July 01, 2021
By Brad Fitzpatrick
Over the course of my life, I’ve heard just one person badmouth the .270 Win. By and large, every hunter who has ever used this cartridge has a soft spot for it, including such notable as Jack O’Connor and Craig Boddington. Now in its 95th year the .270 Win. has seen it all—the belted magnum era, the rise of short mags, and the new fascination with all things 6.5. Despite all that, it has not only survived but flourished, and there are still plenty of experts who consider it the ultimate all-around big game caliber.
But the .270 Win. is getting some competition from…Winchester. That’s right, the same company that fired a shot at its own .270 Win. with the .270 WSM is coming back with another competitor: the 6.8 Western.
To be clear, the .270 Win. and 6.8 Western both fire the same caliber (.277 inch) bullet. They do not, however, fire the same weight .277 bullet. The new 6.8 Westerner’s 1:8 twist allows it to stabilize long, heavy-for-caliber, high ballistic coefficient bullets. How heavy? How about a 175-grain Sierra Tipped Game King or a 165-grain Nosler AccuBond Long Range, both of which will have BCs over .600? The .270 Win. uses a 1:10 twist, and bullets top out around 150 grains. In addition to the added bullet weight, the 6.8 Western’s squat, beltless case fits in short-action rifles, making it an ideal mountain cartridge.
The 6.8 Western clearly beats the older .270’s ballistics—shooting flatter and faster, which makes it a bit more forgiving on range estimation. It hits harder, too. At 500 yards the .270 Win. carries about 1,500 ft.-lbs. of energy while the 6.8 Western hits with an additional 300 pounds of punch. In fact, the 6.8 Western is nipping at the heels of the .300 Win. Mag and .300 WSM while generating about 15 percent less felt recoil than either of those rounds. This extra punch makes the 6.8 Western a better choice for the really big animals on your bucket list like elk, moose, bison, eland and the like.
Before we begin writing the .270 Win.’s obituary, let’s remember our hunting cartridge history. The .270 Win. debuted in 1925. The .270 Wby. was supposed to kill it in 1943, the 7mm Rem. Mag. in 1962, and the .270 WSM in 2002. But so far nothing has killed the .270 Win., nor is it likely to.
There are several reasons for this. First, the .270 Win. offers plenty of punch and a flat enough trajectory to kill darn near anything at reasonable ranges. O’Connor and others have killed grizzlies with it, and it shoots flat enough for long-range hunting. And as the 6.5s have shown us, you don’t have to have a great deal of frontal area to kill. You need a suitable cartridge that you shoot well with good bullets, and you need to place those bullets where they belong. Most shooters can do that with a .270 Win.
The 6.8 Western, with its roughly 25 percent more recoil, may produce a bit too much sting for some shooters. And while the 6.8 Western’s action may be shorter, its plump case is likely going to eat up magazine capacity.
Of course, rifle and ammo availability favor the .270 Win. and will for years to come. However, there will be a considerable number of 6.8 Western rifle and ammo options available from the start. Just remember, though, that the .270 Win. has something the 6.8 Western has not achieved yet: a whole generation of hunters who believe in the round and speak lovingly of it to the next generation.
Which one should you choose? If you own a good .270 Win. your rifle already does most everything the 6.8 Western will. If, however, you’re in the market for another rifle and you’d like something that’s perfect for just about any game anywhere, you will benefit from the 6.8 Western’s better energy and long-range performance. I don’t think you can really go wrong either way.