Hornady's 6.5mm PRC

By Chuck Hawks

6.5mm PRC
Illustration courtesy of Hornady Manufacturing Co.

Climbing back on the 6.5mm bandwagon, this time with a magnum cartridge, Hornady revealed their 6.5mm PRC late in 2017. This is a new for 2018 short magnum, dual purpose, long range match and hunting cartridge. In case you were wondering, "PRC" stands for Precision Rifle Cartridge, not People's Republic of China (Red China), as most of the world's population and the politically inclined in the US might initially think.

Hornady states the 6.5mm Precision Rifle Cartridge was designed to take advantage of their (extremely low drag) ELD Match bullets. This may sound like a familiar claim, as the earlier 6.5mm Creedmoor was also designed around such bullets. In fact, Hornady refers to the 6.5mm PRC as the 6.5mm Creedmoor's big brother. (Perhaps this makes the 6mm Creedmoor the 6.5mm Creedmoor's little brother, as it was also designed for ELD match bullets.)

Like the 6.5mm Creedmoor, the 6.5 PRC was apparently intended to appeal primarily to Precision Rifle Shooting competitors, although the latest trend in PRS seems to be away from the 6.5mm Creedmoor to lighter kicking 6mm cartridges, such as Hornady's 6mm Creedmoor. This does not bode well for the 6.5 PRC in PRS competition, as it kicks harder than the 6.5mm Creedmoor.

High velocity, consistent pressure performance and reasonable barrel life were additional design goals. In practical terms, I would think the barrel life would be somewhat shorter than for a .270 Winchester, as the 6.5 PRC is driving a similar weight bullet at similar velocity with more powder down a smaller bore.

The 6.5mm PRC is said to be based on a .300 Ruger Compact Magnum (RCM) case necked-down to accept 6.5mm (.264") bullets. This is a short, fat, belt-less magnum case 2.10" long with a standard .532" magnum rim and head diameter. The shoulder angle is a sharp 30 degrees and the case neck exceeds one caliber in length. The 6.5 PRC can be used in either a short (.300 RCM length) or standard (.300 Win. Mag. length) rifle action with a magnum bolt face. The maximum cartridge overall length should presumably be held to 2.84" if intended for use in .300 RCM length actions and magazines.

The 6.5mm PRC is being released as a factory load in the Hornady Match (#81620) and Precision Hunter (#81621) ammunition lines. The match load uses a 147 grain ELD bullet, while the hunting load uses a 143 grain ELD-X expanding bullet. Both of these bullets feature exceptionally high ballistic coefficients (BC) and Hornady's Heat Shield polymer tip that, unlike some plastic tipped bullets, does not melt on its trip down the barrel or from aerodynamic heating during its high speed trip downrange.

The 147 grain Match load features a claimed MV of 2910 fps and a G1 BC of .697 (G7 BC .351). The 143 grain Precision Hunter load features a claimed MV of 2960 fps and a G1 BC of .623 (G7 BC .314).

Hornady literature states the following about the 6.5mm PRC:

"The name says it all! The 6.5 Precision Rifle Cartridge was designed to achieve the highest levels of accuracy, flat trajectory and extended range performance in a sensibly designed compact package."

"Utilizing moderate powder charges that result in repeatable accuracy, low recoil and reasonable barrel life, the 6.5 PRC produces high velocities for target shooting with performance well beyond 1000 yards."

"Rifle makers currently chambering the 6.5 PRC include GA Precision, Gunwerks, Horizon Firearms, PROOF Research, Stuteville Precision and Seekins Precision. Check back often as additional gun manufacturers confirm chambering the 6.5 PRC."

Hornady 6.5mm PRC Match 147 grain ELD factory load (SD .301)

Here are the velocity (feet per second) / energy (foot pounds) figures for the Hornady Match load, measured from a 24" test barrel:

  • 2910 fps/2764 ft. lbs at muzzle, 2775 fps/2514 ft. lbs. at 100 yards, 2645 fps/2283 ft. lbs. at 200 yards, 2518 fps/2069 ft. lbs. at 300 yards, 2395 fps/1871 ft. lbs. at 400 yards, 2275 fps/1689 ft. lbs. at 500 yards

The published trajectory of that load from a rifle with a scope mounted 1.5" over the bore looks like this:

  • -1.5" at muzzle, +1.5" at 100 yards, 0 at 200 yards, -6.5" at 300 yards, -18.4" at 400 yards, -36.5" at 500 yards

Hornady 6.5mm PRC Precision Hunter 143 grain ELD-X factory load (SD .293)

This is intended to be an all-around, Class 2 (deer) and Class 3 (elk) game load. From the 6.5 PRC, the 143 grain ELD-X bullet is claimed to reliably expand from the muzzle to over 400 yards. Expansion is stated to be continuous throughout its penetration path.

The controlled expansion, 143 grain ELD-X bullet features a secant ogive design with an optimized boat-tail base. Upon impact, the Heat Shield tip is driven rearward into the lead alloy core to initiate bullet expansion. A thick shank and Internal InterLock ring mechanically retains the lead core in the gilding metal jacket, achieving 50-60% weight retention at normal ranges, where impact velocity remains high, and 85-90% weight retention at 400+ yards, where impact velocity and expansion--and consequently killing power--is substantially reduced.

Here are the velocity (in feet per second) / energy (in foot pounds) figures for the Hornady Precision Hunter load, measured from a 24" test barrel:

  • 2960 fps/2782 ft. lbs at muzzle, 2808 fps/2503 ft. lbs. at 100 yards, 2661 fps/2248 ft. lbs. at 200 yards, 2519 fps/2014 ft. lbs. at 300 yards, 2381 fps/1800 ft. lbs. at 400 yards, 2248 fps/1604 ft. lbs. at 500 yards

The published trajectory of that load from a rifle with a scope mounted 1.5" over the bore looks like this:

  • -1.5" at muzzle, +1.5" at 100 yards, 0 at 200 yards, -6.4" at 300 yards, -18.2" at 400 yards, -36.2" at 500 yards


The fact is that by the end of the 1960s all of the gaps in the rifle hunting cartridge line-up had been filled and almost all of the hunting cartridges introduced since merely duplicate the ballistics of previous cartridges. This truism applies to the 6.5 PRC, which essentially duplicates the performance of the 6.5mm Remington Magnum (introduced in the mid-1960s), .264 Winchester Magnum (introduced in the mid-1950s) and the European 6.5x68mm Schuler, which was introduced by RWS in 1940. For comparison, current Winchester .264 factory loads launch a 140 grain bullet at a MV of 3030 fps and typical European 6.5x68mm loads launch a 140 grain bullet at 2920 fps.

Per Hornady reloading data, the 6.5mm Remington Magnum, which (along with the .350 Rem. Mag.) was the first of the short action magnum cartridges and well ahead of its time, can launch the 143 grain ELD-X bullet at a MV of 2900 fps. Nosler reloading data credits the 6.5mm Rem. Mag. with MVs up to 3059 fps with their 142 grain AccuBond Long Range bullet (BC .719), so clearly the performance of the 6.5 PRC, despite its modern design, breaks no new ground.

As a hunting cartridge, the 6.5 PRC actually has no practical advantage over the vastly more popular and successful .270 Winchester (a 140 grain bullet at 2950 fps from typical factory loads). The two cartridges generate almost identical killing power scores (KPS). You can find .270 rifles and ammunition everywhere in the world big game animals are hunted, which is a huge practical advantage.

Rifle, ammunition, bullet and riflescope manufacturers have rushed to take advantage of the current, marketing driven, long range shooting craze. Long range shooting over known distances from a solid rest at paper or metal targets can be a challenging and rewarding sport.

Shooting at live animals at extended ranges in the field is an entirely different proposition and should be avoided like the plague. The less experienced a hunter is, the more he or she seems to be fascinated by the allure of long range shooting. Experienced hunters, with a more realistic understanding of their own ability and the variable factors that affect long range ballistics, typically eschew such shots. They have learned that there is NO justification for taking a shot that risks wounding and losing a valuable game animal. It is far better to stalk closer, or wait until another day for a certain, one shot kill.

Game department studies have shown that, even shooting from a blind with a solid rest, the percentage of wounded and lost animals skyrockets when shots are attempted beyond about 160 yards. Here at Guns and Shooting Online, our policy is never to attempt a shot at a game animal beyond the +/- 3" maximum point blank range (MPBR) of the cartridge and load.

In the case of the 6.5mm PRC shooting a 143 grain ELD-X bullet at a MV of 2960 fps at sea level, the MPBR (+/- 3") is 299 yards. To achieve this MPBR, a rifle with a scope mounted 1.5" over bore should be zeroed to hit +2.56" at 100 yards, which puts the bullet dead on at 254 yards and 3" low at 299 yards.

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Copyright 2017 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.