With manageable recoil, reasonable cost, and the ballistic capability to take everything from groundhogs to moose–it’s hard to imagine two more effective and popular cartridges than the .270 Winchester and the 7mm-08 Remington.
I’ll say at the outset that this race is a barn burner. It’s like a time-warp basketball game between Magic Johnson’s Lakers and MJ’s Bulls, or a karaoke contest between Johnny Cash and Colter Wall. You can’t go wrong with either cartridge, but if you want to crown a winner, you’ll have to get into the nitty gritty–and it may come down to the buzzer.
There are two schools of thought when it comes to ballistic comparisons. Some folks compare bullets of equal weight while others compare each cartridge’s most common load. I’m going to do both.
Both the .270 Win. and the 7mm-08 (pronounced “seven em em oh eight”) are most commonly loaded with bullets in the 120- to 150-grain range. To compare apples to apples, we’ll first consider two options from Federal using 140-grain Nosler AccuBond bullets.
The .270 Win. wins the race out of the gate with a 100 feet-per-second advantage over the 7mm-08 (2,950 fps vs. 2,850 fps). That velocity advantage holds at exactly 100 fps out to 500 yards and comes with the resulting energy advantage at every point along that trajectory.
Speaking of trajectory, the .270 Win. Nosler bullet holds a slight ballistic coefficient advantage over the 7mm-08, which means the .270 drops about three inches less at 500 yards (39.3” vs. 42.9”) and drifts about an inch less at that distance with a 10 mph crosswind (17.4” vs. 18.7”).
As long as you compare the same bullet weight and design, the Winchester’s slight advantage in factory ammunition holds across the board. The 7mm-08 has a hard time competing with the .270’s greater case capacity when it comes to sheer bullet speed.
But what about when comparing each cartridge’s most commonly loaded bullet weight? Based on my own experience and a quick survey of Midway USA’s offerings, 130-grain bullets are most frequently loaded in the .270 Win. while 140-grain pills are most often found in the 7mm-08.
To keep this comparison as equal as possible, we’ll use Federal’s Trophy Copper option for each. This 130-grain Trophy Copper .270 Win. screams out of the barrel at 3,060 fps while this 140-grain Trophy Copper 7mm-08 leaves the muzzle at 2,800 fps. You would expect the 7mm-08 to fly slower, given its heavier bullet, but the .270 also wins the energy competition. The .270 hits harder at every distance out to 500 yards (a 100-200 ft.-lb. advantage), and it drops less and drifts less, to boot.
The race is a close one, but the .270 has the edge.
Winner: .270 Winchester
The .270’s ballistic advantage comes with a downside, of course. The Winchester produces about 17 foot-pounds (ft.-lbs.) of recoil energy while the 7mm-08 only produces about 13 ft.-lbs. That’s according to Chuck Hawks’ recoil table with each cartridge using a 140-grain bullet fired from an eight-pound rifle.
Most hunters aren’t likely to notice that difference and felt recoil is so dependent on rifle weight that your 7mm-08 might feel snappier than your buddy’s .270. But all else being equal, the 7mm-08 should be a little more shootable than its older cousin.
The .270 is more popular than the 7mm-08, so you’re more likely to find a greater selection both online and in-store. That economy of scale allows manufacturers to offer the Winchester at a slightly lesser price point. The cheapest .270 usually runs about $1.45 per round while the cheapest 7mm-08 is closer to $1.60 per round.
That makes the Winchester a better choice if you’re looking to spend lots of time at the practice range (which I recommend). But if you’re only looking for high-quality hunting ammunition, neither cartridge has much of an edge. Federal, for example, offers both in the $45 to $65 per box range.
If you care about recoil, the 7mm-08 is more shootable. But the Winchester is somewhat more affordable. You’ll have to pick your own poison on this one.
If you’re a handloader, this category is just as tight. The range of projectile weights virtually overlaps: 90-150g for the .270 and 100-160g for the 7mm-08. You might say that the .270’s flatter trajectory makes it better for varmints and the 7mm-08’s heavier bullets make it better for large game, but that’s a bit of a stretch. It’s hard to imagine that three fewer inches of drop at 500 yards will make any varmint hunter more accurate, or that a moose will notice the difference between a 150g and 160g bullet.
But when it comes to factory options (which most hunters choose to use), the Winchester offers greater versatility. Midway USA offers .270 bullets as light as 96 grains and as heavy as 150 grains. The 7mm-08 can be had with 160-grain bullets, but as we saw in the “Ballistics” category, the .270 can deliver more energy even with a lighter bullet.
What’s more, the .270’s popularity means that ammo makers offer the Winchester with more bullet design options. Midway sells the .270 with 13 different bullet styles–everything from bonded polymer tip to solid hollow point to round nose soft point. The 7mm-08, on the other hand, can only be found loaded with six different bullet styles. A greater selection of bullet styles means that factory options will offer a wider range of potential target animals.
Rifle versatility is another dead heat. Some boutique companies chamber both cartridges in semi-automatic and lever-action rifles, but bolt-actions constitute the vast majority of rifle options.
Winner: .270 Winchester
The Winchester wins this Caliber Battle, but not by much. Its greater ballistic capabilities and versatility give it a clear edge, but if you already own a 7mm-08, there’s no need to go out and buy a .270 (but let’s be honest–“need” doesn’t play a huge role in most gun purchases).
Science and The People demand a winner be crowned, but the truth is, most hunters won’t notice much difference between the .270 and the 7mm-08. Animals will be just as dead, and you’ll be just as happy with your venison, bear, or elk.