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Handloading the .270 Winchester Cartridge

With the wide variety of available components, the reloader can prepare carefully crafted .270 Winchester cartridge reloads that are just right.

Handloading the .270 Winchester Cartridge

These RCBS dies date from 1973 and have been used to load hundreds of rounds of .270 Winchester ammo for several rifles.

The .270 Winchester has long been one of America’s most popular cartridges, and for many good reasons. To inform someone that the .270 Winchester was introduced in 1925 and is an American Classic is the height of folly. Almost all shooters know this. What is not generally known is the circuitous path that thrust it into the American shooter’s lexicon.

In 1918 Winchester figured that, as World War I wound down, its government contracts for military rifles would dry up, so the company’s board of directors instructed the company’s gun designers to come up with new products for the soon-to-be civilians coming home from the war.

Thus, Thomas Crosley Johnson, one of Winchester’s top designers, developed a new rifle initially called the Model E, later designated as the Model 51 Imperial Sporting rifle. It was chambered in .30-06, .35 Newton, and a then-new cartridge identified only as the “27.” It was based on a necked-down .30-03 case (not the .30-06, as frequently stated). The name “Imperial” indicated that the Model 51 was a high-end rifle meant for wealthy customers. It was well-made and finely finished.

Collection of loading manuals
Up-to-date loading manuals like these provide a wealth of technical information and load data for dozens of cartridges, including the .270 Winchester.

In 1919 production of the Model 51 was authorized in the company’s Gunsmith Shop, essentially a custom shop, with a projected production estimated at no more than 200 guns per year. As it turned out, only 24 Model 51s were produced—four from the Model Shop, and the remainder from the Gunsmith Shop.

Alas, all was not wine and roses for the rifle. Winchester Vice President Frank G. Drew was a staunch proponent of lever-action rifles and dismissed the bolt actions as “frivolous toys,” declared them “unsaleable” [sic], and that further production of the Model 51 would be “folly.” Consequently, in 1920, the board of directors canceled the Model 51.

Bowl of .270 Winchester cases ready to load</p>
A batch of .270 Winchester cases cleaned, sized, trimmed, and ready to load.

By the mid-1920s, Winchester faced stiff competition from Remington’s bolt-action Model 30 hunting rifle, so Winchester launched the Model 54 in 1925. It was chambered for the .270 Winchester. Thus, one of America’s favorite cartridges was born. Model 54 production lasted until 1936, when the Model 70 was introduced, also chambered in .270 Winchester. An irony is that in 1924, Mr. Drew became President of Winchester and had to accept the new Models 54 and 70 bolt-action rifles.

For decades the .270 Winchester cartridge was used successfully on all manner of game, but it was not immediately popular. Today, this seems strange, as it combined the then-astounding velocity of 3,160 fps with a 130-grain bullet, and it was deadly accurate. Best of all, the .270’s sharp-pointed bullet had a very flat trajectory that minimized misses by errors in range estimation. Hunters who used lever actions were slow to get on board the .270’s fast-moving train. They failed to recognize the .270 is accurate, combines high velocity with good bullet weight, and has modest recoil.

Collection of .30-06 cases for various cartridges
The .30-06 case has been the basis for many popular and very useful factory cartridges, including (from left) .270 Winchester, .25-06 Remington, .280 Remington, .280 Ackley Improved, .30-06, and .35 Whelen.

Writers of the day still touted the .30-06 and claimed that the .270 was not accurate, but one writer will forever be linked to the .270’s success, and his name is Jack O’Connor. O’Connor was a big factor in the .270’s phenomenal success. He got his first .270, a Model 54, in 1925, and he proceeded to slay all manner of critters all over the world with a series of Model 70s and other rifles in .270. He reported that in his considerable experience, the .270 was actually more accurate than the .30-06 and pointed out that .270 bullets (actually 0.277 inch in diameter) retain their velocity at long ranges.

While rifles and factory ammunition are usually readily available, avid shooters want variety, and virtually all manufacturers of such wares make products for the .270. Plus, the popularity of the .270 means that many thousands of hunters and other shooters reload their own ammunition. In fact, the .270 Winchester is number five on the popularity list of RCBS rifle die sales.

Collection of slow-burning powders
The .270 Winchester thrives on slow-burning powders like these, some with special ingredients that retard copper fouling and produce temperature insensitivity.

Reloading Tips

I think all reloading is fun, but it is especially rewarding with the .270 Winchester because there is a large selection of reloading tools, gadgets, primers, cases, and bullets (from flyweights to heavy-duty bullets for big game). We should note that the 165- and 175-grain high-tech bullets available these days are for the fast-twist 6.8 Western cartridge, a specialized, near-magnum round that shoots the same diameter bullets as the .270 Winchester. The .270’s standard 1:10-inch twist will not stabilize these long bullets.

Not to worry, there’s an appropriate bullet for the .270 Winchester for just about any shooting purpose except for the target realm. This is because few target shooters chose .270s for their sport. The .270 is, after all, a premier hunting cartridge, and for reloaders, the cartridge accepts a wide variety of powders.

Wide assortment of bullets to use when reloading the .270 Winchester
Thanks to the immense popularity of the .270 Winchester, there are many excellent bullets from which the reloader can choose.

Here’s a rundown on tools, techniques, and tips for reloading the .270. Most are familiar to seasoned reloaders, but it never hurts to review the basics. I should point out that the tools mentioned are just examples with which I am familiar, and which have given me good results. There are many others that also work just fine.


I know I’ve said this before, but it’s important. The very first piece of “reloading equipment” one should get is one, two, or three reloading manuals. They are full of general information and show many lab-tested loads. For example, the Speer Reloading Manual No. 15 lists 138 loads for the .270 Win.! The manuals will give the reloader a grasp of what powders are suitable and what to expect from his handloads. And don’t overlook the Hodgdon Reloading Data Center on the internet. It has lots of load data.

Additional .270 Winchester bullet options
Additional bullet options for reloading the .270 Winchester.

It is assumed that the handloader has a reloading press. If not, may I offer a suggestion? While the single-stage press is rugged, reliable, and relatively moderate in price, I think the turret-type press offers the most value for the dollar. Various ones have six, seven, or even eight threaded holes for dies. A couple of sets of dies, a crimping die, or a decapping die can be left installed in the turret, providing time-saving convenience. That’s just my two cents worth!

All the gun supply companies make reloading dies, and most offer full-length and neck-sizing die sets, as well as specialized seating dies.

The .270 is a very forgiving cartridge to reload. Almost any safe bullet and powder combination will yield satisfactory results, and reloaders can test component combinations to their heart’s content because the number of powders and bullets suitable for the .270 is vast.

Examples of .270-caliber bullets
Examples of excellent .270-caliber bullets include (from left) Barnes 130-grain TTSX, Berger 140-grain VLD Hunter, Federal 136-grain Edge, Federal 140-grain TBT, Hornady 150-grain SST, Nosler 130-grain Partition, Nosler 150-grain AccuBond, Nosler 165-grain ABLR, Norma 156-grain Oryx Bonded, Sierra 140-grain Tipped GameKing, Swift 130-grain Scirocco II, and Speer 130-grain Grand Slam.

Cases are, of course, the place to start with any reloading project. And case prep really should include cleaning. This makes it easier to spot cracks or other products of wear and tear that would make the case unsuitable for reloading. Case tumblers that take dry, treated media, those that use solutions, and units with tiny metal polisher particles are available. In addition to cases from factory loads fired in the shooter’s rifle(s), many companies offer new brass cases for the round. Hornady, Winchester, and Norma come to mind.

Sizing fired cases can take two paths. For .270 ammo to use in the rifle that the cases were fired in, for load development, or for informal target shooting, neck-sizing will prolong case life and possibly enhance accuracy. For hunting loads, full-length sizing of once-fired brass is recommended.

 Ruger Model 77R Rifle
The Ruger Model 77R rifle used in this report was made in 1972; has taken many head of big game in Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, and Texas; and still shoots very well.

As with most nonbelted, rimless cases, sizing .270 cases to fit the chamber of the rifle in which it is going to be fired is a good practice for safety and better accuracy. In a pinch, .270 cases can be made from other cases, such as the .30-06 and the .280 Remington, but these cases are deceptively similar to the .270, so mix-ups can occur. Thus, it’s best to stick with cases that have the proper headstamp.

The .270’s rim and base diameters are the same as the .30-06, and so is the shoulder angle (17.5 degrees). The datum point on the shoulder is also the same 0.441 inch. Maximum case length for the .270 Win. is 2.540 inches.

Tools to set the sizing die to the rifle are made by several companies. The Instant Indicator Headspace and Bullet Seating Depth Comparator form Redding measures the shoulder position of a fired or sized case and checks bulletseating depth. From RCBS is the Precision Mike that measures headspace to the datum point on the case. Both of these gauges are cartridge specific.

pre-’64 Winchester Model 70
This pre-’64 Winchester Model 70 is the quintessential .270 Winchester rifle, and it has dropped many southeast Kansas whitetails.

Hornady offers separate gauges for headspace. The Lock-N-Load Headspace Comparator checks the shoulder position of fired and sized cases, and this tool comes with five bushings that collectively cover a huge number of cases.

The goal is to have the case shoulder just touch the chamber with a slight “feel,” sometimes called a “crush fit.” This also minimizes the chances of incipient case head separations.

Hornady also makes the Lock-N-Load O.A.L. Gauge that determines the cartridge length with the bullet touching the rifling in the rifle’s bore. From this, the reloader can seat the bullet to his or her preferred amount of “bullet jump.”

Redding T-7 Turret Press
Many types of reloading presses are available, but the author recommends a turret press like this Redding T-7. He says it offers convenience and value.

Case length is an important component of both safety and accuracy. A dial or digital caliper is needed here. As I said earlier, the maximum overall case length for the .270 Winchester is 2.540 inches. A good rule of thumb is to trim to 0.010 inch less than the maximum, or 2.530 inches. Several lathe-type trimmers are available, and they are easy to set up and use.

Most reloading presses come with some sort of a priming attachment, but almost no one uses them. A hand-held or bench-mounted tool is much more convenient, and they keep greasy fingertips off the primers. For safety sake, you don’t want to get grease on the primers. Hornady, RCBS, and Lee make such hand-priming tools, and they’re a boon.

Hornady Hand Priming Tool
Hand priming tools, such as this one from Hornady, are fast and safe to use.

The .270 Win. uses Large Rifle primers, and standard as well as magnum primers are available. I think that most .270 Win. loads are adequately sparked with standard primers, but some loading manuals suggest magnum primers for slow-burning and spherical powders and for handloads that may be used in cold temperatures. If your .270 reloads are maximum and show what you think are high standard deviations (S.D.) with standard primers, reduce the powder charge about 4 percent and load duplicate test loads with both standard and magnum primers. Remember, the S.D. is the square root of something (okay, it’s the variance), so it takes a relatively large reduction in S.D. to be meaningful.

For example, if your S.D. with magnum primers is only 10 or 20 percent lower, I’d disregard it and go with which ever load is the most accurate. A drop of about 50 percent is what I’d call a “real” improvement in S.D.

RCBS Powder Measure
This powder measure from RCBS provides rapid and precise dispensing of propellants into primed cases.

As for primer performance, the average S.D. of 21 handloads I fired in my Ruger Model 77 for loads with magnum primers (CCI 250 and Federal 215) was 13 fps. The average S.D. for seven loads with IMR 4831 and Winchester Large Rifle (standard) primers in the Mossberg Patriot rifle was 11 fps (virtually no difference), and the group average of all seven loads was 1.11 inches. The .270 uses about 55 grains of relatively slow-burning powder, so it doesn’t hurt to test some loads with each type of primer.

The accompanying chart lists representative loads for three of my .270 rifles—a Ruger Model 77R (circa 1979) with a 22-inch barrel and topped with a Leupold 4X scope, a Pre-’64 Winchester Model 70 (circa 1960) with a 24-inch barrel and topped by a period-correct Realist 4X scope, and a recent Mossberg patriot with a 24-inch barrel and topped with a Burris Fullfield II 3-9X scope. The Ruger is my wife’s rifle, and it is a proven game-getter. Many Missouri whitetails and Colorado mule deer have been sent to the freezer by it. I even took a fat cow elk with it one year. I haven’t hunted with the Winchester Model 70, but I clobbered a large Texas hog with the Mossberg Patriot, and it was D.R.T. All three rifles exhibited plenty of accuracy for deer, antelope, elk, and just about any game on the menu. The bullets and powders clearly demonstrate the versatility of the .270 Winchester. Even in times of component shortages, there surely are powders and bullets than will allow the reloader to prepare enough test loads suitable for an upcoming hunt.

Two Five-Shot Group Targets
The five-shot group at left was made by the Ruger Model 77R with the Speer 130-grain Grand Slam over 58.0 grains of Reloder 22 powder, and the one on the right was produced by the Winchester Model 70 and 54.4 grains of IMR 4831 under the Hornady 140-grain InterLock BT.

Dispensing powder is a two-way street. It’s either to use a powder measure or a powder scale. For a large batch of loads, a measure is a real time saver. For loading batches of five-round test loads, a scale is probably faster, rather than resetting the measure every whipstitch. And the scale is essential to set and check the measure.

Prime Powders & Best Bullets

Over the years, I’ve found 40 suitable propellants for the .270 Win., but undoubtedly, there are more. The .270 is very flexible as to propellants, as long as they’re slow burning. This presents no problem, as there are plenty of viable choices with which to develop loads. Good choices include IMR 7828, H4831, IMR 4831, H4350, and Superformance, to name just a few. In addition, StaBALL 6.5, IMR 7977, IMR 4955, and IMR 4451 also are good choices. Then there’s VihtaVuori N160 and the Alliant Reloder Series. One or more of these is sure to stand out on the range. I have pretty much settled on IMR 4831 or IMR 7977 as my go-to powder for .270 Win. loads. Either will handle most bullet weights and deliver high velocities and good accuracy.

Bullet selection for the .270 Win. is replete with so many specialized designs that the curious reloader could never test them all. The best approach is to determine the intended purpose of the load, select several bullets with the appropriate weight and design, and pick two or three powders to test.

All of this is, of course, tempered by the occasional shortages of any of these components, but the grand old .270 Win. is very accommodating and surely several load recipes will be found.

Five-Shot Group Target
The Model 70 produced this five-shot group with the Nosler 130-grain Partition and 54.5 grains of IMR 4831.

Let’s put together a few of today’s bullet candidates for deer, antelope, elk, and moose. For whitetails and pronghorn antelope, the 120- to 130-grain tipped, boattail Spitzers are just about ideal. They fly flat, expand, and penetrate reliably. These include the Hornady SST, Nosler Ballistic Tip and AccuBond, Speer Hot-Cor Softpoint and Grand Slam, and the Barnes TSX and LRX.

If mule deer are on the menu, many of the above will work, but a “tougher” bullet may be desired, and the hunter can never go wrong with the Nosler Partition, which is offered in 130-, 140-, and 150-grain weights. A favorite bullet of mine for decades has been the Speer Grand Slam. It comes in 130- and 150-grain versions. Not to be overlooked are the ELD-X bullets from Hornady that exhibit match-grade accuracy and excellent expansion characteristics, even at long ranges. Their “Heat Shield” polymer tips prevent heat degradation at long ranges. The tough Swift A-Frame is available in 130-, 140-, and 150-grain weights, so there is plenty of crossover between game categories.

For the really big deer, elk, and moose, the various 150-grain bullets are ideal. The Partition, ELD-X, TSX, and Grand Slam fit right in here. In addition, Nosler’s sleek 150-grain AccuBond Long Range (ABLR) bullet is another good choice. A caution: The ABLR bullets are long, so be sure to check test loads for bullet stability. The .270’s 1:10-inch twist may not spin them fast enough for optimal accuracy, so it pays to check. A friend in Colorado has used Speer Grand Slams on elk for years, and he says it takes just one bullet per elk.

Don’t overlook the Nosler 160-grain Semi-Spitzer Partition. Its ballistic coefficient is .434, and at a velocity of around 2,700 fps, it would be good elk and moose medicine.

The 165- and 175-grain bullets designed for the new 6.8 Western are much too long for good accuracy in the .270 Winchester. However, heavyweight bullets are not without precedent. Seasoned reloaders like me will remember the Speer 170-grain RN bullet. Speer said that it was for shooters who wanted a “heavy, slow-moving, blunt bullet for brush-hunting loads.” This unique bullet was available in 1974 but was discontinued by 1979. I still have some, and it shoots well in the Ruger Model 77. Oh, and Barnes used to list a 180-grain “Jacketed Round Nose,” but it, too, is no more.

At the ripe old age of 98, the fine .270 Winchester is still doing its job of filling freezers with venison and walls with heads. It combines the right amounts of power, accuracy, and modest recoil. With the wide variety of available components, the reloader can prepare carefully crafted reloads that are “just right.”

.270 Winchester Accuracy and Velocity Chart

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