6.5 Creedmoor: Does the Cartridge Live Up to the Hype?
By Kevin Madison, WHJ Shooting Editor
The reloading community is notorious for constantly tinkering with existing cartridges and creating new wildcats. Rarely do any of these become mainstream and develop a strong following, much less ever see the light of day on your average sporting goods store shelves. Despite what we have come to expect with a new cartridge, the 6.5 Creedmoor is one that has bucked the trend. Over the past decade, it has developed a strong following among competitive shooters, and more recently it has become a cartridge of choice for big game hunters. Whether it’s the relatively light recoil, the cartridges’ long-range capabilities with high ballistic coefficient bullets, the ability to be fed through a magazine, or its stopping power, there is no denying the popularity of the 6.5 Creedmoor.
Introduced and perfected in 2007 by Hornady Manufacturing, the 6.5 Creedmoor was the brainchild of a handful of shooting experts. Most notably, high power shooting champion Dennis Demille, senior Hornady ballistician Dave Emary, Hornady engineer Joe Thielen and Neil Davies, Hornaday’s marketing manager. Each one had a hand in the cartridges’ development, and its rise in popularity.
It was a case of revisiting existing rounds to meet their needs, and in this situation, it spawned a movement in the hunting industry that would have a far-reaching ripple effect. When Steve Hornady, CEO of Hornady Manufacturing, gave his team the blessing to develop the 6.5 Creedmoor in 2007, that is exactly what happened.
A previous joint venture between Hornady and Thompson/Center had developed the .30 T/C, a short action round intended to have the performance of the long action .30-06. This round would ultimately serve as the parent case for the developing 6.5 Creedmoor. Unlike the .260 Remington, which had been in existence for quite some time and is based off the .308 Winchester, this new round has a shorter, fatter profile known for burning powder efficiently. It also has a 30-degree shoulder, less body taper, and longer neck, which means those long, sleek bullets the round was designed for don’t have to be seated deep in the case allowing for more powder capacity. At the same time centering up the cartridge in the chamber gave it enhanced accuracy.
The only problem was that at the time of its introduction in 2007, there simply weren’t a lot of long range shooters, either competitively or recreationally. Those who did shoot long range quickly gained an appreciation for the new round but it was definitely a niche market to start. That eventually changed, however, as we rolled into a new decade and the number of long range shooters continued to grow. And as precision rifle competitions gained in popularity, manufacturers recognized the trend and started to produce quality, affordable rifles. By the mid-2010s, both Savage and Ruger had introduced accurate, yet affordable rifles to their lines with the Savage Model 12 LRP and Ruger ‘RPR’ or Ruger Precision Rifle to meet the needs of the growing long range community. It should come as no surprise that rifles designed specifically for the hunting community soon followed, such as the very popular Tikka T3 as one example.
While it was gaining favor with the shooting community the 6.5 Creedmoor also began to gain favor in the hunting community. This was in part to Hornady’s commitment to making ammunition more available. Not surprisingly, more and more ammunition manufacturers followed suit offering a broader selection of 6.5 Creedmoor ammo that can fill just about any need of today’s hunters.
As is the case with many wildcats, custom cartridges that are not mass produced, the 6.5 Creedmoor isn’t completely new. Truth be told, similar 6.5 calibers have been around for over a century, with cartridges like the 6.5X55 Swedish dating back to pre-1900. Interestingly, some of the early 6.5s found strong followings both for service and sporting use in Europe, but they had a hard time finding much of a following in the U.S.
To get perspective on how the 6.5 Creedmoor came to be, it’s important to look at the influential cartridges that helped shape it. In the late 1950s and early 1960s the .264 Winchester Magnum was introduced and while it had merit, it was quickly forgotten when the 7mm Remington Magnum was developed. In the late 1990s the .260 Remington played a role in legitimatizing the 6.5-08 wildcat which had already been in the shooting community for some time. Not only did this take away some of the .260’s initial excitement, but it followed the trend of other North American 6.5s with very few factory options being available. In today’s market though, between the attractive characteristics of the 6.5 bullet itself and the many different high-quality hunting bullet options currently available, it is a round worthy of closer inspection for today’s hunter.
When compared with its counterparts in 6mm, 6.8mm, 7mm and even perhaps .30 caliber, 6.5 bullets are a great consideration for western big game hunters due to their high sectional density and strong ballistic characteristics. Sectional density is the result of a calculation comparing a bullet’s weight to its diameter, with the higher the sectional density the better. And this is an important consideration as sectional density (SD) can have a substantial effect on bullet penetration which is always an important factor when hunting big game. It’s not unrealistic to expect a 140g .264 bullet to penetrate better than a 140g .30 caliber bullet as the SD of the .264 is much higher. This comparison helps in figuring out what bullets might be most effective for different species of game, as SD gives us a better comparison of different calibers than simple weight of the bullet. For example, the .270 and .30-06 both can shoot a 150g bullet. The SD in the .270 (.279) is significantly higher than the .30-06 (.226). This explains why it is popular for elk hunting. It also explains why elk hunters that opt for a .30-06 often turn to a 180g bullet (.271) to get nearly the same SD.
Throughout the West, big game hunters have plenty of calibers to choose from when they go afield. Many of the decisions are predetermined either through what they know (or don’t know) or what they’re comfortable with. It’s common to talk with older hunters who hunt only with a .270 because Jack O’Connor told them that’s what they should hunt with. Or, the only rifle they own is a .30-06. Or some other caliber. Point being, many hunters are creatures of habit and subscribe to the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” theory. And if that works and fills your freezer each fall, then more power to you. But with a little research, people will learn there’s more than one way to skin a cat. And the 6.5 Creedmoor is another arrow to have in the quiver.
Take, for example, a typical antelope hunt. Known for spooking easily, antelope have excellent eyesight and are constantly on the lookout for predators. Knowing this, antelope hunters are often faced with taking a long-range shot. It’s not uncommon to shoot a pronghorn from 300 yards, sometimes longer. Most antelope weigh between 100 and 120 pounds and hunters want a cartridge that is flat shooting, can buck the wind, is accurate at long distances and can quickly and humanely kill the animal. The .243 Remington has been one of the obvious traditional choices for hunting antelope. It possesses all the characteristics needed to be successful. It is flat shooting, has low recoil, and is pretty accurate. The 6.5 Creedmoor shares all those attributes but wins out every time when compared with similar bullets. The significantly higher ballistic co-efficiency of the 6.5 Creedmoor bullet is going to be particularly helpful when shooting at longer ranges and in what can often be windy conditions out on the plains where antelope generally live. These higher ballistic co-efficient bullets will shoot flatter and buck the wind better, giving the shooter a higher margin of error, something we can all use.
Mule deer hunters might also find the 6.5 Creedmoor appealing. A mule deer, weighing in the neighborhood of 200 pounds on average, are bigger bodied animals that thrive in mountainous terrain where they use timber and deep draws to their advantage. Hunters know a bullet that shoots flat and travels quickly at long distances are keys to a successful hunt. Certainly, there are times when shots under 100 yards present themselves, but it’s not uncommon to be presented with a shot that can reach upwards of 400 yards.
When compared to the popular .7mm-08 Remington, using comparable bullets, the 6.5 Creedmoor is in lock step. The chart shows that the drop is significantly greater for the 6.5 Creedmoor, but that’s really not a big issue in today’s world of accurate range finders and reliable turrets being dialed up. Where it shines is in its ability to drive through the wind better due to its high bullet co-efficiency.
Because a mature bull elk can weigh upwards of 500 to 600 pounds it stands to reason that many elk hunters opt for a bigger magnum. But is that really necessary? It’s often assumed that to kill an elk, a cartridge like a 7mm Magnum is a necessity to put an elk down, but remember that 6.5×55 Swedish round that I mentioned earlier? Sharing very similar ballistic characteristics to the 6.5 Creedmoor, Swedish and Norwegian hunters have been using this round for over a century to hunt and effectively kill moose of very similar size to our North America elk, proving quite convincingly that the magnums some of us Americans are so proud of aren’t really necessary for the larger big game species.
Looking at the ballistic comparisons, the little 6.5 Creedmoor looks pretty attractive even when stacked up against some heavy hitters like the 7mm Rem Mag and the .300 Win Mag, a couple of definite traditional elk killers. While the energy retained at 300 yards suffers compared to these larger rounds, the impressive sectional density of the 6.5 more than helps keep it an effective elk round at reasonable distances. And again, the high bullet co-efficiency of these bullets helps give them wind bucking ability comparable to the bigger magnums, giving the shooter as much margin of error when reading the wind is possible. It’s not until you get out well past 800 yards does this round drop below the 1600fps that Hornady is recommending as a minimum speed for proper expansion.
A quick glance at some of the other western big game species, the 6.5 Creedmoor would be an outstanding choice for bighorn sheep or mountain goats. Both being similar in size to mule deer, weighing between 150 to 200 pounds, the previous attributes would apply to hunting these noble animals as well. And if chasing predators is your thing, the 6.5 Creedmoor can be tailored to those hunts as well. With male mountain lions coming in around 150 pounds, and wolves weighing between 100 to 120 pounds, bullets you’d use for antelope or deer in the 130g to 140g class would be perfectly capable here. For smaller coyotes, one could easily size down to the 120g type bullets and still have plenty of killing power and even reduced recoil.
The 6.5 Creedmoor is clearly a 6.5mm done right. The shooting competition world didn’t take long to take notice of this round once it was introduced and took an instant liking to all its key attributes—inherent accuracy, high bullet co-efficiency, low recoil, and magazine fed abilities. With today’s incredible selection of different weighted hunting bullets now available, the hunting world has embraced it and is taking advantage of these same characteristics in the field. There will always be new hot rod wildcats entering the scene and drawing attention, but when it comes time to shop for a new hunting rifle or simply grab one out of the safe, today’s Western big game hunter can’t go wrong with by choosing a 6.5 Creedmoor.
As a competitive shooter and avid big game hunter I’ve had numerous opportunities to shoot rifles chambered in this round. Each one has been a joy to shoot, solidifying the 6.5 Creedmoor’s reputation as a legitimate big game caliber. As a reloader, there are virtually no issues in determining load development. In fact, this past summer I was able to help friends set up their rifles for their hunts. Each time it was a stress-free experience in finding the most accurate load for their hunt.
Factor everything together and the hunting community has one more option to choose from. Rest assured, it’s a good one that more than lives up to its hype.