.25-06 vs .270: Which is Better?

The .25-06 is a favorite cartridge for the “in between” shooter. A platform more powerful than a .243 but less than a .30-06. The recoil is much less than the larger cartridge that share’s the same second half of the name “-06”.

In appearance, a .25-06 doesn’t seem much different than a .270, but looks can be deceiving. The equally popular sporting rifle, the .270 has much greater power, over a much greater distance, with a larger recoil to boot.

We’ll take a look at these two popular big game rifle calibers, compare them in a few key areas, and determine which one might be a good choice for you

A common ancestry

The .270 is approaching its 100th anniversary. Introduced in 1923 it was an innovation on the British .303 of World War I fame. The .30-06 also came from the .303.

The .25-06 was a wildcat cartridge, made on a small scale beginning in the late 1940s but not reached the mass market of consumer ammunition until 1969 when it was introduced by Remington.

The .25-06 is a necked-down version of the .30-06. As such one could be considered the daughter of the British .303 and the other the granddaughter.

Both the .270 and .25-06 share similar characteristics, but there are vast differences as well.

Velocity

The fastest .25-06 in terms of feet per second is a 90-grain bullet that flies out of the barrel with a muzzle velocity of 3350 FPS. The .270 can fire a 130-grain bullet almost as fast with a muzzle velocity of 3200 feet per second.

The difference comes at distance. The lighter 90 and 117 grain .25-06 bullets in the chart below slow substantially in comparison to the heavier 130 and 150 grain .270 bullets.

Velocity when calculated with the mass of the bullet creates energy. We’ll compare the energy of these two caliber cartridges in another charter below.

CartridgeGrainsMuzzle100 yds200 yds300 yds400 yds500 yds
.25-0690335030012679237820981837
.25-06117299027492521230420981902
.270130320029842779258323962216
.270150284026422453227120971931

Energy

The stopping part of a bullet is measured in energy. Energy is the amount of force in foot pounds of a bullet as it strikes a target. In big game hunting, a minimum energy of 1000 is necessary to ethically take a big game animal.

As you can see from the energy chart below, all four of the bullets displayed with two in each caliber deliver enough energy measured in foot pounds to take down a big game animal at 300 yards. The 90 grain .25-06 is not an ethical cartridge after 330 yards, and the 117-grain version of the .25-06 misses the 1000 foot pound threshold at approximately 470 yards.

The 130 and the 150 grain .270 bullets still retain plenty of energy to ethically take big game at 500 yards and hold above the 1000 foot-pound threshold even farther.

CartridgeGrainsMuzzle100 yds200 yds300 yds400 yds500 yds
.25-06902243179914341130879674
.25-0611723221963165113791143940
.270130270323472032175215021281
.270150268623252004171814651242

Range

Range, as measured in shooting steel targets, is different than the effective range it takes to harvest an elk, moose, or deer. Getting the steel to clang with a shot having just a few hundred pounds of energy remaining gets you points on the target, but hitting an animal with that light of bullet only wounds it and is an unethical thing to do.

In terms of range, we’ll stick to the closer 500-yard metric where most of the ballistic information listed below is still above 1000 pounds of energy.

You can shoot a .270 up to 750 yards in some bullet configuration and still maintain the 1000 yard metric. You can hit targets above 1000 yards with both a .25-06 and a .270 but the .270 with its higher energy is a better long distance target cartridge.

CartridgeGrainsMuzzle100 yds200 yds300 yds400 yds500 yds
.25-06902243179914341130879674
.25-0611723221963165113791143940
.270130270323472032175215021281
.270150268623252004171814651242

Accuracy

Hitting what you aim at is the essence of shooting. Delivering a powerful bullet at a long distance takes practice, a steady hand, and skill to accomplish.

Both the .25-06 and the .270 are flat shooting at 200-yards, meaning when on target they’ll hit exactly what you place the crosshairs of the scope at 200 yards.

The difference in accuracy comes in longer shots and is a factor of bullet drop, the amount a bullet will drop over distance as it travels. Most big game rifles shoot a little high at 100-yards and it might seem strange to see a table reading a bullet is low at the muzzle, but that’s simply a metric used in ballistics charts.

A .25-06 in 90-grain bullets has a bullet drop very similar to a .270 in 130 or 150 grains from the muzzle to a distance of 500 yards.

The heavier 117-grain bullet has more energy over distance, but drops more with each passing 100-yard increment at the 300-yard mark.

The .270 is a more accurate round in terms of wind drift with its heavier bullet. The heavier the bullet the less crosswind will affect it as it travels to the target.

CartridgeGrainsMuzzle100 yds200 yds300 yds400 yds500 yds
.25-0690-1.51.20-6-18.3-38.5
.25-06117-1.51.60-7-20.7-42.2
.270130-1.51.20-5.7-16.7-33.7
.270150-1.51.70-6.5-18.8-37.6

Final thoughts

Your choice of a .270 or a .25-06 won’t be answered by simple ballistics. The feel of a rifle, its balance, its heft, and the recoil it produces when fired are all tangible considerations.

The type of game you can take with a specific cartridge is another consideration. A .25-06 is great for deer, hogs, pronghorn and can take elk or moose at relatively close range.

A .270 works for all species, and delivers stop in their tracks performance over a wide range of distances.

The .270 will kick harder than a .25-06 due to its larger cartridge, which contains more gunpowder, creating a larger explosion and a greater recoil.

The .25-06 is a favorite for women hunters, and a good cartridge for beginners, and novice teenage shooters.

Both calibers will do an excellent job in big game hunting within range, but the heavier lead of the .270 gives it an edge in wind drift, energy and range.

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