Compared: The .25-06 Rem. and .270 Win.
By Chuck Hawks
The .25-06 Remington and the .270 Winchester are both older cartridges that have been around for many years. Their effectiveness and popularity cannot be denied, or in most cases even equaled. So this comparison is not a win/lose article, it is an analysis of the suitability of these two fine cartridges for their various intended purposes.
The .25-06 Remington
The .25-06 was a popular wildcat for many years, dating back to around 1920. Early on it was known as the ".25 Niedner" and later in its wildcat career as simply the .25-06. Remington finally adopted it as the .25-06 Remington and it became a SAAMI standardized cartridge in 1969.
The .25-06 is simply the rimless, bottleneck, .30-06 case necked-down to accept .25 caliber (.257" diameter) bullets. As standardized by Remington the shoulder angle remains 17.5 degrees, the rim diameter is .473", and the overall case length is 2.494". Cartridge overall length (COL) is 3.25".
Most of the major firearms manufacturers offer rifles in .25-06 caliber. In the U.S. these include, but are not limited to, Browning, Remington, Ruger, Savage, Weatherby, and Winchester.
Modern U.S. factory loads drive a 90 grain varmint bullet at a MV of 3440 fps, 100 grain bullets at 3210-3230 fps, and 115-120 grain bullets at a MV of 2990-3110 fps. Reloaders can duplicate most of these factory loads, and the selection of .257 bullets is good. Clearly the .25-06 is an excellent long range cartridge for CXP2 class game. For more information, see my article "The .25-06 Remington" on the Rifle Cartridge Page.
The .270 Winchester
Winchester introduced the famous .270 in 1925. At the time it was the flattest shooting factory loaded cartridge in the U.S., a title it retained for many years. It is certainly one of the world's premier all-around big game hunting cartridges, and it is on my short list of the top four such cartridges. (See my article "All-Around Rifle Cartridges" for more on that.) The .270 remains the standard of comparison for long range hunting cartridges.
The .270 is based on the .30-06 case simply necked down to accept .277" diameter bullets. Headspace gauges for the .30-06 and .270 are interchangeable. The .270's shoulder angle is 17.5 degrees, the rim diameter is .473", the overall case length is 2.54", and COL is 3.34".
Almost every gun maker in the world who builds an action suitable for the .270 Winchester offers the cartridge. In the U.S. these include Browning, Remington, Ruger, Savage, Weatherby, Winchester and many others.
There is an enormous variety of .270 factory loads. Typical U.S. factory loads drive a 100 grain varmint bullet at a MV of 3320 fps, 130 grain bullets at 2950-3215 fps, 140 grain bullets at a MV of 2940-3100 fps, and 150 grain bullets at a MV of 2800-3000 fps. Reloaders can pretty much duplicate all of these loads, and the selection of .277" bullets is huge. For more details, see my article "The Great .270 Winchester" on the Rifle Cartridge Page.
For the purposes of this article I am going to compare three of the most typical factory loads for both cartridges. There are faster and slower loads and other bullet weights for both, but these are representative. The selected loads are (caliber, brand, bullet, MV, ME):
Velocity and energy figures can be seen in the list above. Although it is not immediately apparent from the data above, the .25-06 generally drives bullets of similar sectional density at slightly greater velocity, but the heavier .270 bullets carry greater energy across the board.
In the course of this article we will compare trajectory, sectional density, bullet frontal area, killing power, and recoil. And we will end with a look at the suitability of these calibers and loads for their intended purposes of varmint and big game hunting.
Here are the trajectory figures in yards for our selected loads. For comparison, the zero range is 200 yards in all cases:
The maximum point blank range (MPBR) of both cartridges is around 300 yards for big game hunting. It is interesting that there is only 0.2" difference in drop between the 120 grain .25-06 and 150 grain .270 loads (the heavy bullets in each caliber), and only 0.1" difference between the lighter 100 grain .25-06 and 130 grain .270 bullets at that distance. Even the 90 grain .25-06 and 100 grain .270 varmint bullets show only a 0.5" difference in drop at 300 yards. For hunting purposes these differences are inconsequential.
Sectional Density (SD) is essentially the ratio of a bullet's weight to its diameter. SD is an important factor in penetration, as a long slender bullet of a given weight penetrates better than a short fat bullet of the same weight, other factors being equal. The higher the SD, the better the potential penetration. Here are the SD figures for our selected bullet weights in both calibers.
Sectional density is not very important for varmint bullets, since penetration on such small animals is not a factor for either caliber. The SD of the 90 grain .25-06 and 100 grain .270 bullets can generally be ignored.
SD does matter when hunting big game animals, however. For CXP2 class game (deer, for example) the minimum recommended sectional density for both .25 and .27 caliber bullets is about .216, and an ideal SD would be about .225 or better. For large CXP3 class game (elk, for example) a SD of about .247 or greater is preferred.
From the numbers above we can conclude that, in terms of SD only, the 100 and 120 grain .25-06 bullets are suitable for medium size big game and the 120 grain bullet is suitable for large game. In .270 caliber the 130 and 150 grain bullets are suitable for medium game and the 150 grain bullet is the best of the bunch for large game.
Bullet Frontal Area
Frontal (cross-sectional) area plays a significant role in killing power. Clearly, the bigger the hole you punch in an animal, the greater the potential damage. The length and diameter of the wound channel are the critical factors in killing power. Obviously, a .277" diameter bullet is fatter than a .257" diameter bullet. The frontal area of a .257" bullet is .0519 square inches. The frontal area of a .277" bullet is .0603 square inches. This is a significant advantage for the .270 as applied to big game hunting.
Killing power, a cartridge's effectiveness on game, is the most difficult factor to quantify. For one thing, bullet placement is by far the most important factor in killing power, and that is strictly a function of the hunter's skill, not the cartridge used. The construction and performance of a hunting bullet is also very important, and practically every type of hunting bullet is available (at least to reloaders) for either the .25-06 or the .270. Kinetic energy is one indication of potential killing power, as are bullet frontal area and sectional density, but none of these tells the whole story.
One attempt to include all of the relevant factors (aside from bullet placement, which is assumed to be adequate) is the Optimum Game Weight (OGW) formula developed by Edward A. Matunas and published in the Lyman 47th Reloading Manual. Here are the OGW figures in yards for typical .25-06 and .270 big game loads. (For more on OGW, see my "Expanded Optimum Game Weight Table" on the Tables, Charts, and Lists Page.)
These OGW figures show a significant advantage in favor of the .270 with all bullet weights for hunting the larger species of big game, which should come as no surprise considering its advantage in kinetic energy and bullet frontal area. The .270 is not just a long range cartridge suitable for CXP2 class game, it is one of the top all-around big game cartridges. On the other hand, these figures also show that the .25-06 is perfectly adequate for the majority of deer and antelope hunting out to at least 300 yards.
Recoil is an important factor because heavier recoil leads to more erratic shot placement. Anyone can shoot better with a gun that kicks less. Guns that kick less are more fun to shoot and generally get used more. And practice makes perfect, as the old saying goes.
The "Expanded Rifle Recoil Table" shows recoil energy figures for both calibers in 8 pound rifles. The 100 grain .25-06 load is credited with recoil energy of 11 ft. lbs., and the 120 grain load with recoil energy of 12.5 ft. lbs. The 130 grain .270 Winchester load delivers about 16.5 ft. lbs. of recoil, and the 150 grain load about 17 ft. lbs. These figures are approximate, but it is clear that the .270 kicks harder than the .25-06. This is to be expected since it throws heavier bullets with greater energy. But the bottom line is that the .25-06 kicks significantly less than the .270. The recoil sensitive shooter shopping for a long range deer rifle should bear that in mind.
Our typical varmint load for the .25-06 is the Federal load using the 90 grain Sierra Varminter bullet at a MV of 3440 fps. Our .270 varmint load is the Remington load using the 100 grain Remington pointed soft point bullet at a MV of 3320 fps.
Both the .270 and the .25-06 are big cartridges for shooting varmints. Both burn a lot of powder and will quickly overheat their barrels if they are fired for a sustained period of time, as sometimes happens when varmint hunting. Frankly, I prefer the .243 Winchester or 6mm Remington for long range varmint shooting as they buck the wind well, kick less, have less muzzle blast, and are not as hard on barrels.
But, there can be no doubt that with appropriate bullets the .25-06 and .270 can reach out great distances to drop pesky rodents. Both are at the extreme long range end of the varmint cartridge spectrum, far better than the hot .22's on windy days. Both bellow and roar, so they are best used far from human habitation.
Of the two, the .25-06 kicks less and shoots very slightly flatter. The difference in recoil is particularly noticeable when shooting from the prone position, as varmint hunters often do. For a specialized varmint rifle, or a combination varmint/medium game rifle, the .25-06 has to be the odds-on choice.
Big Game hunting
As we saw in the section on killing power, both the .25-06 and the .270 are suitable for shooting most CXP2 class big game within their maximum point blank range of approximately 300 yards. In North America this includes such animals as pronghorn antelope, the various deer species, goats, sheep, and feral hogs. Even very large examples of these creatures seldom exceed 300 pounds on the hoof, and they average less than 200 pounds.
These are the most suitable big game loads for our two calibers:
For the small to medium size CXP2 class game, up to about 180 pounds live weight, the 100 grain .25-06 bullet is satisfactory within its MPBR. For the largest species of CXP2 class game, big mule deer or caribou for example, the 120 grain .25-06 and 130 grain .270 bullets are a better choice. With these bullets the .270 has the advantage, not only in killing power, but in trajectory as well. Remember, the 130 grain .270 bullet shoots almost as flat as the 100 grain .25-06 load.
Where the .270 really leaves the .25-06 in the dust is when CXP3 class game is also on the menu. The 150 grain .270 bullet handily outperforms anything available in .25-06 for hunting large animals. One can conclude, then, that for hunting medium game out to 300 yards the .25-06 is almost as effective as the .270, but for larger game the .270 carries the day.
The .25-06 Remington and .270 Winchester are both fine hunting cartridges, and there is a lot of overlap in their capabilities. North American deer hunters, particularly in the wide open Western states and provinces, are likely to be well served by either. But there are differences, as noted above. Each caliber has its relative strengths and weaknesses. Choose wisely!
Copyright 2003, 2012 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.