It’s perhaps once in a generation that we see a new rifle cartridge come along and re-define the paradigm. New rifle cartridges are not that rare, but those that re-write the rules are, and the 6.5 Creedmoor changed the world of shooting.
The cartridge was very mission-specific in its design. Its stated purpose is for long range target shooting, and the cartridge was designed specifically for long, sleek, high-ballistic-coefficient, heavy-for-caliber bullets. The cartridge stays supersonic and maintains its accuracy to past 1,200 yards.
The cartridge also proved to be exceptionally accurate. For whatever reason—a perfect blend of dimensions, or just voodoo—the inherent accuracy of the 6.5 Creedmoor is astonishing. Savage Arms’ Bill Dermody told me that they test every rifle they build for accuracy. For years, the most accurate cartridge across the board was the .308 Winchester. Now it’s the 6.5 Creedmoor.
That’s why, when I decided to commission a new long-range, precision rifle in 2014, I wanted it chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor, mostly because of its reputation for accuracy.
It is not uncommon for that rifle to shoot ¼ MOA or smaller 100-yard groups. The first time I shot it at long range, I shot a group at 200 yards that measured four-tenths of an inch. That translates to 0.2 MOA. That same day I shot a 5-shot group that measured 2.8 inches, at 500 yards, equivalent to 0.56 MOA. I shot another five-shot group at 300 yards that measured 1.2 inches. That is 0.4 MOA. All with factory loaded ammo! My handloads shoot even better. This is easily the most accurate rifle I have ever owned, and the 6.5 Creedmoor is a big part of the reason.
A Slow Start
Introduced in 2008 (more on its evolution later), the cartridge got off to a bit of a slow start. Long-range shooters recognized the cartridge’s potential right out of the gate, but their numbers were relatively few at the time. So the cartridge struggled along, doing great work but going virtually unrecognized for its accomplishments.
Then, all of a sudden, long-range shooting became the next big thing. Shooters flocked to Precision Rifle Shooting competitions, and many of them wanted a rifle chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor.
Part of what’s fueling this trend is the availability of affordable rifles. True long-range target rifles were expensive and mostly custom-built until Ruger changed everything with their Ruger Precision Rifle, with a price shooters could afford ($1399-$1599).
Now the 6.5 Creedmoor is a true phenomenon. Chris Hodgdon of Hodgdon Powder Company told me they are having trouble keeping H4350 powder in stock because of the huge demand fueled by reloaders of the 6.5 Creedmoor. “The entire shooting world has gone nuts over the 6.5 Creedmoor,” he said.
If that’s not enough, during the 2016 SHOT Show a representative for E. R. Shaw, a company that makes both aftermarket barrels and new rifles told me that the 6.5 Creedmoor accounts for half of their production.
Creating the Creedmoor
The cartridge was conceived at the Civilian Marksmanship Program’s 2007 National Matches at Camp Perry, when Hornady engineer Dave Emary and High Power National Champion Dennis DeMille were talking about the 6mm wildcat cartridges that were popular in the sport.
The trouble with wildcat cartridges is too many shooters think they can come up with a formula that will beat the laws of physics, and problems start to happen. Emary and DeMille thought it would be great if there was a cartridge that followed current popular design, was accurate enough to win, and was available from a commercial ammo manufacturer using SAAMI (Sporting Arms and Ammunition Institute) guidelines and standards.
Emary and fellow Hornady engineer Joe Thielen put their heads together, and the result was the 6.5 Creedmoor. According to Emary, “People were having a lot of problems with functioning the 6mms. They were running these things at very high pressures to try to get the performance they need to compete. Our solution was to go to a 6.5, firing a lot higher BC bullet, and not have to push it as hard to get what they wanted.”
Emary and Thielen looked at other short-action .264 cartridges and made some changes to the chamber throat angle and other specifications to accommodate long-ogive, high-ballistic coefficient bullets. As a result, they were able to extract better performance than is commonly seen from other 6.5 mm short-action cartridges.
The 6.5 Creedmoor they come up with has an odd parentage, with forebears in lever-action rifles.
The .307 Winchester was introduced in 1982 as round with ballistics nearly identical to the .308 Winchester. It was designed for the Winchester Big Bore Model 94 lever-action rifle, which is not exactly ready for 1,000-yard competitions. The .307 Winchester never achieved much success and is no longer chambered in any commercial rifle.
However, the .307 Winchester case was used to make the .30 TC, which was introduced in 2007. Thompson Center had commissioned Hornady to design a proprietary 30-caliber cartridge for the introduction of their bolt-action Icon rifle. Emary shortened the .307 Winchester case, thinned the thick case walls, and removed the rim. The result didn’t achieve success, and the .30 TC died a quick and merciful death. But when Emary and Thielen necked the .30 TC down to take a .264-inch bullet, it became the 6.5 Creedmoor.
Anatomy and Ability
The 6.5 Creedmoor cartridge has a .473-inch diameter case head, the same as the .30-06 family of cartridges. It has a 30-degree shoulder and the case length is 1.920 inches. The overall cartridge length is 2.825 inches. There is almost an inch of difference (.905) between the case length and the overall cartridge length. That allowed the long 6.5mm, 140-grain, high-ballistic coefficient, VLD and ELD style bullets to extend from the case rather than being seated deep inside, which eats up powder space.
The muzzle velocity for the 140-grain factory load is 2,710 fps. This matches almost exactly the muzzle velocity of the .260 Remington with the same weight bullet, even though the .260 Remington has a larger case. That’s due to less intrusion into the powder space from the long bullets, and because the SAAMI Mean Average Pressure for the 6.5 Creedmoor is 62,000 psi, while the .260 Remington’s MAP is 60,000 psi.
Factory-loaded ammo is available from Hornady, Nosler, Winchester, and most recently, Federal. They jumped into the arena with a new load from American Eagle. The new AE ammo features a 140-grain open-tip match bullet with a B.C. of .58. With a muzzle velocity of 2,700 feet per second, the bullet stays supersonic until 1,350 yards.
I tested this load in the new Savage Model 10 BA Stealth chassis rifle. The average for five, 5-shot groups at 100 yards was .96-inch. This was a very close second-best of all four of the ammo products tested in this gun.
I also shot a few groups in my custom 6.5 Creedmoor rifle, and the average for 5 shots was .60-inch. This puts the budget priced ammo right up there accuracy-wise with the most accurate factory loads.
Rolling Your Own
The 6.5 Creedmoor is a handloader’s dream cartridge. In addition to brass from afore-mentioned sources, Norma also makes wonderful 6.5 Creedmoor brass. High B.C. target bullets as well as a wide range of hunting bullets are offered by just about every bullet maker. While Hodgdon’s H4350 is the most popular propellant for this cartridge, it works well with a wide range of medium-burning rifle powders, including Alliant RL-17.
In terms of long-range performance, I shot the 6.5 Creedmoor out to 1,400 yards at the FTW ranch and shooting school in Barksdale, Texas. My rifle there was a Ruger FTW Predator Rifle. With one exception, I was able to make first-shot hits on one-MOA size targets from 300 yards out to 1,200 yards (I missed the 700-yard target with my first attempt). I owned that single miss free and clear, and hit the target with my second shot.
Bullet velocity of the 6.5 Creedmoor drops to sub-sonic somewhere between the 1,200-and 1,400-yard targets. Things became a bit less predictable and I was only able to hit the 1,400-yard target about 70 percent of the time. Considering that the closest rival in a short action cartridge, the .308 Winchester, drops to sub-sonic well shy of 1,000 yards, this is impressive performance. The truth is, when it comes to long-range rifle accuracy, this little cartridge is the current king.
Bryce M. Towsley’s latest book, “Prepper Guns,” is available with free shipping for limited time from www.brycetowsley.com.