December 26, 2019
By Lane Pearce
As I get older, even a little disruption in my routine can be significant. When the clock sprang forward recently from standard to daylight savings time, I laid awake thinking about just how old I am. Somehow, rambling thoughts morphed into realizing the .270 Winchester has been around a quarter-century longer than I have! My musings meandered randomly.
My first gun was a Daisy lever-action BB rifle. I later sold greeting cards to earn a mail-order, Marlin bolt-action, single-shot .410. I recall shooting Dad’s Ruger .22 Auto (with his supervision, of course!) and wishing I was old enough to handle his .45 ACP pistol. When the anticipated occasion finally came, it wasn’t much fun because it kicked pretty hard.
My dad owned several firearms, but he was not a hunter like his older brother. When I visited my grandparents, my cousin Steve and I would hunt squirrels in the nearby woods. The 3-inch shells with 3/4 ounce of #6 shot would do the job if I got close enough, but my Marlin couldn’t reach up high in the tree like his 12-gauge Remington 1100. I eventually convinced my folks I needed a bigger shotgun and received a 12-gauge Winchester 1400 for my birthday.
When I was 20 years old (50 years ago!), I received a .270 Win. Model 70 from my parents for Christmas. I’d long since learned who Santa Claus was, so Dad let me decide which deer rifle I wanted. I read Outdoor Life regularly and knew I couldn’t go wrong choosing Jack O’Connor’s favorite cartridge and rifle. And not too long ago I acquired a vintage Winchester Model 54 chambered for the classic .270 Win. cartridge.
Winchester had manufactured thousands of Model 1917 Enfields during World War I, so by 1925 the company had developed the bolt-action Model 54 chambered for a then-new round: the .270 Win. It was modeled after the classic Mauser-style 1903 Springfield but used the original, longer .30-03 Springfield as the parent case. As I recall, the ballistics touted a 130-grain bullet at 3,150 fps! Offering a flat trajectory and relatively mild recoil, the .270 Win. nearly matched the already-popular .30-06’s ballistic performance.
Even so, the .270’s early acceptance was less than stellar. O’Connor purchased one of the first Model 54s. Col. Townsend Whelen always championed the .30-06, but he later acknowledged the .270 as another favorite if loaded with 150-grain bullets. The .270 also had outspoken detractors like Elmer Keith. He fired only larger calibers for any big-game animal.
My 1932-vintage Model 54 has survived all these years totally intact. It has a semi-Buckhorn rear sight and is also drilled and tapped for receiver sights. My original post-’64 Model 70 was traded away many years ago, but I acquired a Kimber 8400 a few years ago. I thought comparing their performance with modern factory ammo and selected handloads might be an interesting endeavor.
Because the .270 case is tall and tapered with a shallow 17.5-degree shoulder and an extra-long neck, it’s easy to reload. I apply Redding’s Imperial wax lube sparingly with my fingertips and always lube the inside of the case neck with a bristle brush. If indicated after full-length sizing, I trim each case to the specified minimum case length.
As you can see in the chart, propellants with a relatively slower burn rate are best suited for the .270 Win. O’Connor’s favorite load used Hodgdon’s original surplus 4831 powder, and let me assure you, it’s too hot to reprint here because I’ve tried it with two different lots of old powder from the 1950s and have blown primers to prove it. Just use current load recommendations shown in Hodgdon’s most recent reloading manual and do not confuse IMR 4831 propellant with H4831. They are not interchangeable.
Another word of caution is warranted if you use a mechanical powder measure to throw the powder charges. When loading close to the maximum recommended powder charge, always weigh each one if you’re not absolutely confident the propellant along with your technique and equipment are in synch and dispensing accurate charges. The .270 typically calls for charge weights ranging from 55 to 60 grains, so my target is +/- 0.2 grain. Taking a bit more time at the loading bench can avoid a problem later at the range.
Most current .270 Win. advertised factory ballistics are about 100 fps less than the initial claim nearly a century ago. A significant exception is Hornady’s Superformance ammo. It will safely duplicate and often exceed the .270’s original ballistics. Several component suppliers also provide load recipes that can safely achieve the .270’s original ballistic performance with carefully assembled handloads. As you can see in the accompanying chart, both of my rifles validated these claims. The .270 Win. may be nearly one hundred years old, but it can still deliver outstanding performance.