Winchester's New 6.8 Western
Rifle|September - October 2021
Not Your Father’s “.270”
Brian Pearce

The Browning X-Bolt Western Hunter chambered in 6.8 Western features a 1:7.5 barrel twist that is necessary for proper bullet stabilization at all ranges.

For many decades, the .270 Winchester was a top-selling sporting rifle cartridge that boasted of high velocity, flat trajectory, modest recoil, accuracy, respectable barrel life and good performance on deer-sized game. However, due to new cartridge and bullet developments that have been engineered to extend the definition of long-range, it’s popularity has begun to wane. Winchester has responded with a new cartridge known as the 6.8 Western that shares the same .277-inch diameter bullets as the .270; however, it is designed specifically to accommodate modern long-range shooting. It is truly impressive, as it can launch heavy-for-caliber bullets with especially high ballistic coefficients (BC) and low drag at the targeted velocities of just under 3,000 feet per second (fps). It is just as modern as the original .270 Winchester was 96 years ago, and demand is already high.

Before discussing performance details of the 6.8 Western, it seems prudent to discuss the history of cartridges that utilized .277-inch bullets, and why this caliber is now being renewed. Winchester Repeating Arms Company developed the .270 Winchester (.270 W.C.F.) in 1923 but waited until 1925 to formally introduce it in its Model 54 rifle. It was based on the .30-03 case (.046 inch longer than the .30-06) necked down to accept .277-inch bullets. Technically speaking, it is a 7mm, as .277-inch bullets are 7.04mm; however, the bore diameter is 6.86mm. Period loads were listed with a 130-grain bullet at 3,160 feet per second (fps), which was indeed optimistic, while additional loads soon appeared with a 150-grain bullet at 2,770 fps, which has now been increased in velocity. As an interesting side note, most of the early .270 rifles, including the Winchester Model 54 and Model 70, were outfitted with open, iron sights and were not drilled and tapped for scope mounting. At least until the 1960s, it was unusual to see rifles outfitted with a scope sight, but I digress.

The Browning 6.8 Western proved accurate with Winchester’s 165-grain Big Game Long Range load containing the Nosler AccuBond Long Range bullet, producing groups just over a half-inch.

Factory loads were checked for velocity and accuracy.

Period outdoor writers, including the notable Townsend Whelen and Elmer Keith, praised the .270 for its flat trajectory, modest recoil and reliable performance on deer-sized game. For example, in his 1936 book Big Game Rifles, Keith stated “The .270 Winchester…is a very good cartridge for all our lighter big game.” He continued: “When it is restricted to game that really comes under its power, it is a fine cartridge indeed. Many hunters swear by it for elk and moose shooting, but I have noticed that they are nearly all very experienced old hunters, who possess the skill and patience to properly place their shot or else not shoot.” The .270 was most praised and popularized by Outdoor Life writer Jack O’Connor, who hunted the world with his customized Winchester Model 70 Featherweight rifle (and other rifles) and accounted for considerable game.

During World War II, Roy Weatherby developed the .270 Weatherby Magnum, which utilized .277-inch bullets and was based on a shortened and blown out .300 H&H Magnum case for a notable powder capacity increase over the .270 Winchester. It was capable of pushing a 130-grain bullet between 3,300 fps to 3,400 fps (depending on bullet design) or a 150 grain around 3,250 fps. Due to its high velocities, it offered an especially flat trajectory at any normal hunting distance and became one of Weatherby’s best-selling cartridges.

With the introduction of the .300 Winchester Short Magnum (WSM) in 2001 and its quick acceptance among hunters wanting a short action (.308 Winchester length) rifle with magnum performance, Winchester introduced the .270 WSM in 2002. I was present when the discussion and decision was made to offer the .270 WSM. I encouraged Winchester to increase the barrel twist rate (along with other technical case and chamber design features), but my ideas fell on deaf ears. Nonetheless, the .270 WSM is a great hunting cartridge that typically pushes 130-grain bullets at 3,275 fps, or 150-grain bullets at 3,120 fps, which is more than a 200-fps velocity advantage over the .270 Winchester when loaded with identical bullets. While it has become popular, it has not dethroned the original .270 Winchester’s popularity.

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