February 09, 2012
It seems like ages ago, but it was only 2008 when Hornady invited me to its Grand Island, Nebraska, plant to get the lowdown on a new competition cartridge that engineers Joe Thielen and Dave Emary had developed: the 6.5 Creedmoor. At the time it was intended solely as a competition round for across-the-course NRA highpower and long-range matches, but within a year or so Hornady brought out hunting loads for the Creedmoor.
I have to say I think the Creedmoor is one of the most versatile hunting rounds to come down the pike in quite some time. The 6.5's main claim to fame as a caliber is its incredible sectional density and excellent ballistic coefficient. Take a look at the accompanying chart that compares various factory bullets loaded by Hornady, used for the obvious reason that right now Hornady is the only outfit loading the Creedmoor.
Quibble with this comparison if you will, but I think it's valid. Of the bullets listed here, only the 180-grain .30 caliber has a better SD. Could you find heavy-for-caliber examples that would top the 6.5? Sure. The 150-grain 7mm for one, which has an SD of .266 (or the 160-grain 7mm with an exceptional SD of .283). But I could then trot out heavier 6.5s than Hornady is currently loading, and on and on. In order to do fair ballistics comparisons I limited bullet weight selection to those available in Hornady's non-magnum chamberings.
While it's only one element that governs terminal performance, sectional density is an important one. SD is the ratio of a bullet's mass to its cross-section, and bullets with high SDs penetrate better than those with low SDs, all other factors being equal. And penetration, of course, is key to clean kills.
Note, too, that the 6.5's BCs are chart-toppers. These high coefficients mean the bullets move well through the air, which helps them maintain velocity and reduces drop and wind drift. Less drop and drift translate to a little more margin of error if you misjudge the distance, shot angle or wind speed and direction. And more impact velocity certainly doesn't hurt.
The 6.5 Creedmoor is built on the .30 TC case, capitalizing on the short, efficient cartridge principle. It's currently available in a 129-grain SST and a 120-grain GMX, both Superformance loads.
The accompanying chart compares these loads with other cartridges Hornady loads with its Superformance powder; the only way I could make it an apples-to-apples comparison because Superformance loads are faster than standard loads. And I used the same bullet weights found in the bullet comparison chart.
Observations? All but the .243 are still carrying the generally accepted 1,000 ft.-lbs. of energy necessary to kill a deer out to 500 yards, which I grant you is farther than we have any business shooting at deer-size gam. At the far more practical distance of 300 yards, which is still a long shot, every cartridge on that list will kill a deer, antelope or sheep without a problem.
From here we start splitting hairs. The .270 with a 130-grain bullet is the flattest of the bunch, and with a 140-grain bullet it drifts less in the wind than any of the others. But the 129-grain SST Creedmoor is right there, delivering a bullet with better sectional density and with a third less recoil.
That, in a nutshell, is why I like the Creedmoor so much: eminently respectable ballistic performance with little recoil. Those same factors have made me a believer in cartridges such as the .25-06 and 7mm-08. The Creedmoor will do anything those two will do, in some cases do it better, and in all cases do it with less recoil. That's win-win in my book.
My first hunting experience with the Creedmoor came at Tejon Ranch in California with the GMX load. Late the first day we got on a herd of pigs, and guide Cody Plank tried to direct me to a big hog behind a screen of trees. I made the shot, offhand at about 80 yards through a narrow opening, and at the shot the pig simply dropped and rolled down the hill. I was mentally patting myself on the back when Cody said, "Umm, that's not the pig I was talking about." Still, it was a good-size dry sow, and the GMX, which has gained a reputation as one tough hombre of a bullet, had done its job.
And then about a year later I got invited to the Yamaha Single Shot Challenge, a mule deer hunt in New Mexico with one of my favorite outfitters, Steve Jones. We could bring any rifle we wanted. Ruger had just announced it was chambering the No. 1 in 6.5 Creedmoor, and it took me all of two seconds to call Ruger and order one for the trip.
In testing it prior to the hunt I found it didn't like the GMX but it simply adored the 129-grain SST, drilling nice little 1/2- to 3/4-inch groups all day long.
I dialed in the scope to be dead on at 200. At 300 yards I could ring the steel target at my home range by holding just a touch high, and on the 400-yard ram I could simply center the bottom post of the duplex, where it narrows, and pull the trigger. Ping.
Single Shot Challenge? Bring it on.
The first day, guide Donn "Deadeye" Allen and I bombed around in a decked-out Yamaha side-by-side ATV, looking for deer. I also hiked along a dry creek bed to try to move some deer for other hunters, and that gave Donn the idea to go back and hunt the creek bed the next day.
The next morning we spooked a good buck out of the thick brush lining the creek bed. As the mulie ran uphill, I set up my shooting sticks and got behind the rifle. The 4x4 buck was 320 yards away when I launched the first round. Miss, low. So much for the meeting the single-shot challenge. I shot again when he was 350 yards out. Under again, and I realized I was compensating too much for the uphill angle.
The buck stopped one more time, at just a shade under 400, where the 6.5 Creedmoor is still running at 2,222 fps and carrying 1,414 ft.-lbs. of energy. I took the same hold I'd used on the 400-yard steel ram at home, and this time when the rifle barked, the buck toppled. The bullet punched low through the chest, showing excellent expansion on the exit wound.
On the last day of the trip, we set up a steel ram on a ridge across from camp, and with the light fading (and with a couple of Surefire flashlights strategically jury-rigged to illuminate the ram) we took turns trying to smack steel at a ranged 840 yards. When my turn came, I grabbed the No. 1, ran a bunch of elevation clicks on the Trijicon and gave it a whirl. The first shot went way high (I was never good at math), the second still too high, but I rang it on the third.
Now I'm not the greatest shot in the world by any means, but previous shooters - with their .308s, their .300s, their 7 Rem Mags - had taken a fair number of shots to hit that target. With the flat-shooting, accurate 6.5, I did it in three. It was all the cartridge, but of course I took the credit and retired to the cook tent for a celebratory beer.
As of this writing, Ruger plans to continue offering both the 77 Hawkeye and the No. 1 in 6.5 Creedmoor. Savage Arms chambers it in the Model 16 Weather Warrior, the Model 12 LRP and the new women's rifle. Thompson/Center is also chambering the Creedmoor in the excellent Icon.
So where does that leave us? As the proud owner of the No. 1 I used in New Mexico - the check for which I wrote the day I got back from that trip - I would like to predict a great future for it. But for the Creedmoor to flourish and grow, ammo makers such as Federal, Winchester and Remington are going to have to decide the cartridge has legs, and of course for that to happen more gun makers are going to have to see the light as well. The three that are on board represent a great start, but it will take more for the Creedmoor to make the jump from niche round to widely accepted one.
And the fine hunters and shooters out there who read RifleShooter are going to have to decide that the Creedmoor is the real deal, something they want.