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The Rise Of The 6.5 Creedmoor

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No other cartridge has captured shooters' imagination in the 21st Century like the 6.5 Creedmoor. And the long-range marvel looks to continue to hit the mark in the future.

Why the Creedmoor will stay on top:

The New Kid in Town

If you’re an American shooter, in all likelihood you have a love affair with the .30 caliber. It’s only natural, almost a birthright. Since the advent of smokeless powder more than a century ago, the medium-bore caliber has captured the nation’s imagination. Even if the .30-06, .308 or .300 Mag., wasn’t your cartridge of choice, you most likely measured your pick against them.

Uniquely, Hornady provides reloading information on all boxes of its 6.5 Creedmoor ammunition.

However, something funny happened in the last decade, the conversation shifted from the .30s to a completely different caliber — 6.5mm. In some respects, Yankee firearms chatter going metric was as shocking as the local barbershop boys talking up soccer strikers instead of utility infielders. The change chagrined traditionalist, and there was one cartridge to thank for the broken taboo — the 6.5 Creedmoor.

Born from a conversation, proven on the field of competition, embraced by a wide swath of the shooting public, it is arguably the first metric cartridge to gain widespread American acceptance. (The 7mm Rem. Mag. must be green with envy.) And there’s a good reason why — the dang thing performs.

Supersonic past the 1,200-yard mark, some of sexiest ballistic coefficients in the business and trajectories as flat as the central-Nebraska landscape it hales, the cartridge has helped average shooters reach further and group tighter than ever before. And for the foreseeable future, marksmen will continue to tap the 6.5 Creedmoor for all it’s worth.

Development Of The 6.5 Creedmoor

The conception of the 6.5 Creedmoor is a bit of an odd thing — a bull session at the National Matches at Camp Perry, Ohio. As the story goes, Dave Emary, senior ballistics scientist at Hornady, and Dennis DeMille, a two-time NRA High Power Rifle Champion, were going over the shortcoming of the then hot long-range round.

The 6.5 Creedmoor was originally a Hornady affaire, but its popularity has spurred other prominent ammunition manufacturers to add the cartridge to their catalog.

The 6mm XC was great, but a wildcat, so it required handloading, and since there was little reloading data available the cartridge’s performance varied from rifle to rifle. There was no guarantee a shooter could always capture lightning with the cartridge.

It sure would be great if there were a commercially loaded cartridge to bring some consistency to long-range shooters, both agreed. So the ballistic brain trust set to back-of-the-envelope engineering the ideal ammunition for long-range competition. The characteristics they came up with were:

It was quite a wish list, to say the least. But it was one Emary, aided by Hornady’s assistant director of engineering, Joe Thielen, delivered in full in 2008 when their company debuted the 6.5 Creedmoor we know today. And what an elegant piece of ballistic alchemy the duo turned out, not simply in performance but design.

The unsung hero of the 6.5 Creedmoor story might be the .30 TC (Thompson Center) case. Released in 2007, the .30 TC never gained widespread acceptance, though it had admirable qualities in its own right. Based on the .308 Winchester, the case has a few key aspects that made it ideal to neck down and become the 6.5 Creedmoor.

Three 6.5 Creedmoor factory loads from Hornaday (left to right) 120-, 129- and 140-grain bullets. Note the company does not polish out the discoloration from annealing.

It’s slightly shorter than its parent case, in turn, it had wiggle room to fit in an AR-10 or short-bolt action. More importantly, minimal body taper and a 30-degree shoulder angle gave vital capacity to the 1.920-inch case the Creedmoor required. Even with long 6.5mm bullets seated to the maximum COL (cartridge overall length) of 2.80 inches, powder wasn’t displaced; in turn, velocity wasn’t eaten away.

Through initial testing, some done by DeMille himself, the cartridge proved a winner. Everything was set in stone, except the name, that is. Hornady initially suggested the “6.5 DeMille.” Sporty as it might sound, the shooter demurred and offered up something a bit closer to his heart — Creedmoor. It was the name of the company he worked for — Creedmoor Sports — but more importantly it was an homage to the site of America’s first national rifle match on Long Island New York.

The 6.5 Creedmoor’s Slow Start

With a thoroughbred’s pedigree and firearms manufacturers taking notice, the 6.5 Creedmoor should have broken from the gate and run right into the American marksman’s heart. But it foundered a bit at the start.

Competitors immediately recognized the benefits of the ballistically-gifted cartridge, and it won matches right off the bat. The general shooting public, at the time not so in tune to the specialized long-range shooting niche, had either never heard of the 6.5 Creedmoor or was skeptical of its practical potential. Really, wasn’t it just a super-charged whitetail round that could double on coyote later in the season, à la the under-loved 6mm Remington?

Perhaps no cartridge has been more quickly embraced by firearms manufacturers than the 6.5 Creedmoor. Savage's Long-Range Hunter is one of a slew of makes and models chambered for the ballistically talented cartridge.

Then a funny thing happened, long-range shooting became as hot as the AR-15 a few years prior. And new long-range shooters crowding Precision Rifle Shooting competitions took notice of what was gunning down gold — 6.5 Creedmoor.

Fanning the flames further was a slew of new and economical long-range rifles that began flooding the market in the early years of the decade. Their accuracy potential, true tack drivers, was nearly unheard of outside custom-built rigs. Suddenly, rifles such as Ruger’s Precision Rifle opened sub-MOA performance well past 100 yards to the average shooter, all without having to take a second mortgage on the house.

From there, gun companies fell like dominos, each producing their own relatively budget-friendly long-range rifle — Savage the Model 10 BA Stealth, Howa the HCR Chassis Rifle, Bergara the B-14 BMP and more recently Mossberg the MVP Precision. On top of that, there were flocks of more tactical-practical long-range rifles that swamped the market, too numerous to list here. While many came in old favorites, such as .308 Win. or .300 Win. Mag., it was sure as tomorrow’s dawn each and every gun company offered their precision rifle in a 6.5 Creedmoor chambering.

The fever has yet to break on the rifles or the cartridge. The 6.5 Creedmoor is the second-best selling cartridge made by Hornady, only overshadowed by the .223 Rem. And the caliber is among the most sought after in new guns, with some manufacturers reporting the 6.5 as their No. 1 seller, if not accounting for a majority of their overall sales.

The Creedmoor Advantage

The magic of the 6.5mm wasn’t just discovered upon the advent of the Creedmoor. Hunters and soldiers have embraced the flat-shooting caliber going all the way back to the turn of the 20th Century. Perhaps the most noted early adopter was the Swedish military, which selected the venerable 6.5x55mm as its service rifle round back in 1894. Since, there’s been more than one roe deer put on the spite across the pond thanks to a well-placed 6.5 bullet.

What makes this caliber so gifted are the bullets themselves. Boasting high ballistic coefficients (up in the 900s under the G1 model), they have the ability to slip through the air more efficiently, thus minimize the effects of gravity and wind. This characteristic alone is what has caught most shooters’ eyes, given it leaves standby American favorites, such as the .308, in the dust. But the 6.5 has another facet, sometimes overlooked, but highly practical — exceptional sectional density. In short, has the weight-to-diameter ratio to penetrate things, things with much tougher hides than deer. Case in point, the Creedmoor has become a favorite with many African hunters for the continent’s sturdy plains game — impala, wildebeest and the like.

That’s all and good, but what exactly does the 6.5 Creedmoor offer the .260 Remington or the 6.5-284 Norma doesn’t? They’re all pitching the same copper-jacketed lead after all. Good point. Line the 6.5 Creedmoor up against the .260 or 6.5-284 with a 200-yard zero, each shooting 120-grain bullets and all move at approximately 2,500 fps at 200 yards and remain within 50 fps of each other at 500 yards. Additionally, the 120-grain bullets each maintain roughly 1,700 ft-lbs of energy at 200 yards. It seems by these numbers this vaunted Creedmoor is simply a reinvention of the wheel. But push your seat back from the ballistic table and the cartridge starts to shine among its peers.

Efficient to the hilt, the 6.5 Creedmoor requires less powder to get the same job done — the magic of its short squat case. With less powder comes less recoil, in turn it’s a milder cartridge shoot and potentially more accurate shot-to-shot, since a marksman can recover more quickly after pulling the trigger. Additionally, it’s more economical, not only in the powder it burns but also in the barrel wear department. Given its judicious appetite for propellant, the Creedmoor just isn’t going to erode the throat of a bore at the drunken pace of its blistering-hot 6.5 brethren.

On top of all that, the 6.5 Creedmoor arms shooter with the ability to harness everything cutting-edge VLD (very low drag) bullets have to offer. The 6.5 Creedmoor’s slight body taper and relatively steep shoulders allow the case to accept these exceedingly long projectiles without compromising capacity. And if that’s not enough, and as mentioned before, it’s sized to fit in an AR-10 or a short-bolt rifle, which means shooters have a wide variety of firearms to choose from. In short, it’s armed to go the distance and then some.

Ammo And Reloading Considerations

Initially in 2008, Hornady offered the 6.5 Creedmoor in two loads, with either a 120- or 140-grain A-Max bullet and reloading information on the box. Out of a 24-inch barrel, the light load moved 2,910 fps, the heavier 2,710. They were kind of midline velocity catchalls meant to whet the market’s appetite. Since then, the cartridge’s factory-loaded options have exploded.

Hornady alone offers 19 loads tailored for everything from match shooting to reaping hogs on the trotter. And, overall, the ammunition market has embraced the Creedmoor with everyone from Federal Premium to Nosler — each boasting their own home-cooked long-range pet incidentally — getting in on the game. At the time of writing, Midway USA listed 51 different 6.5 Creedmoor loads for sale with options ranging from 95- to 160-grains and topped with everything from classic round-nosed bullets to next generation of VLDs.

Handloaders, ever at the vanguard of the accurate and precise, have also flocked to the 6.5 Creedmoor. With a medium to medium-slow-burning propellants, such as RL-15, Hodgdon Varget, IMR 4895 or IMR 8208 XBR they have achieved consistent sub-MOA bliss once only believed possible through luck. H4350 has gained such popularity because of its performance in the cartridge many reloading suppliers can barely keep it on the shelf due to demand.

A Note On 6.5 Creedmoor Barrel Life

You’ll see it often when talking about the 6.5mm family, most likely in a gun forum. “Yeah, but what about barrel life?” Cogent point. There is more than one six-and-a-halfer that burns as hot as the Sonoran Sun. A narrowish bore combine with the All-American pursuit of more speed, power and distance have a tendency to scald precious metal away. But should shooters expect the same short, yet glorious life from their 6.5 Creedmoor’s fire tube?

There’s a bit of dangle to the answer. Certainly, folks highly sensitive to gnat’s-ass accuracy and tend toward hotter loads might notice a quicker deterioration. Say, competitive precision shooters. They generally talk about getting between 2,000 and 3,000 rounds through before swapping a barrel. But, no slide against them, they’re not average shooters with average accuracy expectations. Most likely they own a borescope, use it regularly and break out in a cold sweat at the first sign of fire cracking. That’s not average.

As for the everyday marksman, one with a Creedmoor for deer season and the occasional run at a gong 1,000-paces out, he can expect much more.
Given the overall sober case capacity of the cartridge, bore damage per trigger pull is minimal. It’s not a firebreather like the 26 Nosler or 6.5-300 Weatherby Magnum and others. In turn, it doesn’t tend to blister out the throat and leade in an excessively short amount of time. Master gunsmith and author Fred Zeglin figures you’ll have to send between 3,000 and 5,000 rounds down range before you’ll notice any change in accuracy.

“Essentially it is the same as the 260 Rem, 6.5×55 and the Ackley versions of those two. Ballistically, there is very little difference between them. I know that will cause today’s competitors to have a heart attack…” He said. “Naturally, if you have a reloader who is hot-rodding, barrel life is likely to be less. However, it is tough to get the Creedmoor to that point before you hit excessive pressures.”

Also, you have to consider how badly your accuracy is suffering once barrel ware becomes apparent. Is a sub-MOA rifle that begins to shoot MOA or 1.5 MOA really fit for the ash heap or worth re-barreling? If you plan on squeezing the trigger at the “Grand Master Of The Universe Precision Shooting Cup” then perhaps. Otherwise, you still have in your possession a fairly viable rifle for many applications, including hitting a deer’s vitals 500-yards out with little worry. Plus, getting to that point for the usual shooter could take years, if not a lifetime.

Parting Shot

There are some shooters not convinced with the 6.5 Creedmoor potential long-range prospects. Their belief is, once the interest in long-range shooting ebbs or the gun world’s next hot ticket comes along, the round will once again slip into obscurity. While understandable, this viewpoint is a mistake.

Part of the original design points for the 6.5 Creedmoor was it had to work with an AR-10, which it does nicely.

The Creedmoor continues to prove itself competitively match in and out. It keeps putting meat on the table one deer, elk and antelope season after another. And the almost-cheating ballistics excel no matter if a shooter is aiming a country mile or typical hunting ranges. Best of all, the rifles chambered for it are downright kittens to shoot.

That’s everything a cartridge needs to hit the mark with the American shooting public. And for those reasons, 6.5 Creedmoor will remain right on target for the foreseeable future.

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