The traditional response among many gun enthusiasts when comparing the .270 and the Winchester .300 Magnum is that you’re speaking of apples and oranges. That might be the case in terms of pure ballistic performance, but when you’re taking these two popular calibers to the field in pursuit of deer, elk, moose or pronghorn those extremes become a bit blurred.
The .270 is considered one of the standard North American big game hunting platforms along with the .30-06, 7mm and the growingly popular 6.5 Creedmoor. The .300 Win Mag, (as the Winchester Magnum is abbreviated) has a large following as well, especially with larger species such as massive bull moose and nearly as large bull elk.
The question is, which one will work best in your setting?
Ballistics: The Raw Information
Hornady does elaborate ballistic testing on every caliber of cartridge on the market, from tiny to massive. A look at their data on the .270 and the .300 Win Mag reveals some similarities, but a few drastically different data points. The most obvious difference is bullet size.
Aside from specialty loads, the .270 is available in 130 and 150 grain bullet weights.
The 300 Win Mag also has adherents with special loaded cartridges, but the standard is 180 or 200 grains.
Muzzle velocity combined with bullet weight provides the power calculation, the metric that will provide the greatest difference between these two popular shooting platforms.
As you can read in the chart above, the muzzle velocity between the 130 and 150 grain .270 cartridges are very similar to the 180 and 200-grain bullets when fired from a .300 Win Mag. The most noticeable difference is in the 150 grain bullet comparison between the two calibers. The .300 Win Mag has a sustained advantage from the muzzle out to 500 yards which is no surprise with the larger cartridge case that holds more powder.
Bullet drop is nearly identical with both cartridges. They both shoot slightly high at 100 yards but are flat at 200, an ideal range for most big game.
The .270 a Venerable Platform
The .270 celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2023. Developed by Winchester Arms in 1923, and released in 1925 in the bolt-action Winchester Model 54, the .270 traces it ancestry to the British .30-03. It shares this common ancestor with the incredibly popular .30-06.
The shell casing of the .270 is slightly longer than that of the .30-06 and while the evidence is anecdotal, many fans of the cartridge believe it was inspired by the German 7mm Mauser.
The smaller stock used for the .270 creates a lighter rifle for packing into the field, while retaining great ballistic performance over great distances.
It became an instant hit when it hit the market in the late 1920s.
The cartridge became a favorite of deer hunters across the United States and moved into the larger big game hunting market in the Rocky Mountain region and Alaska after World War II. It remains one of the most popular cartridges in North America.
The .300 Win Mag a Relative Newcomer
In comparison with the .270, the .300 Win Mag has a much shorter history. First developed by Winchester engineers in 1958, it was released to the market in 1963.
The .300 Win Mag traces its ancestry to the .375 H&H Magnum. Winchester shortened the .375 cartridge and necked it down to handle a .30 caliber bullet.
The result was a powerful, versatile high powered rifle that became exceedingly popular, not only with big game hunters, but with military snipers, police special weapons teams and any other group that required a hard-hitting, long range weapon.
The .300 Win Mag is the most popular .30 caliber magnum with North American hunters.
It’s flat trajectory over 200 yards, and its ability to deliver a whopping 3500 foot pounds of energy at 100 yards makes it a favorite when taking down big game, or shooting through walls, vehicles or light armor in police or military situations.
Armed with soft lead bullets it can stop the largest big game in its tracks. With jacketed military or police rounds, it is an effective deterrent in long-range strategic situations.
Which Should You Take to the Field?
Personal preferences aside, both of these calibers work well for big game hunting. They are both well beyond the standard of 1,000 foot pounds at the target point even to their outer effective range of 500 yards.
The difference is in the energy delivered. The .300 Win Mag packs a wallop, well over 3500 foot pounds of energy at 100 yards.
If you’re in the heavily wooded areas of the American South, the Great Lakes region or in the woods of Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont and New Hampshire you rarely get a shot at a whitetail deer beyond 50 yards. There are clearings that allow you to target deer across open meadows to greater distances, but those occurrences are rare.
That’s why many hunters are successful with the comparatively shorter range provided in shooting 12 gauge slugs when deer hunting.
A powerful rifle like the .300 Win Mag just doesn’t make sense when pursuing lighter whitetail deer over short target distances.
The .270 is one of the most popular cartridges among mule deer, pronghorn, elk, moose and even Big Horn sheep hunters in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Montana and Idaho. It is a proven platform that brings home game and is deadly accurate at 200 yards with a flat trajectory. Sights are easy to adjust over greater distances and the killing power is still effective beyond 400 yards.
When shooting across open meadows, valleys between mountain peaks or flowing foothills, the .270 gets the job done.
With that being said, the .300 Win Mag can compensate for shots that aren’t perfect heart/lung kill shots over 400 yards. The stopping power of a .300 Win Mag makes it a popular rifle on African big game safaris where stopping power is much more important than when taking even the largest North American moose.
The .300 Win Mag is used by many American Bison hunters in Wyoming and Montana for that reason. The 200 grain bullet is a monster when sighting in on a 2000 pound bison bull. The larger grain .300 Win Mag bullets drop the biggest buffalo in its tracks.
The question remains, what is the best cartridge for big game hunting? The choice comes down to the size of bullet you’re going to need to humanly drop a big game animal at a longer distance. The .270 does the job well for most species, but those monster bulls, whether they be elk, moose or bison can take more hitting power to drop with one shot.
In short, eastern hunters should be satisfied with the reliability and accuracy of the .270. The .300 Win Mag is a weapon especially designed to deliver more power at the target over greater range, and is something to consider in big game applications in the Rocky Mountain West and in Alaska.