April 22, 2022
By Brad Fitzpatrick
I doubt there’s any question in rifledom that’s stirred more debate over the years than whether the .270 Win. or .30-06 Springfield is the better hunting cartridge. The great gun writers of this generation and generations past have hashed it out, and it’s the topic of discussion around campfires every fall. Is there a clear winner?
The .30-06 was developed as an improved version of the .30-03 Springfield. It served as a military round through two world wars, and in doing so it endeared itself to millions of soldiers who would later carry rifles chambered for the round afield.
When the .30-06 arrived on the sporting scene, American hunters were only a few decades removed from using blackpowder cartridges, so the cartridge’s 150-grain bullet flying at around 2,900 fps offered other-worldly performance. The .30-06 won over lots of noteworthy enthusiasts, not the least of which was Ernest Hemingway.
In 1925 Winchester released the .270 Win., which was also based on the .30-03. Winchester’s choice of a 0.277 bullet was curious since 7mm bullets were popular and .007 inch larger in diameter, but the 0.270 Win worked. With 130-grain bullets it broke 3,000 fps easily and shot laser-beam flat for that era. It became the .30-06’s chief competitor and won over notable fans of its own, including Jack O’Connor.
Over the years I’ve hunted with and been impressed with both rounds. The .270 Win. is ever so slightly longer than the .30-06, and case capacities are essentially the same. Both operate at similar max pressures (65,000 psi for the .270, 60,000 psi for the .30-06), and both fit in the same-length actions.
What the argument boils down to, then, is larger bullet with more weight versus higher velocities and flatter trajectories. Which criteria you think is more important to the overall performance of a hunting round probably dictates which of the two you prefer. Bullet weights for the .270 in factory loads range from around 96 grains to 156 grains. Loads for the .30-06 range from 110 grains to 220 grains, with the 150s to 180s being the most popular choices.
Hornady’s 145-grain ELD-X Precision Hunter .270 Win. load (G1 ballistic coefficient of 0.536) has a muzzle velocity of 2,970 fps. The company’s 178-grain .30-06 ELD-X Precision Hunter load (BC 0.552) has a muzzle velocity of 2,750 fps.
The ’06 load generates about 150 ft.-lbs. more energy at the muzzle, but by 500 yards the energy gap has dwindled to 36 ft.-lbs. The .30-06 drops seven inches more than the .270 at 500 yards when both rounds are zeroed at 200 yards.
In terms of availability, while newer cartridges are all the rage, the .270 and .30-06 are still widely chambered in new rifles—and certainly easy to find on the used market as well. There’s no shortage of ammunition, although going by Brownells the .30-06 definitely has the edge here: 43 loads for the .270, 74 for the .30-06.
Gun weights are similar, and in same-weight rifles the .30-06 produces somewhere on the order 20 percent more recoil. However, the .270’s flatter trajectory is more forgiving.
I suppose, then, the most solid argument for either rifle revolves around the type of hunting you plan to do. The .270 shoots flatter and produces less recoil and is therefore theoretically better suited to open plains hunting and smaller game. The .30-06 has more energy, especially up close, and hits with more authority, making it better suited for bear, elk, moose and the larger African plains game.
There’s no real winner here because neither of these cartridges can be classified as a loser. On the contrary, these two rounds will both serve you well, and there’s a considerable performance overlap between them. I suppose the debate will rage on.
Hits and Misses
- Less recoil for sensitive shoulders
- Flatter trajectory an edge on longer shots
- Proven performer on a variety of game
- .277 diameter offers fewer bullets
- New cartridges in 6.5 and 6.8 are faster
- Short-action mountain rifles are lighter
- Tons of bullet choices and data
- Heavy bullets better for larger game
- Has taken all the world’s major game
- Energy advantage fades at longer ranges
- More recoil, especially heavier loads
- Popular for so long it’s become vanilla