January 18, 2022
Historically, cartridges with metric names have not been overly popular in the United States, but one relatively recent addition has turned things around in a big way. That round is the 6.5 Creedmoor (6.5 CM). It was developed by Dennis DeMille and Dave Emary of Hornady in 2007 and was approved by S.A.A.M.I. in 2008, making it a “factory” cartridge. In the last five years or so it has become a monster hit—and justifiably so. It is easily the most popular round of its caliber in existence, at least in the U.S. It has an excellent record in the field on big game and on target ranges because of several interacting virtues, and it has really kicked the development of 6.5mms into high gear. Plus, it is a pure delight to handload.
I’ll get to the particulars of handloading this gem in a minute, but first here’s a look at why this metric cartridge has been so successful.
Reasons for Success
The 6.5 CM isn’t just another case necked up or down with a new name. While the case is based on the .30 TC (also a Hornady development), its shape, the rifle chamber and throat, and the bullet ogive all have very precise design criteria. If these specifications are faithfully incorporated into every gun so chambered, the round delivers top-notch accuracy consistently, over a wide range of platforms, from low-cost budget rifles to high-dollar rigs that cost as much as your first car (or maybe even your first house).
The rim diameter of the 6.5 CM case is 0.473 inch, same as the .30-06 and many others. This simplifies manufacturing of both rifles and ammunition. And the case length of 1.920 inches is a perfect fit for the many short-action rifles available, as well as ARs.
These case features also improve the length-to-diameter ratio for better ignition and powder burn, and the sharp 30-degree shoulder helps the powder burn inside the cartridge case so that less powder is burned in the barrel throat and down the bore. This also makes the cartridge more efficient so that it takes a little less powder to reach a given velocity, and bullets are seated out a bit longer so that more room is left for propellant. A senior gun company engineer told me that as long as everything is lined up straight at the get-go, good accuracy is the result.
Finally, ammo and bullet companies make sure that the 6.5mm projectiles they make for the cartridge mate harmoniously with the barrel chamber and throat. Thus, virtually all 6.5 CM rifles, even the inexpensive ones, shoot great.
Another reason the 6.5 CM is so effective and popular is that 0.264-inch-diameter bullets have high ballistic coefficients, and the round uses a fast one-turn-in-eight-inches twist rate. This allows the use of long-for-caliber bullets of suitable weight for hunting big game and long-range target shooting. In addition, the 6.5 CM can be housed in short-action rifles that are lightweight and handy in the game fields as well as in monster “chassis rifles” for plinking steel at extreme ranges.
The 6.5 CM was originally designed for the National Matches, and in that role it has excelled, but it also turned out to be a terrific hunting round. Plus, factory ammo is so accurate that handloaders are hard-pressed to duplicate it. However, Hornady prints the load data for its highly accurate factory loads on the boxes so that reloaders can duplicate the load at home, and hunters and target shooters alike dote on the round. The 6.5 CM shoots long, skinny bullets with high ballistic coefficients for a flat trajectory, and their high sectional densities and sufficient weights ensure deep penetration. This makes it a highly effective hunting cartridge.
May I get one thing off my chest? I am sick and tired of folks saying, “The 6.5 Creedmoor won’t do anything my (fill in the blank with your favorite cartridge) won’t do.” When asked how their 6.5 CM rifle shoots, they sheepishly admit that they’ve never shot one, much less owned one. The older classic cartridges are just fine, but they don’t have the new engineering science of the Creedmoor, and never will.
The popularity of the 6.5 CM has led to the development of many high-tech hunting or target bullets that work well in the round. The weights of 6.5mm bullets available today range from 95 grains to 156 grains, and their high ballistic coefficients and sectional densities are eye-popping. Probably the most popular bullet weights fall into two categories: those for hunting big game and those for long-range target shooting. The light recoil and modest muzzle blast of the Creedmoor make it a great choice for new shooters, as well as seasoned riflemen. My 6.5 CM is an early Ruger Hawkeye with a 26-inch barrel, and I’ve used it on axis deer, including a nice 186-pound buck several does for the freezer, and a few Texas hogs, and it preformed perfectly on all those critters.
A Handloader’s Dream
All this makes the 6.5 CM a handloader’s dream. No more need to test every possible combination of bullet, powder, and primer. Just check the loads in your favorite manual, gather up the appropriate components, load up some ammo, and head happily to the range.
The usual procedures for loading bottlenecked cartridges apply to the 6.5 CM, and a few specialized tools make the job easier and increase the “fun” quotient. We want to make sure we don’t inadvertently negate those high-tech design criteria I talked about; it’s kinda like the carpenter’s old “measure twice and saw once” dictum. Cases are produced by a number of companies, and Lapua even makes cases with Small Rifle primer pockets (their use in cold weather is not recommended).
Set your sizing die to just bump the shoulder so that the case chambers with just a hint of resistance. The Hornady Lock-N-Load Headspace Comparator tool is perfect for this task. Check the length of sized cases and trim to 1.910 inches, if necessary.
For many rifle cartridges bullet jump is usually important for best accuracy, but the 6.5 CM is especially forgiving due to the very close tolerances between the bullet ogive and chamber leade. However, if you’d like to set the seating depth to produce a specific amount of “bullet jump,” the easiest way to determine that is with the Hornady Lock-N-Load Bullet Comparator.
The 6.5 CM case volume is about the same size as the .243 Winchester and .308 Winchester, so magnum primers are seldom required. Many handloaders use match-grade primers, although this is mostly what anthropologist Horace Miner would call a “body ritual of the Nacirema.” (“Nacirema” is, of course, “American” spelled backward.) If you can find match primers, and using them gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling, go for it. But they’re probably not necessary.
At last count, there are (at least) 163 smokeless powders on the market. While many work well for loading the 6.5 CM, we can easily narrow the list down to those best suited. Hodgdon’s Varget and H4350, Alliant’s Reloder 15, and powders with similar burn rates work very well in the 6.5 CM. VihtaVuori has a line called the “N500” series of high-energy powders, and they are double based, meaning that nitroglycerin has been added to up the energy level. In 2021 VihtaVuori developed N555 specifically for the 6.5 CM round, and it has performed quite well in my tests. Winchester StaBALL 6.5 is a top-notch performer, as are Hodgdon Superformance and Hybrid 100V. IMR 4451 and IMR 4166 in the Enduron Technology series shine with lighter bullets. In short, there is almost no chance that powder will be a limiting factor for either velocity or accuracy in your 6.5 CM handloads.
Over the years, I have tested many 6.5 CM rifles with hundreds of rounds, so I evaluated a good cross-section of representative loads for this report. I picked five typical rifles: Savage’s Timberline, Kimber’s Mountain Ascent, Sauer’s S100 Classic XT (these three rifles have 22-inch barrels), a Springfield Armory M1A with a 20-inch barrel, and my vintage Ruger Hawkeye with a 26-inch barrel. All have 1:8-inch twists. I tested a total of 46 handloads, and the overall group average was 0.84 inch.
If I were limited to just a couple of powders (perish the thought!), I would lean on VV N555 and N150, Varget, IMR 4451, Norma URP, Superformance, and any of the 4350s.
Here are some examples of the variety of loads that can be prepared for the 6.5 CM. Note: These are out of my Ruger Hawkeye with the 26-inch barrel.
Some pretty spiffy velocities can be generated in the round. For varmints, the Hornady 95-grain V-Max over 41.0 grains of Varget registered 3,362 fps and averaged a little over a half-inch.
Several great deer loads use 120-grain bullets. Examples include the Barnes 120-grain TSX BT with 42.0 grains of N150 at 2,941 fps, the Nosler Ballistic Tip over 42.1 grains of Norma MRP at a speed of 2,824 fps, and the fine Speer Hot-Cor SP atop 43.0 grains of W760 at 2,795 fps. The latter load averaged 0.76 inch at 100 yards.
Moving up to 140-grain bullets, Hornady’s SST favored 39.5 grains of Hybrid 100V and clocked 2,545 fps. In terms of accuracy, it averaged less than an inch.
There are 150- to 156-grain 6.5mm bullets, but to me, they would be of limited usefulness in the Creedmoor and would somewhat hamper the long-range capabilities of the cartridge. However, the round’s standard 1:8-inch twist will certainly stabilize them, so they are an option.
In essence, 6.5mm cartridges have come full circle, exhibiting a natural progression from military cartridges that mostly used heavy bullets at what today we’d call modest velocities, such as 1894’s excellent 6.5x55 Swede, the 6.5x54 Mannlicher Schoenauer from 1900, and the 6.5x50 Japanese Arisaka in 1905.
Today’s modern 6.5 CM has it all: bullets with long ogives, high ballistic coefficients, bonded jackets, partitions, and non-lead alloys for certain areas. There are bullets for all occasions and a plethora of superb powders for the handloader. But the factor that most influences the success of the 6.5 CM is its case design that enhances the caliber’s inherent efficiency, accuracy, and power. All this makes concocting excellent handloads for specific shooting purposes that excel in the field or on the range a thoroughly enjoyable endeavor.