In this article, we are going to look at several of the most popular factory loads for each of these cartridges. And yes, we know and are fully aware that handloading your own brass can impact the ballistic and other performance properties that we will outline below. While we would love to cover other bullet designs, casings, and powders, we just don’t have the room to do so. And besides, there are still plenty of us who take factory loads out into the field.
Cartridge Comparison: A Brief History
The .243 is often referred to as the baby brother of the .308 Winchester. The .243 Win is a necked down version of the .308 Win and was introduced to the shooting world in 1955. What this cartridge offered was a long range hunting round that was able to take lighter bullets that were more suitable for target shooting and varmint hunting.
The .243 was and still is a popular round in the United States, and its emergence into the shooting gave hunters a very versatile round that could be used in a variety of hunting situations. There is a range of bullet weight options for the .243 Win. These can range from 55 to 115gr, though most hunting cartridges top out at the 100gr weight.
The .270 Winchester was introduced in 1925 where it would stay in relative obscurity for a time. The famous firearm and outdoor writer, Jack O’Connor, championed and pushed this caliber and its abilities in the field and brought it to the forefront of hunting calibers, where it remains to this day.
The .270 has gained a huge following in the world of hunting from small varmints and predators to large American game such as sheep and deer. With a leap in bullet technology, the .270 is much better suited for taking larger game such as elk where the .243 is not suitable.
As far as bullet weights go with the .270, most ammunition is going to fall between 120-160. There are smaller weights that are available for small game. Like the .243, there is a lot of options regarding bullet weight and design, and they are readily available and affordable.
243 vs 270 Specs
|Parent Casing||.308 Win||.30-03|
|Max Pressure (SAAMI)||60,000psi||65,000psi|
We can see some pretty significant differences when we look at the cartridge specs of the 243 vs 270. Obviously, the .270 is a larger caliber than the .243 and the overall cartridge length for the .270 is nearly slightly over a ½” longer than the .243.
As we would assume from these differences, the .270 can hold a good deal more powder than the .243 which is needed to bring the heavier bullets up to a proper speed for shooting purposes. We will take a look and see how these differences in case design and applicable bullet weights change the way these two cartridges behave in the field.
Below we have listed five popular hunting and target rounds for each cartridge. This is by no means a comprehensive list of the available options, but because they are popular and used heavily, it will give us an accurate depiction of how these cartridges stack up against each other in the ballistics and other performance compartments.
- 270 Hornady SST Superperformance 130gr
- 270 Winchester Ballistic Silvertip 130gr
- 270 Federal Vital-Shok Nosler Partition 150gr
- 270 Remington Core-Lokt PSP 115gr
- 270 Federal Sierra GameKing BTSP 150gr
- 243 Winchester Super-X Power Point 100gr
- 243 Hornady Superformance Varmint V-Max 58gr
- 243 Remington Core-Lokt PSP 100gr
- 243 Federal Vital-Shok Nosler Ballistic Tip 95gr
- 243 Nosler Varmageddon FB Tipped 55gr
Before we jump into the various categories for which we will be comparing these two rounds, it’s important to note that slight changes to certain variables can impact their performance. We will make it clear what these variables are as we move through the article.
When comparing two cartridges, such as the 243 vs 270, the topic of kick or recoil is bound to come up in the argument. For most experienced hunters and shooters, recoil takes more of a backseat to other performance specs, but it is still a category to consider and discuss.
Recoil can throw off a shot, especially for younger or more inexperienced shooters who are thinking about the kick as they squeeze the trigger. This flinching is a huge contributor to missed shots early in one’s shooting and hunting journey.
Not only that, but a decent amount of recoil is going to make follow up shots much slower as you must re-center and take aim again. A few lbs of force difference can be the deciding factor in squeezing off a second and successful shot on a spooked animal.
For these reasons, we felt it was important to take a look at the recoil produced by these two cartridges. We want to note that what we will be looking at is the actual recoil energy (ft.lbs) generated by firing these cartridges. This is not the actual “felt recoil” or the kick that you will notice when firing. Felt recoil is going to depend a lot of your shooting technique as well as firearm characteristics such as weight and stock design. Still, force generated still translates to felt recoil to some extent, especially when keeping the variables consistent as we have done here.
Before we take a look at our ten selected rounds, let’s just look at a general comparison of these two cartridges fired from a 7lb rifle. We see that the .243 Win produces a fair amount less recoil than the .270. Though, when thinking at a broader level, both of these cartridges have far less recoil than other common hunting and long-range competition shooting cartridges available. Though a general statement, you will often hear that 20ft.lb of recoil generated is high enough to have the chance to impact your shot for even experienced marksman, especially if you are not familiar with the firearm and cartridge. This varies from person to person but gives you an idea of where these two cartridges stand regarding affecting your shot.
Let’s go a bit narrower and take a look at the generated recoil energy of the ten rounds we have selected for this cartridge comparison.
We are still using a 7lb firearm, and we have selected a common powder load that is kept constant for each round within each cartridge and was selected from the average weights of the bullets for each cartridge. This data can change by increasing or decreasing the amount of powder, but we feel it is safe for comparison since manufacturers do not max out the amount of powder the casing could hold.
We see from this graph that there is a very distinct difference of recoil generated from these two cartridges. The .270 Win rounds all produce recoil energy over 17ft.lb while none of the .243 Win rounds reach over 12ft.lb. If we look back at the cartridge specs from earlier in the article, most could have guessed that this would be the case without needing a graph. More powder and heavier bullets are going to lead to more recoil.
If you are just picking based on recoil, the .243 appears much easier to shoot and much easier to pop of accurate successive shots than the .270. As is the case with any cartridge comparison, less recoil often means a tradeoff with other ballistic categories which we will investigate next.
Any serious marksman and shooter are going to be well aware of how their cartridge of choice is going to behave once it leaves the barrel. Velocity, ballistic coefficient, and trajectory all play a major role in how accurate and how well the bullet will bring down game. By looking at these categories, we can begin to determine in which situations one or both of these cartridges are well suited for.
Whether you hunt or participate in distance shooting or a little of both, you know that velocity is a key factor in a bullets effectiveness. The higher the velocity, the more penetration nd expansion you are apt to get, which is important for hunting purposes. Higher velocity, paired with the correct twist rate in your barrel, makes the bullets less susceptible to environmental influences which can make calculating long range shots in windy conditions less difficult.
A lot of shooters get a little overboard with velocity. There is a fine line between a hot load that improves terminal ballistic properties and a load that pushes the envelope of safety and bullet stability in the air. With factory loads, the latter is hardly ever an issue, but be aware when handloading that as much extra ft/s you can tack on is not always beneficial.
Let’s take a look at our ten selected rounds and see how their velocities (ft/s) compare to one another. Data was compiled from the manufacturer’s websites and tested from a 24″ barrel when listed.
When we look at these rounds, it appears to be all over the place right out of the muzzle. All of these rounds are pretty hot, especially the low weight (55 and 58gr) .243 rounds that have a muzzle velocity of nearly 4,000ft/s. Though hot, you will notice that with how light these bullets are and the small ballistic coefficient, which we will get to shortly, they bleed off speed rapidly.
When looking at the heavier rounds (95+), we see that they are much more clustered from muzzle to 500 yards. All of the also remain at supersonic speeds throughout their flight. If we were to take the average of these rounds, the .270 would have slightly higher velocities than the .243 rounds.
When comparing cartridges or just researching one, the ballistic coefficients (BC) are going to pop up at some point. A lot of shooters might have never heard of the term while others give it a lot of credence when selecting a round.
In the simplest of terms, the ballistic coefficient is derived from an equation using several bullets and cartridge variables. This number gives you an idea of how streamlined a bullet is. The higher the ballistic coefficient, the better the bullet can resist wind drag and wind drift. A bullet more resistant to these factors is going to be less likely to be pulled off its flight path and theoretically will be a more accurate round.
Given this, understanding how two cartridges stack up to each other regarding the BC. We gathered all of the BCs for our selected rounds from the manufacturer and have presented them here in graph form.
Just glancing at the graph, we can see that there seems to be a trend towards higher BCs for the .270 rounds compared to the .243 rounds. If you were to average these numbers, you would see that the .270 have a BC around .4 while the .243 has a BC hanging around .3. From a ballistic coefficient standpoint, a 0.1 difference is quite dramatic. And when looking at the bullets, it does make sense. Lighter bullets tend to have lower ballistic coefficients as they are more prone to being thrown off by crosswinds and are more susceptible to being caught up in wind drift.
You might wonder why lighter bullets would ever be used, but increased velocities and being a little less vulnerable to gravity greatly improve their ballistic performance when compared to heavier bullets and evens the playing field.
And we are talking about a broad comparison of cartridge to cartridge. Just from our selections, you can see that there are some .243 rounds with BCs that stack up a lot better to the .270 rounds. When it comes down to picking a round for use, you’re looking at an individual round rather than a broad cartridge family.
The trajectory is another ballistic category that gets a lot of attention, especially when comparing two types of cartridges such as the 243 vs 270. Arguments can be heated both in person and online when you start talking about how flat a person’s cartridge of choice flies. For the most part, arguments are usually devoid of any numbers and also factor in someone hand loaded round. In this section, we are just going to look at our selected factory loads and use data that is presented from the manufacturer with 24″ test barrels where stated.
Before we dive into looking at the ten selected rounds, we wanted to provide a broad look at thee cartridges trajectory that is a bit less muddled than looking at ten rounds at once.
We used an online trajectory calculator to generate the trajectory path, and we selected two rounds, one for each cartridge, which are from the same manufacturer and have the same bullet design. We see that the overall trajectory of these rounds is very similar. The .243 has a slightly flatter arc, but we are only talking about a few inches. We will say that for factory loads, they both do not show too drastic of a drop at 500 yards. Of course, this is only looking at two rounds; we will take a look at a broader selection of our ten rounds for comparison.
We will first look at the short range trajectory.
We are measuring the bullet drop (inches) from the muzzle out to 300 yards with the test firearms zeroed in at 100 yards. For hunting purposes, this might be the more relevant trajectory information as a vast majority of shots taken in the field will be within and up to 300 yards. Not all of them by any means and we will take a look at short range trajectory soon.
What we see with the short range trajectory is that the .243 has several rounds that have extremely flat arcs. The lighter grain bullets tend to be more flat with only a couple inches of bullet drop out to the 200-yard mark and around the 6-10” mark at 300 yards. Even so, both cartridges are relatively flat shooting, especially for factory loads and when compared to other cartridges on the market, the bullet drop is minimal. Most of the rounds group pretty tightly together with only around 1-2” difference at the 200 mark and 2-3” at the 30 mark, excluding the 55 and 58gr .243 rounds. In the grand scheme of things, we don’t think there is enough of a difference to make a decision strictly off of short-range trajectory.
For long-range trajectory we are working with the same units of measurement but are looking at the arc from the 50 yards out to 500 yards with the test rifles zeroed in at 200 yards.
For those looking to drive nails at long distances on the range or hunters who typically find themselves in wide open spaces where longer shots are needed, this trajectory might be more relevant to your situation.
Like the short range trajectory, we see the flattest arcs with the light grain .243 bullets. Just a note for those who might not be as versed in the shooting sports, while these light weight bullets might have a flat trajectory, they are going to be lacking in the knockout power department. Of course, if you’re shooting targets, it doesn’t matter. For the rest of the yardage marks, we are going to exclude those two rounds; they are flat, we get it.
Back on point.
At 300 yards, all of the rounds are tightly clustered around the 6-7” range, not bad for factory loads. As you move out to the 400-yard mark, you will begin to see some distance forming between the rounds. There is a tight cluster of the heavier .243 rounds and the heavier .270 rounds around the 22-23” mark at this range. There are two 130gr .270 rounds with a less pronounced drop, and by that, we only mean a couple of inches, but a couple of inches at 400 yards is pretty significant. At 500 yards, most of the rounds cluster around the 40-45″ mark except for the Hornady Superformance 130gr bullet.
In general, there is not a huge difference in trajectory when strictly looking at the two different cartridges. From the .243 and the .270, there are rounds that can provide the distance that you need. For hunters, it all depends on how much power they have once they get there.
While maybe not as significant to those who mainly stick to the firing range, stopping power is a critical performance factor for hunters for several reasons. The first is safety, especially if you are hunting larger predators, coming up on a wounded animal can be a dangerous situation. Secondly, most hunters want enough stopping power to be able to make a clean and humane kill of the animal with causing unneeded suffering. Finally, a clean kill means you are not going to have to track a wounded animal sometimes a couple hundred yards and possibly in the dark.
There is not a single number attached to stopping power, besides the number of animals you have harvested with a particular round, but for comparison, no such number exists. There are several factors that go into a cartridge’s stopping power such as the kinetic energy carried by the bullet, penetration, and wound creation. We will cover the two former categories in this section.
When the powder is ignited, and the bullet sent downrange, the bullet carries kinetic energy with it that is transferred to the target on impact. The mass of the object as well as its acceleration determines the amount of force that the bullet carries. While the amount of energy carried by the bullet downrange is only small part of the equation for stopping power, it is without a critical component.
We gathered the energy data from the selected rounds manufacturer’s website and have compiled them here.
We are looking at the force (ft.lbs) from the muzzle to 500 yards downrange. Unlike most of the ballistic properties we have looked as so far, there is a general distinction in stopping power between the .243 and .270 cartridge. Right out of the muzzle, the .270 rounds have nearly 1,000 extra ft.lbs of force on the .243 round. This trend continues out to the 500-yard mark where all of the .243 rounds have well below 1,000ft.lb of force associated with them while the .270 rounds vary between 1,000 to nearly 1,500ft.lb of force. This will obviously be a huge factor in the type of hunting these rounds are suitable for, and we will get back to shortly.
Like the energy associated with the bullets flight, penetration is another important factor for a round’s overall stopping power. There are several factors that go into how deep a bullet will penetrate. The velocity is one factor as is the bullets design. Bullets that do not expand will penetrate deeply, but not cause as much tissue damage. Fast expanding bullets will cause larger wounds, but might not penetrate down to vital organs of larger game.
There is a balance to penetration. While you need to bullet to penetrate deep enough to reach vital organs, you also need the bullet to expand enough to cause enough damage to the surrounding tissue. It’s just something to keep in mind as we examine the potential penetration of these rounds.
Another factor that goes into penetration is the sectional density (SD) of the bullet. The sectional density is simply a result of a calculation using the bullets weight and diameter. An example of how SD tells us how two bullets will penetrate is if we have two bullets with the same weight, but different diameters, the smaller diameter localizes the force to a smaller area and gives you deeper penetration. By looking at the sectional density (SD) of the rounds, we can get an idea of how well these different bullets can penetrate and gives us a basis for comparison.
We have calculated the sectional densities for the ten rounds we have been comparing throughout the article and put them in graph form.
On average, the .270 looks to have a higher sectional density than the .243 rounds, though their average is dropped significantly due to the lightweight 55 and 58gr rounds. The heavier (150gr) .270 rounds have a significantly higher sectional density than the .243 rounds. With the smaller diameter of the .243 rounds, even the 95 and 100gr bullets have a similar sectional density to the heavier 130gr .270 rounds.
If you know your going to need more penetration for hunting something like muleys, and are for whatever reason stuck between choosing between these two rounds, the heavier .270 rounds are going to be a better option. For anything smaller than that, both the .243 and .270 have plenty of options. And like we have stated previously, penetration is just part of the overall equation to picking a formidable round with plenty of stopping power.
And of course, we could not have a cartridge comparison without bringing up accuracy. And really, what’s the point of even using a particular cartridge if you can’t put it on target.
When it comes to accuracy, the only real measurement is made on the range with shot groupings. Our problem with this, and with any quantifiable measurements of accuracy is that they tend to depend heavily on the firearm, the person handling the weapon, and environmental factors.
Still, we can look at some of the other ballistic characteristics we have discussed so far and draw some conclusions regarding accuracy.
With the rounds, we have selected for this 243 vs 270 debate, we ae confident that anyone with some experience can put these rounds on target within 300 yards. With that being said, there are some caveats to how easy it would be.
We saw from the ballistic coefficients that we looked at earlier in the article that the .270 rounds tended to be more resistant to wind drag and drift compared to the .243. Even so, the velocities of the .243 are enough so that the lower BC’s would not hinder performance at ranges these rounds are used for. And we are just talking about the .243 against the .270. Overall, the BCs of the .243 are not that bad.
When talking about accuracy, we also have to mention recoil. While recoil might not affect the bullet, per se, it can affect the person doing the shooting. The .243 has extremely low recoil compared to the .270. While most shooters would be able to handle the .270 rounds fairly easily, especially with a little practice, we do think it is much easier to place several consecutive shots in quick succession on target with the .243. It is probably more apparent with younger or more inexperienced marksmen.
If you hand load, you could put a little more power into the .270 to help its downrange performance, but for factory loads, we don’t think there is a huge difference accuracy when looking broadly at the 270 vs 243. When you look at individual rounds and individual users, then there are going to be more distinct differences, especially at ranges out past 300 yards.
Price & Availability
In today;s market, both .243 and .270 ammunition is pretty easy to get your hands on. While both are fairly popular rounds, you might not find as many different options as you would for the more popular cartridges used for deer and larger game. If you walk into any major retailer that carries ammunition, you are bound to find some of both cartridges, though there is a better chance of not finding the exact round you are looking for.
The manufacturers make more of what they are selling more of. It’s simple supply and demand, and the .270 and .243 are just not in as high of demand as other cartridges. Plus, with a number of online vendors, it makes it even easier to find what you are looking for.
For prices, we have listed the ten rounds we have used for comparison in this article in the table below. While there are higher priced rounds for each cartridge, the .270 is a few dollars more expensive for a box than .243 ammunition. While it’s your decision, we don’t think it’s enough of a difference to pick one over the other, and the decision should lie with the cartridges performance and how it matches with your situation.
|270 Hornady SST Superperformance 130gr||$24.99 (20 Rounds)|
|270 Winchester Ballistic Silvertip 130gr||$31.99 (20 Rounds)|
|270 Federal Vital-Shok Nosler Partition 150gr||$37.79 (20 Rounds)|
|270 Remington Core-Lokt PSP 115gr||$22.99 (20 Rounds)|
|270 Federal Sierra GameKing BTSP 150gr||$30.29 (20 Rounds)|
|243 Winchester Super-X Power Point 100gr||$20.49 (20 Rounds)|
|243 Hornady Superformance Varmint V-Max 58gr||$23.99 (20 Rounds)|
|243 Remington Core-Lokt PSP 100gr||$22.99 (20 Rounds)|
|243 Federal Vital-Shok Nosler Ballistic Tip 95gr||$29.79 (20 Rounds)|
|243 Nosler Varmageddon FB Tipped 55gr||$36.50 (20 Rounds)|
Neither of these cartridges are popular long range competition rounds. While there are heavier bullets that can group at 1,000 yards, it usually takes some customization to the barrels twist rate to stabilize the larger bullets and some tinkering the powder charge. Using your standard barrel on rifles chambered for these cartridges usually results in inaccuracy at ranges past 500 yards which has led to these rounds being relegated to shorter distances and is the reason we have not covered range and competition shooting in this article as in depth as hunting.
Even so, the .243 is an excellent cartridge for a day of shooting on the range. Factory rounds have low recoil, are fast, and have a flat trajectory that makes them extremely easy to burn through a few boxes without feeling it the next day.
As far as hunting goes, both of these cartridges are unique because they are versatile in the types of game they can be used for. Both have lighter bullet options that are well suited for varmints and small predators. Both also have heavier bullet options that bring enough force and penetration to bring down medium sized game such as deer and sheep, though the .243 needs to be within a much shorter range to do so. The low recoil of the .243 also makes it a great introduction to young and inexperienced shooters to hunting medium sized game. Unlike the .243, there are .270 rounds that can be used for larger size game such as elk when used within the correct range and with a good shot.
Before we wrap up, we want to pick, from our selected rounds, our favorite for hunting and target shooting for both the .243 and .270 cartridges. We hope that we have made clear that this is by no means a comprehensive list of the available rounds available for each cartridge. Don’t get too upset if your favorite round is not on this list; there are plenty of great ammo options out there.
Top Hunting Round
While the best hunting round is going to depend on the type of hunting you are doing, we still want to pick out a round from each cartridge we have discussed. For the .243, we like the Federal Vital-Shok Nosler Ballistic Tip 95gr for deer hunting. It has a great BC, and its trajectory is more than flat enough out to 200 yards without having to make major adjustments to shot placement. From muzzle to 300 yards it is also still carrying over 1,000ft.lbs of force, and the Nosler Ballistic Tip provides more than enough penetration to reach vital organs and expands enough to cause major tissue damage.
For the .270 cartridge, it’s hard to beat the Federal Vital-Shok Nosler Partition 150gr round for deer and other medium sized game. The Nosler Partition is a great balance between penetration and expansion, and the 150gr bullet provides a tremendous amount of force on impact with still nearly 1,500ft.lb of force at 400 yards. Out past 300 yards, you will have to rely on your optics to make some adjustments, but that goes for just about any cartridge. If you’re taking shots at 100 yards or less, this round also has the potential to be used on larger game than deer.
Top Range Round
While neither of these rounds are near the top of the list for long distance shooting, it doesn’t mean they can’t be a lot of fun throwing lead at the shooting range. For the .243 rounds we have covered, the Hornady Superformance Varmint V-Max 58gr are great for a day on the range. They have extremely low recoil, aren’t too expensive, and have a flat trajectory that lets you reach out to 300+ yards.
When looking at two cartridges that have some overlap in uses such as the 243 vs 270, it’s easy for people to get caught up in the debate and plant themselves on one side of which cartridge is better. The reality is that both of them suit certain shooting situations better than the other. Some of their performance characteristics might also fit better with some peoples experience and comfort level.
It was never our goal to label one cartridge as better than the other. Instead, by laying out the numbers associated with certain ballistic and performance characteristics, we would make it easier for you to determine which one suits the hunting or shooting needs to you have. And as we always try to harp on for all of these articles is that you are not limited to using one cartridge the rest of your life. If you get the chance, get some experience with both and greatly widen your hunting and shooting opportunities.