 allowed it to be loaded to somewhat higher pressure than the typical 30-06. The pressure difference initially amounted to, on average, about ten percent. In later years, this difference has been moderated by the availability of comparable brass for the 30-06, and the intelligence to load appropriately for various types of rifles. Even so, typical factory loads for the 270 are often somewhat higher in pressure than those for the 30-06. That's why the velocity of a 150-grain load for the 270 is almost as high in velocity as a 150-grain load for the 30-06, despite the notably greater base area of the 30-caliber bullet.
Virtually all 270s have ten-inch-twist rifling. Exceptions have been few and brief. With a ten twist, sharp-pointed bullets are limited to 150 grains. The all-copper Barnes 150 TSX needs a faster twist than ten, because without a lead core it has to be longer to make the weight. What if the twist isn't fast enough to stabilize a bullet? It wobbles, or tumbles, like a poorly thrown football. Nosler is one company that offers a darn good bullet of more than 150 grains for a 270, and it's one of my favorites. You see, I'm not caught up with all of that talk about high ballistic coefficient for hunting bullets. The average distance for shots at most game (huge study over many years) is 150 meters (about 165 yards). There may be the occasional shot over 300 yards for game that is out in the open, but not for game in the mountains and forests. Those that promote otherwise on TV to sell their products remind me of snake oil salesmen. Viewers need to be aware of when they're being taken in. Anyway, the great Nosler 270 bullet is their 160-grain Partition. I'm a fan of IMR-4831, RE-19, and RE-22 in the 270, and any of these will drive the 160 to about 2,750 fps in a good rifle with a 24-inch barrel. CONSULT LOADING BOOKS BEFORE EVER ATTEMPTING TO HAND LOAD, AND FOLLOW THEM ! The dandy sectional density of the Nosler 160 is 0.298, and the ballistic coefficient is a very respectable 0.434 even though the bullet is a semi spitzer.
How does it do? Nay sayers that didn't think much of my loads with that kind-of-blunt bullet were invited out to the flats where they would be welcome to kick my butt. We had a half dozen milk jugs which were weighted down with plenty of pebbles, and about a three-inch black dot was drawn on two sides 90 degrees from each other. I requested for them to walk the jugs out to wherever they wanted, reminding them that they would also be shooting at those same distances. My rifle was a well-tuned Remington 700 CDL with a Leupold VX-III in 3.5-10x40mm, Boone & Crockett. I knew where it shot.
The unsuspecting put the first jug at about 200, and the farthest one at just over 350. I fired six shots; no "practice" rounds. We walked down to check the jugs. One hole in each black dot. I rotated each jug a quarter turn to expose the untouched black dots, and we walked back to the portable bench. Rather than shoot, they decided to ask a bunch of questions (they were stalling). It ended up that they shot my rifle, both of them three shots each, with me coaching on the use of the reticle. Yes, they hit the dots every time. I didn't convince anybody to change their load that day. Both of them still use 130"s, but the 270 can do better. Armchair trancing out on ballistic data does absolutely nothing for field performance. Bullets of 140, 150, and even 160 grains compliment that sizable cartridge case. So, what is the 270 capable of? Read on.
I have not had particularly good success in building good loads for very long shots at varmints using bullets intended for varmints. In other words, it seems that 130-grain hunting bullets have been my best starting point. However, there are times that the very thin jacket of a lighter bullet is desired because it breaks up easily when touching down, and helps to avoid any possibility of a ricochet. It will be up to each owner/shooter to come up with his own lighter loads, because I've had too much problem with groups opening up beyond the point of satisfactory at ranges beyond 300 yards.
For big game, some of the more streamlined 130-grain bullets shoot very flat. They can be safely driven to velocities of 3,100 fps and a little beyond with a number of powder choices. On the down side, these are usually the loads that cause reports of so much tissue damage and meat loss, especially at shorter ranges. Further, the fast start doesn't pay off at the end of the run, because there are 140- and 150-grain bullets that surpass the 130s down-range performance. The 150s, 15% greater in weight, can be driven at 2,900 fps, which is a muzzle-velocity reduction of only about 6%. If a close-shot opportunity pops up, the 150s do a better job, bullet for bullet, than the 130"s when it comes to holding a penetrating mass together.
I'm well aware that some people use a 270 on elk, and that a shot on an unsuspecting moose with a 270 can bring it down. I'm not in favor of that cartridge choice for either animal. Starting with a 30-06 and 180-grain bullets makes a lot more sense to me, and even larger is even better. Now beyond 70 years, I still favor a 338 Winchester Magnum for either of those hunts, and have to wonder about the recoil whininess of much younger men. It makes me think of the alternate choice they have of staying home, which is probably a better idea from the perspective of humanity.
For deer, pronghorn, and caribou, the 270 Winchester is a winner. It's not comparatively expensive to load for, because non-premium bullets from Hornady, Sierra, and others work just fine for most applications. Premium bullets are certainly available, and of them I especially appreciate Nosler's 160-grain Partition mentioned above, and Swift's 150-grain A-Frame. For sheep that might appear at a much greater range than you hoped for, Swift's 130-grain Scirocco II makes me feel like I'm carrying an insurance policy. The 270 is very flexible when it comes to hand loading, and there are many fine combinations other that what I have mentioned. It's just that I don't have the time to try a great number of them.
For Africa, a nice 270 can be a pleasure to carry for many plains-game choices. Make sense here as, on average, African game is tougher than a mule deer or whitetail of the same size. Here's where premium bullets may well pay off, and you only get to bring so many rounds along. If the entire hunt will be for plains game smaller than eland, have your second rifle pick up where the 270 leaves off, and use that 300- or 338-sized magnum on the greater kudu, zebra, sable antelope, gemsbok, and other toughies.
The 270 Winchester, when used as it ought to be, within sensible parameters, is mighty close to a 10 on a scale of 10. Besides, it's so American (as in U.S. American), it has pretty much reached the icon status of ice cream with apple pie. Great hunting writer Jack O'Connor was a consistent promoter of the cartridge, and that helped to create the legend. If the 270 just came out a few years ago, I truly believe that many of today's gun writers would be giving it a bad rap because of the sloping shoulder, that it only fits a long action, and so on. It is not seen as a match cartridge, but certainly could have held its own in that department. Sierra makes a 135-grain MatchKing bullet that, with RE-22, I have personally seen shot into into sub-one-half MOA groups out to 600 yards (the greatest distance available at the range). Specifically, I'm referring to accuracy of 1.3- to 1.6-inch groups at 300 yards, and 2.7- to 3.4-inch groups at 600 yards; five groups fired at each distance. The shooter had an already twice rebarreled 40-X action in a stock he built, and was a life-long 270 fan. Shooting conditions were good.
After over three quarters of a century, the 270 Winchester is still one of the more popular hunting cartridges, and new rifle sales for it continue to be quite good. Of course, that's in relative terms. Sales of conventional rifles, such as bolt actions for hunting, have taken a tremendous hit in recent years. The trend now is toward AR-type semi-automatic rifles, which will eventually be a direction that walks all of us into an era of new laws that end private gun ownership without special licensing. I personally see absolutely no viable sporting use whatsoever for military-style semi-automatic guns in the hands of the general public. But, then, you have to understand that I'm not paranoid.