Saturday, December 19, 2009

270 Winchester for Elk Hunting

The first draft of this post was written over six months ago. Since then, more than seven drafts have been written.

When each draft was finished, I asked myself, “Why is this more important to say than what has already been said of the .270 Winchester? Why weren’t Jack O’Connor’s words enough?”

For those too young to know of Jack O’Connor’s writing, he was a proponent of the .270 Winchester. His glowing words on that rifle caliber became either gospel or blasphemy to the shooting public.

Those who were rifleman, and knew what the .270 was capable of--in their personal experience--reveled in his words.

Those who needed more Viagra in their shootin’ irons ridiculed his opinion and denigrated a modern rifle caliber that has has only been eclipsed by its parent case, the 30-06 Springfield.

So, why did this draft make it and the others didn’t?

Yesterday, I looked over the stats for this blog and found someone had Googled, “do elk guides allow .270?”

As a wilderness guide and outfitter I have to answer that no, this guide does not allow the .270.

As a guide and outfitter I strongly recommend the .270 Winchester for the following reason:

  • Low recoil
  • High velocity
  • Something Unknown
  • My experience

Low Recoil

Loads of magazine articles, reloading manuals and barroom banter state that the 30-06 Springfield is the most rifle that the average person can handle. In a light mountain-type rifle, the ’06 is probably more rifle than most people can handle.

Recoil is more debilitating to good shooting than most realize. In the words of many-time National Highpower Champion, G. David Tubb, “If I could make a rifle that didn’t kick, my scores would go up.” Those aren’t the words of someone who shoots one or two boxes of shells each year. A highpower shooter fires a box of shells at each yard line each the day of a match and several boxes per yard line each day of practice.

One of the most telling indicators of how the ’06’s recoil affects shooters, is the results from tests conducted by the Army when it was considering the M1 Garand. Those tests compared shooting done with the M1 and the M1903A3--a bolt gun. Shooters firing the M1 shot higher scores than their 03A3 counterparts. Some of it was attributed to the fatigue from working the bolt on the 03, but the reports also said that the semi-auto action lessened recoil both in force and duration.

That’s lots of talk about a 30-06 on a post about a 270.

Shoot the lower recoiling 270 and watch the notches on your elk gun mulitply.

Or, shoot a kicking mule and hoist one at the joint while you talk about the one that got away.

High Velocity

When the 270 was first dressed in Winchester’s Model 54 in 1925 it didn’t set the shooting world on fire. The government sold warehouses full of 1903, Enfields, 30-40 Krag rifles and mountains of surplus 30-06 and 30-40 ammunition. Why buy a new, untried cartridge when there were plenty of cheap rifles and fodder for sale? Velocity. Armies around the world had seen what velocity did when they changed to smaller caliber, higher velocity rounds around the turn of the century (1900).

One thing the new 270 did offer was high velocity. The basic hunting load, then and now, was 130 grain spitzer-type bullet at 3100 feet per second.

Today, that speed doesn’t set the world on fire. Times change.

Although, if you are toying between the 270 Winchester and a 270 Weatherby, or possibly a 7mm Remington Magnum, consider this: the 270 Weatherby firing the same bullet is only going 3300 fps, and the 7mm Remington firing a 140 grain bullet is only going 3100 fps. For a 200 fps gain in velocity for the Weatherby or a 10 grain gain in bullet weight for the 7mm you get more “BANG,” more recoil, a heavier rifle and probably a flinch.

A 130-grain 270 at 3100 fps has the the minimum energy to take an elk out beyond 400 yards, adequate energy beyond 200 yards, and recommended to 150 yards. For comparison, the 140 grain bullet from a 7mm Remington Magnum is 450 yards, 250 yards, and 150 yards, respectively.

Something Unknown

The last rifle cartridge that the Army tested on live animals before being adopted was the 45-70. Second hand sources suggest that the 45-70 was able to knock a horse off its feet. Since then landfills have been filled with data on sectional density, mushrooming ability, ballistic coefficients, muzzle and down range energy, kill power and wound formation, and even tests on wet phone books and milk jugs.

None of the data hit a bullseye on what “it” takes to kill an animal--in this case an elk.

Today’s data is a forest of pulp. In 1866, data was a dead horse, on its side, with a bowling ball hole through its side.

My data comes from similar experiences.

My Experience

If you have read this blog before, you know that I have killed about equal numbers of elk with a 270 and an ’06, with a slight edge going to the 270. (Also, 300 Win, 308, 7mm Remington, 45-70)

If I were to buy a new rifle for Montana, it would be a 270.

The recoil is more friendly than the others. I can shoot a box or two a day without flinching.

The 270’s velocity and “something unknown” seems to kill elk better and faster than any shot with a 30-06. The longest shot I have taken at an elk was with a 270. At a little over 550 yards, that bull elk dropped in two feet of snow so fast that I couldn’t find him in the scope, and wondered if I had missed him. To see the bullet from that bull, go here.

As far as bullets go, I like 130 grain bullets. My first choice is Silvertips, Bronze Points and CoreLokts, not necessarily in that order. Many believe the 150 grain is better for elk. Eh. Some will tout the newer (read more expensive) engineered bullets. Eh, again.



Me with my second 270. A Mauser FN action, Douglas barrel and a Weaver V-8 scope.

Do elk guides allow the 270? NO, but if I could I would require it.

TTFN