My favorite firearm will always be my Ruger Standard with sights painted white by my grandfather
If you’ve ever wanted to stir up a hornet’s nest, all you need to do is go onto any hunting forum and pose the question, “Which is better, 270 or 243?” Then just sit back and watch the fireworks like it’s the 4th of July.
The 243 Winchester and 270 Winchester are two centerfire rifle cartridges that shooters predominantly use for varmint hunting or whitetail, antelope, or mule deer.
Both hunting calibers are wildly successful and have their distinct advantages. The 270, with its heavier bullets, are particularly devastating against large game, while the 243 uses lighter projectiles that many deer hunters prefer for its low felt recoil and flat shooting tendencies.
Both camps of hunters and marksmen staunchly defend their rifle caliber of choice, refusing to budge even an inch or entertain the possibility that the other cartridge has some merit. However, many novice hunters are drug into the quandary of which deer cartridge will be best for their new hunting rifle.
No matter which hunting cartridge you choose, there’s no doubt that the whitetail deer in your area will rue the day you go into the woods! I can promise that if you do your part, you will have good luck with either rifle cartridge.
However, when selecting a caliber for your new bolt action rifle, it’s prudent to understand the advantages and disadvantages of each.
.243 vs .270: A Battle of Bullet Weight and Velocity
As the 270 vs 243 battle rages on at deer hunting camps and internet forums around the world, the debate simplifies down to two categories: bullet weight and velocity.
The 243 Win operates under the principle of shooting lighter projectiles at extremely high velocity (FPS), utilizing hydrostatic shock to incapacitate the target.
On the other hand, the 270 utilizes heavier bullets and kinetic energy (ft-lbs) to cause critical damage to any big game animal that crosses its path.
This sounds eerily similar to the 223 Rem vs 308 Win debate!
Regardless of which rifle cartridge you choose, shot placement will always be the key to humanely harvesting an animal as opposed to simply wounding it.
In the following sections, we will evaluate each cartridge based on the criteria you need to consider when purchasing a new deer cartridge.
It’s always good to look at the cartridge specifications to understand what both cartridges are capable of. Right off the bat, we see there are some major differences between the 243 vs 270. The first thing you should note is that both rifle cartridges are different calibers. The 270 shoots a larger 0.277” diameter bullet while the 243 has a bullet diameter of 0.243”.
The next glaring difference is in the case length, with the 270 having almost a 0.5” longer case than the 243. This translates to a higher case capacity for the 270.
The added case capacity will be needed to get the heavier bullets fire by the 270 up to speed for long-range shooting.
To put it simply, the 270 is just a bigger cartridge than the 243 as it is large in all aspects. But this begs the question, “Is bigger actually better?”
Let’s find out!
When it comes to considering recoil, there are generally two lines of thought in the shooting community.
The first group are those shooters who scoff at considering felt recoil as a criterion for caliber selection. “Tough it out!” is often their suggestion as they prefer to load up with 1 oz. rifled slugs for their 12 ga shotgun or those recoil junkies who enjoy the shoulder smashing recoil of a 180-grain Hornady SST fired from their 300 Win Mag deer rifle.
The second group are those who always opt for the lowest recoiling cartridge they can find for the job. “A .22 LR rimfire rifle is all you need!” is often the battle cry for the low recoil proponents who preach shot placement over terminal ballistics. This type of shooter can often be found formulating new handloads at the reloading bench for their new 6.5 Creedmoor long-range ammo or 223 Rem ballistic tip varmint cartridges.
For most experienced hunters, the thought of recoil is secondary to most other performance characteristics. However, for newer or small-framed shooters, recoil can easily throw off an otherwise perfect shot due to recoil anticipation. In this case, a cartridge with less recoil is preferred.
As the 270 fires heavier bullets and has a larger case capacity, it will generally impart more felt recoil into the shoulder of the shooter. On the other hand, the 243 will generally have less recoil, making it easier for many shooters to shoot accurately.
How much less recoil?
Felt recoil is a function of bullet weight, powder charge, and rifle weight. On average, a 270 Win rifle cartridge will slap your shoulder with around 19.50 foot-pounds of punishment. In contrast, the 243 will gingerly tap you with 11.25 ft-lbs of force.
The .270 Win doesn’t hit you with double the recoil (74% more to be precise), but it’s pretty close! If you were to shoot similar factory loads for each cartridge side-by-side, you could likely tell a world of difference between the two.
When it comes to felt recoil, the 243 comes out on top by a wide margin.
Trajectory is how we quantify a bullet’s flight path to its target measured in inches of bullet drop. As a bullet travels downrange, it is constantly being pulled back towards the earth due to gravity. And in terms of long-range shooting, a flatter trajectory is preferred.
Lighter-weight bullets traveling at higher velocity (FPS) will be affected by gravity less as they will reach the target faster than heavier bullets traveling slower.
With this in mind, it’s easy to see why the 243 is considered to be the flatter shooting round when compared to the 270. However, it’s not as much as you might think!
If you look at the ballistics tables later in the article, you’ll see that both cartridges are very close in terms of bullet drop out to 400 yards. However, on average the 243 has dropped about 2-3” less than the 270. These numbers are impressive as they are on par with the 300 Win Mag and 6.5 Creedmoor, which are both regarded as very flat shooting cartridges.
Although the trajectory of both cartridges is similar at 400 yards, the 270 starts gaining ground on the 243 at ranges beyond 700 yards. This is due to the lightweight projectiles fired by the 243 Win bleeding FPS at this distance and nearing subsonic speeds while the 270 just keeps on trucking.
In terms of trajectory, for shots under 700 yards, the 243 will be the flatter shooting cartridge, while the 270 is the better choice for shots over 700 yards.
Accuracy is difficult to measure as it is mostly a function of the shooting platform and the shooter as opposed to the cartridge.
However, many shooters report being more accurate with 243 as opposed to 270. This is most likely due to the lower felt recoil experienced when shooting 243 as shooters can focus more on the fundamentals of shooting without worrying about an offensive kick to the shoulder.
Another potential reason why some shooters experience better accuracy with the 243 Win is its flatter trajectory. This means that there will be fewer adjustments required when shooting at range.
However, both caveats that suggest the 243 is the more accurate cartridge are actually just a function of the shooter and can be rectified with proper training and trigger control. With all things being equal, you should see no difference in accuracy as both the 243 and 270 can easily obtain sub-MOA accuracy with handloads or match-grade factory loads from Hornady, Barnes, Nosler, or Sierra.
Ballistic Coefficient (BC) is a numerical representation of how well a bullet resists wind and air resistance. It’s a measure of how aerodynamic a bullet is, a high BC is preferred and means the bullet will buck the wind easier.
The way a BC is calculated is rather complicated and irrelevant for this article, however, heavier bullets will typically have a higher ballistic coefficient.
As the 270 fires heavier bullets, it’s a fair assumption that it would offer a higher BC when compared to 243…and you would be correct in this line of thought.
On average, the 270 has a BC of around 0.44 while the 243 registers an average BC of 0.34. That’s a pretty dramatic difference.
However, when you think about the lightweight bullets fired by the 243, it makes a lot of sense. It will take a lot less wind to affect the course of a 55 to 85 grain bullet fired by a 243 as opposed to a chunky 150 grain 270 projectile.
The 270 will generally have higher BC’s and be affected by wind drift less than 243 Win.
Sectional Density (SD) is the measure of how well a bullet penetrates a target. This is extremely important when hunting big game, as you need a bullet that can punch through thick hide, bone, and sinew.
Sectional density is calculated by comparing the bullet weight and the bullet diameter, the higher the number the more effective it will be at penetrating a target. The higher the SD the deeper the bullet will penetrate the target.
However, there are other factors we need to consider in terms of SD outside the geometry of the bullet, and those are velocity and bullet design.
With two bullets of equal weight traveling at different velocities, the one with the higher velocity will penetrate deeper.
Bullet design also plays a role, as a non-expanding bullet will penetrate deep but not leave a large wound channel. Conversely, an expanding bullet like a Hornady SST or Nosler Ballistic Tip will expand on impact causing a large wound channel but might not penetrate deep enough to damage internal organs.
This means there is a delicate balance between penetration and expansion when ammo manufacturers develop hunting cartridges.
When comparing the 243 Win and 270 Win in terms of SD, it’s important to consider bullet selection as lighter varmint rounds (55-70 gr) for 243 will typically have lower SD than the heavier 80-100 gr deer loads (0.14 vs 0.24, respectively).
For the 130 grain bullet offerings for 270, the average SD is around 0.24, bullets like the Hornady Superformance and Remington Core-Lokt. This is essentially identical to the 100 grain bullets fired from the 243.
The 150 grain bullet for 270 is where it separates itself from 243 in terms of SD. These bullets often have SD’s coming closer to 0.28, which is why many hunters who look to take larger game like elk will favor bullets like the 150 gr Nosler Partition or Sierra GameKing for 270.
The overlap in Sectional Density between these two bullet designs is indicative of what we will see in the next section, which is what I believe most of my readers are here for. Which is best for hunting, 270 vs 243?
When picking your next hunting rifle and caliber, it’s always important to know what it is that you plan on hunting. Sadly, there is no singular caliber that is exceptional at harvesting every type of game animal.
Some calibers are more flexible in terms of bullet weight, but the simple truth is that you need to use the right tool for the right job.
For example, you wouldn’t pound a nail into wood using precision calipers, just like you wouldn’t measure the diameter of a bullet with a hammer. The same can be said about hunting cartridges.
A cartridge that is excellent at taking coyotes, foxes, and groundhogs while preserving the pelt is unlikely to be very effective at humanely harvesting whitetail, antelope, and feral hogs. This holds true when we are comparing 270 vs 243 in terms of their effectiveness on wild game animals.
In this vein, it seems only appropriate to separate the hunting section into 3 parts: varmint hunting, medium-sized game, and large game.
Varmint Hunting: Prairie Dogs, Coyotes, Groundhogs, and Foxes
For varmint hunting, the normal convention is that small, high-velocity bullets are preferred as they will cause less damage to the varmint’s pelt.
And one thing that I think bears mentioning here is that most centerfire rifle cartridges are packing too much power to effectively harvest a varmint for its hide. If this is your goal, a rimfire cartridge like the 22 WMR or .22 LR is going to be the best option.
However, if rimfire is not on your menu and you have to pick between 243 vs 270, the 243 is clearly the superior option as it allows for bullet weights as low as 55 gr. On the other hand, the lightest 270 factory loads that I could find weigh in at 96 gr.
Ever hear the children’s nursery rhyme, “Pop goes the weasel”? Try shooting coyotes with a 270 and you’ll find out what that really means!
The 270 is simply too much bullet to bring to the varmint hunt. Can you do it? Of course, you can! But it’s way more than you need.
The 243 is clearly the superior choice for varmint hunting.
Medium-Sized Game: Deer, Antelope, Feral Hogs
This is where the real debate likes for 270 vs 243, as hunters have extremely polarized views of each cartridge based on their own experience or what they read in amazingly detailed articles like this one!
Many hunters report having good luck with the 243 for medium-sized game hunting. It has a flat trajectory, low recoil which allows for faster follow-up shots, and hits hard enough to easily take down any trophy whitetail that dares walk into your crosshairs.
On the flip side, 270 proponents will tell stories of how all the whitetail they’ve ever shot with a 270 took no more than 2-3 steps before dropping. And let’s not forget your grandpa’s favorite fireside story of how he dropped a mule deer in its tracks at 500 yards with his trusty hunting rifle, an heirloom Browning A-Bolt in 270 passed down to him from his father.
Although both the 270 and 243 are very capable deer-sized game cartridges, the true answer lies in what range you expect to engage the target.
A general rule of thumb is that 1000 foot-pounds of energy are required to humanely harvest a whitetail deer or similar-sized game animal.
Based on the ballistic tables below, a 100 grain 243 bullet will be able to maintain 1,000 ft-lbs of energy up to 250-300 yards.
On the other hand, the 270 Win can maintain this level of stopping power out to 500+ yards.
So, the big question is: Where do you live and what range do you expect to shoot?
If you live out in the western Great Plains and plan to hunt muleys, pronghorn, or mountain sheep up to 500 yards, then the 270 is the clear choice with its higher Ballistic Coefficient (resists wind drift) and ability to maintain 1,000+ ft-lbs of energy at that range.
However, if you live and hunt in a heavily wooded area that rarely even offers you the ability to shoot past 200 yards, then a 243 will be more than sufficient as it offers plenty of deer-stopping kinetic energy in a lighter recoiling package.
The truth is, you will have good luck with both the 270 and 243 when it comes to the deer-sized game. The choice is up to your personal preference (low recoil vs higher kinetic energy) and the range you intend to engage your target at.
Large Game: Elk, Caribou, Black Bear
If you want to truly tackle some large game, then the clear choice is the 270 with its higher sectional density (for 150 gr loadings) and amazing stopping power. In truth, a 300 Win Mag would be the better choice, however, the 270 is a proven elk cartridge and will have no problem with black bears either.
The 243 simply does not have enough kinetic energy or penetration to harvest these larger animals consistently and humanely.
And if you’re looking for stopping power, then look no further than a 150 grain Nosler Ballistic Tip or Hornady SST in 270 to take on North America’s larger-sized game.
Ammo and Rifle Availability
When it comes to rifles, almost every manufacturer has a bolt action or lever action that is chambered in 270 and 243.
Some popular hunting rifles include:
- Savage 110 Hunter
- Browning BLR lever action
- Ruger Hawkeye
- Remington 700
- Winchester Model 54
- CZ Model 557 American
The price point for each varies based on the different features that each manufacturer offers. However, in general, you should expect to pay $700+ for the premium rifles listed above. Budget options like the Savage Axis, Ruger American, and Mossberg Patriot can typically be had for under $500 at the time of writing.
There will be no difference in price between 270 and 243 for factory-new rifles of the same model.
Ammo cost, availability, and variety are factors one should always consider when purchasing a new rifle.
In terms of cost, there is very little difference between the 243 Win and 270 Win. For the cheap, practice ammo you should be paying around $1.50 per round while the premium hunting ammo will run you about $2-3 per round or more.
Generally speaking, 270 and 243 Win are very easy to find on your local sporting goods store shelves and multiple loadings are available. Multiple grain weights are available in both calibers to let you customize your ammo to the target game you’re looking to hunt.
If you’re looking to trim your ammo budget while keeping a regular practice schedule, reloading might be the answer to your prayers.
Reloading for both the 270 and 243 is a breeze and you’ll have ample options when it comes to bullets and powders to dial in your handloads to their maximum potential.
All of the major bullet manufacturers, like Hornady, Barnes, Sierra, and Nosler, have multiple bullet options for both calibers.
The sky is the limit when it comes to reloading and customizing the perfect handloads for your favorite rifle in 270 or 243.
The only downside to reloading for 243 and 270 is the lack of bullet cross-compatibility with other calibers. For example, if you enjoy reloading for 308 Winchester, you can easily stockpile 30-caliber bullets that can also be used in your 300 Win Mag and 30-06 Springfield handloads.
For 0.243” (6mm) diameter bullets, there are a few options such as the 6mm Remington, 6mm PPC, 6mm Creedmoor (which is a necked down 6.5 Creedmoor), and 240 Weatherby Magnum. That being said, these cartridges are not as wildly popular as the 243.
The same is true for the 0.277” (6.8mm) diameter bullets fired by the 270. The 270 Winchester Short Magnum (270 WSM) and 6.8 Remington SPC are two options that both shoot 6.8mm bullets, but again, neither of them have achieved the massive commercial success of the 270.
Continue reading .243 vs .270: The Deer Hunting Caliber Debate at Ammo.com for comparative ballistic data!