Is The 6.5 The Perfect Hunting Caliber?
August 18, 2017
The current 6.5 (.264 caliber) craze is best attributed to the 6.5 Creedmoor, but once shooters recognized the Creedmoor's qualities, a host of other 6.5s rapidly gained popularity.
However, the 6.5 isn't technically new. In 1891, the 6.5x55mm hit the scene. Intended for Swedish military service, hunters quickly found it to be great on game, punching far above its weight. Later, Winchester released the .264 Win. Mag., while Remington launched its .260 Remington. Even though both were great performers, it would take time to excite the hunting world.
Today, dozens of rifles are available in some form of 6.5, which begs the question: Is the 6.5 the perfect hunting caliber? If you're thinking one may be in your future, read on. We've tested a wide range of rifles, loads, and projectiles at the range and in the field to find the perfect match for nearly any hunting scene.
A 6.5 Case Study of Bullets
Just because the 6.5 Creedmoor was developed with long-range competition in mind, don't think that all 6.5 bullets have a magical ability to kill game at absurd distances. As a rule, a bullet that is ideal for paper punching is probably not ideal for killing critters. Target shooters like long, sleek bullets that diminish the effects of wind drift. A bullet with a high Ballistic Coefficient slips through the wind easier with less drag, which means if a shooter is battling a gusting crosswind, there will be less drift to target than when using a bullet with a lower BC. Since reading the wind across long distances is far from a science, BC makes a huge difference.
On the other hand, a hunting bullet is designed to expand dramatically, transfer energy, disrupt internal organs, and penetrate deeply completely different requirements from a target bullet that simply has to hold course to target and penetrate a piece of paper.
This past season I used three different cartridges, all loaded in 6.5 Creedmoor, to see how they would perform on antelope.
The first antelope was to be my wife's; it was a large Montana buck several football fields away, across a wide-open, windswept sage flat. The closest we could belly crawl was 441 yards. Her 6.5 Creedmoor was loaded with Hornady's extremely accurate 140-grain A-Max bullet a dedicated long-range target bullet, not a true hunting projectile. The buck was standing slightly broadside to us. She ranged him, made elevation adjustments, accounted for the breeze, and squeezed the trigger. The buck flinched at the shot, but didn't drop. He milled around slowly, obviously hit, while the rest of the herd fled over the horizon. Stopping in a small depression, we snuck closer and got back into position. This time the shot was 382 yards as he was quartering away. She put another round into him, and he went down. Walking up to the buck, we discovered he was still alive and put a final round into him around 100 yards.
A postmortem examination showed the first shot completely penetrated the rib cage, but had caused minimal internal damage. The second quartering shot disrupted the vitals and penetrated through, lodging under the skin in the front shoulder, the jacket separating from the core.
Next up was a similar-sized buck, also in Montana. This time I was using a 6.5 Creedmoor loaded with 120-grain Hornady GMX bullets. Even though these are of a lower BC than the A-Max, they are high-performance monolithic hunting bullets.
Spotting the herd feeding along a cheatgrass ridge, I was able to get below them and used a small coulee for cover to move closer. I crawled out of the shallow depression and, lying prone, ranged the buck at 328 yards. He was quartering to as I settled the rifle, checked the wind, and squeezed off. The buck dropped instantly upon impact, the GMX raking through the vitals and exiting at the last rib. Full expansion and energy transfer appeared more than adequate.
The final buck was in Utah. It was slightly smaller in body size than the two Montana bucks. Hunting with a Browning X-Bolt loaded with Browning BXR 129-grain Matrix Tip bullets, my partner, Steve McGrath, and I found a group of antelope in a grass basin that allowed few avenues of approach. Keeping out of sight to the best of our ability, we managed to get within 318 yards of the bedded, but very alert, bucks.
The grass was too high to go prone, so setting up on sticks, I got into position and waited. When the buck finally stood up, I took him broadside through the front shoulder. The bullet exited completely and dropped the buck within feetâ€”impressive performance indeed. (To see the video clip of this buck, go to petersenshunting.com/browningantelope.)
All told, the 6.5 Creedmoor is great at the range or on game. You just have to match the bullet to the task at hand!
Max. Velocity Range: 3,550 fps
Water Capacity: 96 grains
Max. Pressure: 65,000 PSI
Max. Velocity Range: 2,900 fps
Water Capacity: 35 grains
Max. Pressure: 52,000 PSI
Max. Velocity Range: 3,400 fps
Water Capacity: 93.5 grains
Max. Pressure: 65,000 PSI
Max. Velocity Range: 3,050 fps
Water Capacity: 52.5 grains
Max. Pressure: 62,000 PSI
Max. Velocity Range: 3,190 fps
Water Capacity: 57.9 grains
Max. Pressure: 51,000 PSI