Alexander Arms 6.5 Grendel Hunter Review
December 03, 2014
Alexander Arms introduced the 6.5 Grendel cartridge in 2004. It is unquestionably one of the most thoughtfully designed and efficient rounds, and in the AR platform it offers a combination of features that lend it to hunting. Now Alexander Arms has a 6.5 Grendel AR specifically designed for hunting.
I recently had a chance to talk with Bill Alexander, the founder of Alexander Arms, about the reasons behind the development of the 6.5 Grendel Hunter model rifle. Alexander is a multitalented engineer who once worked for the British Ministry of Defense. Talking to him is a real experience, and you can't help but learn a bunch of new stuff about gun design.
"ARs are great rifles," Alexander said. But he wanted to make them "a little more versatile." Alexander saw the need for a flat-shooting, hard-hitting cartridge that would broaden the AR's reach, and the Grendel was the result. "I designed the 6.5 Grendel specifically as a hunting cartridge," he said.
The Grendel Hunter comes with a fluted, 18-inch, stainless-steel barrel that is finished in matte black and has six grooves with a right-hand twist of 1:8 inches. That's steep enough for the heaviest bullets that can be realistically launched out of the modest-sized Grendel case. Although the rifle does not come equipped with a muzzle brake or flash hider, the muzzle has 9/16-24 threads so that accessories can be added. The threads are discreetly covered by a muzzle cap.
As is typical of Alexander Arms rifles, the fit of the upper to the lower is nice and tight. One 10-round magazine is provided, but additional four- and 26-round magazines are available.
The Grendel Hunter comes fitted with the comfortable ERGO Grip, and a collapsible B5 stock allows length-of-pull adjustment from 12.5 to 14.5 inches. The single-stage trigger is Alexander Arms's Tactical style with skeletonized hammer and disconnector. The trigger-pull weight on my test rifle was 5 pounds, 6 ounces, but it's so crisp it seems lighter.
The flattop receiver has plenty of rail slots for the attachment of optics or a rear sight. Provision for a front sight is the MK10 Plus rail section atop the 12.5-inch, cylindrical, free-floated handguard. Three additional attachment points are spaced around the front of the handguard at 90-degree intervals.
Without sights, the new Grendel Hunter weighs in at a comfortable 6 pounds, 9 ounces. The fat Leupold VX-6 4-24X 52mm scope I used for testing and during a Texas aoudad hunt brought rifle weight to just under 9 pounds. Admittedly, this scope was a bit of overkill, but its performance was nothing short of spectacular.
The Grendel Hunter's finish is a camo pattern called Kryptek Highlander. It is very attractive and looks right at home in the woods or in a hunting blind. Frankly, it is difficult to imagine a more balanced package for hunting medium game.
The 6.5 Grendel cartridge is impressive. It was designed from the ground up to provide the optimal combination of power, efficiency, and accuracy in AR-type rifles. Its lineage can be traced to several superaccurate rounds, such as the .22 PPC, 6mm PPC, and similar wildcats.
Factory ammo in 6.5 Grendel is available from a variety of sources. Hornady offers two loads with 123-grain bullets: the A-Max and the SST. The SST version is cataloged at 2,590 fps and measured 2,429 fps out of my Grendel Hunter's 18-inch barrel. Accuracy averaged 0.70 inch. Dave Emary, Hornady's ballistics wizard, told me that this SST is specifically designed for small to midsize big game, such as antelopes or whitetails. I learned how right he was on my recent hunt. More about that in a moment.
Alexander Arms lists five factory loads in its latest catalog. Bullets are the Hornady 129-grain SST, the Lapua 123-grain Scenar, the Barnes 120-grain TSX, the Nosler 120-grain Ballistic Tip, and the Swift 130-grain Scirocco.
For "blasting ammo," Wolf's 120-grain HPBT load from Russia is only $15.99 per box of 20 rounds from Alexander Arms, MidwayUSA, and other suppliers. This ammo is brass-cased and Boxer-primed. I tried reloading it, but it is pretty soft and not really suitable for handloading. It registered 2,392 fps and produced a respectable 1.12-inch average.
Handloading the 6.5 Grendel is a blast. Pardon the pun. Just about all manufacturers of reloading tools make reloading dies for it, and several are available from Alexander Arms, too. I used Hornady and RCBS dies (the RCBS dies are marked .264 LBC, which is gunmaker Les Baer's version of basically the same cartridge). The RCBS sizer squeezes the base of the cartridge case down just a mite more than the Hornady die, but I used both with complete satisfaction.
With the number of powders and high-tech bullets available, it's easy to tailor ammo for benchrest competition, long-range targets, plinking, varmints, and big game. About the only requirements are a primer in one end of the case, a good bullet in the other, and a safe powder charge in between. Almost all loads shot great in the new rifle, and most shot spectacularly.
New Grendel cases are available from Alexander Arms, Hornady, and Nosler. (Alexander Arms's cases are made by Lapua and have the PPC-sized small flash hole, which is thought to be a component in the PPC accuracy equation.) All take Small Rifle primers, except for the Wolf cases, which use Large Rifle primers. Standard-strength primers are all that are required for the modest-sized Grendel case; I tried CCI 450 primers with some loads, but saw no difference in performance.
Load data is readily available in most contemporary loading manuals, and the comprehensive two volumes of the 6.5 Grendel Reloading Handbook by Joseph A. Smith, Paul Scott, and Gregory Luli are must-haves for all 6.5 Grendel reloaders.
I tested more than 45 handloads in my Grendel Hunter, and the average accuracy was 0.93 inch. The best 25 percent averaged 0.79 inch, and for the top 50 percent, it was 0.91 inch.
The chart on page 38 lists loads for seven bullets with a wide range of available powders. I consider these loads to be maximum in my rifle, so be sure to reduce starting loads by at least 6 percent and work up carefully.
The best powders in my tests were IMR-8208 XBR, CFE 223, Norma 201, LEVERevolution (LVR), AR-Comp, and Benchmark. Bullet standouts were the Nosler Ballistic Tip, the Nosler Partition, and the Hornady SST.
Because of the Grendel case's limited capacity, 100- to 123-grain bullets are about the heaviest that are practical. You can compress powder only so much, and the 129- and 130-grain bullets take up too much case volume, preventing adequate charges for reasonable velocities. That said, the Sierra 130-grain HPBT GameKing delivered 2,374 fps and MOA accuracy with 31.0 grains of Norma 201 powder.
The same space limitations apply to the longer lead-free bullets, too, such as the Hornady 120-grain GMX and 140-grain spitzers. While both shot okay, their velocities were a bit low for hunting.
If you're thinking the 6.5 Grendel is too wimpy of a round for big game, let me assure you it is not. As my taxidermist, the affable Neal Coldwell, in Kerrville, Texas, said to me, "You're a good shot. It's not what you hit them with; it's where you hit 'em. Just put it on 'em!"
That's exactly what I did.
It was as dark as the inside of a bear's mouth as we sat in the metal blind, awaiting light the first morning of the hunt. I couldn't see anything, and I dared not move because if I so much as touched the blind, it sounded like hitting a washtub with a spoon. Soon, I could discern the outline of the horizon, and eventually I could see trees, bushes, and the clearing we were watching. Then I could see an animal moving! It was an aoudad-a ram! I leaned over to the guide and in a whisper asked if it was a nice one. "It's a really nice one," he replied.
Slowly, and very carefully, I eased the rifle through the blind window and trained the scope's crosshairs on the sheep. He was moving around, and I couldn't get a clear shot, so I waited, my heart pounding. Finally, the ram started to move off - it was now or never.
At 83 yards, I placed the "X" on his shoulder and carefully squeezed the trigger. At the shot, the ram instantly collapsed down into in his tracks, moved his head a few times, and then laid still. My wife said, "He's down!" The guide said, "They don't usually do that."
Eventually, my heart resumed beating. I was relieved but not really surprised. I had confidence in the great rifle, scope, and ammo, I had a solid rest, and bullet placement was perfect.
I think Bill Alexander is right. The Alexander Arms Grendel Hunter rifle may be the optimal combination of power, portability, ballistic efficiency, and pinpoint accuracy.