When you’re dealing with the decision of which cartridge you want to use, it can be difficult to quickly find all of the information you need to make an informed decision. While it’s always a hard choice, the .270 vs .308 might be one of the toughest decisions you will face.
In the end, the best cartridge all depends on the type of situation they will be used. Home defense or hunting, small or big game, short or long distance are only a few options that you have to think about.
In this article, we are going to help break down this decision by looking at two cartridges that a lot of hunters will find themselves contemplating which to use. These two cartridges are the .308 and .270.
Both are fantastic cartridges that have been tried and tested in the field for decades. We will take a look at the history and specifications of these cartridges as well as look in detail at the ballistic categories. We will also take a look at other categories such as recoil, accuracy, and availability of the ammunition.
Our objective is not to name one cartridge as being better than the other. By looking at this information, we hope to better tease apart which cartridge is better suited for specific hunting situations. If you know the hunting you want to take part in, this article will make your decision easier.
A Brief History
The .308 Winchester/.308 Win/.308 was introduced in 1952 in the United States. From this cartridge, the 7.62×51 NATO round was also designed and saw brief use in the US military in Vietnam with the M14 Garand. Though its military career was short-lived, the .308 has become an extremely popular round in civilian use from its conception to modern day. And that is not to say that it cannot still be found in military or police force circles today, it certainly is, but not as ubiquitous as it once was.
The .308 shows certain performance capabilities, which we will get into in this article, that has given it a place in many sharpshooting capacities, including use with the police and some military forces. Where this cartridge has gained a strong following though is in the hunting world. This is a larger bullet with excellent range and stopping power. It’s a great medium to large game rifle and can be used for just about any large game animal in the world, barring a few.
There are a plethora of options when it comes to the .308. Cartridge and bullet design give it a lot of versatility, and it is also readily available. You will find the bullet weights of .308 cartridges to fall between 125 and 170 grain with a few outliers in both directions.
The .270 Winchester/.270 Win/.270 made its appearance in the hunting world in 1925 where it would stay in relative obscurity for a time. For several years, the .270 did not have a significant following of users. Jack O’Connor, a famous writer of firearms and hunting, really pushed this cartridge and its abilities in the field and brought it to the forefront of hunting cartridges, where it remains to this day.
The .270 has gained a huge following in the world of hunting from small varmints and predators to large American game such as sheep and deer. With a leap in bullet technology, the .270 is much better suited for taking larger game such as elk.
The .270 came from the .30-03 which saw very brief use in the United States in the early 1900’s. Another cartridge that comes from this parent case is the .30-06 which are very similar to the .270. The .270 can be thought of as a necked down version of the .30-06.
As far as bullet weights go with the .270, most ammunition is going to fall between 120-160. There are smaller weights that are available for small game. Like the .308, there is a lot of options regarding bullet weight and design, and they are readily available and affordable.
|.308 Winchester||.270 Winchester|
|Max Pressure (SAAMI)||62,000psi||65,000psi|
Just from looking at the casing and overall cartridge specs we can begin to garner some information about the .270 vs .308. The first difference that we see between these two cartridges are the bullet diameters. The .308, as the name implies, has a 30 cal bullet with a .308″ diameter bullet. The .270 is fitted with a .277″ diameter bullet. These diameters play a role in the weight of the bullets that are used by the two cartridges and in other performance specs that we will look at later in the article. You can see that the .270 is a much longer and skinnier cartridge than the .308. And even though the .270 is skinnier, its .5 inch increase in the casing length allows it to hold more powder and can withstand 3,000 more units of pressure than the .308. Obviously, just from this little bit of information, we can already guess that the two cartridges are going to show some differences in their ballistics and other We will see how these specifications influence the ballistic and other properties of the cartridges shortly.
To compare, we have selected five rounds of each cartridge that are popular for hunting and general shooting in the US. The list below shows these rounds. And though we think that we have a good selection of rounds with different grain weight bullets and performance specs, we are aware that it is still a relatively small sample size with the number of options that are available. Unfortunately, we are limited in our available space and decided to cut the samples off at ten. We know there are other great rounds that are available and some of these might be rounds you have been using for years. Their omission here does not reflect our attitude towards those rounds.
- 270 Hornady SST Superperformance 130gr
- 270 Winchester Ballistic Silvertip 130gr
- 270 Federal Vital-Shok Nosler Partition 150gr
- 270 Remington Core-Lokt PSP 115gr
- 270 Federal Sierra GameKing BTSP 150gr
- .308 Hornady BTHP Match 168gr
- .308 Winchester Super-X 180gr
- .308 Nosler Ballistic Tip 165gr
- .308 Federal Vital-Shok Ballistic Tip 150gr
- .308 Federal Gold Medal Sierra Matchking 175gr
To compare these ten rounds, we have gathered data from the manufacturer as well as generated a good deal from trusted ballistic calculators. Where ballistic calculators are used we kept as many variables the same between rounds of the same cartridge. Where calculations are made, we will be sure to make clear our variables. When we come to these situations we will make clear what is going on and the variables that we used.
And again, we realize the possible errors and the biases that come with using a small sample size. To combat that and provide a little more confidence to the numbers, we have compiled a much larger data set. All of these rounds can be found at the end of the article. With the larger data set of factory loads for each of these cartridges, we can be more confident that the conclusions drawn represent the full set of round options for each cartridge. It will also give us some more piece of mind when we do look at the trends found in the graphs. And if we do find some discrepancies, it will give us some more interesting talking points.
There is something to be said about computer-generated data when it comes to comparing two cartridges. The first is that these numbers are not set in stone. If you fired these rounds from your platform, you would more than likely you’re going to see numbers that vary from what you will find here. Each gun has its own unique qualities that are going to influence the numbers. Regardless, from a comparison perspective, computer-generated data is perfect for looking objectively at two cartridges and it removes environmental influences.
The recoil of a cartridge is going to be important to a lot of shooters, especially those with not a lot of shooting experience. For more experienced hunters, most hunting cartridges, including the .270 and .308, the recoil is going to be manageable. It is important to note that what we are comparing here is straight recoil energy. The “felt recoil” involves a lot more factors than just the type of cartridge used. Still, looking at the actual energy still gives you a lot of valuable information and it loosely correlated to felt recoil.
If we simply look at the average recoil energy generated by these two cartridges and given by the ballistic calculator software, we see that the .270 and .308 are very similar (Graph 1).
While the .308 produces slightly more recoil energy (21.7ft.lb compared to 19.6ft.lb), it probably isn’t anything significant, especially to more experienced shooters.
Of course, with different types of rounds for these two cartridges, there will be certain rounds that might be more significantly different. Let’s take a look at the ten rounds we have selected for this article and see if the trend continues (Graph 2).
We took some liberties in making this graph. We used a common grain powder load for each cartridge type that we determined from Nosler load data as well as assumed that the cartridge was being fired from a 7lb weapon. So, these numbers could fluctuate a little based on changing those variables, and we do not have the powder charge that is used by the manufacture of the round. Even with these various variables, we have kept everything as constant as possible, and the trends that we see should hold up. For the muzzle velocity, we used the data provided by the manufacturer so take that with a grain of salt as well.
Just from looking at these ten different rounds, it’s pretty obvious that there is not a whole lot of difference between the two different cartridges. We see a significant drop in recoil with the lower grain bullets than the heavier bullets which is expected, for both cartridge types. If we look at the heavier grains for each, we still see that the recoil energy is pretty similar. All of the .308 rounds do show a slight increase in recoil energy than the .270 rounds, but again, we don’t think these differences are enough to enough to choose one cartridge over the other based on recoil. Though the differences are slight overall, we can pick out certain rounds where there is a 4 or 5ft.lb increase in recoil energy from a .270 to .308 round.
Let’s take a look at the recoil numbers with more rounds added to the group and see if the same results present themselves.
Average Recoil (ft.lb)
|.308 Winchester||.270 Winchester|
We see that the averages of the two cartridges is still pretty close with less than 3ft.lb of force difference between the two. If you look at the individual rounds (not shown) you would see a lot of overlap between these cartridges around the 20ft.lb area. There are definitely more .308 Win rounds above that mark and there are definitely more .270 Win rounds below that mark, as the averages imply. With so much overlap, we don’t think there is any significant difference between these two cartridges when it comes to recoil. If you’re dead set on choosing a cartridge or specific round to get a little recoil as possible, there are more options for lighter rounds with the .270 Win but the majority of the factory loads for both cartridges are in the 20ft.lb plus or minus 2 range.
In this section, we will look at several ballistic properties of these two cartridges. What we will see is that there are quite a few similarities between these two cartridges as well as some small but significant differences. This information will allow us to begin teasing apart which situations will be better suited for a particular cartridge.
We will take compare the velocity, ballistic coefficients, and the short and long-range trajectories of the two cartridges. Though we will look at each of these categories separate from the other, in reality, all of them influence and play off of one another. That not only pertains to the ballistic categories but other performance categories as well. So while this method for comparing the .270 vs .308 is cleaner, all of these different aspects should be taken together to give you an idea of which cartridge is going to be better suited for specific applications. We hope to bring all this together more clearly in the application discussion later in the article.
For now, let’s jump into these ballistic categories.
The velocity of the bullet is going to play a major role in the trajectory, which in turn, is going to determine the number of adjustments needed to make when taking shots at extended ranges. Velocity is also important to hunters because it also influences terminal ballistics and how well the bullet will expand and transfer kinetic energy to the target.
If we look at our comparison of the ten different rounds we have used we can see some general trends (Graph 3).
For the most part, the .270 rounds have a higher average muzzle velocity than the .308 rounds with close to 330ft.s more than the .308 rounds. Several of the .270 rounds have quite a bit higher velocity, especially the 130gr rounds, and that makes sense given the casing capacity. With similar powder loads and lighter bullets, you would expect higher velocities. While there are some rounds from each cartridge that are pretty similar in velocity, the trend of the .270 rounds having an average of 200-300ft.sec more velocity than the .308 rounds extends out to the 500-yard mark.
Another important concept to take away from this graph is that all of these rounds remain supersonic all the way out to 500 yards and if we were to extend this range we would see this trend continue for several hundred more yards. This tells us that these rounds are going to have enough velocity for efficient terminal ballistic characteristics.
While we might give the edge to some of the .270 rounds for velocity, especially muzzle velocity, we will see that this similarity doesn’t always translate to other ballistic characteristics and we will look at those stats and discuss the reasoning in the next several sections.
Let’s see if the higher muzzle velocities of the .270 Win rounds holds up when we add more rounds to the group.
Average Velocity (ft/s)
|Yards||.308 Win||.270 Win|
With the larger data set, we still see the same trend of the .270 Win rounds bringing higher velocities than the .308 Win rounds. While the difference between the averages is not as great, we are still seeing close to 200fps or a little less than that from the muzzle out to the 500 yard mark. The rate at which both cartridges bleed velocity doesn’t seem to be significant.
While we are discussing velocity, we also want to take a look at how long these the bullets of these cartridges can remain in supersonic flight. Both of these cartridges have been used for long range shooting scenarios though they might not be the most popular rounds in today’s competitions. And from a hunting perspective, we have already seen that both remain supersonic through the distances that are applicable to hunting shots.
Still, for the sake of being thorough, we wanted to see how the two compare in this category. A lot of marksmen want to know this metric because when a bullet falls below supersonic speeds, their flight becomes more unstable and the difficulty of being accurate increases substantially.
Average Supersonic Limit (Yards)
|.308 Winchester||.270 Win|
From the averages above, we see that the .270 Win rounds stay at supersonic speeds for about 80 yards further than the .308 Win rounds. We’re not sure if this is a big enough difference for you to start leaning one way or the other. We do know that there is a lot of variance between the individual rounds, but the top performing rounds in this category are .270 Win factory loads. There are several .308 Win rounds that break the 1000 yard mark, but much less often when compared to the .270 Win.
Ballistic Coefficient (BC)
The ballistic coefficient (BC) is a term that elicits a lot of attention from hunters and marksmen, or it’s a term that they don’t know a whole lot about. The theories and physics behind the ballistic coefficient can get a little out there, so we are going to simplify it in this article.
The BC is simply a rating that is derived from an equation that uses multiple cartridge/bullet variables. What this number tells you is how well the bullet resists wind drag and wind drift throughout its flight path and gives you an idea of how well a bullet will be able to cut through air and wind resistance. The higher the ballistic coefficient, the less drag, and influence this resistance will have on the traveling bullet. For shots taken at extended ranges, a higher BC often means fewer adjustments will have to be made to get the bullet on target. The ballistic coefficient is not everything when it comes to having a true flying bullet. While we think it has a large role in making difficult shots easier, don’t make the error of thinking that if a bullet has a high BC, that it is going to do all the work for you or replace experience and skill.
So, let’s take a look at the ballistic coefficients of the ten rounds we are comparing (Graph 4).
Again, there can be a lot of variance on the BC from one round to the next of the same cartridge depending on bullet design. Both of these cartridges have rounds that exhibit BCs around the .5 range and also low BCs in the .3 range. It’s a good example of how bullet design is the driving factor in this category. There are some trends between cartridge types though. The .270 is a more aerodynamic round but the .308 rounds a slightly heavier which helps them resist drag and crosswinds.
If we take the average of the given rounds, we see that the .270 has a slight advantage with only a hundredth of a difference. We also have selected some pretty high performing .308 rounds. This is also an example of how bringing in more rounds might give us a clearer picture. From our research, the general trend of .270 rounds having higher ballistic coefficients on average holds up.
What you should take away from this section is what the BC means, as stripped down as we made it, and the understanding that between these two cartridges, the BC can vary pretty wildly with high and low performing rounds for each.
To be more confident that this trend is the norm, let’s take a look at the average BC for these two cartridges with larger sample groups.
Average Ballistic Coefficient
|.308 Winchester||.270 Winchester|
These two numbers are pretty dang similar. With only four thousandths of a difference between the two averages, it doesn’t make much sense to make a choice between these two cartridges based solely on the ballistic coefficient. We will say that if you look at each individual round for each cartridge, you’re going to find quite a range in the BCs for both. There are high and low BC rounds for both the .308 Win and the .270 Win. If you’re planning on shooting either of these at more extreme ranges, you will need to take into account other performance factors other than the BC alone.
For hunters and competition shooters alike, the trajectory of a round is characteristic that garners a lot of attention and scrutiny. As most of you know, the laws of physics work on a flying bullet and rather than fly in a perfectly straight line, the flight path takes on a parabola shape. As the bullet moves downrange, it loses altitude. The more pronounced this bullet drop, the more difficult it is to make adjustments to shot placement.
For any round of any cartridge type, you want to see a flat trajectory with minimal bullet drop. Before we look at the short and long-range trajectories of these two cartridges, we wanted to take a broad outlook at the trajectory of only two rounds. We selected a round from each cartridge that are from the same manufacturer, have the same bullet design, are of similar bullet weights, and have similar ballistic coefficients (Graph 5).
From this graph, we see that there is no noticeable difference between the two rounds to the 200-yard mark. From the 200 to 400-yard mark we see the .270 round show a flatter trajectory though even here, there are only 5 inches of difference at its greatest margin.
From this point to the 500-yard mark, the difference increases with the .270 round showing 10 inches less bullet drop than the .308 round.
Let’s expand upon this and see if we continue to see this trend when we examine more rounds with various bullet weights, designs, and BCs.
Short Range Trajectory
The short-range trajectory is always important to look at. Especially when it is coming from a hunting perspective where a lot of shots are taken at 300 yards or less.
We have gathered the bullet drop data from the various manufacturers where the zero variable was set at 100 yards. Measurements were taken out to the 300-yard mark (Graph 6).
At the 200-yard mark, we do see the rounds from each cartridge begin to group with the .270 rounds showing a slightly flatter trajectory than the .308 rounds. There is a little overlap between the two cartridges here, and the averages of the both show a difference of one inch. Even if we look at the two rounds with the largest difference in bullet drop between the .270 and .308, that difference is only 2.7 inches.
This difference in trajectory widens slightly as the bullets move out to the 300-yard mark. At this distance, the average drop of the .270 rounds is 11.6 inches while the average drop of the .308 rounds is 14.68 inches. And while there are still some rounds for both cartridges that hang around the middle of the pack, the difference in trajectory between individual rounds expands quite a bit from the 300-yard mark.
From this graph, it does seem that the .270 rounds show a flatter trajectory at short range than the .308. The extent of this difference may or may not be enough for you to decide one way or the other. In our eyes, both of these cartridges would be more than effective at 300 yards.
Average Bullet Drop (Inches) at Short Range
|Yards||.308 Win||.270 Win|
While the differences are not too dramatic between these two cartridges, we still see the trend of the .270 Win having a flatter trajectory than the .308 Win. While less than an inch difference at 200 yards, nearly four inches at 300 yards, and a little more than five inches at 400 yards, might not seem like much, it can easily be the difference between success and failure. Of course, these are just averages and there are definitely .308 rounds that perform above the average. These numbers do corroborate the trends we saw in our graph.
Long Range Trajectory
When looking at the .270 vs .308, we have to examine the long-range trajectory of these cartridges. Both of these have a history in long-range performance in an assortment of applications. Like the short-range trajectory, this data originates from the manufacturer where the zero setting was set at 200 yards and the measurements taken out to 500 yards (Graph 7).
The general trend of the long-range data between these two cartridges is very similar to what we saw with the short range trajectory. At the 300 yard mark, the difference between the average bullet drop of these two cartridges is nearly identical. If we look at individual rounds, there are several .270 rounds that show two to three inches less bullet drop than some of the .308 rounds.
At 400 yards, the margin widens with a four-inch difference in bullet drop between the .270 and .308 rounds. It is more clear at this range where the rounds for each cartridge begin to group. You can see that the flattest shooting rounds belong to the .270 while the rounds showing the steepest drop are .308 cartridges. There is some middle ground where the .270 and .308 have rounds that behave very similarly.
At the 500 yard mark, we see the same pattern but it is much more distinct. At this point the difference between the two cartridges is right at 10 inches. If you begin picking out individual rounds, you can find some huge differences between .270 and .308 rounds where the .308 round shows between fifteen and twenty more inches of bullet drop
While it appears that the .270 has rounds with a distinct advantage in long-range trajectory, there are .308 rounds that are more than capable of being used at these ranges. And if you have hunting in mind, the trajectory doesn’t mean much if the bullet can’t bring down the game quickly which leads us to our next section.
Average Bullet Drop (Inches) at Long Range
|Yards||.308 Win||.270 Win|
When we look at the numbers for our larger data set, we see the same trends as previously. The .270 Win, on average, has less bullet drop than the .308 Win. In this table, we have actually extended the range out to a 700 and 1,000 yard marker. At these ranges, the difference between these two cartridges really becomes apparent. With 26 inches of difference at the 700 yard mark and 54 inches of difference at a 1,000 yards, the .270 has the advantage in trajectory. And as we state in just about every category, this doesn’t mean there are not .308 factory loads out there that will perform above the average, but it might be hard to find a factory load that can match the average of the .270 at 500+ yards.
For hunting cartridges, the stopping power is one of the more important performance characteristics. You don’t want to spend the night tracking through the woods after an injured animal because the bullet didn’t have enough power to drop it cleanly. For those who are more interested in long-range shooting, this section might not carry the weight the ballistics section has. Regardless, there is no harm in knowing as much about your cartridge of choice as possible.
There are several components to stopping power of a particular cartridge. Two of these components that we will look at are the kinetic energy that is associated with the bullet as it travels downrange and the how well the bullet penetrates the target.
The energy or force (ft.lb) that is associated with a bullet on its flight path is transferred to the target on impact and can cause a tremendous amount of damage to surrounding tissue and organs which makes this component of stopping power important to examine. You will often see the loose guidelines for how much energy is needed to harvest specific animals. For most medium size game, 1,000ft.lbs of energy is the recommended amount, and this increases the larger the animal gets. While we agree that energy is important, we also think shot placement is as important if not more. It’s also important to remember that expansion of the bullet is also important is this allows the maximum amount of energy to transfer to the target.
Let’s examine the stopping power of our ten rounds and see if we can spot any major talking points (Graph 8).
Both cartridges have a tremendous amount of energy at the shorter distances, over 2,500ft.lb average muzzle energy for both. Both cartridges tend to bleed energy at the same rate as they move down range as the differences between the averages remain within 50ft.lbs of energy throughout the 500 yards. Both cartridges and their five rounds have over 1,000ft.lbs of energy out at the 500-yard mark, and we also see that there is not really in patterns when it comes to each cartridge grouping together. There is a lot of overlap between the two cartridges with both of them having rounds that carry a significantly more amount of energy while others fall behind.
This is one of the main reasons, when looking at the .270 vs .308, why the .270 is favored for hunting large game where shots are taken at increased distance. With the flatter trajectory and stopping power that is nearly identical to the larger .308 bullets at long range, a lot of people feel more confident in taking shots at game at a distance with the .270 over the .308.
But, before we take that to the bank, let’s see if those trends hold up when we take a look at a larger sample of rounds for these cartridges.
Average Bullet Kinetic Energy (ft.lbs)
|Yards||.308 Win||.270 Win|
For the most part, we see a lot of the same results with the larger data set. The .308 Win has anywhere between 30 to 50 more ft.lbs of energy from the muzzle out to 300 yards. What is a little different now that we have more rounds is that the rate at which the .308 Win rounds bleed KE is a little steeper than the .270 Win rounds. We see this the most at the 400 and 500 yard marker where the .308 Win only has about 17 more ft.lbs of KE and then less KE than the .270 Win rounds at the 500 yard mark.
Penetration (Sectional Density)
Testing rounds on ballistic gels are one method of testing the penetration between two cartridges though how well a gel simulates a bull elk is up for debate. How we will compare penetration of these two rounds is to look at the sectional densities (SD) of the bullets as it allows us to look at the two cartridges rather than the differences between bullet styles. These numbers are not going to tell you how deep a bullet will penetrate. It is going to give us an idea of the potential each round had has for penetration.
The sectional density of a bullet is derived from the bullet’s weight and diameter and correlates to its penetration. The higher the SD of a bullet, the deeper penetration it will show. Other factors such as velocity and bullet design also play a role in penetration, but we will mostly keep the conversation on sectional density.
So, let’s take a look at the sectional densities of the ten rounds we have been using for comparison and see if any trends emerge (Graph 9).
Before we discuss any differences and trends that we see between the .270 vs .308 in sectional density we want to take a look at two rounds of the different cartridges that share the same bullet weight to show how sectional density can differ based on the variables that go into calculating the sectional density.
The 150gr .270 round shows a higher sectional density and depending on the bullet type, better penetration than the 150gr .308 rounds. The reason for this is the smaller diameter of the .270 allows more force to be localized to a smaller area and helps push the bullet deeper.
If we step back and look at the two cartridges, we see some pretty interesting results. The first is how varied the sectional densities of the .270 rounds appear. If you notice, the two rounds with SDs of .279 are the heavier 150gr bullets. Overall, the heavier bullet weights of the .308 rounds are what give the .308 cartridge a slightly higher average when it comes to the sectional density. Though the .308 on average has a higher SD here, there are .270 rounds, as we have highlighted, that have similar or better SD numbers.
Let’s take a look at the average SDs for our larger data set.
Average Sectional Density
|.308 Winchester||.270 Winchester|
Interestingly, when looking at more rounds, we see that the .270 Win takes a pretty big leap over the .308 Win. We already know that the .270 Win rounds have a smaller diameter than the .30 cal cartridge and when we added in more rounds, they contained quite a few heavier rounds that bumped up the average. What should be taken away here is that both of these cartridges have rounds that are going to range in sectional density. And there is a reason that sectional density is not used as the sole metric to determine potential penetration. Let’s move on and look at a second metric for this category,
Bullet momentum is another factor that goes into stopping power and is always involved in the arguments for the best indicator for stopping power. When we look at these numbers, we are addressing how well a bullet is able to stay in motion when faced with resistance. Whether that is an obstacle in the flight path or the hide and bone of a game animal, momentum gives you an idea of how well the bullet can overcome these obstacles.
From a hunting perspective, momentum is a good indicator for potential penetration, like sectional density, and really goes hand in hand with it. Bullet’s with the same momentum and same mass but different sectional densities will have different penetration results. Smaller diameter bullet is going to penetrate deeper because less resistance is encountered. This scenario is also omitting bullet design, which in real world scenarios, is just as important as any of the data we are looking at.
Momentum is a function of the bullet’s mass and its velocity and since we have looked at both, you should already have an idea of how these two cartridges will look in comparison to each other.
We have calculated the bullet momentum for our ten selected rounds and graphed them below from the muzzle out to 500 yards (Graph 10).
There is quite a lot to talk about after looking at the graph. The first is that the .308 Win rounds, at least the majority of them, leave the muzzle with a around an average of 6lb/ft.s more momentum than the .270 Win rounds. As the rounds move downrange, we do see the .308 Win rounds start to lose momentum at a faster rate than the .270 Win rounds.
By the time the rounds reach the 300 yard mark, there is only 4lb/ft.s of momentum difference between the rounds of the different cartridges. By the 500 yard marker, there is right at 3.5lb/ft.s difference in momentum between the two cartridges.
The rounds of each cartridge do group together pretty tightly until they get out to the 500 yard marker. But even before then, we do see some rounds that deviate a little from the rest of the rounds of their respective cartridge.
Let’s take a look at the averages of our larger sample size and see if the same trend persists.
Average Bullet Momentum (lb/ft.s)
|Yards||.308 Win||.270 Win|
The data that we have from the large sample is almost exactly the same as the averages from the smaller sample size. We see the .308 Win rounds carrying on average more momentum than the .270 but as they move downrange, we see the the .270 Win rounds gaining ground. More like the .308 Win rounds are losing ground.
Accuracy has more to do with the quality of the firearm and the user more so than the cartridge. And while we don’t think ballistics can rectify user error, we do think that certain ballistic characteristics can help you be more accurate on a consistent basis.
We have seen the flatter trajectory of the .270 versus the .308, and that may play a role in it being more accurate, especially at ranges over 300 yards. Within that range, there will be little if any difference in the accuracy of the two based on bullet drop from the .270 v. .308. And if you go back and look at the differences in bullet drop at long ranges you will see that there are .308 rounds that are more than capable of 400 and 500-yard shots.
We have also examined the ballistic coefficients of the two cartridges. From looking at that information, we saw that while the .270 had a slightly higher average BC than the .308, the .308 had rounds with similar and even higher BCs than the .270. In this case, it seemed that the BC relied more on the individual round than a difference between cartridges.
Regarding recoil, we have seen that both cartridges generate a similar amount of energy, so we don’t think that distinguishes either of the two cartridges regarding accuracy.
Price and Availability
Both of these cartridges are pretty popular in the United States. You might have a little better selection of .270 rounds when searching around a retail store than the .308, but generally, you are not going to have an issue finding these rounds and finding various types of ammunition for each.
As for price, it can vary pretty wildly depending on the make of the ammunition. Just take a look at the ten rounds that we have looked at in this article. You can find a case of .308 for twenty bucks and a box down the aisle might be forty dollars. The same can go for the .270. Based on their hunting use, we don’t see any real difference in price between the two. Not enough for you to choose one over the other anyway.
|Ammunition||Price (20 Rounds)|
|308 Hornady BTHP Match 168gr||$22.89|
|308 Winchester Super-X 180gr||$21.99|
|308 Nosler Ballistic Tip 165gr||$30.99|
|308 Federal Vital-Shok Ballistic Tip 150gr||$31.79|
|308 Federal Gold Medal Sierra Matchking 175gr||$25.99|
|270 Winchester SST Superperformance 130gr||$41.21|
|270 Federal Vital-Shok Nosler Partition 150gr||$20.49|
|270 Remington Core-Lokt PSP 115gr||$15.99|
|270 Winchester Ballistic Silvertip 130gr||$31.99|
|270 Federal Sierra GameKing BTSP 150gr||$30.99|
As we come to a close with this comparison, we want to bring all the information we have examined and use it to start trying to figure out if there are scenarios where one cartridge might be better suited than the other, or maybe applications where you can’t really go wrong with either of them. For convenience, we have also included the average tables for the various performance categories below.
We think that both of these cartridges make excellent hunting options though there are hunting situations where one might be better suited than the other. So, in regards to the .270 vs .308 debate, let’s look at some of these applications.
For recoil, it’s a wash between these two cartridges. Both have a bit of a kick, but for hunters and marksman with a little experience it’s nothing you haven’t felt before, and it shouldn’t impact your shot in the field. Besides, with that adrenaline pumping, you’re not going to feel it anyway.
For small game hunting, the .270 is a much better option. This is just due to the availability of lighter grain bullets. Hitting small game with a heavy grain .308 is not going to leave anything behind and is just overkill and a waste of money.
For large game, both cartridges have the stopping power to take large game at under 300 yards and even further when in the right hands. They can both take medium sized game at 500 yards without an issue in regards to energy. As for the penetration potential of these cartridges, the .270 Win rounds had slightly better SDs than the .308 Win rounds but the .308 Win rounds brought a little more momentum, especially at the more common hunting ranges out to 400 yards. With both cartridges excelling slightly at different categories, we don’t think there is really much of a difference in how well the two will penetrate from the standpoint of these numbers. You will definitely need to take it round by round regardless of the cartridge and pay a lot of attention to how the bullet is going to react on impact.
For larger game such as deer and elk, both cartridges have enough stopping power at short range to drop animals cleanly. The .270 might be a better option when dealing with shots that are over 400 yards. There are some .308 rounds out there that perform well at these distances as well, but generally, the .270 would be the better choice. And this has nothing to do with energy or penetration, but rather the ballistics.
The big reason why the .308 is not favored in long-range shooting is the heaviness of the bullets and the trajectory. For large game at increased distances, the .308 is just harder to put on target in the kill zone. If you can, it will drop game, but for all but the best marksman, you are more than likely only going to wound the animal and never find it. And when we are talking about extended ranges we mean 400+ yards. And as we have stated several at several points, it’s not that we are saying it is impossible, we are just saying that the ballistics lean towards the .270 in this situation.
For general long-range shooting, a lot of the above discussion is pertinent here as well. The .270, on average, has higher velocities than the .308 which a lot of long-range shooters will be key on. Like all the other categories there are some .308 rounds that are similar, but there are several .270 rounds that outperform all of the .308 rounds we have looked at. The same goes for the BCs of these rounds. While the .270 rounds might have a slightly higher BC on average than the .308, it seems to depend on the individual round. Both have rounds with high enough BCs for some long-range action.
Before we wrap up this article, we want to re-examine the ten rounds we have been comparing and pick a round from each cartridge that we think will excel in certain situations. This is just our opinion, and it doesn’t mean that we think our picks are the only option out there to take care of your business.
Top Hunting Round
The Federal Vital-Shok Nosler Partition 150gr is one of our favorite hunting rounds for the .270 cartridge. This round has nearly 2,000ft.s velocity at 500 yards which is more than enough to get the correct terminal ballistics. That paired with bullet energy greater than 1,500ft.lbs at 400 yards give this round excellent stopping power. We also like the heavier grain bullet that can get penetration on larger game. The long range trajectory for this round is not as flat as other .270 rounds but it is still manageable at 400 yards and to be honest, any range after that we are not concerned with when it comes to hunting.
For the .308 Win, we like the Nosler Ballistic Tip 165gr. This is another excellent option for medium to larger game. The bullet energy is the highest of the selected .308 rounds with 1,300ft.lbs of energy at the 500-yard mark which is enough for even larger game at that range. With proper shot placement, this round still has the energy and the velocity to make a clean kill. Anything within that yard mark is no issue. For the .308 rounds, it has one of the best long-range trajectories where a 300-yard shot is no problem in the right hands, and 400 yards is even manageable.
Top Range Round
Our tope range round for the .270 is the 130gr Winchester SST Superperformance. This round excels in the velocity category with over 2,200ft.sec at 500 yards and will remain supersonic for several hundred yards beyond that mark. The BC of this round might not be as high as long-range shooters would like to see, but the flat trajectory might compensate for this with a bullet drop of only 33 inches at 500 yards. That’s pretty impressive for a factory load. This round is a bit more expensive compared to the other .270 factory loads that we have looked at, but it gives you the best long-range performance.
For our top .308 Win range round we like the 168gr Hornady BTHP Match. This round is affordable which is an important consideration when you plan burning through quite a few out on the range. This round has a great BC for .308 rounds (.45), and when paired with the velocity and long-range trajectory, you have an excellent round for precision shooting. The bullet drop is more pronounced than the small weight .270 rounds, but when compared to other .308 rounds, you can easily handle the 80 and 120-inch drop at the 600 and 700-yard mark.
When looking at the .270 vs .308, it’s difficult to draw a firm conclusion on which is the better cartridge. While they have some similar characteristics, there are differences that make them better in certain situations.
It’s a new world out there. You don’t have to be relegated to only one cartridge and feel it deserves all of your loyalty. To be a great hunter, you might need to turn to more than one cartridge on your adventures.
We hope that this article has given a clearer understanding of the two cartridges and also made clear that both are tremendous hunting cartridges that are readily available. When used in the right scenario, both the .270 and .308 are effective cartridges for bringing home game or smoking the competition on the range.
Huston is a hunting enthusiast who believes your success in the field is directly correlated to the amount of preparation at home. With a degree in Microbiology and several years of doctoral work manipulating bacterial genes, he attempts to merge the rational and unbiased thinking of scientific research with the passions of hunting and fishing. With two decades of chasing all manner of upland game, hooved mammals, strutting gobblers, and any small game that can fit in his Dutch oven, he hopes to offer new ideas and viewpoints on hunting and firearm concepts and traditions.