The 6.5x55 SE

By Chuck Hawks

Illustration courtesy of Hornady Mfg. Co.

The 6.5x55 is one of the great worldwide hunting cartridges. It offers excellent killing power, adequately flat trajectory, and moderate recoil. A best seller in Scandinavia, it is also popular all across Europe, Africa, Australia, and the New World.

Federal, Remington, Speer, and Winchester each offer the 6.5x55 with a 140 grain spitzer bullet at a muzzle velocity (MV) of 2,550 fps and a muzzle energy (ME) 2,020 ft. lbs. Hornady has two 6.5x55 offerings in their Light Magnum line, a 129 grain Spire Point bullet at a MV of 2770 fps with ME of 2197 ft. lbs., and a 140 grain Spire Point bullet at a MV of 2740 fps and ME of 2333 ft. lbs.

European loads for the 6.5x55 tend to be hotter than the standard U.S. loads. Sellier & Bellot of the Czech Republic load their 140 grain soft point spitzer bullet for the 6.5x55 SE at a MV of 2645 fps. Sako of Finland offers a wider range of loads, including a 100 grain FMJ spitzer bullet at 2,625 fps, a 139 grain match bullet at 2,790 fps, and a 156 grain round nose bullet at 2,625 fps. Norma of Sweden loads their 139 grain Vulkan bullet to a MV of 2854 fps and ME of 2515 ft. lbs. They offer several loads with 156 grain bullets, the fastest of these being the Vulkan bullet at a MV of 2644 fps and ME of 2422 ft. lbs. These loads are typical of the performance European hunters expect from the 6.5x55.

The reloader with a modern bolt action rifle can do very well with the 6.5x55. Here are some specifications of interest to reloaders: bullet diameter .264", maximum COL 3.15", maximum case length 2.165", SAAMI MAP 46,000 cup/51,000 psi.

The SAAMI MAP for the 6.5x55 is kept low due to the many ancient surplus Krag-Jorgensen and M-94 Swedish Mausers sold in the U.S. If you are reloading for one of these old timers, avoid the maximum loads quoted below. Modern rifles chambered for the 6.5x55 can safely be loaded to 50,000 cup, and this is reflected in the maximum loads you will find in many reloading manuals.

The typical bullet weights for the 6.5x55 SE are 87-100 grain, 120 grain, 125 grain, 129-130 grain, 140 grain, 150-156 grain, and 160 grain. The 87-100 grain spitzer bullets are varmint bullets, the flat shooting 120 grain spitzer bullets are generally intended for the smaller deer and antelope species, the 125-130 grain spitzer bullets are excellent for all-around hunting, the 140 grain spitzer bullets combine the weight, SD, and BC for larger game at fairly long range, and the 150+ grain bullets are usually designed for large animals at medium range.

The 6.5x55 is a forgiving, well balanced cartridge and practically any medium-slow burning rifle powder will prove suitable. Among the powders tested that provided top accuracy for Nosler technicians were VARGET (with 100 grain bullets), AA-3100 (with 120 grain bullets), IMR 4350 (with 125 grain bullets), and RL-22 (with 140 grain bullets).

The Speer Reloading Manual No. 13 shows that their 120 grain spitzer bullet (BC .433) can be driven to a MV of 2650 fps with 45.0 grains of IMR 4831 powder, and 2886 fps with 49.0 grains of the same powder.

The Speer 140 grain spitzer (BC .496) can be driven to a MV of 2449 fps by 44.0 grains of RL22 powder, and 2671 fps by 48.0 grains of RL22.

Speer recommends the 120 grain bullet for antelope and the smaller deer, and the 140 grain bullet for large deer and black bear. The good old boys at Speer tested these loads in a Ruger M77 rifle with a 22" barrel, and used Federal cases and CCI 200 primers.

The Hornady Handbook of Cartridge Reloading, Sixth Edition shows that their sleek 129 grain Spire Point and SST bullets can be driven to a MV of 2700 fps by all eight powders listed. Examples would be 42.4 grains of IMR 4350, 45.5 grains of H450, 42.1 grains of Win. 760, or 45.4 grains of RL-22. A typical starter load would be represented by 34.4 grains of RL-22 for a MV of 2300 fps. These loads used Hornady brass and Winchester WLR primers, and were chronographed in a Model 1896 Mauser with an 29" barrel.

The fifth edition of the Nosler Reloading Guide lists loads for their excellent 125 grain Partition bullet in front of 41.5 grains of IMR 4350 powder at a MV of 2592 fps, and 45.5 grains of 4350 at a MV of 2910 fps. Norma cases and Remington 9 1/2 primers were fired in a 23" barrel to develop these loads.

The Sierra Edition V data manual shows that 36.5 grains of RL-22 behind their 160 grain bullet is good for a MV of 2200 fps, while 40.5 grains of RL-22 can drive the same bullet to a MV of 2400 fps. Federal cases and Federal 210 primers along with a Model 96 Swedish Mauser rifle with a 29" barrel was used to develop these loads.

The 6.5x55 is one of my very favorite hunting cartridges and very easy to reload. Almost any hunter/reloader who tries it is bound to be pleased.

Note: A full length article about the 6.5x55 SE can be found on the Rifle Cartridge Page.

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Copyright 2004, 2013 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.