The 6.5 Tsunami

A Once-Neglected Bore Size Rolls In Hard!
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6.5 Creedmoor

This dandy mountain caribou was anchored with one well-placed Barnes Vor-Tx 127-gr. LRX from Mark’s 6.5 Creedmoor Kimber.

As a kid growing up in hunting camps, I was always curious about the variety of rifles on the rack. I’m sure the older fellows in camp grew tired of me asking questions regarding caliber choice, bullet preference and other ballistic trivia.

Back in the day, I seldom remember seeing any 6.5 designations of any kind. The camp was saturated with .30 calibers for the most part, along with a few .270s.

Until the day a friend brought his Winchester M70 chambered in .264 Win. Mag. to camp — and killed a monster whitetail buck. This intrigued me. Why weren’t there more 6.5s in camp? Although our European counterparts had been stacking up game for years with the 6.5x55 Swede, American hunters were perfectly content with the .30-30, .30-06 and .270.

“There are other factory, military and wildcat 6.5s including the 6.5x53R, 6.5x54 MS, 6.5 WSM and 6.5 SAUM to name a few.”

6.5 ammo

Weights, shapes and brands a-plenty: There’s no shortage of 6.5 (.264) bullets available.

Trickle To Flood

I became emotionally attached to the 6.5 caliber back in the early 1980s. My friend JD Jones had developed his 6.5 JDJ based on the .225 Winchester case. The wildcat was designed for a T/C Contender. In those days, Nosler’s 125-gr. Solid Base bullet was generating a modest 2,350 fps from a 14" barrel.

After shooting this round for a considerable length of time, I found several desirable attributes in the cartridge. For one, it was pleasant to shoot with very little recoil. Secondly, it was extremely accurate. Just as important, it was deadly on deer-sized game. JD and I spent several weeks in Africa taking a wide variety of plains game including gemsbok, wildebeest and kudu. I was impressed by the performance of this round on big game. Was it magic? Not hardly, but after taking over 50 head, I will confess it was working well beyond what I thought possible.

In recent years the 6.5s have become more prevalent in this country for several reasons. Competitive shooters have gravitated to flat trajectories, low recoil, and the variety of high ballistic coefficient bullets available. Those long, sleek, VLD bullets are capable of producing bug-hole groups from afar. Compared to .30-caliber rounds, the mild-mannered characteristics of many 6.5s are most welcome.

PRS matches and other long-range games have driven the demand for accuracy without intimidating recoil. Unless you’re living in a cave, it’s hard not to see evidence of the 6.5 Creedmoor today but before the Creedmoor ever got out of the starting gate, a few other 6.5s were floating around.

“When Hornady introduced the 6.5 Creedmoor back in 2007, the stars must have lined up perfectly.”

Remington Rifle

Mark’s wife Karen filled her antelope tag with an Encore in .260 Rem. The shot was taken from 300 yards with Nosler’s 120-gr. BT — even the smaller 6.5s reach out.

6.5 ammo

The 6.5 lineup (left to right): 6.5 Grendel, 6.5 Creedmoor, .260 Remington, 6.5x55 Swede, 6.5x284, 6.5 WSM.

Early Ripples

As previously mentioned, the 6.5x55 Swede has been around for over 100 years. Scandinavian hunters have been successfully taking moose with this round for decades and it’s still popular as a dandy hunting round. My brother has an Encore barrel in 6.5x55 and it has been responsible for many whitetail deer tags punched.

Other oldies include the .264 Winchester Magnum, introduced back in the late 1950s. The cartridge didn’t have a huge following but a lukewarm reception didn’t keep it from being a great hunting round for deer, antelope, even elk. A few years later the 6.5 Remington Magnum emerged.
Unfortunately, it was introduced in the Model 600 carbine with 18.5" barrel — the short barrel prevented the cartridge from living up to its potential and the gun stumbled out of the gate.

Moving down the road a few years, other 6.5s were hitting the radar screen including the 6.5x284. This round became popular with long-range competitors utilizing high BC bullet and it’s also a very good hunting load with a wide range of premium hunting bullets from 120 to 143 grains. My deer-hunting buddy continues to fill his freezer every year shooting Hornady’s 129-gr. InterBond. You couldn’t pry this gun from his hands.

6.5 creed moor

The 6.5 Creedmoor pretty much broke the 6.5 dam wide open. This Browning X-Bolt exhibits superb accuracy with Hornady’s Match ammo.

Bench To Game Field

When Hornady introduced the 6.5 Creedmoor back in 2007, the stars lined up perfectly. It took a few years but the acceptance of this round by the shooting fraternity has been nothing short of overwhelming. While testing several different guns in 6.5 Creedmoor, 21 different factory loads ended up in my ammo room — and not every available factory round was represented. Bullet manufacturers continue to offer a plethora of high-quality projectiles for a variety of applications. Competition contributed to this popularity greatly, but hunters have jumped on the bandwagon too.

When Nosler introduced their Nosler Custom Handgun I immediately grabbed one in 6.5 Creedmoor. It was extremely accurate, especially with Nosler 120-gr. Ballistic Tips. I figured an Alaskan Dall sheep hunt would be a good test and I was able to sneak within 210 yards of an old ram before the 120-gr. BT dropped him in his tracks. The ram couldn’t have expired quicker if he’d been struck by a bolt of lightning.

Next came a Florida alligator. While not the challenge posed by sheep, a gator’s brain offers a very small target. From 55 yards the bullet found its mark and I was able to make my wife happy with a pair of boots and a purse. Afterward, both of us drew Wyoming antelope tags. She was shooting her Encore in .260 Remington with Nosler’s 120-gr. BT. The .260 is another fine 6.5 hunting round and Karen took her speed goat from 300 yards. My buck fell to one shot from 336 yards and the 6.5 Creedmoor continued its winning streak for me.

On a recent mule deer hunt in Utah, the NCH in 6.5 Creedmoor had a real chance to shine. After several days of passing up bucks, we located a dandy. Sneaking along through the sagebrush, we managed to get above the big mulie. My first shot — at 223 yards — hit too far back (totally pilot error). The buck was hurt bad and ran for a little bit before I could get another round in him. At 400 yards he offered a second shot and the 6.5 Creedmoor delivered. The guide was impressed and I was just thankful it all worked out. The 6.5 Creedmoor is an effective hunting cartridge for deer/antelope-sized game.

Cartridges like the 6.5 Grendel, 6.5 Creedmoor, 6.5x47 Lapua, .260 Rem., and 6.5x55 Swede are pleasant to shoot. These 6.5s are great options for those who don’t want to tolerate a lot of recoil.

6.5 Rifle

Big game plus wide-open spaces often call for long shots where the more potent 6.5s shine.

Burning Question

The popularity of the 6.5 has prompted the recent development of 6.5 rounds with additional horsepower such as Hornady’s new 6.5 PRC. With ballistics similar to the 6.5x284, the Hornady offering was designed for long-range tactical shooters and PRS competition. I’m sure hunters will be jumping on this one as well. Two other barnburners include the .26 Nosler and the 6.5-300 Weatherby Magnum. These hot numbers produce some mighty impressive velocities and downrange performance.

I would be remiss if I didn’t address barrel life. For the casual hunter this isn’t an issue but years ago, the .264 Win. Mag. had a reputation of being a “barrel burner.” Cartridges such as the .26 Nosler and 6.5-300 Weatherby also fall into the same category.

What is a barrel burner? The designation actually pertains to throat erosion. The throat area of the barrel is where the majority of wear takes place and these cartridges are burning a lot of powder and pushing hot gasses for a longer duration through the same-size bore. The effects of heat and pressure are magnified in comparison to smaller capacity 6.5 cases.

6.5 Creedmoor

Nosler’s 6.5 Creedmoor NCH was responsible for dropping this big mule deer with factory 120-gr. BT ammo.

The Trade-Off

There’s no free lunch here, folks! More horsepower comes with a cost! A hunter who sights in a rifle with a few rounds and goes hunting once or twice a year will probably never have to be concerned. On the other hand, if you want to shoot a lot, sometime down the road accuracy will begin to deteriorate. Obviously the criteria for accuracy are much different for competitive shooters when compared to acceptable accuracy for most hunters.

I didn’t mention any of this to derail the high-horsepower 6.5 rounds. They’re ideal for long-range pokes and if you’re looking at a monster stone sheep way out yonder, the .26 Nosler or 6.5-300 Weatherby would be a wonderful choice.

There are other factory, military and wildcat 6.5s including the 6.5x53R, 6.5x54 MS, 6.5 WSM and 6.5 SAUM to name a few. These .264-caliber rounds take advantage of aerodynamically enhanced premium bullets, making them ideal for competition or hunting.

With the proliferation of 6.5s, superior bullets, brass and components have followed — and there’s more to come. American hunters and shooters have embraced the 6.5. Whether you punch paper, bang steel plates, compete at long range, or hunt big game, the 6.5 may be your new best friend.

GUNS May 2019

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