13 Popular 6.5mm Rifle Cartridges
August 24, 2018
Metric bore diameters have never really been a hugesuccess here in America; perhaps it's our natural resistance to the metricsystem, or simple American pride. Nonetheless, the very nature of the 6.5mm(.260 cal.) bullets makes it a wonderful choice.
While the 6.5 Creedmoor is gobbling up the lion'sshare of attention within this bore diameter, there are many other, and manyolder, viable choices. It has been overlooked for far too long here in theU.S., being an excellent choice for the most popular game animals here. Let'shave a look at the gamut of popular 6.5mm cartridges, highlighting thestrengths and weaknesses of each.
Bred for war, the 6.5x55 Swedish Mauser dates back to thelate 19th century, yet remains one of the finest 6.5mmcartridges on the market. Offering the capability of driving the heavy 156- and160-grain bullets to a muzzle velocity of just over 2,500 feet per second (fps)- it makes a good choice for an all-around hunting rifle. The Swede will shinewith the 140-spitzers, pushing them to over 2,850 fps; this betters theCreedmoor's velocity by over 100 fps, making the Swede a perfectly viablelong-range cartridge. No, it won't run in an AR platform, but makes a greatchoice for the bolt guns.
Released in the early 1900s as a military cartridge,the 6.5x54 earned a great reputation among hunters in Africa. W.D.M. 'Karamoja'Bell used one as an elephant rifle - though he preferred the .275 Rigby -takingmany of the great beasts with it. The famous Kenyan Game Ranger A. BlaneyPercival - brother of Philip Percival who hunted with both Theodore Rooseveltand Ernest Hemingway - used this cartridge as his lion gun. He relied on theSectional Density of the 160-grain solids for penetration, and preferred thelight recoil of the rifle. The mild muzzle velocity - 2,400 fps with the160-grain slugs â€“ ensured that the soft pointbullets performed well, without premature breakup. Though a rarity today, boththe cartridge and the rifle are revered by collectors.
This was the Italian service cartridge, most famousfor being used by Lee Harvey Oswald in the assassination of President John F.Kennedy. The Carcano got a reputation for being rather inaccurate, thoughhaving shot it I'd lay the blame on the rifle rather than the cartridge.Pushing a 162-grain round nose bullet at a muzzle velocity of 2,200 fps, theformula is sound, but the rifle, well, sucks. I imagine it would've done wellin a properly built rifle.
Winchester released a series of magnums in the late1950's based on a .375 H&H case, shortened to2.500 inches; the .264 Winchester Magnum was necked downto hold 6.5mm bullets. Touted for its flat trajectory, the .264 Magnum pickedup a reputation as a barrel burner - and driving a 140-grain at 3,200 fps onecould easily understand why - and was quickly overshadowed by Remington's 7mmMagnum. Nonetheless, the cartridge is an accurate, flat-shooting, hard-hittingdesign, that will give good service if not shot to the point of meltdown.
Taking the shortened .375 case idea to a furtherextreme, Remington released the 6.5 Remington Magnum in 1966. Designedto run in a short-action rifle, the short, squat cartridge used the lighter 120and 125-grain bullets. It was released in the Model 600 Carbine, using an18.5-inch barrel, which didn't exactly take full advantage of the powdercapacity of the case. Perhaps the shooting world wasn't ready for the shortmagnum theory; it never really caught on.
Wildcatters love to take a new case and neck it upand down; and when the .308 Winchester was released in 1952, itimmediately received the treatment. The end result was a series of cartridgesfrom .243 up to .358, some being quickly adopted and others remaining wildcatsfor a good number of years. The .260 Remington is simply the .308Winchester case necked down to hold 6.5mm bullets, and represents what may bethe ultimate balance of bore diameter and powder capacity for the case. It isseriously accurate and can be chambered in the AR-10 platform, though seatingthe longest bullets can pose an issue due to the restraints of the magazinelength. As a hunting round, the .260 Remington makes a whole lot of sense, asit's easy on the shoulder, flat shooting, and its bullets will retain lots ofenergy downrange. While it's been overshadowed by the Creedmoor as a long-rangecartridge, I wouldn't hesitate to head afield with a good .260 Remington.
This is another gem from the wildcatter's drawingboard, being the .284 Winchester cartridge necked down to hold 6.5mm bullets.It quickly became the darling of the long range shooting community, having acase capacity to launch the sleek 140-grain target bullets to over 2,900 fps ina long-barreled rifle. Using a wide body and a rebated rim, the 6.5-284 Norma isn't quite as hard on arifle's throat as the .264 Magnum, but can still deliver the goods at 1,00yards and beyond. This is my personal favorite of the 6.5mm lineup, as it makesan excellent hunting cartridge as well as a target round.
This one probably needs no introduction, as it seemsto have taken the target world by storm. Based on a shortened .30 T/C cartridge,and designed to fit in the AR magazine, even when loaded with longer bullets,the Creedmoor has enough case capacity toreach out and touch someone, while offering minimal recoil. It works well inbolt guns as well as the gas guns, pushing the 140-grain pills to just about2,700 fps (depending on barrel length). With us for just over a decade, theCreedmoor represents the current wave of cartridge design, relying on bulletconformation and retained energy rather than initial horsepower.
Alexander Arms introduced the Grendel in early 2004, as an accurate,low-recoiling cartridge for the AR-10, capable of delivering excellent accuracyout to 800 yards. The stubby cartridge will drive the 120-grain bullets to2,700 fps, and the 130-grain bullets to just over 2,500 fps, but the beauty ofthe design is its lack of recoil. Capitalizing on the wind deflectioncharacteristics and retained energy of the 6.5mm bullets, the Grendel runssurprisingly well from such a short cartridge. Yes, it's a niche cartridge, buta cool one.
This one was a bit of a flash in the pan, as far ascommercial rifle and ammo go. It has been around, in wildcat form, for quitesome time, though A-Square standardized the dimensions in the late 1990s. It isa solid design, giving fully respectable ballistics in a common case that iseasy enough to make with a good set of reloading dies. Being the .30-'06Springfield case necked down to hold 6.5mm bullets, I'd have thought it wouldbe more popular than it is - almost all of the '06 offspring has done well),but alas, it, along with the A-Square company, seem to have faded into thesunset. I know some shooters who still shoot and hunt with it, butcommercially, it's virtually gone.
Using the beltless .404 Jeffery case (a particular favoriteof mine) as a platform for their series of proprietary cartridges, Noslerintroduced the .26 Nosler in late 2013. A 2.590-inchcase - capable of fitting in a long-action receiver - blown out, and using arebated rim, the .26 Nosler is a speed-demon for sure. The 140-grain bulletsleave the muzzle at 3,300 fps, making for a flat-shooting magnum class riflethat will buck the wind very well. It's accurate, for sure, but like the .264Winchester Magnum, you can expect that barrel life will be shorter than that ofthe milder 6.5s. However, if you want a fast, flat 6.5, the .26 Nosler willdefinitely fit the bill.
The Weatherby cartridges have always beenabout speed, and the 6.5-300 is no disappointment. The .300 Weatherby is atime-proven design, and Weatherby necked it down to hold 6.5mm bullets,resulting in the fastest 6.5mm cartridge commercially available. The famous Weatherbydouble-radius shoulder is there, along with the belt that was carried over fromthe Holland & Holland design. It will send a 140-grain bullet screamingfrom the muzzle at almost 3,400 fps, resulting in a trajectory that is adead-hold out to 350 yards. All that comes at the price of increased recoil andshort barrel life, but if you want a hot-rod, this is your baby. While probablynot practical as a target rifle - just because of barrel erosion and recoil -is will definitely reach out to sane hunting ranges with ease.
Introduced at the 2018 SHOT Show, Hornady's 6.5 PRC is based on the .300 Ruger Compact Magnum case, neckedto hold 6.5mm bullets and designed to run in a short-action rifle. Hornadyloads their 143- and 147-grain ELD Match and ELD-X bullets, to a muzzlevelocity of just over 2,900 fps, putting the 6.5 PRC on equal plane with the6.5-284 Norma. The PRC will deliver a trajectory highly reminiscent of the .300Winchester Magnum, at least at hunting ranges. Out further, the PRC and itshigh B.C. bullets will show an advantage in trajectory and win deflection.Think of the PRC as the big brother to the Creedmoor, perfect for the gun gameslike the Precision Rifle Series and for any hunting scenario where a 6.5mm iswarranted.
So, if you want to enjoy the 6.5mm bore diameter andall it has to offer to hunters and target shooters, there is absolutelysomething for everyone, from the recoil sensitive to the speed freaks andeveryone in between. The 6.5mm bullets have been satisfying shooters for 120years, and will continue to do so for another 120!