Growing up, one of my mentor shooters loved nothing more than to heap insults on the .270 Winchester. A Korean War veteran and a competitive rifle shooter, this gentleman had nothing good to say about the cartridge famed Jack O’Connor spoke so lovingly of.
“.270s are worthless,” he once said to me. “Absolutely worthless !”
His rationale? The .270 pushed a bullet too fast and, subsequently, it was impossible to recover more than a few pounds of edible meat from an animal killed by this cartridge. The best meat, he always told me, was practically jelly. What a waste.
Over the past few years, I’ve killed multiple deer with the .270, and my personal hunting weapon is a Montana Rifle Company bolt action with a Trijicon scope chambered in— you guessed it—.270.
So, do I think my old hunting and shooting companion was wrong? Yes … sort of.
When he was first hunting with the .270 back in the 1950s, he certainly didn’t have the bullet selection we have today. The .270 Winchester is not a slow cartridge, but it has been surpassed by many other rounds since that time. This includes But bullets are a different story.
With so many new bullet options, there are lots of great choices today, so I’m breaking this selection guide down by the size of the animals hunted. There are three primary categories here— light game, heavy game and dangerous game—and a list of bullets that will work (and won’t work) on each.
The light game category includes deer-sized game such as whitetails, pronghorn, sheep and various African species (including the springbok, blesbok, impala and all the really tiny antelope—suni, duiker, klipspringer, steenbok and the like). The good news is that you have a lot of bullet choices for this class of game. I’m specifically ignoring a few species here, such as feral hogs (which, while generally deer-sized or smaller, can grow to immense proportions and have heavy skin), aoudad, mountain goats and a few others. These game animals are tough enough to move into a higher category.
For most readers, this boils down to whitetail bullets. While it’s true that you don’t want a bullet that won’t reach the vitals, you also don’t want a bullet that doesn’t expand at all and leaves a pinhole wound directly through the animal and very, very little blood to follow. You need expansion and the transfer of shock. And modern bullets can do that with little meat damage.
Cup and core bullets, such as Sierra’s GameKing, Remington’s Core-Lokt and Winchester’s Power Point, all work well for deersized game, effectively transferring energy and creating plenty of internal damage to drop deer quickly. There is a slew of new deer-themed loads such as Winchester’s Deer Season XP, Hornady’s American Whitetail and Federal’s new Non-Typical ammo. And even though all these loads take a different design approach, they all function just fine.
Other great choices here are Nosler’s Ballistic Tips, Hornady’s SST and Browning’s new BXR. I used the BXR bullet on several deer and found it to function perfectly, opening a wide wound channel and dropping the animals quickly and efficiently. In fact, none required a tracking job.
Medium game animals are larger and more heavily built than whitetails. These include everything from the aoudad and the mountain goat mentioned above to elk and moose, red stags, black bear and the large African plains game—kudu, zebra and eland. Larger game has heavier skin, bone and muscle, all of which demand more of a bullet to reach the vitals and provide a clean, consistent kill.
You can argue for a bunch of different expanding bullets here, but my favorites are the bonded and homogenous bullets. Bonded bullets have copper jackets that are electrochemically bonded to the core and greatly reduce the odds of jacket/core separation and underpenetration. There are many great options in this category, but three bullets I have personally used and had great success with are Nosler’s Accubond, Hornady’s Interbond, Federal’s Trophy Bonded Tip and the new BXC from Browning. Even with fast magnums and heavy game, you should get good penetration with these bullets and excellent energy transfer—as long as you don’t take any bad shots.
Homogenous bullets, which generally comprise all-copper alloys, don’t risk separation, because there is no lead core. Barnes really invented this category with its X Bullet, and its new TSX is a fine example of a modern homogenous bullet that has had great success. I used the TSX in a .375 H&H Magnum to take a large boar hog in California, and it worked perfectly. Other great homogenous bullets include the Hornady GMX and Federal’s excellent Trophy Copper bullet.
Dangerous game is a limited category—grizzly, brown and polar bears, African lion, Cape buffalo, elephant, hippo and our American bison. All these animals demand respect, and they all require a tough bullet.
Traditionally, the “soft” bullets for these animals have been the Swift A-Frame, Woodleigh Weldcore, Nosler Partition and the Federal Trophy Bonded Bear Claw. All are very capable bullets that will retain their weight, punch through heavy skin and muscle, and reach the vitals when it’s vitally important that you do so.
The homogenous bullets work well here, too. In fact, a friend just sent me three images of Barnes TSX bullets recovered from Cape buffalo bulls. All of them performed superbly.
In some select instances, such as elephant hunting and chargestopping scenarios, you’ll need a solid bullet—a design that is rarely called upon when hunting. But when you absolutely must have a bullet that offers the best straight-line penetration, solids from Federal, Barnes, Nosler and others are the ticket.
The sheer number of bullet options available today can be overwhelming, but if you follow these guidelines, you should have minimal meat waste with a quick, humane and safe kill.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the October 2017 print issue of Gun World Magazine.