Hardware: 6.8 Western
It was on a mule deer/elk combination hunt in northwestern Colorado last October that I first became acquainted with the 6.8 Western. I’d heard some scuttlebutt regarding the cartridge: It was fast, it used long, sleek, heavy-for-caliber bullets and it was plenty accurate. But I must admit to being a bit skeptical regarding the need for yet another .270 in an already flooded market. My skepticism was both unfounded and unnecessary.
Remember, it was Winchester that brought us the now-legendary .270 Winchester in 1925 (it became one of America’s favorite cartridges). It was also Winchester that brought us the .270 Winchester Short Magnum in 2002. So I wondered if we needed a third .270 from the Big W. Yes, the 6.8 SPC and the 27 Nosler have joined the fray, but to my mind the .277-inch bore diameter belongs to Winchester. I guess it is only fitting that Winchester has taken the .270 journey one step further.
Looking at the cartridge, you’ll notice an immediate resemblance to the .270 WSM, and you wouldn’t be wrong in making the assumption that the two are closely related. In fact, at first sight, I thought the new cartridge was the .270 WSM. However, the 6.8 Western is a different animal altogether, despite the family resemblance.
What Winchester has done to create the 6.8 Western is shorten the .270 WSM case from 2.100 inches to 2.020 inches, so that the 165- and 175-grain .277-inch bullets can be properly seated within the confines of the short-action magazine. To pick up where the other .270s from Winchester leave off, the twist rate of the 6.8 Western has been tightened to 1:7.5 inches in order to stabilize those longer bullets. Since its release in 1925, one of the inherent issues with the .270 Winchester is the 1:10 twist rate, which has precluded the use of spitzer bullets heavier than 150 grains, while the 6.5mm cartridges can happily stabilize the 160-grain slugs, and 7mm cartridges can handle 175-grain bullets. The 6.8 Western offers the heavier, higher ballistic coefficient (BC) bullets that have been so popular among long-range shooters and hunters. In my opinion, the 6.8 Western brings the .277-inch bore diameter to life, in a cartridge with a muzzle velocity that won’t burn up a throat prematurely.
The case retains the 35-degree shoulder of the .270 WSM, yet the datum line has been shortened to 1.5835 inches, compared to the WSM’s 1.664 inches; it also shares the 0.535-inch diameter case head derived from the Holland & Holland belted cases, making rifle manufacture more cost effective. Currently there are two factory loads available for the 6.8 Western; one from Winchester and one from Browning. The Winchester load features the bonded core 165-grain Nosler AccuBond Long Range bullet at a muzzle velocity of 2970 fps, and the Browning load is built around the 175-grain Long Range Pro Hunter, which is the boattail Sierra Tipped GameKing with a gold polymer tip at 2830 fps. This gives the option of a lighter, bonded-core bullet at a bit higher velocity, or the heavier, higher sectional density cup-and-core bullet. These two projectiles have a similar BC value (G1 .620 for the 165 Nosler AccuBond LR and 0.617 for the 175 Browning Long Range Pro Hunter) and both are wonderfully accurate. With a 200-yard zero, the 6.8 Western 165 AccuBond LR load will strike 6.3 inches low at 300, 18.1 inches low at 400 and 36 inches low at 500 yards. That bullet starts out with more than 3,200 ft.-lbs. of energy at the muzzle and still has 1,850 ft.-lbs. at 500 yards.
I used the 165-grain AccuBond LR load in Colorado and couldn’t have been more pleased with the terminal ballistics, on both species we hunted. While the mule deer was just over 200 yards away, the spike elk was not much more than 100 paces distant. Both dropped to a single shot, and neither bullet was recoverable. This was common to the six hunters on that trip; out of eleven animals taken, at ranges from 70 yards to 470 yards, only one bullet was recovered. It had the classic conformation of an upset AccuBond Long Range: plenty of expansion and a good amount of the shank was intact, indicating high weight retention.
We all used Winchester XPR rifles on the Colorado hunt, with 24-inch barrels, sans muzzle brake, topped with Leupold VX-6HD 3x-18x-50mm scopes. While I didn’t have a chance to do any accuracy testing on that trip, the rifle/cartridge/scope combination performed wonderfully across the board. Both report and recoil were surprisingly mild, even in a rifle on the lighter side of the spectrum. I did, however, wrangle a Browning X-Bolt chambered in 6.8 Western to take to the range back home, featuring a 24-inch barrel with muzzle brake, and topped with that same Leupold.
This cartridge was an absolute pleasure from the bench and showed excellent accuracy. On an ideal winter afternoon, with temperatures in the mid-40s and calm winds, I set up the Oehler 35P chronograph and some targets at 100 yards and set to work. The X-Bolt showed a preference for the 165-grain Nosler AccuBond Winchester load, putting three shots in an average group measuring just over ½ MOA. The Browning 175-grain load was almost as impressive, with group size averaging just over ¾ MOA; the point of impact for the two loads varied by less than an inch. Looking at the muzzle velocities I recorded, this rifle gave speeds a bit lower than advertised, with the 165-grain load leaving the muzzle at an average of 2918 fps, and the 175-grain load at 2770 fps. Extreme spreads for the pair were less than 20 fps.
Even from the bench, the 6.8 Western has a felt recoil less than the majority of .270 Winchesters I’ve spent time with. In spite of the velocity, I would describe the cartridge as “sweet-shooting” in both rifles I shot. And unlike the other members of the WSM family, including the WSSMs, I had no feeding issues whatsoever in either rifle. I suspect position of the shoulder, moved a bit rearward, has something to do with this; perhaps the longer bullet changes the shoulder/feed ramp angle. No matter the cause, the 6.8 Western fed like a dream both on the hunt and at the range.
In my opinion, the 6.8 Western is everything the .270 WSM should have been, and ever wanted to be. With handloaded ammunition, you’ll be able to use the 130-, 140- and 150-grain bullets so common to the .270 Winchester, though I suspect there will be a bit more freebore than usual. This might not be a bad thing, especially when you look at the heavy-for-caliber monometal bullets that take up a bunch of room in the .270 WSM case. The faster twist rate may not work well with the lightest .277-caliber bullets, like the 90-grain Speer TNT and Gold Dot bullets designed for the 6.8 SPC, as I’ve seen other situations where the lighter bullets have been ripped apart, causing jacket/core separation.
I’ve not been a fan of the WSM cartridges, though the ballistic formula they use certainly works. Perhaps my opinion was based on the feeding issues early on. But I really like the way the 6.8 Western gives a hunter a choice of the heavier bullets, giving the .277-inch bore diameter the facelift I always felt it needed, without generating excessive recoil or barrel wear. My prediction is the 6.8 Western will earn a stellar reputation among hunters who like a light rifle capable of flat trajectory and good wind deflection values.
• Cartridges and bullet weights available: Winchester Expedition Big Game Long Range (165 gr.); Browning Long Range Pro Hunter (175 gr.)
• Bullet type(s)/style(s): Nosler AccuBond Long Range (Win.); Sierra Tipped Match-King (Browning)
• Ballistic Coefficient (G1): .620 (Nosler AccuBond Long Range); .617 (Sierra Tipped MatchKing)
• Muzzle Velocity (adv.): 2970 fps (Win.); 2835 fps (Browning)
• Muzzle Energy (adv.): 3,226 ft.-lbs. (Win.); 3,123 ft.-lbs. (Browning)
• Uses: medium to large big game (deer, elk)
• MSRP: $42 per 20-rnd. box (Winchester); $40 per 20-rnd. box (Browning); winchester.com/browningammo.com
Article by Philip Massaro