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Deer Rifles

.270 Vs. .257: What’s the Best Whitetail Caliber?

by Joseph von Benedikt & Mike Schoby   |  November 24th, 2015 0
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Hunters can argue for days on the best whitetail caliber, but what do our experts say?

.270 Winchester

Being a Western guy, I have psychological issues with choosing the best caliber for just one species. Me, I want to be able to shoot anything from coyotes to moose with the durned thing.

So while it’s not short and fat and it’s not a fire-breathing magnum dragon, Winchester’s classic .270 gets it done on most anything, assuming shrewd projectile choice.

Whitetail hunting offers perhaps more variation in shot type and animal size than any other North American big game, so it behooves hunters to shoot a cartridge capable of making the most of any situation. Whether you’re threading a timbered needle-hole toward a massive Wisconsin corn-eater or driving a steeply raking shot into the hip of a 280-pound Saskatchewan monster, the .270 Winchester kills whitetails as well as any cartridge—and far better than most.

Importantly, it does so without beating up the shooter. Recoil generated by a .270 Winchester is just a shade past comfortable, but it’s not painful.

Some might argue that the .270 is more cartridge than one needs for whitetails. My condolences to those poor misguided souls. I hope that someday when they lay the crosshairs on a heavy-boned, densely muscled, rutted-up northern buck and its shaggy coat and testosterone-filled attitude, it will lead them to the light.

As for bullet, any good 130- to 150-grain bullet makes wonderful whitetail medicine, but I’d go with Nosler’s outstanding 140-grain AccuBond. It’s tough enough to hold together through shoulder bones, expands dramatically, wreaks havoc on vitals, and is fairly aerodynamic, enabling skillful hunters to reach way out there if need be.

Part of what makes it so great is that a hunter can walk into just about any country gas station and buy a box of .270 cartridges.

—Joseph von Benedikt

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.257 Weatherby Magnum

It’s human nature to want the most bang for the buck, and few are satisfied with a cartridge that is ideally suited for just one job. Instead, they opt for a jack-of-all-trades cartridge. The good news is there are cartridges that will do decent work on everything from mice to moose, but the bad news is they don’t do any one thing particularly well.

The .270 Winchester fits into this category. It was my first rifle, and I killed a pile of game with it. I’ve learned since, when possible, to match the caliber to the game. Since many hunters hunt strictly whitetails, why not pick a cartridge that is the right tool for the job?

For me, the best whitetail cartridge is the .257 Weatherby Magnum. Invented by Roy Weatherby in 1944, it was his favorite cartridge as well. Why? Because it has low recoil and a laser-like trajectory, and it kills quicker than any cartridge has a right to. Spitting out a 100-grain bullet at 3,500 fps, no other commercially produced deer round has such a flat trajectory.

This means that without a lot of thinking, or confusing ballistic reticles, or scope adjustments, a hunter can place a bullet in the vitals from spitting distance all the way out past 400 yards simply by holding the crosshairs in the middle of the deer.

While there are factory loads featuring 87-grain pills up to 120-grainers, deer hunters will do well to stay in the middle of the spectrum at 100 grains. Smart money selects premium bullets because the cartridge’s high velocity tends to tear lesser bullets apart. Monolithic solids, Bear Claws, and Partitions all work great on deer and carry the magical 1,000 ft.-lbs. of energy out past 600 yards for true long-range performance.

So regardless of whether your whitetails are of the tiny Couse variety or great, swollen-necked Saskatchewan giants, the .257 Weatherby Magnum is the ideal cartridge bar none.

—Mike Schoby

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