CAGuns & Hunting: Shoot a 6.5mm Rifle

CA Guns & Hunting: Why shoot a 6.5mm rifle?

BY STEVE COMUS/Cal. Guns & Hunting Guns EditorPublished: Jan 11, 2018

When the question arises about why one might want to shoot a 6.5mm rifle, my answer is glib, but on-target: Why not?

Shooters and hunters have been asking that question for more than a century. The 6.5mm (.264-inch) bore is a byproduct of smokeless powder, and it has been around since the late 1800s, when it was introduced as a military size in a number of countries through the first decade or so of the 20th Century.

BIG BUCKS FALL to 6.5mm bullets. Here, the author shows a nice whitetail he took with the 6.5-300 Weatherby Magnum cartridge.

Recent interest in the 6.5 was triggered by the long range target shooters who wanted something that can work way out there, but which does not have the level of recoil encountered by .30 caliber rounds. Anytime there is a significant volume of shooting, recoil becomes a factor – not only for the logical “kick” effect, but because it also fatigues the shooter. Hence, to the degree recoil can be eliminated or minimized in the equation, the better. For decades, .30 caliber was the norm for serious long-range competition, and the heavier, fatter bullets delivered more recoil than the smaller, lighter bullets of the 6.5mm.

Technological advancements made that quest possible – bullet technology being the critical factor, but rifle and barrel making technology also played important roles. To retain velocity at distance, it helps to have bullets that are aerodynamically credible, and which fly totally straight. It is now possible for the industry to deliver both in most calibers, including the 6.5mm.

Target shooters have been playing with 6.5mm variants for a few decades, first coming up with the 6.5-.308, which became known as the .260 Remington. That cartridge enjoyed limited success until Hornady began promoting the 6.5mm Creedmoor, which was designed to work in the AR platform. And, as they say, the rest is history.

It didn’t take long for the 6.5mm Creedmoor cartridge to find its way into hunting rifles, and the cartridge has worked well in that role, as well. And why not? It is a close ballistic cousin to the 6.5x55mm Swedish Mauser cartridge that was introduced in 1894. The 6.5x55mm was used throughout the 20th Century for hunting, used significantly for game like deer and moose in Scandinavia and similar game animals in other areas around the world.

There are two factors that make the 6.5mm Creedmoor a logical option for hunters. First, it fits into short-action rifles, which tend to carry and handle a little better than their longer action brothers. Second, it delivers credible hunting bullets at speeds that result in relatively flat trajectories. And, for those who care, the recoil is not bad at all. As a result, most rifle makers now offer rifles chambered for this now well-established cartridge.

But there is more in the world than the 6.5mm Creedmoor. For those who like to shoot truly classic hunting rifles, the Model 1903 Mannlicher-Schoenaur rifle chambered for the 6.5x54mm Mannlicher-Schoenauer cartridge is legendary, having established a stellar reputation in both Europe and Africa.

THE 6.5MM CREEDMOOR, left, compares with its ballistic twin .260 Remington, center, and 6.5-300 Weatherby Magnum, right.

The .260 Remington is essentially a ballistic clone of the 6.6mm Creedmoor, but the .260 has a very slight edge as a result of having slightly more case volume.

For decades, wildcatters have hunted with the 6.5mm-’06 cartridge and the 6.5mm-.284. The 6.5mm-06 essentially is a .30-06 case necked down to .264. The 6.5mm-.284 is a .284 Winchester case necked down to .284. And, some folks still like hunting with the .264 Winchester Magnum, although it has not enjoyed much popularity in recent years.

More recently, there is the .26 Nosler that sends bullets out at speeds up to 3,400 fps, and Weatherby has come up with what probably is the ultimate in 6.5mm cartridges – the 6.5-.300 Weatherby Magnum. When velocities for a credible deer/elk rifle hit the 3,500 fps level, things get interesting.

I have used a number of the 6.5mm cartridges successfully on hunts over the years. They include the 6.5x54mm Mannlicher-Schoenauer, 6.5x50mm Japanese Arisaka, 6.5x55mm Swedish Mauser, 6.5x57mm Mauser, 6.5x52mm Italian Mannlicher-Carcano, .260 Remington, .264 Winchester Magnum and 6.5-.300 Weatherby Magnum.

For short to medium range situations, I preferred the 6.5x54mm Mannlicher-Schoenaur, more because of the rifle than the cartridge. Mannlicher-Schoenauer rifles, for me, are the quintessential hunting rifles.

For longer-range 6.5mm work, I liked the .264 Winchester Magnum, but have switched now to the 6.5-.300 Weatherby Magnum because it does it all at any credible hunting distance.

There were a few hunts with the .260 Remington, and all went well. The rifle was a Remington 700 Titanium model, which carried like a dream and shot incredibly accurately.

There is a dynamic when hunting with any of the 6.5s that is good to keep in mind. Animals react a bit differently to hits from that diameter than they do from larger bullets like .30 caliber rounds.

As might be expected, the initial reactions to hits are a bit more dramatic with .30 caliber bullets than with hits from the smaller 6mm (.243) bullets. Deer and hogs still show the flinch when body-hit, but it is not terribly pronounced. It is not uncommon for them to bound off 50 yards or so before dropping to the ground – which also can happen with the larger diameter bullets, so there is not much difference in the end. Just pay close attention to the hit and then know where to go and find the animal.

The smaller diameter the bullet, the more critical terminal bullet performance becomes. That’s why the .30 caliber has been so popular for so long. Bullet performance in that diameter can be mediocre and still the results can be very good.

With 6.5mm bullets when hunting, it is important not only to place the bullet properly, but also to use really good bullets so the performance can be consistent. And, there are lots of really high tech, effective bullets on the market for the 6.5mm.

Initially, the preferred bullet weight and design for the 6.5mm was a 160-grain round-nose. That changed over time, with the 140-grain jacketed lead core pointed bullet being the most popular. With the advent of all-copper bullets, performance and penetration could be achieved with even lighter bullets in the 120- to 130-grain category. This allows higher velocities while still delivering credible penetration – the best of both worlds.

So, whenever asked why one would want to use the 6.5mm for hunting, the answer truly is: Why not?

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