Rifleshooter.com’s Classic Series- Select timeless articles republished for today
The .270 in Africa
We had been hunting Waterbuck for three days and my mind was recollecting magazine photos of happy hunters with dead Waterbuck. Which was in stark contrast to my own magnificent chagrin. The closest we had come was a bouncing Waterbuck bullseye butt melting into the thornbrush about 30 yards away. More typical was the 700 yard standoff with nothing but short grass and mild depressions between us. No amount of prickly barbs in our hands and knees did any good.
Even my ever optimistic PH, Deon, had enough. “Would you like to try for a Black Wildebeest?”, he helpfully suggested. “A great idea,” I replied, figuring I needed something big and impressive since Waterbuck was off the menu.
“Maybe I should go get my .338,” I asked sheepishly. Deon, in his dry accent, said “No, you are shooting well, the .270 will be fine.” Blesbok, Impala and Springbok had all fallen over dead where they stood, with one shot apiece. But the Black Wildebeest is quite a bit bigger, and supposedly tougher. Whatever.
Of course when you are hunting something every other animal is crapping at your feet, and when you decide to shoot the crapper he is nowhere to be found. This went on for a couple of hours. At last, Deon spotted 2 nice-looking fellows and he sent the skinner out into a little draw to drive them to an ambush point which we hiked to. As unluck would have it, a small herd of Springbok were in our way and ran off, alerting the Black Wildebeest, which began to run, and so we missed them as they ran away.
It was the last afternoon of this mini-hunt and the clouds were getting that “We-Wanna-Soak-U” look. I thought it didn’t rain in Africa in the “dry season”? I had resigned myself to the end of this hunt, when look what was coming our way – – 3 nice Black Wildebeest bulls. We hastily set up in a sitting position behind a handy bush.As they made their way towards us in a rambling maneuver, the skies opened up. I didn’t care, but just sat there hoping for a shot. They an past us and abruptly stopped. We crawled in a run, using some bushes for cover until we could get no closer. Range was 120 yards, and in a rare moment the only shot I had was prone.
The .270 Winchester makes a nice “pop-boom” sound. The handloaded 150 grain Hornady spirepoint left the muzzle at 2960 fps and hit the Black Wildebeest high through the shoulder at a slight quartering angle backwards. He fell over, swished his tail a couple times, and that was it. He made the record book, and is a very handsome trophy.
Four shots, four animals. No recovered bullets. The 150 grain Hornady completely penetrated the Impala and Springbok, and was never recovered in the Blesbok or Black Wildebeest, nor in a Warthog I later used it on. But in all cases, it was an instant knockdown and kill.
The .270 has a long and popular record in North America as a hunting cartridge. Famous writer and hunter Jack O’Connor gave the .270 it’s lasting boost in prestige and recommendation. And despite its detractors, the .270 continues to be popular to this day.
Naysayers don’t like its small diameter bullet, although for some, how a .284 bullet from a 7mm is that much more lethal is never explained. Others say you can’t reliably kill anything more than a moderate-sized deer with a dinky little 130 or 150 grain bullet. Yet the number of goats, sheep, black bear and elk that fall to it every year are testimony to its abilities.
In Africa, it is not an unknown caliber, although it really is an American round. It’s usefulness is directly related to its practical accuracy and the rifles that chamber it. For whatever reason the cartridge is more effective than its size would suggest. The key is picking the right bullet for the game hunted.
I’ve used Hornady bullets to good effect. Even though few are ever recovered in tact, they do the job with enough penetration to enter the vital areas and then fragment or expand at high velocity to pulp that area. And that’s really the key, destroying vital tissue quickly. I think the blasting effect of the high velocity and expansion in the vital areas make the .270 potent.
The problem is that even 150 or 160 grains of bullet can only go so far. I wouldn’t use a .270 for any plains animal over 1000 pounds, nor on a Lion or other dangerous game except Leopard. It just doesn’t have the bone-crunching mass for that. On Leopard, a small animal, it has performed very well for many hunters.
Factory loads are all over the board these days, the plethora of choices outstanding. Or frustrating. For Africa, I recommend a stronger bullet of heavier weight, as you don’t really have the opportunity to be switching loads in the field. The zero problems alone would prohibit it.
The Winchester Failsafe rounds have a reputation for over-penetration and very slow expansion. Great for Eland, but you might want a bigger and heavier bullet for a 1200 pound trophy Eland anyway. The Barnes X bullets are much the same, with the added pluses of heavy copper fouling and indifferent to lousy accuracy. I’d pass on both of them.
Much the same terminal effect can be said of loads using the Swift A-Frame, although I’ve found accuracy to be outstanding. It’s a hard bullet, too hard for anything less than 500 pounds or so, and shows little fragmentation.
Fragmentation has become a dirty word in some American game hunting circles lately. The loudest voices are those demanding utter complete penetration from all angles. These same folks tout their chosen “super-premium” bullet as the finest expander known to man. But the facts show otherwise.
The effect of the high velocity (3100 fps) 130 grain bullet from the .270 on a 200 pound deer is well known. Unfortunately, not all game you will shoot in Africa weighs 200 pounds. Some will weigh 750 pounds. Others will weigh 50 pounds. The 130 grain bullet isn’t enough for the bigger ones.
But the fragmentation argument remains the same. A bullet that penetrates well into the chest cavity at high velocity and expands violently will have quicker kills than the super-penetrators.
As an illustration, a hunting partner on a recent safari shot an Impala five (FIVE !) times with a 7mm Remington Magnum using the 160 grain A-Frame at 3070 fps. All shots were under 150 yards. There was complete exit, little evidence of shock or expansion, let alone fragmentation. And all five hits were chest cavity.
Another fact of the “super-premium priced” crowd is that their effect is often erratic. This can be true of any bullet, of any make, but I’m not happy with something as finicky as the X bullet’s expansion when the size and weight range of African game is so diverse.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, nix the Ballistic Tips, Silvertips, and any of the “extended range” type loads. They are too explosive in this caliber. I saw a little whitetail deer blasted to shreds by a hunting partner with a 140 grain Ballistic Tip at 50 yards. Your Klipspringer trophy would be mincemeat, and your Blue Wildebeest might have a bloody superficial wound if hit on the shoulder.
Bullets with good reputations are Winchester Power Points, Nosler Partitions, Remington Core-Lokts, Hornady Interlocks, and Speer Grand Slams, to name some American brands. They are consistent, reliable and expansive. The Hornady expands the most and penetrates the least. The Remington and Nosler work the opposite. Your choice outta depend primarily on accuracy and velocity. Try a box of each, then buy a bunch of the same lot. Use your rejects for practice.
Again, I’d recommend sticking to the 150 grain weights – – they do just as well on the lighter game as the 130 and 140 grainers, but penetrate better on the heavier game.
Handloading for the .270 is easy. Standard large rifle primers are fine, I happen to like Winchester WLR as they are a bit hotter than most and I’ve never had an ignition failure with them. Also, the .270 gets best accuracy and velocity with slower burning powders and so the WLR will reliably ignite the whole charge uniformly.
I’ve found H4831-SC a great powder, which is temperature stable, something that cannot be said for the as-of-late popular Reloader series powders, especially RL-22. This is a factor in all hunting when you are developing a load at one temperature and hunting at another. A max load at 60 F. with RL-22 might cause a sticky bolt at 85 F. Not good while hunting in Africa.
The bullets that handloaders have available are only a bit broader in selection than factory ammo. From mine and others experiences, for thornbrush and ranges most likely under 250 yards, the 160 grain Nosler Partition and the 150 grain Speer Grand Slam are excellent for Africa. But their ballistic coefficient is limited so they shed velocity and energy quickly and the trajectory also therefore curved.
For open plains use, the 150 grain Nosler Partition and the 150 grain Hornady spirepoint have a flatter trajectory and retain velocity and energy better up to 400 yards.
The Nosler/Winchester Combined Technology bullets are better used in some cartridges other than the .270 Winchester, or for other types of hunting. The Ballistic Silvertip is too explosive for the normal range of African game. The Failsafe is useful for use if you’d like to try your .270 on Eland.
The Partition Gold, moly coated or not, I can’t recommend. In comparison to the regular Partition, it has a thicker jacket, a steel cup around the rear core and a smaller front core. The result is an extremely long bullet, longer than even the regular 160 grain Partition. In my experience the 150 grain Partition Gold doesn’t stabilize too well at .270 Winchester velocities. And all the added features detract from expansion. Perhaps in a .270 Weatherby (with 1-in-10″ twist), or the new .270 WSM, it would be better.
Lately, published loads have been toned down (some might say watered-down) in the past 10 years. This is part of a general trend of wimping out on the part of the manufactures of ammunition, bullets and powder. It seems once a cartridge hits its 30th birthday, the manufacturers decide that the original rifles have been abused and are worn out and they need to reduce the load on account of old Uncle Joe’s beat-up clunker.
As a handloader you are reloading for one rifle, your own. Since I am loading for my own rifle, I won’t bore you (pardon the pun) with my loads. But manuals and loads that have been published in the past have listed the 160 grain bullet at about 2750 fps, and the 150 grain bullets at about 2900 fps. I’m happy with those figures from a 22″ barrel.
I don’t full-length size the brass and have yet to see a problem, even when using brass from one .270 rifle to another. But for safety I segregate the brass if i have more than one rifle.
The light recoil of this rifle, compared to the .30/06 and magnums, has made many hunters better shots than they thought they could be. This builds confidence, and makes the .270 a winner.
The rifle I used in the hunt described was a Browning A-Bolt II Classic. Its virtues are pleasant appearance, light weight, fast bolt cycling, good trigger and fine accuracy. So what more is there? Well it is made the newfangled way, which means a bolt which is a collection of little pins, sleeves, wire and hollow stampings. Not very confidence inspiring if you¹ve had the misfortune of trying to disassemble (and reassemble) the bolt. And adding some plastic here and there doesn’t help the traditional-minded amongst us fall in love. It’s a good rifle, but I’ve gone elsewhere lately.
My current .270 Winchester is a Weatherby Mark V Stainless Lightweight action. It weighed 6-1/2 pounds naked with its original 24″ barrel. That barrel length wrings full velocity from the cartridge with its slower burning powders; and accuracy was around 3/4 MOA. However, it wasn’t the handiest rifle for mountain hunting, nor saddle use, nor making your way through thick thornbrush. I spent $25 to have the barrel cut back to 22″ and recrowned. Velocity loss was about 70 fps but accuracy stayed under 1 MOA. The rifle balances and handles much better.
I use a Leupold Vari-X 3-9×33 Compact scope. Its advantages are light weight (under 10 ounces), and small dimensions which aid again in carrying, handling and hiking. While obviously some light transmission and clarity is lost as compared to a longer scope tube and 40mm objective, I find the difference small. At 3x the exit pupil is larger than your own eye, and higher power is useless at close range, as in a blind. The 9x is useful for zeroing, and I like that power level once the range goes past 150 yards or so.
As a plains rifle in Africa, a .270 is a good choice. Most of your non-dangerous plains game can be handled with it, including Zebra, Kudu, Gemsbok and the numerous smaller fare. I have always achieved the penetration of one shoulder and the vital zone. But it isn’t a cartridge for hard angle shots from the rear.
I don’t take raking shots from the rear, or “Texas heart shots.” To my way of thinking, the animal wins if that is the only shot I can stalk to. Usually there’s no problem, and I’m able to work into a decent shooting position, once an animal is located. And this is not limited to the .270. With heavier calibers, .300 and .338 magnums, I still don’t open with a bad angle shot.
Now over 70 years old, the .270 just won’t go away. With the lightweight rifles now available, it makes more sense than ever.- Kuduking, rifleshooter.com