Suddenly everybody wants one…and most manufacturers produce them!
In my 40-year career in this business, I’ve seen a lot of cartridges come and go. The introduction of a new cartridge is usually accompanied by serious marketing efforts, but they don’t always work, and success seems a bit random even though most cartridges work as advertised. I’ve seen a fair number of good cartridges do poorly right out of the starting gate, and I’ve seen cartridges enjoy immense popularity even though they’re similar to good cartridges that are already on the market. The 6.5mm Creedmoor is an anomaly, though—I don’t recall seeing a cartridge that sort of rolls along for a full decade and then skyrockets into popularity.
Creedmoor: A Brief History
The 6.5mm Creedmoor cartridge, developed by Hornady, was introduced in Ruger rifles in 2007. It’s an overstatement to say that it initially languished, but it certainly didn’t burn up the shooting world. It was, however, accepted by a slowly growing cadre of long-range shooters and competitors.
Ten years later, the 6.5mm Creedmoor was suddenly the talk of the 2017 Shooting, Hunting, and Outdoor Trade (SHOT) Show. Most rifle manufacturers were chambering to it, other ammunition manufacturers were adopting it, and no one could keep up with the escalating demand.
Comparable to Other Cartridges, or the Most Accurate?
Unlike many other cartridges, the 6.5mm Creedmoor was designed neither for maximum velocity nor to wring maximum speed from a certain action size, in this case a short bolt-action or an AR-10 frame. It’s essentially a .308 Winchester (or .30 T/C, or .300 Savage) case necked down to 6.5mm (.264-inch), sharp-shouldered, but with the case shortened to 1.920 inches rather than the 2.015-inch case standard with the .308 family. The cartridge’s shorter powder column was designed for accuracy; additionally, shooters can use longer, heavier, more aerodynamic bullets without having to seat them so deeply that they intrude into the powder space.
The 6.5mm Creedmoor has a lower powder capacity and runs slower than the .260 Remington, which is a .308 case necked down to 6.5mm, but not shortened. And it’s certainly not as fast as the 6.5/284 Norma, which uses the fatter rebated-rim .284 Winchester case necked down to 6.5mm.
It is faster than the 6.5mm cartridges of a century ago, however: the grand-daddy, 6.5x53R; the 6.5×54 Mannlicher-Schoenauer; the 6.5×55 Swedish Mauser; and other early 6.5s. But this is mostly a matter of weaker early actions rather than case capacity. Of the early 6.5mm cartridges, only the 6.5×55 Swedish Mauser retains a following in this country today. The “6.5 Swede” has greater case capacity and can be hand-loaded faster, but its longer case cannot be housed in a short action.
The .260 Remington, 6.5-284 Norma, and the older 6.5s are all good cartridges, but none have made the great surge in popularity that the 6.5mm Creedmoor has recently made. The title of the “most accurate” cartridge probably depends more on action, barrel, and ammunition than case dimensions, but the Creedmoor has achieved a wonderful reputation for accuracy.
Why is the Creedmoor So Popular?
I believe the 6.5mm Creedmoor might be the most popular 6.5mm cartridge ever in the U.S.; 6.5mm is a popular bullet diameter in Europe, but to my knowledge, no 6.5mm cartridge has ever achieved lasting success in the U.S. The Creedmoor’s popularity is surprising, as American shooters traditionally revere velocity, but only time will tell whether this cartridge can enjoy long-lasting popularity on this side of the Atlantic.
We don’t just crave velocity, though—we also love accuracy, and maybe we’re starting to appreciate efficiency. 6.5mm bullets tend to be long for caliber; add in aerodynamics and you have very high Ballistic Coefficients (BC), meaning the bullet will hold its velocity extremely well. The 6.5mm Creedmoor was designed as a long-range target cartridge intended to remain supersonic to 1000 yards, thus avoiding the accuracy-robbing turbulence that occurs when the bullet breaks the sound barrier. With an aerodynamic 140-grain bullet at about 2700 feet per second, it achieves this goal handily with very little recoil. The other “mild” 6.5mms mentioned also do this, though, so I’m not prepared to say the Creedmoor is the “best” in its class. But it’s certainly the cartridge that has caught the public’s eye.
Hunting with Creedmoor Cartridges: Can it Be Done Ethically?
Despite the current interest in long-range shooting, there aren’t enough 1000-yard competitors to account for the Creedmoor craze. It’s a safe assumption, therefore, that the Creedmoor is appealing to hunters and casual rifle shooters. However, despite its efficiency, the Creedmoor and its friends are probably not long-range hunting cartridges. They just don’t retain enough energy down-range.
If you start an aerodynamic 140-grain 6.5mm bullet at 2700 fps—the ballpark velocity of the 6.5mm Creedmoor—you’ll cross the 1000-yard line at well over 1200 fps. The speed of sound is about 1100 fps, so you’re in good shape velocity-wise, but you’ve got little more than 500 foot-pounds of retained energy. You won’t catch me saying that anything is ethically sound for shooting game at 1000 yards, but for sure a mild 6.5mm isn’t there.
For shorter distances, though, the 6.5 Creedmoor can be decent for hunting. Pairing a 6.5mm Creedmoor with an aerodynamic 140-grain bullet carries 1000 foot-pounds of energy about 600 yards. Thus on deer-sized game it does pretty much everything anybody needs to do at any reasonable range. Now, take a really aerodynamic 6.5mm bullet like Hornady’s new 143-grain ELD-X, with an off-the-charts BC of .623 (G-1), at 2710 fps muzzle velocity and you have an initial energy yield of 2332 foot-pounds. That’s plenty enough for elk-sized game, but at 200 yards retained energy is 1869 foot-pounds, and down to 1661 at 300 yards. So, hypothetically, the 6.5mm Creedmoor is also an adequate elk cartridge… but only at very moderate distances.
Creedmoor: Versatile in Many Models of Rifles
One of the Creedmoor’s strengths, and a reason why I think it is enjoying such success, is that it is a short-action cartridge with few restrictions on what bullets can be used or how they must be seated. Until recently, the Creedmoor has been primarily a Hornady/Ruger cartridge, so most of my experiences using the 6.5mm Creedmoor has been in Ruger rifles. However, I’ve used it in Ruger Model 77s, Ruger Americans, and the Ruger Precision Rifle (RPR), which are different platforms that use altogether different magazines. Across the board feeding has been flawless for each model.
We rifle cranks are always looking for excuses to own another rifle. Whether your thing is shooting tight groups, ringing steel at long range, or hunting deer, the 6.5 Creedmoor is a wonderfully versatile cartridge that’s extremely pleasant to shoot, and these are all good reasons why so many American shooters are discovering it.
Craig Boddington is one of today’s most respected outdoor journalists. He spent the past forty years exploring our natural world as a hunter and sharing his knowledge and experiences in dozens of books and through thousands of published articles and essays. He’s a decorated Marine, an award-winning author, and continues to be a leading voice for conservation and ethical hunting around the world.
For autographed copies of Craig’s books please visit www.craigboddington.com.