American Hunter | New Cartridge for 2021: 6.8 Western
I had arrived in Colorado to do a combination of elk and mule deer hunt and spend some time with a cartridge I had never heard of before. Instead of the traditionally warm October weather, with the breeze blowing through the quakes, northwest Colorado had received half a foot of snow and temperatures were well below zero. Cartridges were distributed while we were preparing our kit, and on Christmas morning I felt like a child waiting to see what was inside.
Inside the black Winchester box was a row of nickel-plated cartridges with the nose in the styrofoam insert, and when I pulled one out I saw a .270 WSM cartridge, except for one slightly shorter, with a long projectile in the store end. I looked up at the information on the back of the box, raised my eyebrows, and felt a smile on my face. A 165-grain Nosler AccuBond Long Range moving at 2970 fps muzzle velocity from a short-action Winchester XPR was a fascinating prospect and would make a good choice for either of the species we were looking for.
In the final light of the following day, Shawn Skipper von Leupold, our guide Eric Fleming, and Yours Truly slipped over the broken hill after a group of mule deer worked with two dollars in tow. We did our best to maintain vertical stature in the mix of wet snow and Colorado clay, and we came to the edge of a clearing on the side hill when Skipper spotted the first of these and stepped out of the brush. Eric spread the shooting sticks, and I prepared the rifle, hoping the larger of the two bucks would follow suit. In this way, which too often gets us men into trouble, the goats followed as if pulled on a string. This 165-grain, bound-core sphere traveled just over 200 yards before ending the prospective romance that 4×4 muley was hoping for. On the last day of the hunt, an elk would suffer the same fate; Although the shot was a little closer, it went down in the same dramatic way. This experience wasn’t just my own; The other hunters on this trip saw the same scenario.
What exactly is the new 6.8 Western? Well, my initial suspicions were correct; It is a shortened version of the .270 Winchester Short Magnum that is designed to allow the longer 0.277 inch diameter bullets to be properly inserted in a short-action magazine. The same 35-degree shoulder is carried by the .270 WSM, although the reference line – the distance from the cartridge base to the shoulder – has been reduced from 1.664 “of the .270 WSM to 1.583” and the case length has been shortened from 2,100 “to 2,020”. According to SAAMI specifications, the maximum total length of the cartridge for the 6.8 Western is 2.955 inches. For the Winchester 165-grain AccuBond long haul load, I measured an average overall length of 2.895 inches. That ABLR isn’t the only bullet offered for the 6.8 Western, however.
Browning makes a 175-grain long-range Pro-Hunter charge – a Sierra GameKing with the Browning gold polymer tip – propelled to a muzzle velocity of 2,830 fps. With a G1 BC of 0.617 (compared to the 165-grain ABLR-G1 of 0.620), the Browning Charge gives the shooter the option of a cup-and-core bullet with a cut density of 0.326 that has excellent wind deflection values and retained energy.
For those wondering why Winchester would spend the time and expense to make their third cartridge with this bore diameter, and especially one that inevitably has to compete with their own timeless .270 Winchester, modern cartridge trends and popularity are just right Long-range shooting. The .270 Winchester and .270 WSM both have a 1:10 inch twist ratio, which has precluded the use of most balls with more than 150 grains. For the average deer or antelope hunter, this may not be a problem, and at forest clearances, balls between 130 and 150 grains will certainly do. But Winchester decided to put the 6.8 Western where the .270 WSM left off, and to do this they first had to change the twist rate on the barrel.
The 1:10 “twist ratio was scrapped, and a 1: 7.5” twist was used to properly stabilize these long 165 and 175 grain balls. Does this mean we are foregoing the 130, 140, and 150-grain augers that are so readily available in .277-inch caliber? Not at all, although at the time of this writing you will have to hand load these bullets as the charges described above are the only two available. I firmly believe that dies will be available soon and I can say that with the ability to handle 130-175 grain bullets, this cartridge will be popular with the reloaders.
While the 6.8 Western doesn’t have the Magnum surname, make no mistake that this is a Magnum cartridge. This 165-grain load – with a cut density (SD) of 0.307, G1 v. From 0.620, G7 BC. From 0.312 and a muzzle velocity of 2970 fps – gives a trajectory similar to the .300 Winchester Magnum with a good 180-grain bullet, at least up to 500 yards. With a 200 yard zero, the 6.8 Western ABLR load of 165 grains hits 6.3 “at 300, 18.1” at 400, and 36.0 “at 500 yards. This ball starts at over 3,200 ft. Lbs. Energy at the mouth and still has 1,850 ft.-lbs. at 500 meters. Is that enough energy to deal with a bull moose? Ask Brownings Shaundi Campbell. She put a 5×5 bull moose with a well-placed shot in the salt at just over 450 yards. Nosler’s AccuBond is a fantastic design without a doubt, and the 6.8 Western is a single platform to deliver it. Incidentally, that cargo still delivers 996 ft.-lbs. Energy at 1,000 meters.
The new Winchester cartridge is another design that I have termed “revisionist” as the case length and capacity are sacrificed in order to use the longer bullets within a given magazine length. The 6.8 Western is not as fast as the longer .27 Nosler, but it is also not as hard on the run. Judging by the accuracy I’ve seen in the Winchester XPR rifles on this hunt – three shot groups between ½ and ¾ MOA – and the final performance in both elk and mule deer, Winchester has a winner here. There weren’t any problems with feeding at all (I wonder if moving the shoulder backwards improved the feeding angle a bit?) And I wouldn’t be surprised if the 6.8 Western takes the market share that the .270 WSM currently has.