I’m an unabashed Jack O’Connor fan. Over the course of his hunting career, he used many different cartridges and rifles in the hunting field. It’s no secret as anyone who read his books and columns for Outdoor Life knows, the .270 Winchester was his absolute favorite.
The first and for a long time only .277-caliber rifle cartridge came available in 1925 in the Winchester Model 54 bolt-action rifle. It was not an immediate hit to say the least. Ammunition availability was partly to blame — at the time you could walk into any store in the continental U.S. and buy .30-06 or .30-30 shells amongst several others with relative ease. Bad reviews by some of the gun writers of the day did little to help. Elmer Keith, for example, felt the diminutive 130-grain bullet would fragment rather than penetrate to the vitals on anything larger than coyote or pronghorn. Despite these poor reviews, some went out and bought one anyways. Even though .270s killed quickly, complaints arose that the thin-jacketed bullets ruined too much meat. A remedial, lower-velocity 150-grain bullet at 2,650 feet per second was released, but dismal sales caused it to be dropped shortly thereafter. It’s comparably pedestrian velocity defeated the main purpose of owning a .270.
No, it was Cactus Jack who really put the .270 on the map. With it he hunted mule deer, whitetail deer and Coues deer in the southwest and Mexico. He took it for Rocky Mountain elk in Wyoming, for sheep, moose and bear in Alaska. From there he went abroad to Africa, again proving the usefulness of the light recoiling, super accurate and deadly high velocity 130-grain bullets.
The Winchester Model 70, the rifleman’s rifle as it came to be called, was released in 1937. Although originally sold in only seven different caliber choices, the .270 and .30-06 calibers alone accounted for well over half of all Model 70 Winchesters sold. As many began to find out, the .270 was and is a real keeper. Even on animals like elk, moose and bear, which traditionally take a bit more killing than deer or sheep, the .270 has more than proven itself. Like so many other classic cartridges, innovations in propellant and bullet technologies have only made them better. While most factory loads have been dialed back slightly from their original advertised ballistics, handloaders can and still safely do achieve the amazing high velocity and accuracy that .270 owners have appreciated for 96 years now.
While it may lack the versatility and military record of rounds like the .30-06 or .308, and it may not seem as glamorous as the 7mm Remington Magnum or the new 6.5s, the .270 is a classic, and classics endure. And let’s face it, there is practically nothing that any of those rounds can do that the .270 isn’t just as capable of doing. To put it simply, the .270 is one of my top three favorite all-around hunting cartridges, as the pluses far outweigh any minuses. The popularity of this cartridge is very well founded and without sensible dispute; it is still a national top 10 seller in guns and ammunition annually.
My own favorite .270 is an heirloom Browning BBR. Topped off with a Leupold 3-9 variable scope, it shoots very well with 130-grain Sierra Gamekings on top of H4831 powder, a combination that Mr. O’Connor was quite fond of. If I ever draw a sheep or pronghorn tag, the .270 is definitely coming along!
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