The .260, Remington's Best Hunting Cartridge?

By Chuck Hawks

.260 Rem.
Not shown to scale. Illustration courtesy of Nosler.

Although generally considered a European caliber, several sporting 6.5mm (.26 caliber) cartridges have been developed in the US over the years. The best known of these are the .264 Winchester Magnum, 6.5mm Remington Magnum, 6.5mm-284 and the more recent .260 Remington. All are fine cartridges, but the latter is the most popular and has made its bones as both a long range match cartridge and a superb hunting cartridge.

Introduced in 1997, Remington's .260 uses standard 6.5mm (.264") bullets loaded into a necked-down .308 Winchester case lenthened by .020" for a case length of 2.035". Give gun writer Jim Carmichael credit for the development of the wildcat 6.5mm-08 that preceded the .260. The cartridge quickly caught the attention of target shooters, who loved its long range accuracy and low wind drift. A-Square actually submitted the 6.5mm-08 to SAAMI for standardization before Remington, but their application was ignored in favor of Remington's.

The .260 Remington is a modern cartridge somewhat shorter than the old 6.5x55 Swede with similar capability. In the U.S. it is loaded to higher pressures (60,000 psi using the transducer method) than the 6.5x55. Consequently, the .260's performance is superior to that of the older cartridge. With European 6.5x55 SE factory loads or handloads for a modern rifle, the two cartridges are capable of nearly identical performance. Since the .260 is based on the .308 Winchester case, as are the popular .243, 7mm-08 and .308, finding a supply of brass to reload should never be a problem.

When Remington standardized the .260, they carelessly specified a 1 turn in 10" rifling twist and early Remington Model Sevens and Model 700's were so rifled. This twist is too slow to properly stabilize bullets weighing 120 grains or more. As a result of this fiasco, the cartridge's reputation for accuracy suffered. Realizing their error, Remington quickly switched to a 1 in 9" twist in their rifles, which ameliorated the problem, but the damage had been done and .260 sales languished. (Shades of Remington's similar mistake with the .244!)

It has taken a full decade, not to mention a lot of kind words in the pages of Guns and Shooting Online, to turn the situation around. In this regard, it is worth noting that Kimber .260 rifles have always come with a 1 in 9" twist and Ruger's come with a 1 in 8" twist (excellent for 140-160 grain bullets).

Remington currently (2009) offers the .260 in their lightweight Model 7 rifle with a 20" barrel and their Model 700 with a 24" barrel. Browning, Kimber, Ruger, Savage, Steyer-Mannlicher, Thompson/Center and Winchester produce or have produced rifles in .260. Any rifle chambered for the .243, 7mm-08 or .308 could be chambered for the .260. I hope that, as time goes by, most will be.

The .26/6.5mm cartridges use relatively small diameter, but heavy for their caliber, bullets for big game hunting. These bullets combine high sectional density (SD) for exceptional penetration with high ballistic coefficients (BC) for flat trajectory with minimum recoil. This is a winning combination, unsurpassed by any other caliber.

The .260 Rem. can be regarded as a minimum "all-around" caliber. It offers adequate power for big game hunting and flat trajectory with minimum recoil. Because of this, it is particularly suitable for lightweight rifles like the Remington Model Seven or Kimber Model 84M. According to the "Rifle Recoil Table" on the Tables, Charts and Lists page, a 7.5 pound rifle firing a 120 grain bullet at a muzzle velocity (MV) of 2,860 fps generates 13 ft. lbs. of recoil energy.

This makes the .260 one of the softest shooting of the "all-around" cartridges and it is widely considered an excellent choice for beginning big game hunters, more powerful and versatile than the .243 Winchester. It is also a top pick among experienced hunters, who realize that recoil is cumulative and the .260 packs plenty of punch for all species of CXP2 game.

In 2009, Federal, Fusion, Remington, Cor-Bon, Black Hills and Stars & Stripes offer factory loads for the .260 Remington in the US. The most common bullet weights are 120 grains (SD = .246) and 140 grains (SD = .287). The handloader also has 87-100 grain, 125 grain, 129-130 grain, 150 grain and 156-165 grain hunting bullets from which to choose.

Generally speaking, the 87-100 grain bullets are for varmints and small predators. The 120-130 grain bullets are intended for medium size deer, sheep, goats and antelope. 140 grain bullets are the favorite choice for larger or tougher animals like wild boar, black bear or caribou and are the traditional general purpose bullet weight for 6.5mm cartridges. The heavy 150-160 grain bullets are for the largest non-dangerous game and European 156 grain factory loads for the 6.5x55 are widely used for hunting Scandinavian moose.

If these bullet weights seem a little light for their intended applications, note their SD relative to popular bullet weights in other calibers. For instance, the .264 caliber 120 grain bullet has a SD of .247, virtually the same as a 165 grain "all-around" .30 caliber bullet. The 125 grain .264 bullet has a SD of .256, identical to that of the famous 170 grain .30-30 bullet. The 129 grain .264 bullet has a SD of .264, very similar to a 178 grain .30 bullet. The long 140 grain .264 bullet has an outstanding SD of .287, which is essentially identical to a 190 grain .30 bullet. The incredible 160 grain .264 bullet has a SD of .328, about like a 220 grain .30 bullet.

The Remington Premier 120 grain factory load features an AccuTip boat-tail bullet at a MV of 2890 fps with a muzzle energy (ME) of 2226 ft. lbs. At 200 yards the figures are 2494 fps and 1657 ft. lbs. Hodgdon reloading data shows the MV of maximum handloads with 120 grain bullets from a 24" barrel to be about 2935-2968 fps, depending on the powder used. Nosler ballistic tables show the trajectory of their 120 grain Ballistic Tip bullet at a MV of 2900 fps as follows: +4" at 100 yards, +4.8" at 200 yards, 0 at 300 yards, and -11.4" at 400 yards.

The 125-130 grain bullets offer interesting possibilities in the .260 Remington and may be the best all-around bullet weights for the caliber. With sectional densities of .256-.264 they are essentially equivalent to a 140 grain bullet in a .270 or a 145-150 grain bullet in the 7mm calibers, which are regarded as "all-around" bullets in their respective calibers. Notable and widely available spitzer bullets in these weights include the 129 grain Hornady Spire Point Interlock, the premium 125 grain Nosler Partition and 130 grain Barnes TSX bullet. According to Accurate Powders reloading data, the 125 grain Nosler Partition bullet can be driven to MV's in the 2900 fps region. It would be hard to argue against this as an all-around medium game (pronghorn antelope to mule deer) load.

The Federal and Remington factory loads using 140 grain bullets have a MV of 2,750 fps and a ME of 2,350 ft. lbs. Zero a scoped hunting rifle to hit 2.7" high at 100 yards and it should hit about 3" high at 130 yards, 1.7" high at 200 yards and 3" low at 275 yards. Notable for use on tough game is the Remington Core-Lokt Ultra Bonded bullet. The 140 grain factory loads have the killing power to take large game like caribou at ranges in excess of 200 yards.

Reloading data from the Hodgdon Powder Number 27 Data Manual for the 120 grain Speer spitzer bullet shows a MV of 2814 fps using 43.5 grains of H4350 powder and a MV of 2960 fps in front of 46.5 grains of H4350 powder. Pressure was measured at 58,200 psi with the latter load. These would be an excellent long range loads for the medium size species of big game.

Hodgdon's reloading data for the 125 grain Nosler Partition bullet shows a MV of 2725 fps using 45.0 grains of H4831 powder and a MV of 2862 fps with a maximum charge of 48.0 grains of the same powder. Pressure was measured at 58,000 psi with the maximum load.

Hodgdon's reloading data for the 140 grain Nosler Partition spitzer bullet shows a MV of 2619 fps with 48.0 grains of H1000 powder and a MV of 2730 fps in front of 50.5 grains of H1000. The pressure of the latter load was 57,000 psi. Remington cases and primers were used to develop all of the Hodgdon loads quoted here.

Remember that these velocities were all taken in 24" barrels. The technicians at Speer chronographed some of their (now discontinued) Speer Nitrex 140 grain factory loads in a Model 700 with a 24" barrel and a Model 7 with a 20" barrel. In the 24" barrel of the Model 700 the velocity was 2,731 fps, but in the 20" barrel of the Model 7 the velocity was only 2,597 fps. Other loads will show a similar velocity loss. Speer technicians estimate 80-140 fps less velocity, depending on the bullet weight and powder charge.

The once largely ignored .26/6.5mm calibers finally seem to be making some headway with North American shooters and the best of the modern 6.5's is the .260 Remington. Maybe it really is Remington's best hunting cartridge.

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Copyright 1999, 2015 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.