Yes, It’s A Hunting Cartridge
By John Russo
Published In The GUNS Magazine 2011 Special Edition
The sun had yet to make its appearance as I was glassing a small canyon, where I knew bucks liked to bed down. As I sat down to watch the area for a bit, a buck got up and started to sneak away, thinking I had overlooked him. Thanks to his movement, I spotted him running down the canyon away from me, his antlers clearly visible in the early morning light. I swung up the rifle and began tracking him through the scope. Not sure of the exact range, I knew it had to be less than 300 yards. I also knew that if I didn’t take the shot, this desert mule deer wouldn’t give me another opportunity.
Since this was the morning on the last day of the season, I felt a bit of pressure. I had been shooting the 6.5 Creedmoor for a couple weeks but already had great confidence in its flat-shooting accuracy. As the buck ran through an arroyo and started to exit the canyon, I pressed the trigger.
Moral of the story: the 6.5 Creedmoor has arrived! This isn’t the first article on this great cartridge, and it definitely will not be the last; but when a group of us writers got together to play with it, many were quite surprised and impressed. This baby isn’t just for target shooting!
The 6.5 Creedmoor’s production history goes back to 2007 when Dave Emary of Hornady and Dennis DeMille of Creedmoor Sports discussed the idea of designing the perfect long range match cartridge. They wanted to be able to create a production cartridge that would allow long-range shooters to compete with the handloaders using factory ammunition. Of course, this round would also be re-loadable by the consumer if desired. What they produced, whether initially intended or not, was an outstanding hunting cartridge.
Some basics stats on the 6.5 Creedmoor include a case length of 1.92″ and an overall max cartridge length of 2.82″. Hornady is currently offering it in the 120-gr. A-Max and GMX, the 129-gr. SST and the 140-gr. A-Max. The GMX and SST loads are part of Hornady’s new Superformance line of ammo, which gives an additional 100-200 fps over standard loads. For you reloaders out there, a visit to Hornady’s website will give you all the detailed specs you need.
So what makes the 6.5 Creedmoor a good hunting cartridge? This is where the fun begins. First of all, what game are you hunting? Obviously, this isn’t an elephant round. Let’s assume we are shooting game from prairie dogs all the way up to elk. That said, we can also agree there may be a better round specifically for prairie dogs as well as elk, but how about coyote, antelope, deer and hogs? Can you name one cartridge that is perfect for all of these? How about one cartridge that can cover this spectrum? In these tough economic times, not all shooters, especially new ones, can afford to buy multiple rifles.
Every year various gun magazines will run features on the greatest deer cartridges. This is an age-old argument that I suspect will always exist, and rightly so. In my 25+ years of deer hunting, I have personally shot deer with calibers ranging from .22 to .338, and many of them were my favorite at one time or another. About the only thing I can say with certainty is, when I hit an animal in the chest, the engine stops running. In short, shot placement is critical. What the 6.5 gives us is a round that is supremely accurate, very flat shooting and has mild recoil.
John was thankful for the flat shooting 6.5 while taking this last-day buck.
L to R: .308, 6.5 Creedmoor and .223.
Accuracy Is Final
An accurate hunting rifle is critical. During my time as a police sniper, we preached accuracy over all else. The less error there is in accuracy of the rifle and ammunition, the more room there is for human error, such as the movement of the target or shooter.
This is just as true in the hunting world. Animals seldom stay still for long. Hunters seldom practice enough or have perfect shooting platforms, and even if they do, game. There are many rounds out there that shoot great at 100 or 200 yards, but how about 300, 400, 500 yards … or even further?
I know of hunters who scorn anyone for taking shots past 200 yards and others who routinely make clean kills beyond the 400-yard mark. This is possible with a flat-shooting, long-range cartridge. Finally, mild recoil is often overlooked in the big-game arena. Too often hunters are concerned more with knockdown power than with shot placement. If you consistently anticipate the recoil (flinch) when shooting a larger caliber, you will consistently miss. This is how many hunters justify needing the larger caliber. They figure if they don’t make a good hit to the vitals, then the larger caliber will do more damage and help them find the wounded animal. I say make a good shot to begin with, and avoid this issue altogether. The other critical edge a mild recoiling cartridge gives you is the ability to get back on target for a fast follow up shot. This was one of the first things I noticed about the 6.5; it really got my attention.
My first hunt with the 6.5 was on the incredible Tejon Ranch in California. This is 270,000 acres of pristine hunting country filled with all manner of game including elk, deer, hogs, coyote and an untold number of ground squirrels. On this particular hunt, hogs, coyote and squirrels were fair game, which proved to be an ideal test for the 6.5. Upon arrival we immediately took the rifles to the bench for a site-in session. My friend, editor and former sniper partner (Sammy Reese) and I were all ready to site-in the guns. We were using the new Ruger Hawkeyes topped with Trijicon AccuPoint scopes. Since the 6.5 is basically a necked down .308 and we both have extensive time behind .308s, we were eager to compare the two. As soon as we touched off the first round we knew we found something special.
Ruger makes great guns and the AccuPoint is an impressively clear optic, but the simple fact was this easy shooting cartridge allowed us to stay on target throughout the recoil. This would later prove to be invaluable in the field. We also discovered how easy it is to sight-in. We were using the 120-gr. GMX bullet and the combination of the Ruger, Trijicon and 6.5 Creedmoor made for a short sight-in session. Since this wasn’t a target rifle session, we didn’t break out the micrometers. But after shooting the 6.5 Creedmoor out of two different guns during several range sessions, I can say that sub MOA groups are routine, even out of hunting weight barrels.
Tejon Ranch guide Steve put us on a bunch of dogs. There were so many,
he got in on the action, making an awesome running shot with the 6.5.
That evening we went out after hogs with our guide Steve. Sammy and I had shot some nice boars in the past, so we asked Steve to put us on a couple of good meat hogs since our families were in need of some breakfast sausage. It turned out that Steve was one of those guides who can put you on animals quicker than a short order cook turns out bacon and eggs at the waffle house.
An hour later he had us on a small group of hogs including two fat sows. We tried to move up on them, but they were in an open hay field and the closest we could get was about 250 yards out. Sammy and I got prone on a small dirt berm and began our countdown: 3 … 2 … 1 … Boom! We both scored hits on the first shot, but the really cool thing was being able to see the hits due to the mild recoil. We were able to stay on target and see the hogs fall. The GMX bullets had no problem punching through these 150-lbt critters, including a shot through both shoulders. Everyone that shot hogs with the 6.5 Creedmoor on this hunt made quick, clean kills.
We spent the next two days hunting coyotes and shooting squirrels. The squirrels proved a good test of the 6.5’s accuracy and the Ruger did not disappoint. The coyotes allowed the 6.5 to really shine. Both on this hunt, as well as a later hunt with the Thompson/Center ICON, we shot several of the wily carnivores in a variety of conditions. Some were far shots in high winds, which showed the value of a heavier flat shooting bullet. Others were running shots, which demonstrated the value of the mild recoil. In these situations we were able to stay on target allowing us to get off fast, follow-up shots. Once again the accuracy of this round helped when field conditions and human error caused us to be less than bench-rest accurate! The T/C ICON proved to be an impressive rifle. This version has an Ultrawood stock, which is American walnut laminated with two sheets of carbon fiber giving the shooter the beauty of a fine-wood stock with many of the strength features of a composite. For those who have not had the opportunity to shoot an Icon, you don’t know what you’re missing. The action is like glass, and the trigger is crisp and clean. The gun handles and points like an extension of your own body. Couple this with the 6.5 Creedmoor, and I may have found my new (dare I say it?) favorite hunting gun!
The flat shooting 6.5 stopped this meat hog in its tracks.
Speaking of hunting, when I pressed the trigger on that last-day buck, I was able to stay on target through the recoil and see that I scored a hit. Since he didn’t go down and was almost out of sight, I quickly followed up with a second shot as the buck disappeared around a huge desert boulder. While I made the walk to where I last saw him, my heart was in my throat. Anyone with hunting ethics only shoots at running game with great confidence, but there is still that worry of wounding an animal. When I got to the boulder I could immediately see blood on the ground. I was nervous and excited at the same time, glad that I hit him but nervous that I hadn’t hit him well. Then I followed the trail and found him stretched out 50 yards away with both shots through the chest cavity! As my friend Joe and I prepared the buck for the 1/2-mile drag back to the truck, I couldn’t help but marvel at the 6.5 Creedmoor.
Hornady has made a production cartridge allowing shooters to compete at the highest levels using factory ammunition. Luckily for us hunters, it also happens to be an excellent choice for just about anything up to deer-sized game. With the SST and GMX bullets being offered in the “Superformance” line, shooters can get a factory load that shoots faster than anything else out there. If loaded properly, I would have no qualms about hunting even elk with the 6.5 Creedmoor (I know I’ll get hate mail and arguments over that one! God bless America!). But this round combines superb accuracy, flat-shooting and long-range capabilities with mild recoil; this could very well be the ideal hunting round!
Looking For More? Get It From The GUNS Magazine 2011 Special Edition