6.5mm - The Handloader's Caliber

6.5mm - The Handloader's Caliber
From left to right: 6.5 Grendel, 6.5 Arisaka, 6.5 Carcano, 6.5 Dutch Mannlicher, 6.5x54 Mannlicher-Schönauer, 6.5x55 Swedish, 6.5 Portuguese, 6.5 Creedmoor

Right now, a 6.5mm is the rifle to have, and the unquestioned top dog is the 6.5 Creedmoor. More and more ammunition companies are offering top-quality ammunition, and riflemakers can’t keep up with demand.

The 6.5 Creedmoor is unique in several ways. It’s the first .264-caliber cartridge ever to enjoy widespread popularity in the United States, and it’s the first in which every aspect of its specifications, from overall length to twist rate, has been tailored for optimal performance. It is also the first to have factory ammunition that is so good, and in such variety, that one could cheerfully get by without handloading for it. Every other 6.5 cartridge ever offered here has been largely a handloading proposition. You load your own or you don’t shoot much.

My introduction to the 6.5s (aside from a youthful, unrequited infatuation with the .264 Winchester Magnum) was the Swedish 6.5x55. It was the 1980s, and at the time ammunition was available only from Norma and Dominion, a Canadian brand. Both employed heavy bullets at low velocity — 155 to 160 grains at 2,200 to 2,400 fps, roughly. Bullets for reloading ranged from 100 grains to 160 grains, including some beautiful 120-, 129-, and 140-grain bullets. I worked up a wonderfully accurate load using the Nosler 140-grain Partition and went Dall sheep hunting in Alaska. At 2,800 fps, that load performed like a scalpel out to about 300 yards.

That made me a 6.5mm fan, but in those days any suggestion of an article about .264s drew only yawns from editors. No one—no one—they said was interested. The thing is, though, someone must have been because bulletmakers offered an ever-increasing array of 6.5mm bullets. And wildcatters, that indefatigable bunch, kept necking cases up or down to 6.5.


One wildcat that gained considerable currency was the 6.5-284 Winchester, which is simply the rebated-rim .284 Winchester necked down by 20 thousandths. Another was the 6.5-06, which had been around forever and was merely a slight modification of the .256 Newton, which was created in 1913. Of course, there was always the scattering of European military 6.5s, too. Most were strictly handloading propositions.


One exception was the aristocrat of the bunch: the 6.5x54 Mannlicher-Schönauer, which not only was the Greek military cartridge, but also was chambered in the beautiful Mannlicher rifles imported from Austria. Commercial 6.5x54 M-S was loaded here for many years, and most lines of imported ammunition included it. It was never cheap, but then those rifles were rarely owned by anyone who considered money an object. More recent 6.5 innovations include the 26 Nosler and the 6.5-300 Weatherby. The latter has been around for a long time as a wildcat, originally intended for long-range benchrest shooting. The 26 Nosler is a bulky, rimless case with sharp shoulder and straight walls, fitted to a magnum action. Ballistically, it and the 6.5-300 Weatherby are similar.

Oddly, the original 6.5s from around 1900 used a heavy-for-caliber bullet with high sectional density, at relatively low velocity, for great penetration and dependability. They were used for hunting everything from chamois in the Alps to elephants in the Lado Enclave. A rifleman who wanted a lighter bullet at higher velocity, however, had to handload. Then, when such cartridges as the .256 Newton came along, their creators insisted on high velocity and loaded them with a 129-grain bullet. The formula was turned on its head, and you had to handload it to achieve the old, established weight and sectional density combination.

Today’s 6.5mm cartridges emphasize long-range shooting and are loaded with beautifully streamlined, heavy bullets. While these undoubtedly perform at distances unheard of with, for example, the 6.5x54 M-S, they are not the best for every application. Which puts lovers of the 6.5 right back where we always were: shopping for bullets and loading our own ammunition.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Pinging Steel At Over A Mile Away

Pinging Steel At Over A Mile Away

Big bore semiauto or a lever gun? We look at the futuristic .450 Bushmaster and how it compares to the tried and true .45-70. ISS Prop House gives us the rundown on the guns used in Enemy at the Gate. We ping steel with a .300 WinMag at over a mile.

Skills Drills: 3-Second Headshot

Skills Drills: 3-Second Headshot

James Tarr runs through the 3-Second Headshot drill.

Black Hills Evolution of Rifle Cartridge: .308 Win. 175 Gr. Match

Black Hills Evolution of Rifle Cartridge: .308 Win. 175 Gr. Match

David Fortier talks with Jeff Hoffman of Black Hills Ammunition about the evolution of the .308 Win. 175 Gr. Match bullet.

The Glock 21

The Glock 21

Frank and Tony from Gallery of Guns spice up the Glock test using their non-dominant hands.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Crimson Trace enters the riflescope business with the Crimson Trace CTL-3420 4-20X 50mm. Optics

Review: Crimson Trace CTL-3420 4-20X 50mm

Joel J. Hutchcroft - April 29, 2019

Crimson Trace enters the riflescope business with the Crimson Trace CTL-3420 4-20X 50mm.

True Velocity is exploring options to make its distinctive ammo available to civilians. Ammo

True Velocity Rifle Ammo

Joel J. Hutchcroft - May 31, 2019

True Velocity is exploring options to make its distinctive ammo available to civilians.

The Smith & Wesson Model 19 revolver is back in production after being on ice for nearly two decades. Handguns

Smith & Wesson Model 19 Classic Revolver Review

Joel J. Hutchcroft - March 08, 2019

The Smith & Wesson Model 19 revolver is back in production after being on ice for nearly two...

The Remington Model 700 PCR is a long-range rig built for punching paper, ringing steel, and hammering hogs, deer, and coyotes. Rifles

Remington Model 700 PCR Review

Sam Wolfenberger - April 15, 2019

The Remington Model 700 PCR is a long-range rig built for punching paper, ringing steel, and...

See More Trending Articles

More Ammo

In single-shot firearms, .35-caliber rifle bullets are great performers in the .357 Maximum cartridge. Ammo

Put the .357 Maximum Where It Works

Allan Jones - March 06, 2020

In single-shot firearms, .35-caliber rifle bullets are great performers in the .357 Maximum...

Although it was introduced 40 years ago, the 7mm-08 Remington is still one of the best Ammo

7mm-08 Remington History and Performance

Allan Jones - June 26, 2020

Although it was introduced 40 years ago, the 7mm-08 Remington is still one of the best...

The new Winchester Active Duty 9mm ammo is loaded to the same military ballistics specifications as for the MHS program and has a rated muzzle velocity of 1,320 fps and a muzzle energy of 445 ft-lbs. Ammo

Winchester Active Duty 9mm Ammo Review

Jake Edmondson - July 17, 2020

The new Winchester Active Duty 9mm ammo is loaded to the same military ballistics...

Starting in the late 1950s, the .338-bore size gained considerable traction — thanks to the .338 Winchester Magnum. Why? Because hunters are often after game bigger and tougher than whitetails. Here's a list of the .338-caliber greats in chronological order in which they were introduced. Ammo

11 Great .338 Caliber Rifle Cartridges

Payton Miller

Starting in the late 1950s, the .338-bore size gained considerable traction — thanks to the...

See More Ammo

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get Digital Access.

All Shooting Times subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now