If you had to pick the sexiest cartridges of the last decade, you’d run through quite a few before you hit the .270 Winchester or .243 Winchester.
They can’t ride the love-it-or-hate-it controversy of the 6.5mm calibers. They don’t have that coveted NATO designation. And they aren’t old enough to be considered granddaddies of the old-timer cartridges—a distinction that goes to the .30-06 Springfield, which has competed in a few Caliber Battles of its own.
You may not find glossy coverage of the .270 or .243 in the latest issue of your favorite gun magazine, but that doesn’t mean these cartridges are irrelevant. Like the little blue engine that could, the .270 and the .243 have been faithfully chugging along for decades, and they’re both great options for your next deer hunt.
So, how do they stack up against one another?
Ballistics If you’re going for power, the .270 Win. wins this race in a landslide.
The taller cartridge can push a 130-grain bullet over 3,000 feet per second at the muzzle, producing 2,702 foot-pounds of energy.
The .243 Win. is also a speed demon, but its lighter bullets (usually between 75 and 100 grains) impart far less energy. This 85-grain option from Federal, for example, flies at 3,200 fps at the muzzle but only produces 1,933 ft.-lbs. of energy.
The .270 will impart more energy at every distance, but it’s worth noting that comparable bullets travel on a similar path. With a 200-yard zero, Federal’s Trophy Copper 130-grain .270 drops 6.3 inches at 300 yards, 18.4 inches at 400 yards, and 37.3 inches at 500 yards.
The 85-grain Trophy Copper .243 charts a nearly identical course (in fact, it drops slightly less): with a 200 yard zero, it drops 6 inches at 300 yards, 17.6 inches at 400 yards, and 36.2 inches at 500 yards.
Comparing different bullet styles and weights will yield different results, but if you’re looking for a flat-shooting cartridge, either is a great choice. The .243 boasts less power, but if you’re hunting a thin-skinned animal like a deer, it can be nearly as effective as its bigger brother.
Your holdover will be similar, but your power will not. This is an easy call for the ballistics winner.
Winner: .270 Winchester
Shootability Both calibers are “shootable” in that both are readily available, relatively inexpensive, and don’t produce shoulder-breaking recoil. But unlike ballistics, neither is a clear winner in this category.
First, .243 fans won’t be surprised to learn that the smaller cartridge produces quite a bit less felt recoil than the .270. While the .270 usually hits with about 16 ft.-lbs. of recoil energy, the .243 produces only about 8 ft.-lbs.
These numbers change with load selection (some hot .243 loads rival the .270) and rifle weight (heavy rifles don’t kick as much as light rifles), but generally speaking, the .243 will be easier to shoot.
Ammo cost and availability are nearly identical. MidwayUSA lists 62 product options for the .243 and 68 for the .270. The large online dealer currently lists one option as “available” for the .270 and zero (0!) for the .243. Brownells, another online retailer, lists 38 products for the .243 Win. and 43 products for the .270 Win. As of this writing, neither cartridge is in stock at Brownells.
Quick PSA: Buy your hunting ammo now. Don’t count on finding a box the day before the season opens, especially if you shoot an uncommon cartridge. We’ve been following the nation’s ammo shortage over the last 16 months, and it ain’t going to end anytime soon.
The .243 and the .270 also come with comparable costs. The cheapest .243 is about $1.20 per round, and the same goes for the .270. For a good box of 20 hunting cartridges, expect to pay $35 to $50 for either.
Since cost and availability are a dead heat, the .243’s low recoil gives it the edge in this category. It’s the same reason we designated it as one of the three best cartridges for youth hunters.
Winner: .243 Winchester
Versatility We can measure versatility in a few ways. First, we might consider the range of animals that can be reliably harvested with each cartridge. I say “harvested” not just to be euphemistic—you can kill a squirrel with a .270, but you aren’t going to harvest the meat.
Bullet weights give us a good ruler for measuring versatility. Frank C. Barnes lists bullets ranging from 55 grains to 105 grains for the .243 Win. and bullets ranging from 90 grains to 180 grains for the .270 Win.
In the real world, ammo makers must deal with common rifle barrel twist rates, which somewhat reduces that bullet weight range.
Federal offers the .270 with bullets ranging from 130 to 150 grains, with the majority clocking in at 130 grains. The .243, by contrast, can be loaded with bullets ranging from 55 grains to 100 grains.
At first glance, this suggests that the .243 offers greater versatility, but that’s not really true. As Terminal Ballistics Research points out, the .270 Win. is sufficient for “almost any hunting situation” while the .243 Win. is not ideal for animals weighing greater than 180 pounds.
The .270 can punch down to varmints and all the way up to large game. But while the .243 is a great varmint cartridge, it doesn’t have enough power to go after large animals like elk, bears, and even large hogs. Both are overpowered for small game.
We might also consider “versatility” as it relates to the range of firearms available. Browning chambers their BLR lever-action rifle in .243 Win. and .270 Win., but the vast majority of rifles in either cartridge will be of the bolt-action variety.
For hunters, that’ll do just fine. Weatherby offers a huge variety of their excellent hunting rifles in both cartridges, so you shouldn’t have any trouble finding a flavor you like.
Since rifle versatility is a tie, the .270’s greater range of harvestable animals earns it the nod in this category.
Winner: .270 Winchester
And the Winner Is… Both the .243 Winchester and the .270 Winchester have stuck around for the greater part of 100 years because both are great deer cartridges. But while the .243 hits a ceiling at whitetails and muleys, the .270 can accommodate larger game as well. That makes it a clear overall winner in this Caliber Battle.
One caveat: There is a noticeable recoil difference between these cartridges, so if you’re concerned about flinching and only looking to kill varmints and deer, the .243 might be a better choice.
Otherwise, go with the .270 Winchester. You won’t be disappointed.
Overall Winner: .270 Winchester