The 6.5 Creedmoor phenomenon has muddied the waters and confused a lot of hunters. The efficient little cartridge has become so popular, so ubiquitous, that many shooters are ascribing it powers it can’t live up to. Yeah, it’s a great, low-recoil round for precision shooting at ridiculous distances. But it’s not a super cartridge.
In fact, there are many cartridges that outshoot the Creedmoor.
Before you condemn me to the lower levels of Dante’s Inferno, consider external ballistics — the stability, accuracy, drop, deflection, and kinetic energy of the bullet in flight. What the bullet does in flight and when it strikes game are what matters, not the cartridge’s size, shape, or title. A cartridge’s size and shape, however, determine how much velocity they can give a bullet. So size does matter. It’s obviously unfair to pit a 6.5 Creedmoor (41 grains of powder) against a 6.5-300 Weatherby Magnum (78 grains of powder.) But it should be fair to compare many other cartridges to the Creed. Specifically, we should compare other rounds commonly used to hunt similar species (whitetails, mule deer, pronghorns, and coyotes) and cartridges that launch bullets of similar weight at roughly similar velocities with similar recoil.
Let’s define those parameters. The Creedmoor gets its longrange performance reputation from a combination of 140- to 143-grain, high B.C. bullets and fast twist rifling, usually 1:8 or even 1:7.5. Full house loads in 7-pound rifles recoil with about 15.7 ft.-lbs. energy at a recoil velocity of 12 fps. You can choose lighter bullets from 100 grains to 130 grains, too, for higher velocities, flatter trajectories, and even less recoil.
Many other cartridges fit this category, but before introducing them, recognize that muzzle velocities vary significantly from rifle to rifle, load to load. Barrel length, chamber dimensions, etc., can add or subtract 100 fps, even as much as 200 fps from the same ammunition. Handloaders often tread on dangerous ice by pushing excessive pressures to gain speed. So we’ll stick with sensible velocity averages as listed in handloading manuals and/or ammo manufacturers’ published claims.
Understand there are many ways to measure cartridge/bullet performance. Obviously drop, wind deflection, and energy are important. But so is Maximum Point Blank Range, the distance at which a dead-on hold puts the bullet within the desired vital target area. Zeroing a rifle for MPBR provides maximum efficiency and permits quick target engagement. Because most commonly hunted “big game” species from pronghorn to moose have at least an 8-inch circle of vital tissue (broadside, chest,) we’ll use 8 inches as our target size and zero each cartridge/bullet for its MPBR so that bullets aimed dead center do not rise above nor fall below this circle.
1. 6.5 Creedmoor
Here, then, are the pertinent numbers on 6.5 Creedmoor performance with one of its optimum loads, a 143-grain Hornady ELD-X (recoil: 15.8 ft.-lbs. at 12 fps) at 2,700 fps zeroed for Maximum Point Blank Range for a 6-inch diameter target and fired in a 10 mph right angle wind.
Please note: Each shot for every cartridge was calculated for bullet drop, drift, and energy (D/D/E).
- Bullet/B.C.: 143gr/.625
- Muzzle Velocity: 2700
- MPBR: 307y.
- 300-yard D/D/E: -3.3/5.2/1658
- 600-yard D/D/E: -65.7/22.4/1157
- 800-yard D/D/E: -154/42/898
2. .260 Remington
The 6.5 Creedmoor and 260 Remington aren’t peas in a pod, but they are about as close to the same as can be found. Same diameter, same short-action length. The Creedmoor was engineered with slight dimensional changes to maximize performance as a target round. When both are loaded with Nosler’s long, high B.C. 142-grain AccuBond Long Range bullet, the .260 holds about .6 more grains of water. As a result, the .260 (recoil: 17.3 ft.-lbs.at 12.6 fps) drives bullets roughly 50 to 100 fps faster than the 6.5 Creedmoor. This provides small but real performance gains. No game animal will notice the differences, but some shooters might.
- Bullet/B.C.: 142gr/.625
- Muzzle Velocity: 2800
- MPBR: 318-y.
- 300-yard D/D/E: -3/4.9/1780
- 600-yard D/D/E: –60.6/21.2/1250
- 800-yard D/D/E: -141/40/973
While the .260, which is the good old .308 Winchester case necked down to .264 inches, clearly does outperform the Creedmoor ballistically, shooters should consider rifle and ammunition availability and cost. Right now more variety is available in 6.5 Creedmoor and prices, due to volume, are slightly lower, but the differences are minor. Handloaders will do fine with either.
3. 6.5×55 Swedish
This 1892 creation started the whole 6.5mm field. It’s the darling of traditionalists (old guys.) Ballistically it falls between the 6.5 Creedmoor and .260 despite having about 3 grains more water capacity than the .260. A major strike against it is that factory ammunition is throttled back to a maximum chamber pressure of just 47,000 psi to make it safe in any old, potentially weak military actions. In modern rifles, handloaders routinely and safely ramp up to match or exceed 6.5 Creedmoor performance. Because this falls between the Creedmoor and Remington, I won’t bother to print out the data. The three strikes against the Swede are those low-pressure factory rounds, the rarity of modern rifles chambered in 6.5×55 Swede, and a non-standard overall cartridge length of 3.150 inches. This makes it too long for many short-action magazines, but in standard-length actions (.270 Win., .30/06 length) it shines. There’s so much room that handloaders can seat extremely long bullets well out to maximize powder capacity.
4. 25-06 Remington
Here’s our first true long-action cartridge, which some will say disqualifies it for comparison. But remember, we’re comparing cartridges used for similar purposes — deer hunting, mainly — and throwing similar weight bullets. The 25-06 shoots 85-grain to 120-grain bullets, but suffers slightly from a poor selection of high B.C. bullets. Aside from one Blackjack ACE 131-grain Match bullet (G7 B.C. of .340, G1 of .685) most .257 bullets top out at 120 grains. The highest B.C.s come in 115- and 117-grain bullets, like the Berger 115-grain VLD Hunting, G-1 B.C. .466. Most 25-06 (recoil: 18.6 ft./lbs. at 13 fps) with the standard 1:10-inch twist, 24-inch barrels should reach an honest 3,100 fps with this bullet.
- Bullet/B.C.: 115gr/.466
- Muzzle Velocity: 3100
- MPBR: 341-y.
- 300-yard D/D/E: -0.7/5.8/1600
- 600-yard D/D/E: -51/26/1001
- 800-yard D/D/E: -127/50/713
With an internal water volume 12 grains larger than the Creedmoor’s, the 25-06 clearly has the horsepower to leave the Creedmoor sucking wind, but barrels are not given sufficient twist to stabilize the long bullets needed to push B.C.s to Creedmoor levels. Get a custom, fast-twist barrel like the 1:7.5 Shaw Barrels offers, load it with 131-grain ACE bullets and you’re off to the races.
5. .243 Winchester/6mm Creedmoor
You can throw the old 6mm Remington into this bunch. It’s actually 100 fps faster than the .243 Winchester. All these give the 6.5 Creedmoor a run for its money IF they shoot the highest B.C. bullets in .243. These are 105- to 115-grain projectiles, the downside of which is most .243s won’t stabilize because they have 1:10 twist rifling. A 1:8 twist is required. But if you have one…
The faster twist barrel is key to all this modern “longrange,” small caliber performance, but major manufacturers seem reluctant to increase rifling twists of older cartridges like the .243 (recoil: 14.6 ft./lbs. at 11.4 fps). It and the 6mm Remington have the horsepower to best the 6mm Creedmoor, but the Creed has the rifling twist, so let’s use its ballistics to compare against its parent, the 6.5 Creedmoor.
- Bullet/B.C.: 108gr/.559
- Muzzle Velocity: 2900
- MPBR: 326-y.
- 300-yard D/D/E: -1.7/5.3/1403
- 600-yard D/D/E: -56.3/23/946
- 800-yard D/D/E: -135/44/714
These trajectory numbers show how the higher B.C. of the 6.5 Creedmoor bullet above enables it to resist wind deflection better than this B.C. .559 6mm bullet. But the higher muzzle velocity of the 6mm enables it to shoot flatter than the slower 6.5. The heavier 6.5 slug also retains slightly more energy far downrange. So the 6mm wins handily in the drop category, barely loses the wind drift contest, and gives the 6.5 a 100 ft./lbs energy advantage at 600 yards. I’d call it a tie for hunting effectiveness and give the win to the 6mm Creedmoor for its lighter recoil. But all of this is picking at nits.
As for the .243, were I a hunter already in possession of one that shot well with traditional 90- to 100-grain bullets, I would not dump it for a Creedmoor of any caliber. None of these are ideal for engaging game much beyond 500 yards. Inside that distance, their differences are almost too slight to concern a hunter.
6. 270 Winchester
This might seem a bridge too far, but this old war horse shoots 130- to 150-grain bullets in the 2,900 to 3,100 fps range, landing it smack in the 6.5 Creedmoor wheelhouse. Let’s consider it with 140-grain bullets, a nice match to the Creedmoor’s most popular weight class. Obviously if two bullets weigh the same and are made to roughly the same shape (boattail spire point), the narrower one will enjoy the B.C. lead. The .270 (recoil: 22.5 ft./lbs. at 14.4 fps) suffers the same slow twist rifling that plagues most older cartridges, most being 1:10. But that’s fast enough to stabilize the Berger 140-grain Classic Hunter, B.C. .528. A 24-inch barrel should let a top load reach 3,000 fps.
- Bullet/B.C.: 140g./.528
- Muzzle Velocity: 3000
- MPBR: 335-y.
- 300-yard D/D/E: -1/5.3/1913
- 600-yard D/D/E: -52.3/23/1265
- 800-yard D/D/E: -128/44.6/941
Once again we see the 6.5 Creedmoor’s long range B.C. advantage in minimizing wind deflection, although its 2.6-inch advantage at 800 yards is pretty minimal. The .270 enjoys a significant 26-inch drop advantage and a slight 43 ft.-lbs. energy advantage at that extreme range. I’m giving the win to the .270.
Read Next: The Evolution of the 6.5 Creedmoor
7. 6.5 PRC
Creedmoor fans will cry foul at this one, but no hunter will want to discount it. After all, it tosses the same bullets as the Creedmoor and fits most short-action rifles. The fact that it’s based on a fatter case shouldn’t disqualify it. Otherwise we’d be right back at the 6.5 Creedmoor.
Truly this one is a no-brainer. Same bullets. Same fast twist barrels. About 14 grains more water capacity. Top end MV jumps from 2,700 fps in the Creed to about 2,950 in the PRC.
- Bullet/B.C.: 143g./.625
- Muzzle Velocity: 2950
- MPBR: 334-y.
- 300-yard D/D/E: -1/4.6/2004
- 600-yard D/D/E: -51/19.6/1420
- 800-yard D/D/E: -122/37/1111
Clearly the 6.5 PRC (recoil: 22.6 ft.-lbs. at 14.4 fps) is the short-action 6.5 winner over the little Creedmoor, BUT you have to make sure your short-action rifle magazine can handle the slightly longer cartridge (SAAMI spec. 2.95 inches OAL.) The standard Remington short-action magazine is 2.8 inches, but these days more and more rifle makers are increasing their short-action magazines to 3 inches, so double check. Also, there is sufficient powder capacity in the PRC that handloaders can afford to nudge long bullets a bit into powder space to accommodate magazine fit. The other option is to work with the shorter 127- to 130-grain bullets.
8. .308 Winchester
Finally, let’s look at our old long-range friend, the mildly overrated .308 Winchester (recoil: 24 ft.-lbs. at 14.9 fps). I say that because too many shooters have too long assumed that this was some sort of longrange super cartridge. Sort of the ultimate sniper’s cartridge. In truth, it’s an efficient short-action that’s easy on barrels and usually built for superior accuracy, but ballistic performance leaves much to be desired. The case capacity is just not enough to drive the heavy .308 bullets fast enough to hang with the rest of this crowd. Look what happens with a 190-grain Nosler ABLR on board.
- Bullet/B.C.: 190g./.597
- Muzzle Velocity: 2600
- MPBR: 296-y.
- 300-yard D/D/E: -4.4/5.7/1998
- 600-yard D/D/E: -74/25/1359
- 800-yard D/D/E: -173/47/1038
That massive bullet keeps downrange energy high and the .597 B.C. does a good job of minimizing wind deflection, but drop is dramatic—21 inches more than the 6.5 Creedmoor at 800 yards.
There are other cartridges such as the 6.5-284 Norma., 257 Wby. Mag., 240 Wby. Mag., 7mm-08 Rem. etc., we could include in this rundown, but you get the idea. When it comes to ballistic performance, there’s a lot of close calls and redundancy in our “deer” cartridges.
Of course, hunters have slightly different requirements than long range, precision target shooters. Some of us value flat trajectory more than minimized wind deflection, some vice versa. And some of us put a high value on retained energy while others are convinced a few hundred foot-pounds one way or another don’t make much difference so long as the bullet hits the vitals and causes significant hemorrhaging.
That’s where you come in. Study the numbers, consider the differences, and pick your poison. One thing I can promise: deliver the right bullet to the right place with any of these and you’re going to eat well.