.270 Winchester vs. 6.5 PRC

by Braxton Taylor

It seems like whenever anyone mentions one of the sexy new 6.5mm cartridges, someone else brings up the .270 Winchester and argues that it’s just as fast, hard-hitting, and flat-shooting as any of those newfangled whipper snappers.

You can’t get much more sexy or newfangled than the 6.5 PRC. We’ve been impressed with the PRC as a long-range hunting option, and we’ve pitted it against the .308 Winchester in a previous Caliber Battle. But how does it stack up against the supposedly underrated .270 Win., one of the most popular and effective hunting cartridges of all time? Read on to find out.

Ballistics

Fans of high-speed, low-drag cartridges might be surprised to learn that the .270 Win. can go toe-to-toe with the PRC from the ballistic perspective. Both are available with bullets weighing between 120 and 150+ grains, and velocities and trajectories are comparable.

For example, these 140-grain Elite Hunter rounds from Sig Sauer leave the barrel at 2,950 feet-per-second (fps), while these 140-grain PRC loads from Federal are flying 2,925 fps. With a 100-yard zero, the .270 has dropped about 11 inches at 300 yards while the PRC has dropped about 12 inches. At that distance, the .270 is traveling about 2,400 fps while the PRC flies around 2,300 fps. Other comparisons might put the PRC on top, but it’s clear that the .270 is more than a match for the newer cartridge at ranges within about 300 yards.

But you don’t buy a rifle chambered in 6.5 PRC to make chip shots. The PRC was designed for long, heavy, high-BC bullets that buck the wind, maintain velocity, and deliver small groups at long distances.

Surveying the factory hunting options from three of the top ammo companies reveals that BC fanatics have a point. Federal offers .270 with bullet BC’s ranging from .247 to .536; Hornady’s range is .409 to .536; and Sig’s is .380 to .508. Anything above .500 is great for a hunting bullet, but none of those can compete with Hornady’s 6.5mm 143-grain ELD-X bullets. Those boast a .625 ballistic coefficient, higher than anything I’ve found from a factory .270 Win.

What are you getting for such a high BC bullet? This load from Federal flies 2,900 fps at the muzzle and drops about 11 inches at 300 yards with a 100-yard zero. If we extend the range out to 600 yards, the bullet drops about 73 inches, which is two inches better than the 140-grain .270 mentioned above. That’s no great shakes at 600 yards, but the 6.5mm is traveling about 200 fps faster than the .270. You’re also getting significantly less wind drift. With a 10 mph cross-breeze, the 6.5 PRC only drifts about 20 inches at 600 yards. The .270, on the other hand, has drifted 25 inches, a full 25% more than the PRC.

I won’t pretend like the PRC is the Donald Trump of cartridge politics. If this were the Iowa caucuses, we’d be heading for a runoff. You can make a compelling case for the .270, especially at shorter distances, but the PRC’s long-range advantage gives it the edge in this category.

Shootability

The .270 is, without question, easier to find, more widely available, and cheaper than the 6.5 PRC. The PRC’s popularity is growing, and Midway USA lists 23 options. But some ammo companies still don’t offer a PRC and even big outfits only have three or four on tap. The PRC is popular enough that you’ll probably find it at your local sporting goods store, but you’ll find three boxes of .270 for every box of PRC.

Midway USA lists 58 .270 Win. products and prices range from $1.10 per round to $2.70 per round. The 6.5 PRC, on the other hand, can’t be had for anything less than $1.70 per round, and you’re more likely to spend $2.75 or more.

Rifle availability usually mirrors ammo availability, but that’s not the case with this matchup. Scheels has 39 .270 Win. rifles listed on its website ranging from $400 for a budget-friendly bolt-action to $1,500 for a lightweight hunting iron. But it lists 52 rifles chambered in 6.5 PRC with prices ranging from $400 to $3,500. The PRC’s surprising market share can likely be explained by its adoption among competitive long-range shooters and the growing popularity of that sport. Most competitive shooters roll their own ammunition, but they still need to purchase rifles from gunmakers. Gun companies have recognized this opportunity, and they’re taking advantage.

Of course, if you’re looking on the used market, you’re much more likely to find a .270 Win. It’s been around since the 1920’s so there are plenty of bargain bin guns floating around.

Neither cartridge enjoys much advantage in the recoil category. Both the 6.5 PRC and the .270 Win. hit with about 17 ft.-lbs. of recoil energy, which is comparable to the .308 Win., the .257 Weatherby Magnum, or the .280 Rem. Both cartridges are right in that sub-20 ft.-lbs. sweet spot, and neither will be especially uncomfortable (or comfortable) to shoot.

This category is also tight, but the .270’s less expensive ammunition earns it the nod.

Versatility

As with many medium-power cartridges, the .270 Win. and the 6.5 PRC are excellent options for almost any American big game hunt. Most grizzly hunters would likely prefer something with more energy and a wider bullet, but everything from moose to coyotes are on the table with either of these cartridges.

The .270 can be found loaded with light, 100-grain bullets while the 6.5 PRC has options using heavy, 156-grain bullets. You can also expand the bullet weight range of either cartridge by hand loading. But these examples are outliers. Both cartridges primarily use bullets in the 120- to 140-grain range, which offers enough flexibility to take varmints, medium, and large game.

However, if we expand our definition of “versatility” from species to hunting and shooting scenarios, the 6.5 PRC offers slightly more options. The PRC has been adopted widely on the long-range shooting circuit, so it’s a great choice for that pursuit. And, as we covered in the ballistics section, it offers better long-range capability. It maintains velocity better than the .270 and drifts less with the wind, which means hunters can have more confidence when taking a long-range shot.

And the Winner Is…

The fact that a 100-year-old cartridge is in the running with a 21st-century speedster should give hope to everyone staring down the double barrels of Father Time’s scattergun. If you own a .270 Winchester and you don’t plan to hunt past 400 yards or shoot competitively, there is zero reason to go out and buy a 6.5 PRC. In fact, you’d spend more money on ammunition and you might even lose some velocity at short ranges.

But as the winner of two out of three categories, the 6.5 PRC gets the overall nod. It’s better at longer distances and expands the range of situations in which a hunter can be successful. Plus, though we didn’t cover this in the ballistics section because it’s so dependent on the rifle used, the 6.5 PRC is generally more accurate.

The .270 Win. is an impressive cartridge that will continue to be relevant for decades to come, but it can’t quite compete with a modern cartridge tailor-made for our high-speed, low-drag world.

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