CHOOSING A 6.5MM CARTRIDGE By Craig Boddington

We all know the 6.5mm Creedmoor is the hottest thing since sliced bread, right now, except the .223 Remington, our hottest-selling centerfire cartridge. And the greatest cartridge phenomenon I’ve seen in my career. The Creedmoor is different because its popularity isn’t based on marketing hype. Developed as a long-range target cartridge, its introduction was soft and its designer, Hornady, had limited expectations. The Creedmoor won matches right out of the starting gate, but it actually fizzled along for several years. Then, suddenly, it took off and, so far, hasn’t looked back. The 6.5mm Creedmoor is accurate, efficient, mild in recoil, and with its short case is able to utilize the long, aerodynamic bullets currently in fashion, from a short action.

There are quite a few cartridges in the middle tier of “fast” 6.5mms. All of these will at least approach 3000 fps with a 140-grain bullet, and certainly with a 130-grain slug. Left to right: 6.5mm Remington Magnum, 6.5-.284 Norma, 6.5-06 (wildcat), .264 Winchester Magnum, 6.5mm SST (proprietary).
There are quite a few cartridges in the middle tier of “fast” 6.5mms. All of these will at least approach 3000 fps with a 140-grain bullet, and certainly with a 130-grain slug. Left to right: 6.5mm Remington Magnum, 6.5-.284 Norma, 6.5-06 (wildcat), .264 Winchester Magnum, 6.5mm SST (proprietary).

The 6.5mm Creedmoor is a great cartridge…but it isn’t the only 6.5mm cartridge out there. Suddenly the .26-caliber (bullet diameter .264-inch) is in. This, in itself, is odd because this bullet diameter is hardly new. Back in the 1890s, at the dawn of smokeless powder, a number of 6.5mm cartridges were developed for military use, primarily for European powers. Several became popular sporting cartridges, not only in Europe but also over here. Some, such as the 6.5×54 Mannlicher-Schoenauer and 6.5×55 Swedish Mauser, are ballistic equals to the 6.5mm Creedmoor…especially if modern propellants and bullets are used. Up through the 1930s America’s sporting press was full of references to early 6.5mms, but their use dwindled and almost faded away.

Left to right: 6.5x55 Swedish Mauser, .260 Remington, 6.5mm Creedmoor. Although the Creedmoor is by far the most popular 6.5mm cartridge, these three are ballistic equals, propelling a 140-grain bullet at about 2700 fps.
Left to right: 6.5×55 Swedish Mauser, .260 Remington, 6.5mm Creedmoor. Although the Creedmoor is by far the most popular 6.5mm cartridge, these three are ballistic equals, propelling a 140-grain bullet at about 2700 fps.

Then passed a full generation when a 6.5mm cartridge seemed certain to fail in America. The.256 Newton (actually a 6.5mm) failed in the 1920s. The .264 Winchester Magnum started strong in the late 1950s but faded quickly. Remington’s 6.5mm Remington Magnum (1966) went nowhere. The message seemed clear: No 6.5mm cartridge could be marketed in the U.S. Remington tried again in 1997 with the .260 Remington, a fine cartridge that, like all American 6.5mms, achieved limited success. Introduced in 2008, the ballistically identical 6.5mm Creedmoor seemed destined for the same anonymity. Then it caught on, and today’s shooters have discovered the 6.5mm!

: This is my .264, based on a left-hand Parker Ackley Santa Barbara action with a 26-inch Obermayr barrel. The long-unpopular .264 isn’t known for accuracy, but it depends on the rifle. This one shoots very well!
: This is my .264, based on a left-hand Parker Ackley Santa Barbara action with a 26-inch Obermayr barrel. The long-unpopular .264 isn’t known for accuracy, but it depends on the rifle. This one shoots very well!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Odd, because it was always out there, with long, heavy-for-caliber bullets that carry well. Now it seems that the 6.5mm is America’s darling. The 6.5 Creedmoor is the most popular, but there are other choices. The faster 6.5-.284 has a following. Then came the very fast 26 Nosler, followed by the 6.5-.300 Weatherby Magnum, speediest of all 6.5mm cartridges. Then came Hornady’s 6.5mm PRC (Precision Rifle Cartridge). The 6.5 PRC is not as fast as the 26 Nosler or 6.5-.300 Weatherby. In fact, it pretty much duplicates ballistics of the old (and still unloved) .264 Winchester Magnum—but it does it with a fatter, more efficient case, and is better able to handle today’s extra-long, super-aerodynamic bullets. Now that the American shooting public has (at long last) “discovered” the 6.5mm.There are numerous wildcats and proprietaries wringing just a bit more performance out of the 6.5mm bullet, and I’m fairly certain there’s at least one more factory 6.5mm cartridge coming soon.

The 26 Nosler and 6.5-.300 Weatherby Magnum are the two “very fast” 6.5mm factory cartridges. Both are capable of propelling a 140-grain bullet above 3400 fps. This makes them among the flattest-shooting hunting cartridges available.
The 26 Nosler and 6.5-.300 Weatherby Magnum are the two “very fast” 6.5mm factory cartridges. Both are capable of propelling a 140-grain bullet above 3400 fps. This makes them among the flattest-shooting hunting cartridges available.

I’ll be honest: I don’t have experience with all of them…and I probably won’t. I already have too many rifles chambered to too many cartridges. These days, performance has to be both excellent and unique before I further complicate ammo resupply. Case design can improve efficiency and promote accuracy and can certainly dictate choice of action. However, right now it seems to me we have three distinct levels of 6.5mm performance.

It is not true that all 6.5mm rifles and cartridges are tack-drivers…no more than anything else. But in good rifles with good loads most shoot very well. These are the initial groups from an Axial Precision in 6.5mm SST, based on the 7mm RUM case shortened and necked down.
It is not true that all 6.5mm rifles and cartridges are tack-drivers…no more than anything else. But in good rifles with good loads most shoot very well. These are the initial groups from an Axial Precision in 6.5mm SST, based on the 7mm RUM case shortened and necked down.

The lowest, or slowest, is typified by the 6.5mm Creedmoor, propelling a 140-grain bullet at about 2700 fps. The .260 Remington is ballistically identical and, with the right loads, so is the 6.5×55 Swedish Mauser. In this group, I’ve had several .260s and I have a serious yearning to own a good 6.5x55…but I have a Mossberg Patriot in 6.5 Creedmoor. Accurate and low in recoil, this group is awesome for shooting groups and ringing steel at long range, and, in my opinion, ideal for hunting deer-sized game at medium range.

On the bench with a Savage 110 Classic in 6.5mm Creedmoor. The Creedmoor is extremely pleasant to shoot and usually accurate. Designed for long-range target work, it’s an extremely effective hunting cartridge…but not for long range on large game!
On the bench with a Savage 110 Classic in 6.5mm Creedmoor. The Creedmoor is extremely

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