Is the 6.5mm Creedmoor the Best Modern Hunting Cartridge?

By Randy Wakeman

Hornady 6.5mm Creedmoor
Hornady 6.5mm Creedmoor ammunition. Photo courtesy of Hornady Manufacturing.

Over the years, hunting big game animals, I have used the .270 Winchester more than any other cartridge, from pronghorn to blue wildebeest to moose. In second place, in terms of my personal use, comes the 7mm-08 Remington.

Designed by Dave Emary from goals articulated by Dennis DeMille, the 6.5mm Creedmoor had to have several attributes, including superlative ballistics, less recoil than .308 rounds, standard .308 magazine length and be relatively easy on barrels in terms of throat erosion. Designed originally as a match cartridge, Hornady's latest propellant blends and bullet designs have allowed it to become, not just accurate, but an effective big game hunting cartridge. Standard projectile weights run from 120 grains to 147 grains.

One of the most interesting 6.5mm Creedmoor factory loads is Hornady's 143 grain ELD-X Precision Hunter. Hornady ballistics show 2700 fps muzzle velocity (MV) and 7.9 inches of drop between 200 and 300 yards (from a 200 yard zero). This bullet deforms at 1800 fps and this load retains over 2000 fps strike velocity at 500 yards.

Despite its moderate initial muzzle velocity, the extremely high ballistic coefficient of the 6.5mm ELD-X bullet makes things look better and better as ranges increase. Like the 6.5x55 and .260 Remington, the 6.5 Creedmoor has a clear pedigree from competition shooting. Since its introduction a decade ago as a match cartridge, the popularity of the 6.5 Creedmoor seems to be increasing. Having a hunting rifle that shoots like a target rifle is something few would not find appealing.

One of my favorite projectiles, the bonded core Hornady InterBond, is available in the 6.5mm Creedmoor 129 grain Superformance factory load. This has an advertised MV of 2950 fps. With a 200 yard zero, the bullet drop at 300 yards is only 6.8 inches. Zeroed to take advantage of its maximum point blank range (+/- 3 inches) it is a 292 yard load.

I have standardized my bolt-action testing a bit, testing more .223 Remington and .270 Winchester rifles than anything else. Moving forward, it seems like a good time to explore more 6.5 Creedmoor offerings. The next two rifles in house are the T/C Compass and the Browning AB3 walnut, both in 6.5 Creedmoor, and there will be more.

Among the latest cartridge introductions, it is the 6.5 Creedmoor with its mild manners, accuracy and formidable long range performance that has gained the most traction. Its virtues include excellent factory loaded ammunition and rifle availability that doesn't come at the price of exotica.

The Savage Lightweight Hunter in 6.5mm Creedmoor I tested five years ago was capable of 3/4 MOA groups at 100 yards. The slightly smaller bullet diameter of the 6.5 Creedmoor, .264 inches, may not seem like a drastic change from the .284 inches of the 7mm-08, but is enough to allow a significant difference in ballistic coefficient with the same weight and style of projectile.

I believe the 6.5 Creedmoor is the short action, centerfire hunting cartridge for the next hundred years. As a generalization, it offers a bit less wind drift, a bit less recoil and a bit more accuracy than the 7mm-08. Clearly, its terminal performance is superior to 6mm cartridges on the order of the .243 Winchester. The consumer and the industry have both embraced the 6.5mm Creedmoor.

Note: An in depth article about the 6.5mm Creedmoor can be found on the Rifle Cartridges page.

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Copyright 2017 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.