Full disclosure. I am 100% a fan of the 6.5 Grendel. Ever since I built my first AR15 chambered in the Grendel, I have enjoyed it. It was the first rifle that I built that produced sub-MOA groups, and ballisticaly speaking on paper, the cartridge is a huge step up from the venerable 5.56 NATO. With that being said, is it still relevant in the gas gun world?
Now that the 6.5 Creedmoor has effectively taken the crown as the long range, commercially available champ, and with availability getting better for the .224 Valkyrie, is there still a place for the 6.5 Grendel? My answer would be, “What do you want out of your rifle?”A Short and Confusing HistoryBill Alexander of Alexander Arms and Janne Pohjoispää originally developed the 6.5 Grendel back in 2003. The case is based off of the original .220 Russian as the parent case, which the 7.62x39mm also shares.
This cartridge was designed to be a relatively flat shooting cartridge, which was optimized by using a 6.5mm projectile. The 6.5mm bullet has been a favorite of long range shooters for some time now. Its sectional density and ballistic coefficient lends itself to excel at longer ranges, whether punching paper or on game animals. In the beginning, Alexander Arms owned the trademark for the 6.5 Grendel. Once the trademark was lifted, SAAMI standardized the cartridge. This led to a few minor problems and bumps in the road for the cartridge.
When sourcing parts for the 6.5 Grendel, you may find some different names floating around. Specifically, Type 1, Type 2, .264 LBC, or 6.5 Grendel. This all stems from the original trademark on the name and the barrel chambering. A type 1, or .264 LBC chamber is slightly different than the Type 2, or 6.5 Grendel chamber to avoid legal issues.
This is all based off of the head spacing, and that is why they use different bolt faces. The Type 1/.264LBC bolt uses a bolt face recess of .125″, while the Type2/6.5 Grendel uses a .136″ recess.
Most common manufacturers use the Type 2/6.5 Grendel chamber and bolt, and generally speaking, that is the most common type on the market today. Ammo for the 6.5 Grendel works for either chamber.
Factory Ammo and Manufacturers
Ammunition selection has become more diverse as well in the last few years, with options from Federal Premium with their 130 grain Bergers, 90 grain TNTs, American Eagle 120 grain OTM, or their Federal Fusion MSR loads in 120 grain. Hornady has a varied selection with their 123 grain ELDs, the 123 grain SSTs, and their 120 grain American Gunner BTHPs. Precision shooters will also like offerings from Alexander Arms using 120 grain Nosler BTs. Even if you are on a tight budge, Wolf steel case ammunition can be bought by the case at prices slightly higher than steel case 5.56/.223.
Finding a complete 6.5 Grendel rifle, or a complete upper receiver, is a fairly easy task. Alexander Arms has always been known to produce fabulous Grendel rifles, and you can find dedicated manufacturers like www.grendelhunter.com that offer MOA guarantees.
Even more mainstream manufacturers like Palmetto State Armory are producing cost effective, well built rifles that can produce MOA accuracy right out of the box. I was lucky enough to be invited to a media event at the High Bar Homestead in Gillette, WY to shoot some of Palmetto State Armory’s lineup from last year.
Ringing Steel Out to 1000 Yards
The 6.5 Grendel excels where the 5.56 NATO starts to fail. Using a rifle from Palmetto State Armory 6.5 Grendel, it made the task relatively easy as well. Considering that I reside in the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains, I don’t have much long range experience in Western Pennsylvania. I needed all the help I could get being a long range newbie. The test rifle that I was able to get my hands on was already pre-zeroed at 200 yards by the PSA staff.
I verified the zero at 200 yards, and quickly punched out further to 300 yards holding dead center on the head of a silhouette steel target.
Impacts were very clear with the Vortex Viper PST 5-25x50mm FFP scope that was sitting on top of the rifle. Within a handful of shots, I was zeroed at 500 yards, ringing an 6″ swing plate that sat at the center mass of the 500 yard steel silhouette. Step by step, I reached out to 1000 yards within my first 2 magazines.
Even though the wind was unpredictable at times, and I had to deal with a significant mirage down range, I was able to make regular hits on a steel silhouette at 1000 yards.
I also received a complete upper receiver from Palmetto State Armory after my trip. The model they sent me featured an 18″ stainless barrel with a 15″ MLOK handguard. Fit and finish were great, and 6.5 Grendel was prominently laser etched onto the bolt carrier. After mounting one of my ACME Machine 6-24x50mm FFP scopes on top, I took the rifle to my family’s farm for a little range time.
On hand, I had some Hornady 123 grain ELDs, 123 grain SSTs, and also some Federal Fusion 120 grain Bonded PSPs. After initial paper punching at 25 yards, I zeroed at 100 yards, and began to go to work testing out the different loads for accuracy.
Accuracy At A Good Price
After firing some five-round groups with each load, my best 100 yard group was with the Hornady 123 grain ELDs, which wasn’t much of a surprise.
Most 6.5 Grendels I have shot using this ammunition generally have 1 MOA or better accuracy. My best 5 shot group with the ELDs measured in at .76″ at 100 yards with a slight flyer from the other 4 rounds.
This was after a little break-in period, and I actually saw a slight improvement when I pushed out further.
At 400 yards, my best group measured in at 2.85″ and came out to .68 MOA.
With Hornady’s 123 grain SSTs, I was able to keep 5 shot groups at 100 yards within 1-1.25″.
The Federal Fusion MSR 120 grain PSPs opened up a little bit with my best 5 shot group coming in at 2.38″ at 100 yards.
I would expect this to tighten up a little bit after breaking in the stainless barrel. Considering the upper that was sent to me retails for only $369.99, with blemish models coming in lower, the price to value and quality ratio is very high.
Should You Get a Grendel?
So, obviously the Grendel is a capable cartridge. As mentioned before, it definitely takes off where the .223 Remington starts to fall off the cliff. But why should anyone buy one when there are other more capable cartridges on the market?
Well, if you are using your rifle within 800 yards, want a flatter trajectory than a standard .223 Remington, and could use the cartridge in a hunting roll, the 6.5 Grendel would be my choice for factory available cartridges.
While the .224 Valkyrie is generally a better cartridge past 1,000 yards, due to less wind drift and less drop due to a higher B.C., the Grendel does have more kinetic energy for hunting than the newer .224 Valkyrie. Also, the fact that cheap practice loads can be bought in the steel case variety with the Grendel can make it bank account friendly.
Grendel vs. Creedmoor and Takeaway
When you compare the 6.5 Grendel to the 6.5 Creedmoor, there is a much bigger difference in performance, but the Grendel still has certain things going for it. For example, the weight of an AR-15 is generally much less than that of a rifle in 6.5 Creedmoor, and can be made lighter for much cheaper when compared to an AR-10 platform rifle.
In my opinion, the Grendel is an excellent cartridge, and is a top contender for best performing cartridge for the AR platform. The most important thing though that needs to be considered is that “variety is the spice of life.” Own all three, have fun shooting on the range, and taking game in the field!