September 23, 2010
Thinking of trying the 6.5 for hunting? There are a lot more choices out there than you might think.
Call me silly if you will, but I feel insulted when a magazine publishes a photograph of someone pointing a firearm directly at me. However, I can recall many years ago when just such a photo was one of my favorites. Only the muzzle and front sight of the rifle were in focus, and the caption at the bottom of the photo said it all: "The new .264 Winchester Magnum--it makes a helluva noise and packs a helluva punch" (or something like that).
And it did just that in the hands of hunters all across America until the 7mm Remington Magnum came along four years later.
The .264 Winchester Magnum was the second American-designed cartridge of its caliber to come along. Back in 1917, rifle designer and manufacturer Charles Newton introduced his .256 Newton, which was the hunter's .270 Winchester about a decade before that cartridge came along. On the slightly shortened .30-06 Springfield case, it was initially loaded with a 123-grain bullet at 3,100 fps and, later, a 140-grain bullet at 2,900 fps. Despite the fact that the Western Cartridge Company loaded the ammunition, the .256 Newton enjoyed but a short life.
Like Charlie Newton's fine little cartridge before it, the .264 Winchester Magnum enjoyed only a few brief moments of glory among American hunters. Designed to deliver its best performance in a 26-inch barrel, hunters kept demanding a shorter tube. They eventually got what they asked for in the Model 70 Featherweight with a 22-inch barrel, and they also got a terrible increase in muzzle blast and just .270 Winchester performance.
Other cartridges of the same caliber have fared better in other countries. The 6.5 Swedish, for example, was once the apple of every Scandinavian hunter's eye, and while quite a few still use it, each time I hunt there I see far more people using rifles in .30-06 and .308 Winchester. My guess is the 6.5 Swede has also long been the most popular cartridge of its caliber among American hunters, due mainly to the importation of thousands upon thousands of military-surplus rifles of excellent quality at bargain basement prices.
Even though I did not until recently become a fan of 6.5mm cartridges, I have owned a number of rifles chambered for them through the years. And I have used some of them to take a few head of game.
The first one, purchased while I was still in high school, was a Japanese Arisaka in 6.5x50. It was fairly accurate with Norma ammo, but I hated its awkward safety and horse-traded it away.
In those days, my high school chums and I were really into military surplus rifles, and our addiction was made possible by the fact that many were only slightly more expensive than dirt. But not all were, and the one we lusted over most but could never afford to buy was the handsome little Swedish Model 94 carbine in 6.5x55. With its 171„2-inch barrel and Mannlicher-style stock it ranked just above Marilyn Monroe in desirability, but none of us ever got one.
My next 6.5, purchased many years later, was a Model 1909 Mannlicher-Schoenauer carbine, one of the most handsome firearms ever built. I still own that one, and through the years its slowpoke 160-grain bullet has accounted for a dozen or so hogs and a couple of whitetails.
From left: .256 Newton, 6.5-06, 6.5x54 Mannlicher-Schoenauer, 6.5x57 Mauser, 6.5x55 Swedish, 6.5 Creedmoor, .260 Remington, 6.5x52 American, 6.5-.284 Norma, 6.5 Rem. Mag., .264 Win. Mag., 6.5 STW.
Then came a pair of Winchester Model 70 Westerners in .264 Magnum, and how I wish I had kept one of them. There were also a Remington Model 600, a Remington Model 700 and a Ruger Model 77, all in 6.5 Remington Magnum. For a while, Ruger chambered its No. 1 rifle for the 6.5 Remington Magnum, and I still own one of those.
I have taken elk, pronghorn, black bear and deer with the .264 Winchester Magnum but have bumped off only a couple of deer with the 6.5 Remington Magnum. Despite the considerable difference in the sizes of their cases and the amount of powder they burn, I find the .264 Winchester Magnum to be only about 100 to 150 fps faster when both are fired in barrels of the same length.
Then there was a Krico rifle in 6.5x57 Mauser, but I never took any game with it. I have killed several deer with the 6.5 Swede, but I have taken more game with the 6.5-284 and 6.5 STW than with any other cartridge of the caliber.
I have never headed to the woods with a rifle in .260 Remington--not because I dislike it but because the only rifles I have tried it in that delivered satisfactory accuracy were heavy-barrel target jobs. I have taken only one deer with the 6.5-06, and the 6.5 Creedmoor is so new I've had the chance to kill only a pronghorn with it--out of a Ruger 77 Hawkeye with a 26-inch barrel.
Until the introduction of the 7mm Remington Magnum in 1962, metric cartridges had been ignored to death by American sportsmen, and the 6.5 suffered even more because it never had a champion among gun writers like the .270 Winchester (Jack O'Connor) and .30-06 (Townsend Whelen and others) did.
When a 6.5mm cartridge was given a bit of ink, it often lost out in an apples-to-oranges comparison. O'Connor used to criticize other writers for comparing the velocities of the .270 and .30-06 when both were loaded with 150-grain bullets, saying that the comparison should be between the 130-grain .270 caliber and the 165-grain .30 caliber because they have similar sectional densities. But then he'd do the exact same thing by comparing velocities of the .270 with a 130-grain bullet to the .264 Winchester Magnum with a 140-grain bullet.
Something else that continues to hurt the 6.5s is the American hunter's preference for heavy-for-caliber bullets on the larger game while at the same time insisting that velocities be quite high.
To many hunters, any bullet under 140 grains is too light for elk, but a bullet of that weight is too heavy for cartridges up to the .264 Winchester Magnum if velocity greatly exceeding 3,000 fps is also a requirement. This is due to the fact that the extremely long bearing surface of that bullet prevents it from being driven as fast as a bullet of the same weight in a larger caliber.
Its sectional density is about the same as a .30 caliber bullet weighing 190 grains and a .338 caliber bullet weighing 240 grains. A 6.5mm bullet weighing 130 grains
has about the same sectional density as a 180-grain bullet of .30 caliber and, all other things being equal, its penetration on game will be the same.
When developing the .264 Winchester Magnum, Winchester got around the problem by making only the rear section of the shank of the 140-grain Power-Point bullet groove diameter (.264 inch) and reducing the front section of the shank to bore diameter (.256 inch). That allowed a velocity of 3,200 fps in a 26-inch barrel at acceptable chamber pressures. Unfortunately, both Winchester and Remington eventually stopped loading two-diameter bullets in the .264 Winchester Magnum, resulting in about a 200 fps decrease in the velocity of factory ammo.
| Handload Chart | Selected Loads For 6.5mm Cartridges
|Bullet Weight (gr.)
| Powder Type
| Powder Charge (gr.)
| Muzzle Velocity (fps)
| 6.5x54 Mannlicher- Schoenauer, 17 1/2 in. barrel
| IMR 4350
| .260 Remington, 22-in. barrel
| 6.5x55 Swedish, 24-in. barrel
| Swift Scirocco
| 6.5 Creedmoor, 26-in. barrel
| Hornady SST
| 6.5x57 Mauser, 24-in.barrel
| Hornady SST
| IMR 4831
| 6.5x52 American, 22-in. barrel
| Hornady SST
| 6.5-06, 24-in barrel
| Nosler AccuBond
| 6.5-284 Norma, 26-in. barrel
| Swift Scirocco
| Hornady SST
| IMR 7828
| 6.5 STW, 26-in. barrel
| Swift Scirocco
|Notes" There maximum powder charges should be reduced by 10 percent for starting loads. All cases are Remington except RWS for the 6.5x54mm and Hornady for the the 6.5-284 Norma and 6.5 Creedmoor. Federal 210 primers used in all except Federal 215 in .264 Magnum and 6.5 STW.
A grand classic, this Model 1909 Mannlicher-Schoenauer in 6.5x54 typifies the Old World 6.5s.
During the 1960s, my old friend Les Bowman, who had a great deal of hunting experience with the .264 Winchester Magnum and 6.5 Remington Magnum was convinced the best bullet for deer and elk was the Nosler 125-grain Partition. Today's under-140 choices include the 120-grain Swift A-Frame and the Barnes TSX. Those are great bullets, but I prefer the Hornady 129-grain SST and two 130-grainers: Swift Scirocco and Nosler AccuBond.
The SST is softer, making it a great choice for use on deer and pronghorn at extreme ranges, and while the Scirocco works equally well on deer, its stouter construction makes it a better choice for heavier game.
The 130-grain Scirocco has a ballistic coefficient of .571, which is higher than most big game bullets regardless of caliber.
There are not many game animals in North America that cannot be taken cleanly with a 130-grain bu
llet, but anytime I think an upcoming hunt might demand the use of something heavier, I switch to my Rifles Inc. Model 700 in 6.5 STW (which drives a 140-grain bullet at 3,300 fps) or to a larger caliber.
So which of the 6.5mm cartridges is the best? I will tell you which I am most fond of, but they may not be the very best choices for someone else.
For starters, I have a soft spot for the ancient old 6.5x54 Mannlicher-Schoenauer, not because it is necessarily the best of the lot but because of the rifle it has long been associated with. Each time I pick up my trim little Model 1909 Mannlicher-Schoenauer carbine I can envision myself chasing chamois in the Alps.
I also like the 6.5x55 Swedish. Its light recoil makes it fun to shoot, it has been accurate in every rifle in which I have tried it, and it kills deer like a bolt from the blue. (Incidentally, years ago I designed a wildcat, the 6.5x52, to get 6.5 Swede performance out of a short-action cartridge. It was the 7mm-08 Remington case necked down and fireformed to minimum body taper and a 40-degree shoulder angle. It pre-dates the 7mm-08 and could also be described as an improved version of that cartridge.)
I have also become extremely fond of the 6.5-284 Norma. Its recoil is only slighter heavier than that of the 6.5 Swede, it shoots a bit flatter, hits a bit harder, and I have to try really hard to make it shoot groups larger than an inch from a good rifle. It is also one of the deadliest deer cartridges I have ever used.
For a short-action bolt gun I will have to go with the 6.5 Creedmoor as my pick of the litter. It is quite accurate in the Ruger Model 77 Hawkeye and even more so in my heavy-barrel target rifle. On top of that, in a 26-inch barrel Hornady's Superformance ammo pushes the 120-grain GMX bullet along at an honest 3,100 fps, and the 129-grain SST moves out at just over 2,900 fps.
My last choice is an old wildcat called the 6.5-06. Easily formed by necking down the .30-06 case, it is capable of duplicating the performance of the 6.5-284 Norma and the 6.5 Remington Magnum. I do not find it to be as accurate as the 6.5-284, but that could be the fault of the rifles I have tried it in. For all-around use on deer-size game in open country, its heavier bullet makes it a tad better than the .25-06 and just as good as the .270 Winchester.