January 19, 2021
Long range—as everyone who hunts and shoots already knows—is all the rage these days. Shooting accurately at extended distances is a skill that takes time and effort to acquire, but once attained, it is something that can be truly satisfying. Thankfully, there is a plethora of widely available cartridges well suited for long-range endeavors. However, a number of these tend to feature somewhat lighter bullets that, while deadly-accurate at the range, may prove slightly less lethal when attempting to penetrate the thick skin and heavy muscle tissue of big-bodied game animals.
This year, Winchester Ammunition is introducing a brand-new cartridge specifically built to address this common issue. Based off a .270 WSM parent case and shortened to fit short actions, the new 6.8 Western is designed to be equally at home tackling big game in the mountains or punching paper at long-range competitions.
While it uses the same .277-caliber projectile as its .270 WSM parent and the venerable .270 Winchester, the 6.8 Western is designed to accommodate longer, heavier bullets that deliver more energy downrange, as well as excellent accuracy. In fact, with projectile weights as heavy as 175 grains, it approaches some of those found in common .30-caliber cartridges.
Another goal for the 6.8 Western was that it should be designed in a way to make it mathematically superior to some of its longer magnum cousins utilizing .284/7mm and .30-caliber magnums. Winchester was looking for magnum-like performance in a cartridge built to fit a short-action rifle. Based on some of their figures, the manufacturer seems to have delivered—and with documented recoil similar to or less than common magnums.
This November, along with a few other media personnel, I had an opportunity to hunt with the 6.8 Western in Missouri ahead of its launch. We used offerings loaded with 165-grain Accubond Long Range projectiles out of a Winchester XPR rifle. While I was ultimately unable to harvest a whitetail with the cartridge (we were looking for a solid mature buck, and I never had an opportunity at one), the rest of the hunters in our group did tag out. And I was still able to put in some time with the new 6.8 Western at the range and develop some initial impressions.
BIGGER AND BADDER
As mentioned earlier, a prime design goal with the 6.8 Western was to make a long-range cartridge first and foremost dedicated to hunting, but which could also excel in competitions. This is why it utilizes heavier bullets; the cartridge will be offered in four loadouts initially. Browning will offer a 175-grain Sierra Tipped GameKing in its Long Range Pro Hunter line. Meanwhile, Winchester will have a 170-grain Ballistic Silvertip well suited for whitetails, a 170-grain match boattail hollow point load and the 165-grain Accubond Long Range that we used on our hunt.
Along with being heavier, these bullets are also on the longer side and feature higher ballistic coefficients. These numbers are (G1) .617, .563 and .620, respectively, for the bullets mentioned above.
In terms of the case itself, it features a 35-degree shoulder angle, both to ensure reliable feeding and to aid in powder burn efficiency. It also utilizes throat dimensions intended to optimize the amount of free bore jump for consistent engagement into the rifling of all projectiles available. And, unlike many magnum cartridges, which headspace off the belt, the beltless 6.8 Western chambers off the shoulder.
The above combination of bullet weight, projectile aerodynamic efficiency and case design results in an accurate cartridge capable of stretching a shooter’s legs and punching above its weight class. In terms of energy, the 6.8 Western compares pretty favorably with most other long-range contenders. The 165-grain Accubond Long Range 6.8 Western blows a 143-grain 6.5 Creedmoor out of the water, offering a staggering 67 percent more energy at 500 yards. It trumps the more recent 143-grain 6.5 PRC by 16 percent at this same range.
OK, you might be thinking, it sounds perfectly reasonable for the heavier 6.8 Western to deliver more energy at 500 yards than the lighter 6.5s, sure. But how does it compare to some heavier time-proven magnum cartridges?
Well, it offers 18 percent more energy than a 160-grain Accubond 7mm Remington Magnum and 6 percent more energy than the hard-kicking .300 Winchester Magnum. And it’s roughly similar to the .300 WSM. So, while the 6.8 Western doesn’t have the word “magnum” in its name, it certainly offers comparable power and is deserving of consideration among those cartridges.
Of course, anytime you talk about “magnum” cartridges, the topic of recoil is one that inevitably follows. One consequence of using a larger case to drive a bigger bullet faster is undoubtedly additional recoil. The .300 Win. Mag., for example, tends to sit at the higher edge of what many consider tolerable. Naturally, there are exceptions; hunters pursuing very large and sometimes dangerous game must be comfortable with greater levels of recoil. But, for the majority, .300 Win. Mag. represents the peak of recoil that they will have to, or need to, contend with.
So, if a manufacturer can offer performance that is, in many respects, similar, if not equal, to the .300 Win. Mag. in a cartridge that kicks less, that’s something that will be very attractive to a lot of people. Winchester’s 6.8 Western may very well offer just that.
In terms of recoil figures, Winchester has both the 165-grain Accubond Long Range and 175-grain Tipped GameKing 6.8 Western loads as being roughly the same in felt recoil as the 7mm Rem. Mag. Meanwhile, recoil is about 14 percent less than a 180-grain Accubond .300 WSM and 16 percent less than a 180-grain Accubond .300 Win. Mag. All of these numbers were calculated using Browning X-Bolt rifles.
In my time in Missouri with the 6.8 Western, I found recoil to be quite tolerable. It was nowhere near the .300 Win. Mag., which can be particularly onerous in lightweight rifles. It wasn’t a .308 Winchester, but it did seem mild compared to magnums I’ve shot in the past.
RIFLES AND AMMO
According to Winchester, the new 6.8 Western will be available in a number of different rifle product SKUs across the Winchester Repeating Arms and Browning lineups. On the Winchester side, various XPR and Model 70 models offer the 6.8 Western chambering; meanwhile, Browning is offering the new cartridge in many of its X-Bolt rifles.
Of course, because of the 6.8 Western’s shortened case length, these rifles all feature short-action frames, and hunters will enjoy the benefits of this. Namely, a shorter bolt throw, faster lock time, a stiffer action and—key for those stalking game over vast distances—reduced weight.
Unlike the .270 Winchester and .270 WSM, which both use slower 1:10 twist rates, the 6.8 Western utilizes faster twist rates of 1:7.5 and 1:8. This helps stabilize the 6.8 Western’s aforementioned longer, more ballistically efficient bullets.
Rifles follow suit. It appeared that most of the Winchester rifles featured 1:8 twists, while Browning’s X-Bolts predominantly used 1:7.5 twist rates.
As mentioned above, both Winchester and Browning will offer ammo for the new 6.8 Western. However, the cartridge has also received SAAMI approval, so approved specifications are openly available for other manufacturers and handloaders.
I, for one, am excited to see how this cartridge does. It has a number of positive attributes that hunters are looking for—especially in today’s long-range age. The 6.8 Western has heavier projectiles and carries more energy than popular 6.5s like the Creedmoor and the PRC, and it compares favorably with larger magnums like the 300 Win. Mag. and .300 WSM, without rising to the same level of felt recoil. If you’re looking for magnum performance, even as distances stretch, out of a short-action rifle, give the new 6.8 Western a strong look.