March 24, 2022
By Steve Gash
The fate of cartridges with metric names changed dramatically in 1962 when Remington introduced the 7mm Remington Magnum in the then-new Remington Model 700. The spiffy new rifle and the cartridge’s terrific performance on big game, great accuracy, flat trajectory, and modest recoil won over American shooters who recognized a good thing when they saw it. While Winchester had launched the .264 Winchester Magnum in 1959, its acceptance was minimal and was buried by the 7mm Rem. Mag.
That same recognition of excellence is occurring today with a spate of 6.5mm cartridges. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know the spark that ignited all this interest is the 6.5 Creedmoor. The careful scientific design and execution of the Creedmoor’s cases and the chambers of the rifles that shoot the round have been incorporated into several other cartridges with similar success. One is the 6.5 PRC.
As always, there is the Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor factor: more power! Thus, several monster magnum 6.5mms have been introduced, such as the 6.5 RPM (Rebated Precision Magnum) and 6.5-300 Magnum from Weatherby and the blowtorch 26 Nosler, among others. But there can be too much of a good thing, and this has led to the development of a sensibly sized cartridge called the 6.5 PRC. (It is slightly larger than the popular 6.5 Creedmoor.)
“PRC” stands for Precision Rifle Cartridge, and that’s a pretty apt description. The 6.5 PRC was designed by George Gardner and Hornady, and it was released in 2018. Since then it has been used with success in many shooting applications. The lessons on case and chamber design learned on the 6.5 Creedmoor are carried forward in the PRC to produce what amounts to a “magnum” cartridge that’s suitable for short bolt actions. Its fast 1:8 twist permits the use of long, heavy-for-caliber 6.5mm bullets at velocities that approach the .264 Win. Mag. of 1959. As I’ve written many times, a senior gun company engineer once told me that as long as everything is lined up straight at the get-go, good accuracy will result. These features enable the 6.5 PRC cartridge to achieve a fine balance of terminal ballistics, accuracy, and flat trajectory.
The PRC case is based on the .300 RCM (Ruger Compact Magnum) and .375 RCM, shortened to 2.030 inches, but with the same 30-degree shoulder angle. The PRC has the 0.532-inch rim diameter of most belted magnum cartridges, so it’s easily adaptable to many rifles with “magnum” boltfaces. The PRC case size is optimal for long and heavy-for-caliber bullets. Throat design allows these bullets to be seated out to a maximum COL of 2.955 inches, so they do not take up case volume better used for propellant. The PRC is not a rebated rim case, and the rim diameter is carried forward of the rim. This differs somewhat from the WSM line of cartridges. While they have the same rim diameter, the case body in the WSMs increases to 0.555 inch, which comes from the .404 Jeffery cartridge.
Notes on the Rifle
The popularity of the 6.5 Creedmoor has resulted in the development of lots of high-tech bullets with sky-high ballistic coefficients, and this only adds to the allure of handloading the 6.5 PRC. In addition, new powders have sprouted up like weeds in an unkempt garden, so experimenting with the PRC offers almost unbounded delight, and just about any combination of quality components results in an accurate and powerful load.
I have had a 6.5 PRC rifle since February 2019 and can’t seem to get all the possible combinations of new powders and bullets tested. But I keep trying.
My rifle is a Mauser Model M-18. It has a 23.8-inch (60.5cm) barrel with a 1:8 twist. When the rifle was brand-new, I examined its hammer-forged barrel with my Hawkeye borescope, and it was slick and smooth as a, well, you know. A sure sign of the care taken in its manufacture. The rifle has a three-lug bolt, and unlike some actions of this design, the bolt lift on a fired case is relatively easy. The trigger is adjustable, and mine is set to break at a delightful 3 pounds, 8.1 ounces; it is as crisp as can be.
The detachable box magazine holds four rounds, feeds cartridges without a hitch, snaps into place with ease, stays put, and pops out at the push of the release button in front of the magazine well. Its internal length is 3 inches, so it will accept long loads. The safety is a three-position lever at the right rear of the action. This is an important safety feature, as the chamber can be unloaded with the safety “On.”
The M-18’s synthetic stock is well designed and has a good, stiff fore-end. This has proven to be an important contributor to good accuracy, as the fore-end doesn’t flex and touch the barrel upon firing. The recoil pad is removable and conceals a small compartment in which one may store items, such as spare cartridges or an energy bar.
The M-18’s receiver is drilled and tapped to the Remington Model 700’s two-piece mount pattern. I’ve used different scopes in my testing of the rifle, including a Burris Eliminator III 3-12X 44mm scope and a Leupold Vari-X 1 3-9X 40mm scope. The rifle with an empty magazine weighs exactly 7 pounds. With the Eliminator on board, the rifle weighed 8 pounds, 11.5 ounces, and with the Leupold, the rig checked in at exactly 8 pounds.
Tools and Components
Good handloads start with good equipment. I used Hornady dies and a Hornady No. 6 shellholder in my Redding Ultramag press. Proper COLs (“bullet jump”) were determined with the Hornady Lock-N-Load O.A.L. Gauge. Most bullets were seated 0.015 inch off the lands, depending on bullet shape. The COLs used for each bullet are listed in the accompanying chart.
Maximum case length of the 6.5 PRC is 2.030 inches. However, in this regard, I got a little leeway. Using a chamber gauge from Sinclair International, I found that the actual chamber length on my rifle is 2.055 (0.025 inch longer than the S.A.A.M.I. maximum). Thus, I did not have to trim cases over the course of my testing.
I had a good supply of Hornady cases and recently received some new Lapua cases. These cases weighed almost exactly the same, at 222.3 grains and 222.2 grains respectively. Interestingly, the Lapua case necks were about 0.001 to 0.0015 inch thicker than the Hornady cases, but both brands worked flawlessly.
The powder charges used in the 6.5 PRC are under 60 grains for the most part, so convention has it that magnum primers are not needed. Be that as it may, I used CCI 250 Large Rifle Magnum primers for all loads with complete satisfaction. The standard deviations of most of my handloads were under 20 fps, with several in the single digits.
Many powders with relatively slow burn rates are suitable for handloading the 6.5 PRC, and Hodgdon has the field pretty well covered with several propellants. IMR 8133 from the Enduron series did well across the board, as did H1000, US 869, and Retumbo. Alliant’s Reloder 25 was impressive with several loads, as was VihtaVuori N165.
VihtaVuori has recently developed several powders in its N500 “high energy” series. They are double-based powders with nitroglycerin added, and those tested did well in my handloads. In fact, VV says that N565 is “6.5 PRC Proven.” I obtained samples of these new powders and couldn’t resist the urge to try them in the PRC. Since the accuracy of the M-18 rifle had been established to my satisfaction, I switched to three-shot groups for the VV powder tests. (No sense wasting scarce bullets and powder these days.)
A prominent feature of these VV powders is that they have what the company calls an “anti-fouling agent that deters copper buildup.” After shooting a bunch of loads with them, I checked the bore with my borescope and am happy to report that there was not one orange streak to be found! Bore cleaning was a snap. (I should point out that IMR’s Enduron powders also have an ingredient that retards copper build-up.)
Accuracy was excellent throughout. The average accuracy of all groups with VV powders was 0.53 inch, and velocities were excellent. Overall, VV N565 and N568 seemed the most applicable to the 6.5 PRC. Both registered right at 2,800 fps with the 129-grain AccuBond LR (ABLR) bullet from Nosler, and N568 favored the 142-grain ABLR and the Hornady 143-grain ELD-X.
It’s hard to pick favorites, but for powders, IMR 8133 was a standout with almost all loads tested in my rifle. Keying in on the PRC’s role as a big-game cartridge, I concentrated on loads with high-BC bullets. The Hornady 143-grain ELD-X, Nosler 142-grain ABLR, Berger Classic Hunter, and Berger Hybrid Target bullets all shot great.
One can expect velocities about 250 to 350 fps faster than the 6.5 Creedmoor. For example, the highest velocity of the Nosler 129-grain ABLR listed in the Nosler manual for the 6.5 Creedmoor is 2,945 fps. With this bullet in the PRC, the maximum velocity is 3,319 fps, an increase of 374 fps. For the same comparison with the Nosler 142-grain ABLR, the velocity for the 6.5 Creedmoor is 2,733 fps, and it’s 3,113 fps for the 6.5 PRC, an increase of 380 fps.
The highest velocity recorded from my 6.5 PRC M-18 was 3,008 fps, and it was with the Hornady 120-grain GMX lead-free bullet over a charge 60.5 grains of IMR 8133. Close behind were the 130-grain Barnes and Berger bullets with IMR 8133 and H1000. The ever-reliable Nosler 125-grain Partition over 60.0 grains of IMR 8133 registered 2,970 fps.
As expected, the various Berger 130- to 140-grain bullets printed cloverleaf groups with all propellants tried.
Switching to the Nosler 129-grain ABLR, 58.5 grains of Retumbo gave a velocity of 2,900 fps, and near-maximum charges of IMR 7977, IMR 8133 and H1000 clocked velocities over 2,800 fps, with excellent game-getting accuracy.
The Hornady 143-grain ELD-X and the Nosler 142-grain ABLR are designed for hunting big game, and both did well with IMR 8133. A charge of 60.0 grains produced a velocity of 2,874 fps with the ELD-X and a group average of 0.70 inch. The 142-grain ABLR favored 59.0 grains of this powder for 2,866 fps and a 0.67-inch group average.
The 6.5 PRC cartridge and the rifles that shoot it certainly illustrate the value of the precise case design criteria noted earlier. The PRC cartridge is very accurate, produces uniform ballistics, and has the availability to use high-tech bullets and specialty propellants that enhance the round’s performance. And it delivers plenty of the power necessary for effective use on big game, even at extended ranges. It is a delight to handload, and the ballistics of factory loads are easily duplicated with carefully developed handloads.
The 6.5 PRC has been called a “6.5 Creedmoor on steroids,” and that’s an apt description. This is no knock on the Creedmoor—we all know it is a terrific, modern cartridge with bona fide creds. It’s sorta a “Goldilocks” thing: The 6.5 PRC is just more—but not too much—of a very good thing.
The 6.5 PRC Afield
I was so impressed with the M-18 rifle chambered for the 6.5 PRC cartridge that I used it in the 2021 Missouri deer season on my acreage. The season is 10 days long, and we have lots of deer, so I was sure I’d connect. Load selection was difficult, as there were so may good ones. I eventually narrowed the choice down to either the Nosler 142-grain AccuBond LR bullet over 59.0 grains of IMR 8133 or the Hornady 143-grain ELD-X bullet over 58.0 grains of the same powder. The Hornady handload won out; its velocity was 2,842 fps. Since potential shots at deer on my place are all within 200 yards, I zeroed-in 1 inch high at 100 yards.
Opening morning dawned clear and cold, and I had no sooner settled into my ground blind than I saw a big, branch-antlered buck at 196 yards. I could tell it was a nice buck, but I couldn’t confirm that it was an 8-pointer (Missouri has point restrictions in my area). The buck was chasing some does, and he soon ran off and out of my life. I saw no more bucks that day…or the next.
About midmorning of the third day of the season, a plump doe waddled into view right in front of my blind. She was gawking at me. I froze and gawked back. Then to the right I saw the gleam of an antler. A buck was following this doe. I grabbed my binocular, counted points, and determined he was a legal buck, so I put down the glass and grabbed the rifle. I quickly got on the buck; the range was about 30 yards.
I had the M-18’s safety engaged and its bolt locked. As I put the crosshairs on the buck through a thin canopy of weeds, I pushed the safety forward one click. I squeezed the trigger, and nothing happened. Realizing my mistake, I flipped the safety all the way forward and tried to re-aim at the buck.
But this buck didn’t just fall off a turnip truck, and by then he had figured out that the movement he saw in the blind was not a good thing. He instantly hotfooted it to parts unknown before I could get off a shot. (About five minutes later I heard a shot from the direction the buck had run, so I think my neighbor nailed him.) The rest of that day was a blank. Three days and no shots. Dejection set in.
But the fourth day of the season found me ever hopeful and ensconced again in my blind. Again, on the other side of the field was a big-bodied buck that was chasing a doe. And again, I couldn’t ascertain his points, but the doe was leading the buck on a merry chase that brought them closer to my position. Finally, I saw the brow tines and readied my rifle. The buck was running at a pretty good clip, and I swung with him. When the crosshairs centered on the chest cavity, and with the rifle’s safety in the fire position, I touched one-off, and the buck collapsed in a heap and didn’t move. I later ranged the shot at 68.5 yards. The buck was a fat 8-pointer with a beautiful symmetrical rack. In fact, he was so handsome that I’m having him mounted.
The bullet penetrated side to side and was recovered under the skin on the off shoulder. The bullet was pretty much destroyed and weighed 46.1 grains, 32.2 percent of its original weight. Internal damage was massive on both shoulders. All in all, a perfect performance, and the result is a freezer that is full.