Among middle-aged shooters like myself the .270 Winchester is best known as Jack O’Connor’s cartridge. Truly a man of letters, as a young man O’Connor wrote three pretty good novels, and he was a professor of English at the University of Arizona. But in our world he was the longtime Shooting Editor of Outdoor Life magazine, and after his retirement he finished his career writing forPetersen’s HUNTING magazine. He was called the Dean of Outdoor Writers and Mr. Sheep Hunter, but he is perhaps best remembered as the champion of the .270 Winchester cartridge.
The .270 Winchester was introduced back in 1926, when O’Connor was a fledgling gunwriter. Based on the .30-06 case necked down, it uses a fairly unusual .277-inch bullet. It was loaded fairly hot out of the starting gate: 130-grain bullet at 3060 fps; 150-grain bullet at 2850. With the lighter bullet it was considerably flatter-shooting than the .30-06, yet produced less recoil. With the long-for-caliber 150-grain bullet it penetrated very well, yet still shot fairly flat. O’Connor found it ideal for medium game in the open West where he did most of his hunting, and he remained faithful for the rest of his life. Today those two bullet weights remain the most popular, but a “compromise” 140-grain bullet at 2960 fps has become one of my own favorites, and there are several newer loadings that are quite a bit faster.
Guys like me grew up reading O’Connor, and if we followed his teachings we believed the .270 to be the ultimate deer/sheep/antelope cartridge, and not too bad all the way up to elk. Of course, there was another school. Elmer Keith, best known for his work in Guns & Ammo magazine, was a large caliber/heavy bullet guy. He also hated the ground Jack O’Connor walked on. The best he ever said about the .270 in print was that it was a “damned adequate coyote cartridge.”
Although I didn’t know him well, O’Connor was a family friend and I respected his writing immensely. But as a young hunter I must admit that I leaned more heavily toward the Keith school: Bigger must be better. After all, I started hunting and shooting in the 1960s, in a time when every new cartridge had a “magnum” suffix, and in those innocent pre-chronograph days outrageous velocity claims were normal.
So I was not a .270 fan. I did have a .270 back then, and it accounted (handily) for my first black bear and several deer and pronghorns. But I soon abandoned the cartridge, and didn’t return to it until the mid-90s. This was only partly because I succumbed to the lure of the magnums. I became a fan of the 7×57 and .30-06, cartridges that O’Connor approved of (and Elmer Keith did not)-but I also became enthralled by several bigger, harder-kicking cartridges that O’Connor had no use for. Part of this was that I was trying to be a writer myself. It was simply too risky for a beginner to try to write about Jack O’Connor’s cartridge. So I steered clear of it and found other causes to champion!
In 1994 I drew my first bighorn tag. By then O’Connor had been gone for many years, and I was getting tired of being branded a magnum maniac. So I chose a .270. It worked pretty darned well, just like O’Connor said it would. Since then I have not been steadfastly loyal. It has worked well for me to use and write about a variety of cartridges, rather than hitch myself to any one star. But I can say that I have come full circle in my thinking, and the .270 is a cartridge I keep coming back to.
I have used it on several continents, and for a tremendous variety of game. This use has included elk and red stags, kudu and similar-sized African game, a wide variety of sheep and goats, and a whole bunch of deer and deer-sized game. On larger game I don’t think it hits as hard as the .30-06…but it reaches out much more easily. As O’Connor wrote many years ago, I personally see no noticeable difference between the .270 and the fast 7mms (difference in bore diameter is, after all, just .007-inch). It is clearly not as versatile nor does it have the ranging abilities of a .300 magnum…but it doesn’t kick nearly as hard, either. And it is definitely adequate for the game most of us hunt at the distances we are most likely to shoot.
Today I tend to think Jack O’Connor had it right so many years ago. The .270 is very close to ideal for the mountain game he loved to hunt, equally ideal for most deer hunting, and indeed it is plenty of gun for elk. As a lad I was skeptical, and there remains controversy over its adequacy for elk and elk-sized game. I still believe a .300 or, better, a .338, offers the flexibility to take a greater variety of shots-but so long as you are careful (as you should be), the .270 is plenty of gun.
This was borne out 10 years ago, when the only possible chance at a big New Mexico bull feeding on a brushy hillside was to take a long shot from the next ridge. The distance was a bit over 400 yards, the load a handloaded 150-grain Nosler Partition in my Dakota .270. I figured the hold well and dropped the bullet through the shoulder and into the heart. The bull took two steps and fell over. It was borne out again just a couple of months ago, when a huge maral stag stepped out of a fog bank in central Turkey and stood at about the same range. I didn’t want the fog to swallow him up, so I shot him more than once-but the first bullet, a little 130-grain Hornady GMX, did its work perfectly and he was down in ten steps.
On this hunt in Turkey I must admit it was not my intent to use the .270 Winchester. I had a .270 WSM, another .277-inch cartridge that I’m partial to. My wife had her .270 Winchester, which she uses for almost everything. My rifle went of zero and I couldn’t get it to hold, so I borrowed Donna’s .270 for the rest of trip. It worked just fine. But these days I don’t use the .270 Winchester purely by default. Late in 2008, when I drew a desert sheep tag in Arizona, the choice was pretty easy: I was on O’Connor’s home turf, hunting one of O’Connor’s signature animals. Of course I had to use a .270..and of course it served me well. Professor O’Connor told us how great his favorite cartridge really is…it just took me a long time to get the message.