6.8 Western vs .270 Winchester: Ballistics, and which to pick

At nearly a century old, the 270 Winchester has become a legendary classic, but it is also starting to show its age in the face of new rivals. In 2021 we saw the release of the 6.8 Western, and one question has been on many minds in the past year, do we finally have a successor to the legendary 270 Winchester?

The 6.8 Western is what the 270 WSM should have been–an improved 270 Winchester with superior bullets for a flat shooting, in an efficient cartridge that retains more energy and velocity.

The .277 caliber has always been an oddball. For the longest time, the Winchester and the 270 Weatherby were the only two commercial cartridges in this caliber. That’s why I find it odd to hear about a “270 revival” because not only has this caliber never died, but the recent 6.8mm offerings in the 21st Century aren’t exactly setting the world on fire either.

Want to learn more about the 6.8 Western? Jim has two videos to check out! His first video goes over the same comparison but with a different data set, which you can view here. The second, found here, is part of the “Cartridge Wars” series.

Similarities and Differences

Both use the same diameter bullets in .277 caliber (6.8mm). Each are also designed from the start to be hunting cartridges. Their upper limits seem to be elk with deer, sheep, and goats being where both shine. Recoil is moderate for both with only about a 3ft-lb difference between the two. Pressure is the same too with 65,000 psi.

CartridgeCase LengthCase CapacityCase PressureFree RecoilBullet Weights
270 Winchester2.540″67gr65,000 psi17.64 ft-lbs120-150gr
6.8 Western2.020″74gr65,000 psi20.44 ft-lbs150-175gr
Measurements are taken from SAAMI spec, Backfire database, and ammo availability.

This is where we see the two cartridges diverge. The Winchester utilizes a tall, narrow 30-06 case while the 6.8 Western uses a shorter, fatter case from the 270 WSM. The Winchester has a case capacity of 67gr compared to 74gr for the Western, all while being a short action design.

Speaking of bullets, their ideal weight range differs as well. The Winchester uses bullets that bullets top out around 150gr and a B.C. of around 0.50. Conversely, the Western utilizes sleek bullets from 150gr to around 175gr with B.C’s of at least 0.50.

Ballistics Compared

Now for the meat and potatoes of this comparison. One complication is the fact that Winchester and Browning are the only two manufacturers making 6.8 Western ammo. However, the 270 Winchester has many options on the market.

In the interest of fairness, an offering from Winchester and Browning are represented for each cartridge with the 270 Winchester having a couple more options, one from Federal and another from Hornady:

  • Browning BXS Solid Copper Expansion 130gr Poly Tip ($54/box)
  • Browning Long Range Pro 140gr Sierra GameKing ($52/box)
  • Winchester Super-X Power Point 130gr ($25/box)
  • Winchester Expedition 150gr Nosler AccuBond ($54/box)
  • Federal Fusion 150gr Bonded Soft Point ($40/box)
  • Hornady Precision Hunter 145gr ELD-X ($63/box)

The different bullet types and weights should provide us with a good idea of what a 270 Winchester is capable of. Our second lineup for the 6.8 Western consists of the following loads:

  • Browning Long Range Pro 175gr Polymer Tip ($62/box)
  • Winchester Copper Impact 162gr Extreme Point Poly Tip ($58/box)
  • Winchester Expedition 165gr Nosler AccuBond ($63/box)
  • Winchester Ballistic Silvertip 170gr Poly Tip ($58/box)

This gives us a total of ten loads to compare between the two cartridges. For the ballistic data, I am using a 200yd zero, a 10mph crosswind at a right angle. After plugging in all the numbers, here are the results:

Velocity/EnergyMuzzle100200300400500
6.8 Western Average2900/31352742/28052590/25022448/22262300/19742162/1744
Browning LRP2835/31232686/28042542/25112403/22432267/19982137/1774
Winchester Copper2875/29732711/26442553/23442400/20722252/18252110/1602
Winchester Expedition2970/32262817/29082670/26122547/23402389/20912254/1862
Winchester Silvertip2920/32182754/28632594/25402440/22472290/19812146/1739
270 Win Average2975/27612778/24092590/20962409/18162236/15672070/1346
Browning BXS3100/27742889/24102688/20862496/17992312/15432135/1316
Browning LRP2970/27422784/24102606/21122435/18432270/16022112/1386
Winchester Super-X3060/27022803/22682561/18932331/15682112/12881907/1050
Winchester Expedition2900/28012742/25052590/22352443/19882301/17642163/1559
Federal Fusion2850/27062655/23482469/20302290/17472118/14951954/1272
Hornady Precision2970/28402794/25132624/22182461/19512304/17092152/1492
Bolded data are averages taken across all the loads for each cartridge.

That was energy and velocity, now for drift and drop:

Drop/Drift (in/in)B.C. G1100200300400500
6.8 Western Average0.5911.58/0.550.00/2.17-6.73/4.96-19.37/9.04-38.58/14.52
Browning LRP0.6171.67/0.540.00/2.13-7.03/4.87-20.11/8.87-39.96/14.24
Winchester Copper0.5641.62/0.580.00/2.29-6.97/5.26-19.98/9.61-39.86/15.46
Winchester Expedition0.6201.45/0.510.00/1.99-6.22/4.54-18.12/8.26-36.01/13.23
Winchester Silvertip0.5631.56/0.570.00/2.25-6.71/5.16-19.28/9.41-38.49/15.15
270 Win Average0.4901.52/0.650.00/2.59-6.71/5.99-19.45/11.01-39.27/17.83
Browning BXS0.4601.35/0.640.00/2.56-6.14/5.92-17.88/10.87-36.15/17.60
Browning LRP0.5081.51/0.620.00/2.44-6.60/5.63-19.10/10.31-38.85/16.66
Winchester Super-X0.3721.48/0.810.00/3.27-6.78/7.63-20.00/14.18-41.03/23.24
Winchester Expedition0.5911.57/0.550.00/2.16-6.75/4.94-19.34/9.01-38.51/14.47
Federal Fusion0.4711.73/0.700.00/2.80-7.44/6.49-21.53/11.94-43.38/19.36
Hornady Precision0.5361.49/0.590.00/2.31-6.53/5.31-18.82/9.71-37.67/15.64
Bolded data are averages taken across all loads for each cartridge.

.

Condensing all this data, we can compare the averages of both calibers in the following two tables:

Average InputsCost per BoxBullet WeightB.C.Muzzle VelocityMuzzle Energy
6.8 Western$60.25168gr0.5912900 fps3135 ft-lbs
270 Winchester$48.00141gr0.4902975 fps2761 ft-lbs
Velocity/Energy
Drop/Drift
100 Yards200 Yards300 Yards400 Yards500 Yards
6.8 Western2742/2805
1.58/0.55
2590/2502
0.00/2.17
2448/2226
-6.73/4.96
2300/1974
-19.37/9.04
2162/1744
-38.58/14.52
270 Winchester2778/2409
1.52/0.65
2590/2096
0.00/2.59
2409/1816
-6.71/5.99
2236/1567
-19.45/11.01
2070/1346
-39.27/17.83

Averages dampen the effect of the best and worst aspects of each individual load. We can see that the extra powder and more efficient case of the 6.8 Western allows the cartridge to throw a bullet 27 grains heavier with a higher B.C. at the same velocities as the 270 Winchester.

It is true that the Winchester is faster, having a 75 fps advantage at the muzzle, but by 200 yards that advantage is gone and out to 500 yards the 6.8 Western has the upper hand for velocity, energy, and drift, though bullet drop is only slightly improved. Taking the best of each caliber into account, the Western convincingly beats the Winchester.

Which is Best?

How should we interpret this data? If a hunter already owns a 270, is looking to buy a used rifle, or is planning to reload cartridges then the 270 Winchester is the obvious choice. What worked in the 1920s will work just fine in the 2020s.

However, the 6.8 Western doesn’t reinvent the wheel, it improves on older designs to give us a cartridge that shows great promise. I’d go as far as to say that someone with a 270 WSM should seriously consider re-barreling their rifle for this new design because it is far more efficient than the twenty-year-old magnum. It can punch above it’s weight just like the original 270 Win.

The biggest drawback of the 6.8 Western isn’t anything in it’s design, but rather the uncertainty of its future. Even so, it took from 1925 to 1954 for the 270 to become popular, and it would have probably remained obscure without Jack O’Connor’s influence. It could be 2050 before we know whether the 6.8 Western is a modern legend or a stepping stone to something better.

I can’t predict the future, but I will say that if the 6.8 Western does indeed become the 21st Century .277 caliber that it will be a worthy successor. If someone gave me a 6.8 Western rifle and enough ammo to last the next 20 years of hunting, I would take it without hesitation. I can’t say the same for a lot of the competition.

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2 Comments

  1. Sam Wendte says:

    What is the ideal barrel length for 6.8 western? I believe you mentioned 23” in one of your videos- does that take into account suppressing it? Thinking of building a custom 6.8 and suppressing it with a 6.5” can. Could I get away with a 20” barrel and still get good performance for elk at distance? 22” suppressed is manageable, but 20” would be much more maneuverable. Any idea what 20” ballistics would be?

    Love all the content- keep it coming! Still can’t believe 270 beat 6.8 in cartridge wars though.

    1. Jim Harmer says:

      If I were building a 6.8 western today, I’d go with a 21″ barrel because I’ll suppress it.