January 04, 2011
DPMS' Panther and Hornady's 6.5 Creedmoor wear out the X-ring.
The author tests the Panther 6.5. Note the reading on the Shooting Chrony: 2,820 fps. That is the lowest velocity reading the author got with the remarkably consistent Hornady ammunition.
I'd heard a great deal of positive things about DPMS' offerings for years but only got around to testing one for the first time in 2007. That rifle, an LR-204 in .204 Ruger, actually started out as a parts kit. I built the rifle myself, so I had a darn good idea of the quality of the parts. To say I was impressed would be an understatement. Not surprisingly, the finished product turned out great, too. It was accurate and ran like a top, despite the fact that it was assembled by my less-than-skilled hands.
That project made a favorable and lasting impression on me. So when I got the hankering for an AR-based rifle for long-range steel targets and deer hunting, my first stop was going to be the DPMS website. I planned to order a .260 Remington or .308 Winchester, but a chance conversation with Hornady's Steve Johnson clued me in to the fact that DPMS was about to announce a purpose-built, long-range rifle chambered for Hornady's new 6.5 Creedmoor cartridge. Johnson's description of the ballistics and enthusiasm for the new cartridge sold me on a test run of the latest DPMS offering, the Panther 6.5 Creedmoor.
The 6.5 Creedmoor
I'm a huge fan of 6.5mm cartridges. In fact, I do the majority of my target shooting and a great deal of my deer hunting these days with a 6.5-284 or a .260 Rem. Those long, pointy bullets shoot flat, retain heaps of downrange energy, buck the wind well, and are downright deadly on deer-sized game. They are also extremely accurate when shot out of barrels with the appropriate twist rate.
Lately, there has been a resurgence of interest in the 6.5s. In fact, custom gunsmiths I've spoken to report a sizeable increase in orders for 6.5-284 and .260 Rem. rigs. The 6.5s are making huge inroads in the world of competitive shooting, too. At sniper matches like the Sniper's Hide Cup, rifles chambered for both cartridges are showing up more frequently and are impressing in greater numbers every year.
While production rifles and ammunition for both rounds are still limited, progressive manufacturers like Hornady have taken notice of this trend. Hornady took a good, long look at the .260 Rem. and decided to do what they've been doing quite a bit of lately: improve on an existing product and make it their own. Hornady's Senior Ballistic Scientist Dave Emary worked with two-time NRA National High Power Champion Dennis DeMille of Creedmoor Sports to develop a cartridge accurate enough that it would allow match shooters to be competitive with factory ammunition. They christened the new cartridge the 6.5 Creedmoor.
ï»¿DPMS Panther 6.5 Creedmoor
|Model ||Panther 6.5 Creedmoor |
|Purpose ||Big game, varmints, and target shooting |
|Manufacturer ||DPMS Firearms, 320-258-4448 |
|Capacity ||19 rounds |
|Receiver Material ||Aluminum |
|Caliber ||6.5 Creedmoor |
|Barrel Length ||24-inch, bull profile |
|Rifling ||Six grooves, 1:7.5 RH twist |
|Sights ||None; Picatinny-spec rail for scope mounting |
|Metal Finish ||Matte-black Teflon-coated receiver; matte 416 stainless-steel barrel. |
|Safety ||Mechanical trigger disconnect. |
|Trigger Type ||Single-stage |
|Pull Weight ||3 pounds, 7 ounces |
|Stock ||A2 Black Zytel Mil-Spec material/type: w/trap-door assembly |
|Overall Length ||43.6 inches |
|Accessories ||Owners manual, nylon sling, cleaning kit, 2 magazines (4 and 19 round), and hard case |
|MSRP ||$1,159 |
The 6.5 Creedmoor's case is 1.920 inches, which is slightly shorter than the .260 Rem. case, but it's a bit longer than the 6.5x47 Lapua case. Case capacity is 53.0 grains of water. According to the folks at Hornady, the shorter case length was designed to avoid overall length issues when combining long, pointy bullets and short, .308 Win.-length magazine boxes. It is a particularly useful improvement for shooters who favor AR-based rifles.
The 6.5 Creedmoor also has a sharp, 30-degree shoulder and an aggressive body taper. Hornady claims these improvements allow the new cartridge to deliver higher velocities than other 6.5mm cartridges while operating at standard .308 Win. pressures.
Claimed velocities for the new cartridge are 3,020 fps for the 120-grain A-Max load and 2,820 fps with a 140-grain A-Max. At 600 yards, the 120-grainer drops 74.3 inches, and the 140-grain A-Max falls 81.3 inches. Compare that to the 168-grain A-Max load for the .308 Win. that drops 89.3 inches at the same distance. The new cartridge should excel in the wind drift and retained energy departments, too.
The 6.5 Panther
Like all of DPMS' offerings, the new Panther is built on a lower receiver that is milled from a solid billet of 6061-T6 aluminum. The trigger guard is an integral part of the receiver. It protects a crisp and light single-stage trigger that, on my gun, broke cleanly at 3 pounds, 7 ounces. A standard A-2-style pistol grip and buttstock are standard parts of a gun that looks very much like a .223 AR save for an oversize magazine well that accommodates the included 19-round magazines.
The author used NightForce's Unimount to secure the NightForce 5.5-22X 50mm scope to the test rifle. The Unimount's integral ring bottoms give it strength, and its 20-MOA slope leaves enough internal adjustment to dial out to 1,000 yards and beyond.
The Panther's upper receiver is extruded from 6066-T6 aluminum. It is a beefy, thick-walled unit designed to withstand a steady diet of high-pressure cartridges like the .300 RSAUM. A shell deflector and forward assist, both of which are machined as one piece, are positioned just behind the ejection port. The A3 flattop design accepts Picatinny-spec scope rings. The upper and lower are hard-anodized for durability and Teflon coated for corrosion resistance.
In keeping with its intended role as an accuracy piece, the Panther employs a ribbed, aluminum, free-float tube rather than conventional handguards. The standard-rifle-length tube has a single sling-swivel stud to facilitate sling or bipod mounting. A Koelbl single-rail gas block is attached to the barrel, just ahead of the free-float tube.
One look at the 6.5's beefy barrel is all it takes to know that this rifle was built for precision work. The 24-inch bull barrel is made from 416 stainless steel. It has a recessed target crown and six button-rifled grooves with a right-hand twist. The twist rate is 1:7.5 inches, which is ideal for stabilizing those long, 140-grain, 6.5mm projectiles.
The overall fit and finish of the test rifle were very good. Internally, it was nice and clean, and the bolt ran smooth as glass once I added a few drops of oil in the right places. I was especially impressed with its crisp, light trigger pull--a key accuracy ingredient all too often ignored by liability-averse manufacturers. At 11.3 pounds without a scope or magazine, it's no lightweight, but the Panther was designed for long-range work from a benchrest or bipod. In that role, the recoil dampening and stability the greater heft provides are most welcome.
To get the most out of the test rifle, I mounted a new 5.5-22X 50mm NightForce scope on it for my testing. The bright, clear scope has a side-focus knob and illuminated, NP-R1 reticle for precision, long-range work. With a top end of 22X and brilliant resolution, this scope is an ideal unit to help me make the most of the Panther's accuracy potential.
I used NightForce's Unimount to secure the scope to the rifle's Picatinny flattop. Its base has a 20-MOA taper to get the widest range of elevation adjustment for long-range work, and it has integral ring bottoms for greater strength. It's also an attractive, clean-looking mount that, in my opinion, is the cat's meow for attaching a scope to an AR.
To The Range
The 6.5 Creedmoor cartridge was still new, so ammunition was scarce. The only load I could get my hands on was Hornady's 120-grain A-Max load at a claimed velocity of 3,020 fps. I was disappointed to not be able to test the 140-grain load because it is, in my opinion, the ideal bullet weight for any of the 6.5s. Still, I reckoned that if the 1:7.5-inch twist would shoot light, 120-grain bullets well, then it would shoot 140-grainers even better.
Before shooting the test rifle, I cleaned it thoroughly and lubricated it sparingly. Though I run my fighting guns wet, I don't like too much oil in my target rifles. I often err on the light side and add a drop or two as necessary if the action feels a bit sluggish. In this case, the action was a bit stiff, so I added a few more drops of oil to make sure I gave the Panther a fair shake at passing my reliability testing.
I had bore-sighted the Panther with my Leupold magnetic bore sighter, so it didn't take me long to get on target. As I fine-tuned the scope, I couldn't help but notice that the recoil and muzzle blast of the new cartridge were very mild. Part of it was a function of barrel length and rifle weight, but the Panther was a true pussycat to shoot.
Once I got it dialed in, I fired 10 five-shot groups. It's hard to do any accuracy comparisons with only one load, but I felt 10 groups would give me a true picture of the gun's accuracy and the velocity of the new cartridge. As often happens when I test a rifle, my groups got progressively smaller as I fired the gun. Perhaps it's a case of new barrels needing a bit of a break in, or maybe it's me getting better acquainted with the rifle. In either case, the Panther shot better as the day progressed.
My first group measured a very respectable 0.936 inch. That's far from match-winning accuracy, but it was an encouraging start. As I got the feel for the trigger, my groups shrank. By the end, I'd whittled my average down to 0.578 inch, and I'd shot an impressive best group of 0.368 inch. Had I been testing a bolt-action rifle, I would have been pretty impressed. But when you take into account the fact that the Panther is a factory semiautomatic gun, the results border on miraculous.
Clearly, my test rifle was put together about as well as an AR can be. But surely some of the credit must go to the ammunition. I delved into the chronograph data to get some insight into the quality and consistency of the test loads.
The first thing I noticed was the average velocity of 2,841 fps. Now that's well short of Hornady's claimed velocity of 3,020 fps, but that's to be expected given the velocity-robbing semiautomatic platform and 24-inch barrel, which is 4 inches less than the barrel used to achieve those claimed velocities. I didn't get a chance to test the 140-grain load, but I am sure the difference would be the same, as the claimed velocity figures were obtained with a 28-inch test barrel.
The second thing I noticed--and it's the key to the incredible accuracy I achieved with the test rifle--is how consistent the chronograph readings were. After recording a 50-round string, the highest reading was 2,852 fps, and the lowest was 2,820 fps. The standard deviation was 12.32 fps, and the extreme spread was 32.58 fps. That incredible consistency speaks volumes about Hornady's quality control and goes a long way towards helping any rifle shoot up to its potential.
With my accuracy testing out of the way, I fired my remaining 145 rounds of ammunition at various targets scattered along the range backstop. Thanks to the NightForce's 22X magnification, finding pieces of clay pigeons, golf balls, and rocks was a breeze. Hitting them with the super-accurate DPMS was a snap, too. Shooting as fast as I could acquire targets and squeeze the trigger, the remaining 145 rounds went through the gun without a hiccup.
I went into this project searching for an accurate, semiautomatic rifle that was equally at home on the range and in the field. I envisioned a single, accurate rifle that I could use to drop deer in the back 40 and smack LaRue steel targets way out yonder. Although I didn't think it was possible, I also wanted it to be affordable. I didn't truly expect to find such a rig, but with its flawless reliability, incredible accuracy, and reasonable MSRP of $1,159, DPMS' new Panther 6.5 Creedmoor far exceeded all of my requirements.
Handloading the 6.5 Creedmoor will, most likely, be a difficult proposition until such time that the latest generation of powders is released to consumers. Like the Hornady-developed .30 T/C, the new cartridge uses proprietary powders that handloaders would be hard-pressed to duplicate. But for budding match or tactical shooters who don't handload, the 6.5 Creedmoor is darn tough to beat.