Thoroughly Modern, Super Accurate, Easy Shooting
And Easy To Load Are Reasons Enough
By John Barsness
Apparently the 6.5 Creedmoor has caused more confusion among some male hunters than any other rifle cartridge introduced in the past several decades. Target shooters get the Creedmoor easily, and women seem to as well, probably because women’s egos aren’t intertwined with their rifles.
The confusion among some hunters is due to the 6.5 Creedmoor being the latest of a bunch of moderate 6.5 rounds, the earliest example the 6.5×55, a joint Norway/Sweden design from the early 1890s. Many 6.5×55 owners often ask why they should buy a 6.5 Creedmoor when their Scandinavian cartridge has been doing the same stuff for over 120 years. Meanwhile, .260 Remington fans insist their round also fits inside a modern “short” magazine. Both 6.5×55 and .260 fanboys often suggest the Creedmoor will disappear as soon as the fad’s over, leaving suckers with a semi-obsolete cartridge.
Let’s begin by addressing the flash-in-the-pan claim. The 6.5 Creedmoor was introduced by Hornady in 2007, and sales of ammo and rifles have increased enormously ever since in North America and Europe. But apparently some shooters believe it appeared in 2016, perhaps when they were distracted by the presidential election.
The 6.5 Creedmoor appeared partly because changing technology caused the .260 Remington to fade as a target round. It looked good for the purpose when adopted by Remington in 1997, but many newer 6.5mm bullets have pointy ogives so long they have to be seated so deeply to fit in a standard 2.84-inch “short” magazine, the ogive ends up well behind the rifling in the chamber throat.
Now, bullets don’t have to be seated close to the lands to shoot accurately, but it helps when looking for the finest accuracy, and with the .260, some newer hunting bullets can’t be seated to the lands. My latest .260 is a Tikka T3 Superlite, one of a special run offered in 2015 by Whittaker Guns in Kentucky, with a 1:8-inch rifling twist. My primary desire was a light rifle suitable for big game, so I chose the 140-grain Nosler AccuBond as the primary bullet, since it would work on anything from pronghorns to elk. The AccuBond’s ogive is noticeably shorter than that of many 6.5mm target bullets, it still couldn’t be seated near the lands and fit in the 2.84-inch magazine.
Experimentation proved the 140 AccuBonds shot more accurately when seated out to the lands, so I modified the T3’s detachable magazine to make it 3 inches long. However, most rifle magazines aren’t easily lengthened.
To many target shooters it made more sense to design a shorter 6.5mm round. In fact, this had already occurred with the 6.5×47 Lapua, introduced in 2005, but the brass and ammo were relatively expensive, and Lapua decided on a small primer pocket, which didn’t appeal to hunters who believed small rifle primers might cause problems in cold weather.
The 6.5 Creedmoor solved those potential problems with inexpensive brass and ammo, using large rifle primers. Plus, Ruger (a frequent Hornady marketing partner) chambered relatively inexpensive but accurate factory rifles. Instead of being seen as strictly a target cartridge, chambered in expensive and specialized rifles, the 6.5 Creedmoor appeared as an affordable alternative for a wide range of shooters.
The 6.5 Creedmoor also has far more consistent chamber dimensions than the 6.5×55. Like all rifle rounds originating as early smokeless military cartridges, 6.5×55 case and throat dimensions have varied, mostly due to the long-ago changeover from heavy roundnose bullets to lighter spitzers. The Creedmoor was designed from the get-go for long boattailed spitzers, in today’s rifles.
Does this mean hunters should get rid of their .260’s and 6.5×55’s? Nobody has suggested that, and in fact I’m such a hopelessly addicted rifle loony my safe not only includes a .260 Remington and a pair of 6.5×55’s, but a 6.5×54 Mannlicher-Schoenauer and 6.5x57R Mauser. All are ballistically close enough to do what the others do, but the rifles are different. (In fact, the 6.5x57R isn’t strictly a rifle, but a drilling.)
With that duly noted, my latest 6.5 Creedmoor is a Ruger American Predator purchased for the vast sum of $350, and right out of the box it turned out to be as accurate as any 6.5mm rifle I’ve ever owned, including several custom ones. Is this due to chance? I doubt it, since all the other 6.5 Creedmoors I’ve fooled with have also shot very well. The least accurate put five shots into an inch at 100 yards with the first handload tried.
One reason the 6.5 Creedmoor has become so popular is inexpensive yet very accurate factory rifles.
This 5-shot group was fired with a Ruger American Predator.
Factory 6.5 Creedmoor ammunition is also very accurate, and Hornady brass very consistent in both weight and dimensions. Some handloaders report Hornady cases developing loose primer pockets after a few firings, but so far all those I’ve questioned have been trying to turn their Creedmoors into “light magnums.” My own collection of Hornady 6.5 Creedmoor includes some from factory ammo purchased in 2010, with my first 6.5 Creedmoor. The primer pockets are still tight, probably because I don’t exceed published handloads.
Perhaps the most-used Creedmoor “accuracy load” is a bullet in the 140-grain class with around 41.5 grains of H4350. This normally gets 2,650 to 2,700 fps in 22- or 24-inch barrels, but a chronic shortage of H4350 (which a contact at Hodgdon claims is largely due to the popularity of the 6.5 Creedmoor) has resulted in shooters using other powders, some introduced since 2007. I’ve had great luck with IMR4451, and early trials with Alliant Reloder 16 have also been promising. For those who simply must have more muzzle zip, both IMR4451 and RL-16 are double-based, so tend to produce 50 to 100 fps more than H4350 with the same bullets.
However, one of the big advantages of the 6.5 Creedmoor over more traditional hunting cartridges is relatively light recoil for the downrange results. With high-BC bullets, the Creedmoor’s 300+ yard velocities exceed the .270 Winchester’s with conventional hunting bullets of the same weight, yet the Creedmoor kicks about a third less. This is why it’s starting to replace the .243 Winchester as the “starter cartridge” for many hunters—and has also become the choice cartridge for many recoil-weary veterans.
However, the 6.5 Creedmoor does have one sneaky little quirk: It’s still not quite short enough for every high-BC bullet to touch the lands at a cartridge length of 2.84 inches, partly because factory rifles vary slightly, as factory rifles will. Two of the problem children are the 130- and 140-grain Berger VLD’s, which may be why Berger introduced other 6.5mm bullets with slightly shorter ogives since 2007.
The Fierce Edge rifle listed in the data, by the way, has the shortest throat of any 6.5 Creedmoor I’ve measured, though that doesn’t mean there’s much variation, since the longest throat measured is in my Ruger American. The difference between the throat-length in the Fierce and Ruger is 0.012 inch, about the thickness of an average business card. (The Fierce rifle also has a magazine 2.95 inches long, so there’s no difficulty in loading any high-BC boattail to the lands.)
Please note the groups listed in the load table are five shots at 100 yards, not the three shots fired commonly today. This consistency is a major reason the Creedmoor has become so successful, and while designed for serious target shooters, it also works well for other uses, regardless of the shooter’s economic level.
Yes, cartridges capable of driving 6.5 bullets to the same ballistics have been around for over a century, but the entire package is better adapted to 21st-century realities than any other medium-sized 6.5mm cartridge, the reason the 6.5 Creedmoor’s becoming a standard chambering for bolt-action rifles.
John Barsness’s latest book, The Big Book of Big Game Hunting, can be ordered through www.riflesandrecipes.com, P.O. Box 579, Townsend, MT 59644, (406) 521-0273.