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Handloading The 6.5 Creedmoor

by Lane Pearce   |  January 4th, 2011 0

The new 6.5 Creedmoor was developed as a match cartridge for AR-type rifles, but our reloading editor wanted to hunt with it in a bolt gun. So he developed these hunting handloads specifically for this exclusive report.


Brainchild of Hornady’s David Emary, the 6.5 Creedmoor was conceived as the ultimate, factory-loaded cartridge for NRA’s High Power Long-Range competition. His primary consideration was to design a cartridge compatible with the AR-10 platform that would efficiently accommodate long, slender 6.5mm bullets that ballistically outperform every other caliber/weight combination and with minimal recoil.

Hornady introduced two factory loads topped with 120- or 140-grain A-Max bullets exhibiting extraordinary ballistic coefficients. Ballistic data for the new 6.5 Creedmoor was developed in 28-inch barrels to maximize velocity for optimum extended range performance. Because Hornady for the time being only offers factory loads intended for shooting targets, I decided to work up handloads suitable for shooting varmints and predators or for hunting deer and antelope.

While researching other reviews of the 6.5 Creedmoor, I found a scribe who called it “…the .260 (Remington) done right?” Comparing it to the .260 Rem., both rounds’ overall lengths were established to fit today’s standard short-action rifle (about 2.8 inches). The 6.5 Creedmoor’s case (formed by simply necking down the .30 TC) is a tenth of an inch shorter than the .260′s, has a sharper shoulder angle and less body taper, and it has a full one-caliber neck.

When loaded with heavy bullets, i.e., the long, slender ones with higher ballistic coefficients, they must be seated deeply in the .260 Remington’s short neck, which significantly encroaches on case capacity. However, the same bullets can be seated out farther in the 6.5 Creedmoor, i.e., maximize usable case capacity.

Hornady factory loads are charged with off-the-shelf, canistered propellants that are readily available to handloaders. In fact, the actual load recipe is printed on the ballistic performance data label on each box. The maximum average pressure (MAP) established by Hornady is 62,000 psi; however, factory ammo is loaded to approximately 58,000 psi to ensure gas-operated rifles retain adequate reliability and safety margins. In a modern bolt action like the Hawkeye, a judicious handloader can safely use that extra margin to achieve even greater performance. The 6.5 Creedmoor has just recently been accepted by SAAMI, so other munitions suppliers can now choose to make ammunition.

At The Loading Bench
There’s a more than adequate selection of hunting bullets available in 6.5mm caliber, so I chose a representative array of weights and types ranging from Sierra’s 85-grain JHP (varmints) to Swift’s 130-grain Scirocco II (deer/antelope). At the time of this writing, the only published load data is what Hornady provides on the ammo boxes. H4350 was initially used in both factory loads; however, Varget is now the propellant of choice for the 120-grain A-Max loading. I wanted to explore other options.

I selected two, once-fired cases, weighed each one, and recorded the values. Then I filled them with water to the top of the case mouths, wiped the excess water from the exterior, and carefully reweighed each one. Subtracting the empty weights, I arrived at 52.5 grains as an average case capacity.

I then determined how much case capacity to deduct for each test bullet seated to a nominal cartridge overall length (COL) that would fit the chamber and also ensure adequate bullet engagement. That ranged from 1.5 grains (85-grain Sierra @ COL 2.600 in.) to 6.5 grains (130-grain Scirocco II @ COL 2.820 in.).

Using my Powley Computer, I ran the numbers (powder charge versus case capacity, charge-to-bullet weight ratio, sectional density, etc.) and determined how much and which IMR propellant was indicated for each bullet. Sure enough, 4350 was the selection for the heavier ones (120+ grains), while 4320 was the computer’s selection for the lighter bullets. As you can see in the performance chart, I tried Hornady’s and the Powley recommendations and a few other propellants with similar burn rates to develop my handloads.


The 6.5 Creedmoor and the .260 Remington have similar cases, but the 6.5’s is shorter, has a sharper shoulder angle and less body taper, and has a full one-caliber neck.

I eventually assembled and fired 15 boxes of handloads using eight different bullets atop varying charges of six different propellants. I also used their recommended primer–Federal Large Rifle Match (210M). I chronographed every round fired, but I couldn’t measure the actual chamber pressures generated. My only reliable indicator was to keep each batch of test loads segregated so that I could judge the primer pocket integrity by how snug the primer seated when I reloaded that batch of brass. After priming the cases at least three times, not one has loosened up very much at all. And after the initial trimming, case growth after firing and full-length sizing has been only two to four thousandths.

On The Shooting Range
I fired a box of 120-grain factory ammo to sight-in my Ruger Hawkeye sporter rifle. (For more about Ruger’s 6.5 Creedmoor sporter, see Greg Rodriguez’s report at shootingtimes.com.) I then shot three, five-shot groups of the factory ammo, and the last group measured 0.3 inch. Although I loaded and shot roughly 300 handloaded rounds, I fired only a few duplicate loads.

The enclosed chart doesn’t show every load I tested–just the ones that look promising and warrant further testing. I actually fired 70, five-shot groups of handloads and factory loads. Of these, 22 had four rounds measuring 0.75 inch or less, and 29 had three shots grouping into 0.5 inch or less. So far, this rifle seems to prefer the lighter bullet weights.


The author’s 6.5 Creedmoor handloads were more than accurate enough for hunting purposes out of the Ruger Hawkeye sporter rifle.

I did not follow any regimented break-in cleaning and shooting sequence. After the initial thorough scrubbing, I typically cleaned the rifle after shooting 20 to 30 rounds. I always fired three rounds of factory ammo before switching back to hand-loads. I usually shot only one brand/type/weight bullet during each range session between cleanings.

I typically use Gunslick spray foam cleaner and flush it out after 15 to 30 minutes with a solvent-wet patch. That’s followed by scrubbing with a brass-core brush–one stroke for each shot fired–and, of course, dry patches on a tight jag until there’s no powder or jacket residue evident. If necessary, I repeat the process until the patches come out almost white. If copper fouling is too severe, I always use Barnes CR-10 and/or Brownells JB’s bore compound to make short work of the problem.

Overall, the rifle and cartridge performed quite well. I was frustrated several times when one or two rounds strayed and the group ran over the hoped for MOA standard. But to be sure, I could attribute a few of those to my less-than-perfect shooting technique. Although the 6.5 Creedmoor was designed as a target round, my experience definitely proves it will perform as an effective and shooter-friendly hunting cartridge, too.

I know! We need another new cartridge like we need another hole in our heads. But this one is fun and easy to shoot, and it delivers the goods whether you’re punching paper or pelts.

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Favorite 6.5 Creedmoor Handloads

Bullet Powder (Type/Grs.) Overall Length(in.) Velocity (fps) Extreme Spread (fps) Standard Deviation(fps) Muzzle Energy (ft-lbs) 100-Yard Accuracy (5 rds./ 4 rds./ 3 rds.)
Sierra 85-gr. JHP IMR-4320/ 43.5 2.600 3285 73 32 2037 0.95/ 0.80/ 0.38
Sierra 85-gr. JHP VV N540/ 43.5 2.600 3277 40 17 2027 0.85/ 0.63/ 0.50
Sierra 85-gr. JHP VV N540/ 44.0 2.600 3331 37 13 2095 0.95/ 0.50/ 0.15
Hornady 95-gr. V-Max VV N540/ 43.0 2.700 3262 56 21 2245 0.95/ 0.60/ 0.40
Hornady 95-gr. V-Max Varget/ 40.5 2.700 3049 18 8 1961 0.95/ — / 0.65
Hornady 95-gr. V-Max Varget/ 41.5 2.700 3183 43 18 2138 1.30/ 0.95/ 0.45
Nosler 100-gr. Ballistic Tip Reloder 17/ 45.0 2.740 3140 21 8 2190 0.85/ 0.50/ –
Nosler 100-gr. Ballistic Tip Varget/ 40.5 2.740 3047 24 9 2062 0.80/ 0.60/ 0.20
Nosler 100-gr. Ballistic Tip Varget/ 41.0 2.740 3089 21 9 2119 1.10/ 0.65/ 0.45
Nosler 100-gr. Ballistic Tip Varget/ 41.5 2.740 3168 15 6 2229 1.05/ –/ 0.40
Barnes 120-gr. TSX IMR-4350/ 42.5 2.725 2858 31 13 2177 1.35/ 0.80/ 0.63
Speer 120-gr. JSP IMR-4350/ 42.5 2.750 2
792
63 28 2078 0.80/ 0.63/ 0.30
Speer 120-gr. JSP Reloder 17/ 43.0 2.750 2865 55 24 2188 1.05/ 0.60/ 0.22
Hornady 129-gr. Interlock Reloder 17/ 42.5 2.730 2830 20 9 2295 0.80/ 0.50/ 0.38
Hornady 129-gr. SST Reloder 17/ 42.0 2.800 2829 21 8 2293 1.00/ 0.75/ 0.55
Hornady 129-gr. SST Reloder 17/ 42.5 2.800 2866 6 3 2353 1.25/ 0.95/ 0.55
Swift 130-gr. Scirocco II H4350/ 42.5 2.820 2833 38 14 2317 1.40/ 0.85/ 0.45
Swift 130-gr. Scirocco II H4350/ 43.0 2.820 2867 15 5 2373 1.30/ 1.10/ 0.63
Swift 130-gr. Scirocco II Reloder 17/ 42.0 2.820 2843 43 15 2334 1.30/ 0.90/ 0.55
Notes: Velocity is the average of 20 rounds measured 6 feet from the Ruger Model 77 Hawkeye’s muzzle.
All load data should be used with caution. Always start with reduced loads first and make sure they are safe in each of your guns before proceeding to the high test loads listed. Since Shooting Times has no control over your choice of components, guns, or actual loadings, neither Shooting Times nor the various firearms and components manufacturers assume any responsibility for the use of this data.

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