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.



Anonymous said...

Hey Dennis, it's been awhile.

I have never elk hunted but from what I know which is ? the .270 is a good caliber.

me said...

It has been a while, Rick.

I am still in Alaska and have finally found the time (and motivation) to continue my blogs.

Thanks for the comment.

Hope you have a Cozy Christmas!

Anonymous said...

looking forward to your comments on the 280 if and when you publish. my dad gave me the only rifle i'll ever own a couple of months ago, a sigarms shr 970 280 and i'm interested in learning more of it's potential, and your blog seems very knowledgable. keep up the good work

me said...

The 280 post is in draft and should be done in a few weeks. Thank you for the comment. It is always great to hear from others who are interested in outdoors and firearms.

Have a Happy New Year.

A.K. Montrone said...

I recently found your blog and love it. Seems to be the most coherent and well balanced between science and experience out there. I am wanting to get a "dedicated elk rifle" what ever that would mean. Which I suppose means feeling confident while eluding the occasional grizzly. If you read discussion forums, you might leave thinking the 6.5 swede is too much and the 300 win mag is not enough. The same discussion forums leave you thinking, along with many writers that have to sell stuff, that the 270 is bent up to elk, not comfortably one of the premier options. Based on your writing, your forthcoming 280 post unread, it sounds like you favor the 270 and 30-06. If you were held to picking one, which it sounds like you would pick the 270, what cartridge would you recommend? I didn't have your email and this is much more an email than a comment,so feel free to email me if you prefer instead of posting this.

Anonymous said...

dennis, happy new year to you too. call me (anonymous) 280 rick. do you have any tips or can you refer me to a page that has reliable, practical info on rifle cleaning after a day at the range? i'm reading that more damage is caused by cleaning than by shooting and am developing a flinch when i pick up my rod

me said...

Thank you all for your comments. Since I don't get paid for this, it makes it more worth while when people comment.

@AK Montrone. If I "had to, had to, had to" pick one, it would be a .270. Having said that, in elk hunting--or any hunting it is the shooter more than the smoke pole that counts. The .270 and the '06 fit into a category that many overlook--logistics. When you find yourself in a Montana or Idaho village it is easier to replace cartridges in those calibers than any of the super whazzoooo, extra velocity whiz-bangs being consumerized today.

@280 Rick,
I have neglected my blogs for a while. Only 25 in the last 6 months, and some of those were quick informational ones on wolves, licenses and such. Cleaning is essential. I will devote some time to doing a piece on what I have found works best as a hunter, guide and Army and civilian marksman.

B. Moore said...


I live in western Oregon and I'm preparing to purchase my first rifle. I've been shooting consistently with loaned rifles for the last 5 years and feel comfortable up to a 300 Winchester Mag, although I don't find it enjoyable to shoot more than 5 rounds.

I'm fairly convinced that I want my rifle chambered in 270 but feel a little hesitant based on the numerous opinions out there. My intent is to hunt deer and elk in western and eastern Oregon.

I'd appreciate any advice because your blog is the most level headed information I've found to date.

me said...

B. Moore,
I will make a post to your question shortly. Yes, there are a lot of opinions "out there."

B. Moore said...

Quick update... I was visiting a local gun shop today and trying fit on several rifles and was pushed hard towards the 06.

gweedo said...

Hi all,
I never elk hunted, but some day would like to. North Central Pennsylvania Whitetail hunting isn't the best but at least it's meat.

I hunt Potter county in 3A WMU. As I said it's fair for Deer. I scored a 8 point, 10 inch spread with average 4-5 inch tines back in 2007, average size....slim pickins for deer in this area. I'd like to venture out to another part of the state someday.

My take on the .270 is less recoil than the 06', due to I load my own and use O'Conners load. Great Cartridge. I can stay on target with a Max load. Love the Rifle.

Unknown said...

Hi Denis, thanks for the info, unfortunately I have founded it too late.
I have 2 30-06 one 308 and just got one 270 honestly is the lightest and with less recoil, if i had read this before .. I can have less rifles on the closet and more money on my bank.
Any way I already have them but can you give me some good advices for scopes that resist the recoil of this calibers and cost less than 1 grand, I’m in Florida, shooting distances are less than 300 yds usually between 100 and 200 yd ? hunting hogs and deer.

me said...

Thank you for the comment. I will try to answer your question in a new blog post in the next week or two. Have a great day!!!!

Unknown said...

Nice post

me said...

this is me