Despite the rise of the 6.5 Creedmoor in recent years, the 6.5 caliber is nothing new and has a storied history. Here's a look at other talented 6.5 cartridges.
What Are The 21st Century 6.5 Cartridges:
This shouldn’t surprise you, but 6.5mm rifle cartridges have been around for over a century. The Norma ammunition company was founded in 1894 to make bullets for a single cartridge—the 6.5x55mm Swedish Mauser. In 1914, Norma started loading 6.5x55mm ammo using once-fired military brass. A couple of Olympic records later, Norma began loading 6.5x55mm hunting ammunition.
The thing is, no one on this side of “the pond” really gave a damn.
Even though it might have killed more moose than any other rifle cartridge, it’s mostly considered a military antique. It will launch a 140-grain bullet at about 2,850 fps. One of the most accurate hunting rifles I’ve ever seen was chambered for the 6.5×55. It was a CZ 550, and I watched a friend shoot a 10-shot group that measured under 3/4 inch.
America’s first true 6.5mm rifle cartridge was introduced in 1959. With a SAAMI-specified maximum average pressure of 64,000 psi—as compared to the 6.5×55 at 45,000 psi—it also offered a 40 percent increase in case powder capacity. The .264 Winchester Magnum was unquestionably a “magnum” cartridge and would push a 140-grain bullet 350 fps faster than the 6.5×55. Initially offered in the Winchester Model 70 Westerner rifle, it was intended for shooting game animals at longer ranges.
It was well received but soon earned a reputation as a “barrel-burner.” Although most big-game hunters shoot fewer than 100 rounds each year, this was really of no consequence. However, when Remington introduced the 7mm Remington Magnum three years later, the .264 began to wane in popularity.
Maybe one reason American sportsmen disdained 6.5mm cartridges was because one was used by the most notorious assassin of all time—Lee Harvey Oswald.
That rifle was chambered for the Italian 6.5x52mm Carcano, a cartridge designed in 1899. Remington introduced the short-action, belted 6.5 Remington Magnum three years after that tragic event. With a 140-grain bullet at around 2,900 fps, it was ideal for, well, just about anything.
It was mostly ignored.
.260 Remington: Just prior to the turn of the 21st century, the only other American 6.5mm cartridge to ever gain any real acceptance was the .260 Remington. Also known as the 6.5-08 A-Square, it was a .308 Winchester necked down to 6.5mm, and it pushed a 140-grain bullet to 2,750 fps or a bit more. The .260 would also work in short-action rifles (the 6.5×55 required a long-action). It found favor with target shooters and a few hunters.
6.5 Grendel: In 2003, with some help from other savvy shooters, Bill Alexander of Alexander Arms developed the 6.5mm Grendel. Intended to provide a highly accurate, flat-shooting AR-15 alternative with low recoil, you might think it would’ve been an instant hit. It wasn’t. For the most part, the Grendel, which is unquestionably one of the best—if not the best—current commercial hunting cartridges for the AR-15, remained mostly a cult cartridge. It’s generally loaded with a 120-grain bullet at about 2,400 fps, but the Grendel can push a 140-grain bullet to about 2,200 fps.
More 6.5 Info:
6.5 Creedmoor: The most important 6.5mm cartridge introduction came in 2008, when Hornady released the 6.5mm Creedmoor (yes, it’s been around that long). Ironically, until about 2014, most shooters just gave it a yawn. In reality, Clint Eastwood is singularly more responsible for the almost-overnight rise in popularity of the 6.5 Creedmoor. In 2014, his movie, American Sniper, began America’s current fascination with long-range shooting.
Since 2014, rifle and ammunition manufacturers can’t make 6.5 Creedmoor rifles and ammunition fast enough. Each year, the new rifle and ammunition introductions are dominated by new offerings in that chambering. For instance, MidwayUSA currently lists 70 different loads for the 6.5 Creedmoor, and it lists only 60 for the .243 Winchester. I’ve used the Creedmoor extensively across North America and Africa to take bear, caribou, kudu, coyote, warthogs and even moose. For most hunters and target shooters, it’s all the cartridge they’ll ever need.
However, with its popularity, many consider it a fad or a cartridge for those who just can’t handle a “man’s rifle.” The 6.5 Creedmoor has as many haters as it does fans. The truth is, it delivers an almost ideal balance of trajectory and recoil. It will push a 140-grain bullet to about 2,750 fps, and with its undeniable popularity, by about 2017, shooters began wanting a 21st-century version of the .264 Winchester Magnum: a faster Creed. Ironically, they already had one, but it seemed to be a bit much for most shooters.
.26 Nosler: The .26 Nosler was announced to the public in 2013. This was the second proprietary cartridge in the Nosler line capable of pushing a 140-grain bullet to about 3,300 fps. Because it was faster than a .264 Winchester Magnum and the same length as the .30-06 cartridge, you’d think it would have been a sensation—but it’s never really found mainstream acceptance. Recoil might be the primary reason: The .26 Nosler kicks twice as hard as a 6.5 Creedmoor.
6.5 PRC: In 2018, Hornady gave shooters the revised .264 it had been dreaming of—the 6.5 PRC (Precision Rifle Cartridge). Working with George Gardner of GA Precision, Hornady settled on the parent case of the .300 Ruger Compact Magnum. The cartridge will scoot a 140-grain bullet along at about 3,050 fps. No, it’s not as fast at the .26 Nosler and is a tad slower than the .264 Winchester Magnum, but it also doesn’t kick as hard as either of those. Now, in 2020, it seems clear that the balance of power, trajectory and recoil this cartridge offers is right in line with what modern shooters desire.
6.5-3000 Weatherby Mag: It was introduced in 2016, just as the 6.5 Creedmoor was beginning its climb to fame. The thing is, this cartridge was just too damned hot. Bullet selection was critical; the muzzle blast was horrendous; and it ate barrels for breakfast (the 6.5-300 Weatherby will launch a 140-grain bullet at a sizzling 3,400 fps). It was very popular—in conversation—for about a year. Now, it’s mostly forgotten.
However, Weatherby realized its mistake and, in 2019, the company tried again with the 6.5 RPM (Rebated Precision Magnum). This cartridge is based on the old .284 Winchester, but with a lengthened case. It essentially duplicates the ballistics of the 6.5 PRC.
6.5-284 Norma : Engineered by Norma in 1999, the company just necked down the .284 Winchester; it didn’t extend the case. The 6.5-284—approved by CIP, the European version of SAAMI—has enjoyed some success as a wildcat cartridge in America.
However, in what is now “the age of the six-five,” Nosler submitted the 6.5-284 to SAAMI, which approved it. I expect you’ll begin seeing new rifles and new ammunition from a variety of manufacturers soon. Why? The 6.5-284 will work in a short-action rifle and, like the old 6.5 Remington Magnum, it’ll push a 140-grain bullet to around 2,900 fps.
An Explanation Is in Order
The point of this history lesson is to set the stage for the explanation of why there is this current fascination with new 6.5mm rifle cartridges. As mentioned, we can’t ignore the impact that American Sniper had. We also can’t ignore the fact that the 6.5 Creedmoor will shoot flatter, with less recoil, than the .308 Winchester.
It all comes down to something very simple: When you look at the projectiles for handheld sporting rifles of a reasonable weight, 6.5mm bullets can be made with the highest ballistic coefficients—without being too heavy. Sure, you can make a .284- or .308-caliber bullet just as long, lean, trim and aerodynamic. The problem is that when you do this, bullet weight crowds 200 grains.
There’s nothing wrong with heavy bullets; they ring steel, punch paper and can kill critters very well. The issue is velocity. It takes a lot more powder to push a 200-grain bullet to get the same trajectory as you can from a 140-ish-grain 6.5mm bullet. This means there’s a noticeable—very noticeable—increase in recoil.
In truth, we found this magic bullet diameter in Sweden back before the turn of the 20th century and then amplified it about 60 years later. Americans were just too in love with their .270s and .30-calibers and just too damned prejudiced about 6.5mm cartridges to notice what a good thing they really were.
The article originally appeared in the February 2020 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.