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Steve Comus – GUN TALK

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Thursday, December 20, 2018
Long and short of it


Is 6.5mm magic or just a nice size?

Given all of the hoopla in Gundom these days surrounding the 6.5mm bullet size, one might think that there is something magic about .264-inch. Not so, but it is a nice size for all kinds of shooting and hunting.

 

In a way, today’s 6.5mm mania is going back to the future, since that diameter was among the first to be used militarily in the early days of smokeless powder back in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.

 

Even by the end of WWI, interest in 6.5mm was lackluster at best among militaries and civilians. Metric cartridges of 7mm and 8mm took center stage, while American diameters of .277 and .308 were the name of the game.

 

The sectional density of the long, narrow 6.5mm bullets in military full metal jackets and civilian expanding bullets of the era made that size logical when penetration was desired. The typical configuration then was the 160-grain round nose. That is a very long bullet for its diameter.

 

After remaining mostly dormant for decades, the 6.5mm made an anemic “comeback” in the late ’50s and mid-’60s with the respective introductions of the .264 Winchester Magnum in 1959 and the 6.5mm Remington Magnum in 1966. Neither captured the imagination of the general shooting public and have since fallen into obscurity.

 

Then in 1997, Remington came out with the .260 Remington, which was a standardized 6.5-08 because essentially it is the .308 Winchester cartridge necked down to .264. The .260 Remington was developed as a target cartridge, but quickly found its way into the woods as a hunting round for game like deer. It never developed much of a following before it was supplanted by the 6.5mm Creedmoor — a cartridge designed for target work, but which also quickly found its way into the woods on hunts.

 

Because of the superlative marketing efforts by Hornady, the 6.5mm Creedmoor captured the imagination of the shooting public and has become a rock star among recent cartridges. Now, Hornady is attempting to do a marketing double-tap with its 6.5mm PRC (Precision Rifle Cartridge) that was announced in the fall of 2017 and hit the market in 2018. It is touted as the “big brother” of the 6.5mm Creedmoor. The 6.5mm Creedmoor is based on the .30 TC, which was based on the .308 Winchester, while the 6.5mm PRC is based on a fatter Ruger Compact Magnum mother case size.

 

For both of the Hornady-backed 6.5s, the mindset has been to deliver cartridges that work for long-range shooting and hunting. They combine the best of all worlds in that they have relatively flat trajectories, retain punch at distance and don’t kick like mules. There is little doubt that both will continue to be quite popular because of the focus these days on longer range performance.

 

In the middle of the 6.5mm hoopla, Weatherby trumped them all in 2016 with the introduction of the 6.5-300 Weatherby Magnum cartridge, which essentially is a .300 Weatherby Magnum cartridge necked down to .264. Where the other modern 6.5s operate with muzzle velocities in the 2,800 to 3,200 feet per second realm, the 6.5-300 puts bullets out in excess of 3,500 fps (eclipsing the .26 Nosler, introduced in 2013, by around 100 fps).

 

Modern manufacturing capabilities and modern designs and materials have made this entire rebirth of the 6.5 possible. The industry is able to make the accurate rifles, effective scopes and consistent ammunition necessary for success. Until all of those elements came together, it took bigger diameter bullets to work so universally.

 

What this 6.5 mania all boils down to is a win for hunters, because it represents added options. It doesn’t obsolete or replace the other caliber proven performers, but it certainly is something for hunters to consider.

 

When it comes to centerfire rifle hunting cartridges, the 6mm/.243 size works fine for some of the smaller game like antelope and the smaller deer but is wanting when the animals are larger. The 6.5 is the smallest diameter that offers enough of everything to work well on the larger deer (including elk and moose), as well as other species.

 

Certainly, the .270, 7mm rounds and .30s all work fine for most hunted species in the world short of the thick-skinned dangerous game of Africa. And granted, in the early 20th Century, the 6.5 was used against elephant, but it is not an elephant caliber.


POPULAR HUNTING bullet diameters compare, from left: 6mm/.243, .25, 6.5mm/.264, .270, 7mm/.284 and .30/7.62.

Although the 6.5mm Creed­moor and 6.5mm PRC no doubt will get most of the attention in days to come, it would be nice if the focus on them would expand to a more general awareness of all of the 6.5mm cartridges available.

 

The hype for the two new 6.5s does not mean the predecessors lack merit. They are still as valid today as ever. They include:

 

First of the 6.5mm military cartridges was the 6.5x52mm Italian Mannlicher-Schoenauer adopted in 1891, and shortly after, the 6.5x53R Mannlicher, which was chambered in the Dutch Models 1892 and 1893 models and the Romanian Models 1892 and 1893 rifles. The 6.5x54 Mannlicher-Schoenauer, a Greek cartridge designed in 1900 and chambered in the Model 1900 Mannlicher, was essential a rimless version of the Dutch/Romanian cartridge.

 

The 6.5x50mm Japanese Arisaka was introduced in 1897 and the 6.5x55mm Swedish Mauser was adopted in 1894. The 6.5x57mm Mauser was introduced in 1894.

 

Also there was a host of other 6.5mm cartridges in Europe, going back to black powder days and continuing into the 20th Century. They included the 6.5x40R, 6.5x27R, 6.5x53.5 Daudeteau, 6.5x48R Sauer, 6.5x52R. 6.5x54 Mauser, 6.5x58R Sauer, 6.5x61 Mauser and 6.5x68 Schuler.

 

Hence, there has been no dearth of 6.5mm cartridges in the history of Gundom.

Although a majority of my personal focus through the years has been on .30 caliber, 8mm and .375 or .458 calibers, I have had occasion to use most of the better known 6.5mm cartridges on hunts — all with great success.

 

Of them, I prefer the two at opposite ends of the spectrum, and for different reasons. The 6.5x54mm Mannlicher-Schoenauer is one, and the 6.5-300 Weatherby Magnum is the other.

 

I love the 6.5x54mm more because of the Mannlicher-Schoenauer rifles it is chambered in than for the cartridge itself (I also love the 8x56mm Mannlicher-Schoenauer cartridge in the M-S full-stock rifles). The reason is that for me, the M-S rifle is one of the finest all-around pure hunting rifles on the planet. They are made to the highest quality and carry and handle like a dream. Stalking with one of them adds dimensions to hunts that have to be experienced to be appreciated fully.


AUTHOR’S FAVORITE 6.5mm rifle is the 1903 Mannlicher-Schoenauer, which he considers to be a “pure” hunting rifle in all respects.

On the other end of performance, I feel that the 6.5-300 Weatherby is probably one of the finest deer-hunting cartridges ever designed. It works superbly from the end of the barrel out to the longest distance anyone should ever take at a game animal. When fitted with an effective muzzle brake, the 6.5-300 Weatherby allows the hunter to watch the hit, which not only is exciting, but provides invaluable information about the hit itself. This is not possible with the parent .300 Weatherby or other larger caliber rounds because the recoil of them takes the eye off the animal at that critical moment (similarly, I use a muzzle brake on my .223 for prairie dogging so I can watch my hits).


6.5-300 WEATHERBY is a superb deer cartridge, as author shows here with a nice whitetail buck, taken with a Weatherby Accumark rifle in 6.5-300 Weatherby Magnum



Anyone considering a new rifle/cartridge combo is well advised to take a close look at the 6.5mms. They do work great.

 

So, what’s the verdict? There is no “magic” to the 6.5, but there certainly is performance. Gundom is better off for it being part of the mix.

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