In a now-famous story, Roy Weatherby launched his wildcatting career after he lost a wounded deer on his first hunt in 1942. He became convinced that faster, flatter-shooting cartridges would take game more reliably, and the resulting line of Weatherby Magnum cartridges has been doing just that since he founded Weatherby in 1945.
You might already know this. But do you know the real-world differences between a standard cartridge and a Weatherby Magnum cartridge? What are the costs and benefits of those differences, and why might you choose (or not choose) a Weatherby round for your next hunt?
That’s what we want to find out. In this Caliber Battle, we’re pitting one of the world’s most successful hunting cartridges, the .270 Winchester, against Roy Weatherby’s souped-up version to see how they stack up in three important categories: ballistics, shootability, and versatility.
Ballistics Every Weatherby cartridge is hotter than the original, but how much hotter? This Trophy Copper .270 from Federal launches a 130-grain projectile 3,060 feet-per-second (fps) at the muzzle, resulting in 2,703 foot-pounds (ft.-lbs.) of energy.
That’s a fast, hard-hitting round, but according to load data from Weatherby, a .270 Wby. Mag. can send a 130-grain projectile downrange at between 3,280 fps and 3,400 fps. The option loaded with a Barnes TTSX bullet, an all-copper affair similar to the Trophy Copper, hits with a whopping 3,338 ft.-lbs. of energy at the muzzle.
Federal’s .270 Weatherby option, which uses their Trophy Bonded Tip bullet, offers a similar ballistic advantage. The 130-grain projectile travels 3,200 fps at the muzzle, resulting in 2,956 ft.-lbs. of energy.
Some argue that hard-hitting bullets do not necessarily lead to downed animals. It’s entirely true that shot placement is more important than bullet speed or energy when you’re looking to kill an animal quickly and humanely. But power doesn’t hurt. As we’ve covered previously, harder hitting bullets are more likely to induce hydrostatic shock. This means what while the .270 Win. and the .270 Wby. might take down an animal, the Weatherby is more likely to drop the animal in its tracks.
The Weatherby cartridge can help with shot placement, too. Fast bullets can fly flatter than slow bullets, which allows a hunter to shoot at longer distances without making significant holdover adjustments.
Federal’s Trophy Copper .270 Win., for example, drops 37.3 inches at 500 yards with a 200-yard zero, well out of the kill zone of any North American big game animal. The Weatherby cartridge loaded with a TTSX bullet only drops about 29 inches at 500 yards with a 200-yard zero. This would still require some adjustment, but when fractions of an inch can be the difference between a night of tracking and a downed animal, eight inches is a big deal.
Winner: .270 Weatherby Magnum
Shootability That added power and velocity comes at a price, but it may not be as high as you think.
According to Chuck Hawks’ recoil table, a .270 Wby. Mag. shooting a 130-grain bullet at 3,337 fps (comparable to the examples above) imparts 21 ft.-lbs. of recoil energy using a nine-pound rifle.
That’s no joke, but the .270 Win. isn’t messing around, either. That cartridge imparts 16.5 ft.-lbs. of recoil energy using an eight-pound rifle to shoot a 130-grain projectile traveling at 3,140 fps.
If you’ve never shot either of these cartridges, here’s a little perspective. A .30-06 Springfield, one of the most popular hunting cartridges of all time, produces about 20 ft.-lbs. of recoil using an eight-pound rifle. A .308 Winchester offers about 18 ft.-lbs., and a .300 Winchester Magnum hits with about 25 ft.-lbs.
While the .270 Weatherby will hit your shoulder a bit harder than the .270 Win., it’s well within the recoil range of the other popular big-game calibers. If you’re comfortable shooting a .300 Win. Mag., you’ll be fine with Weatherby’s souped-up .270.
Recoil is a close race, but unfortunately for Weatherby fans, the harder-hitting .270 is more expensive and harder to find than its predecessor. Federal, for example, offers 21 options in the Winchester cartridge ranging from $30 to $65 for a box of 20, while there's one .270 Wby. Mag. option for $78 per box.
This trend holds true if you expand your search to large online ammo dealers. The .270 Wby. Mag. can be found in far fewer varieties, and you won’t escape at less than $60 per box.
Lighter recoil and cheaper ammo make the .270 Win. the more shootable cartridge.
Winner: .270 Winchester
Versatility Ballistics charts published in “Cartridges of the World” show that both the .270 Win. and the .270 Wby. Mag. can be loaded with projectiles ranging from 90 to 150 grains. In the real world, the vast majority of bullets in both cartridges weigh 130, 140, or 150 grains. There are a few outliers among .270 Win. options, but by and large, those are the three bullet weights available.
The option to load your own lighter bullets makes both cartridges excellent choices for varmint hunting, and the heavier, harder-hitting rounds are capable of taking down any North American big game animal.
But the .270 Wby. Mag.’s superior ballistics give it the edge in this category as well. If you’re varmint hunting with 90-grain bullets, that added velocity lets you reach out just a little farther. If you’re going after elk or moose, the extra energy of the Weatherby cartridge gives you a better chance of stopping even large animals before they take another step.
This is not to say the .270 Win. is a bad option for varmint or big-game hunting. Far from it. But since the range of bullet weights is essentially identical, the Weatherby’s added velocity gives it a slight edge in this category.
Winner: .270 Wby. Mag.
And the Winner Is… Roy Weatherby didn’t develop the .270 Weatherby Magnum just for kicks. He wanted to make a superior cartridge to the .270 Win., and for many hunters, he did exactly that.
The exception to this rule might be those new to hunting or rifle shooting. If this is going to be your first rifle, it will be easier (and cheaper) to find .270 Win. ammo in quantities large enough to get sufficient practice. It will also be much easier to find a rifle. Weatherby is one of the only gun makers to chamber guns in the .270 Wby. Mag., and while these are excellent firearms, going with the .270 will allow you to take advantage of a far greater selection of guns.
But in terms of sheer ballistics and versatility, the .270 Wby. Mag. is the clear winner. Recoil is somewhat stiffer and ammo is more expensive, but when that bull elk you’ve been chasing is within 400 yards, the Weatherby’s added power and speed will be the only thing you care about.
Overall Winner: .270 Weatherby Magnum