I’m sorry to break it to you, but sharp, sleek, and fast 6.5 Creedmoor is not a “hipster caliber.” It’s here to stay, and that’s because it’s better than the old glue horse we call .308 Winchester / 7.62mm NATO in every single way. Almost.
There you have it, dull old .308 on the left. Vastly superior 6.5 Creed on the right.
Take that lazy, rounded corner, 20-degree .308 shoulder and sharpen it up, give it a 30-degree angle, neck it down a little more, and you have the 6.5 Creedmoor. It was released by Hornady in 2007, a few months after .30 Thompson Center, which is technically the 6.5 CM’s parent case (the .30 TC being a sharper-shouldered .308, designed for a higher pressure rating).
Capable of being fired from the same magazines through the same firearms as the sad .308/7.62 NATO, the 6.5’s main advantage comes from its use of longer, more aerodynamic 0.264″ diameter bullets. A higher ballistic coefficient means the projectile slows down less during flight and is affected less by the wind. At the same time, a lighter projectile means significantly less felt recoil and easier spotting of your own shots.
But how much of an advantage is this, really? I’m glad you asked.
The Story Version:
Hit percentage. It’s all about hit percentage.
While bullet drop is easy enough to calculate for a given target distance, the at least 30% flatter trajectory of 6.5 gives you far more room for error in your range estimations. Compared to a typical .308, a typical 6.5 round also reduces the effect of a crosswind on the bullet’s path by at least 40%; the practical value of which cannot be overstated.
These two factors alone massively extend your ability to hit the target or to take an ethical shot on an animal.
I’ve heard a lot of “.308 is better inside 800 yards” from the stubborn .308 lobby, but that just isn’t the case. Even at only 300 yards in a 10 mph crosswind you’d have to hold off 7.2 inches with .308 Winchester whereas when shooting 6.5 Creedmoor, you’ll only hold 4.7 inches. If you’re shooting at a 10-inch diameter target (e.g. the vital zone of a deer) and neglect to hold for wind, you’ll miss well wide with the .308 but still hit with the 6.5.
While porky .308 is about 250 ft-lbs of energy more powerful at the muzzle, a match 6.5 CM load has already surpassed a match .308 load’s retained energy after only 160 yards of flight. At 1,000 yards it can have twice the kinetic energy.
Even within that short distance where .308 pushes more ft-lbs, the higher sectional density of the 6.5 projectile — the same reason it’s so aerodynamic — often results in improved penetration in game. We’ll have to do some testing, though, to see if a deer or elk at point blank range can tell the difference between 2,400 ft-lbs and 2,650 ft-lbs.
Bottom line for hunters: a 6.5 Creedmoor can take the same game as .308 and do it just as well as .308 at close ranges. But past a couple hundred yards, there’s simply no contest; 6.5 flat-out dominates. And as the range increases, so does the brutal domination.
Because USSOCOM (U.S. Special Operations Command) found that, as compared to flat-footed .308 (specifically M118LR, the military’s best long-range .308 load), 6.5 Creedmoor doubles snipers’ hit probability at 1,000 meters, increases effective range by at least a third, increases energy on target by 50%, reduces the effect of wind by 40%, and has at least 30% less recoil, they will begin converting their .308 Win MK110A1 and Mk20 rifles to 6.5 CM in 2019 (see here and here). A process that requires nothing more than a new barrel, by the way.
You, too, can and will benefit from all of these improvements whether you’re shooting 100 yards or 1,000. Or 1,400. Or whether you’re shooting steel targets, paper targets, or four-legged targets. Or shooting at your old, worthless .308 rifles. Better in every way! Almost . . .
The availability of cheap plinking or “battle” ammo in .308 is the exception to the 6.5 Creedmoor’s would-be shutout. That just isn’t a thing in Creedmoor land. It’s a precision rifle caliber and whether it’s hunting ammo, target ammo, or long range ammo, it’s all match grade kind of stuff.
Expect to spend $0.95 per round and up [ED: mid 2020 prices now start at about $140 a round]. Then again, Sellier & Bellot recently released a 6.5 Creedmoor load that runs about $0.60 to $0.65 per round and is getting generally very positive reviews. We’ll try to get our hands on some for a thorough test.
Of course, match grade and hunting .308 from quality manufacturers generally costs the same as the 6.5 CM equivalents. Often more (see above). If you’re seeking accuracy and/or hunting with quality ammo and don’t plan on going out and dumping rounds downrange, there’s no cost savings to be had with .308.
Then again, if you’re shooting a semi-auto and think of it as more of a short range battle rifle and want to train a lot, have fun blasting away with it, and/or are happy as long as you’re at least “minute of bad guy,” then you can get into steel-cased .308 for about $0.32 and up [ED: mid 2020 prices start at about $0.59 for steel cased].
At the end of the day, I understand the continued appeal of .308 in a semi-auto “battle rifle.” I don’t understand why anyone would still buy a .308 bolt gun or semi-auto sniper system (SASS) type rifle, though. The 6.5 round simply does everything far better. Choosing the .308 Winchester dumpster fire over 6.5 Creedmoor in a rifle that will shoot primarily high quality ammo is a mistake.
I know you called 6.5 a hipster fad — there’s a small chance (~100%) that I did, too — and it’s hard to eat your own words, but it’s time to man up and neck down.
The Numbers Version:
Less drop, less wind drift, and more retained velocity and energy for a longer effective range. But how much so? I’m glad you asked.
Let’s go ahead and look not at your average .308 projectile, but at one of the most modern, slipperiest bullet options available and compare it directly to the exact same bullet design in 6.5 CM.
• At 1,000 yards, the .308 drops 372.1 inches. The 6.5 drops 319.8 inches. That’s over 16% more drop with the .308.
• At 1,000 yards with a 10 mph, full-value (perpendicular to bullet travel) crosswind, the .308 drifts 77.6 inches off course. The 6.5 drifts 62.6 inches. That’s 24% more wind drift from the .308.
• At 1,000 yards, the .308 is still trucking along at 1,287.2 fps. But the 6.5 is doing 1,492.7 fps.
• While the .308 goes transonic at about 1,100 yards, the 6.5 doesn’t get into that slipping-out-of-supersonic-and-becoming-unstable territory for another 200 yards still. Predictable accuracy out to at least 1,300.
Now, that’s one of the very best case scenarios on the commercial market for .308 Winchester. But you can easily do better in 6.5 Creedmoor (and you’re likely to do much worse in .308).
For instance, sticking with Hornady here (they created the caliber, after all), their 147 grain ELD Match 6.5 CM load, at 1,000 yards, has dropped 304.2 inches, has drifted 54 inches in that same 10 mph crosswind, and is still doing 1,597 fps. It doesn’t go transonic until about 1,425 yards.
On the other hand, if we look at a typical .308 target load that’s shooting the gold standard 168 grain Sierra MatchKing BTHP projectile, you’ll be dealing with 430.6 inches of drop and 106.3 inches of wind drift in those same conditions. Velocity at 1,000 yards is, oh darn, we’re subsonic at 1,071.8 fps. In fact, the bullet went transonic at about 900 yards.
In the 1,000-yard match-up between the 168 grain SMK .308 and the 147 grain ELD Match 6.5, the .308 drops 41.6% more, drifts 96.9% more (twice as much! — 8.86 feet vs 4.5 feet), and goes transonic at just 63.2% of the distance as the 6.5. And it recoils with 30% more force, making it harder to spot your own impacts and less pleasurable to shoot. This 6.5 is going almost 50% faster at 1,000 yards and has 94.2% more kinetic energy than this .308. Effective range of the 6.5 is 58% farther. No contest.
Zooming in on those graphs to show a 500-yard maximum reduces the cavernous, performance-shaming difference between these calibers to something just slightly less embarrassing. Still, and I repeat, choosing .308 Winchester over 6.5 Creedmoor in a rifle that will shoot primarily high quality ammo is a mistake.
Hang on, sorry, not done yet! One final note worth mentioning is that modern bullet designs like the ELD-X have given .308 Winchester a huge boost in the impressive ballistic coefficient game. Not to 6.5 levels, mind you, but vastly improved over even very good designs like the Sierra MatchKing used as an example load for some of the calculations above.
But — and it’s a big but — your .308 rifle very well may not shoot modern, low drag projectiles accurately. Especially the extra low drag type with a secant ogive. While 6.5 Creedmoors are often chambered and designed with long, sleek ELD/VLD projectiles in mind, few .308s are.
As an example, my CZ 557 Urban Counter Sniper hates factory secant ogive rounds, shows a strong dislike for hybrids, and doesn’t even much care for the extra long tangent ogive of Federal’s fantastic Gold Medal Berger with 185 grain Berger Juggernauts seen above. Good ol’ traditional tangent ogives for that traditionally-chambered .308 rifle, indeed.
Which, on the .308 short bus, is more often the case than not. So closing this ballistic gap is much harder than just upping one’s ammo game. Rolling your own, of course, can help by controlling bullet seating depth, as those VLDs usually like to be up against the rifling lands when chambered.
Or you could just shoot 6.5 Creedmoor instead. Nothing says #Winning like sub-half-minute accuracy from factory ammo that’s supersonic past 1,400 yards, wanders half as much in the wind, hits harder, penetrates better, and does it all with less recoil.
And if everything above still hasn’t convinced you, I’ll leave you with some photos of .308 being super creepy…
* A note on .260 Remington:
This is also .308 necked down to .264 caliber, but .260 Rem retains the same shoulder profile and its resultant longer case length. Ballistics of .260 Remington and 6.5 Creedmoor are typically about identical. The 6.5 CM is rated for a higher maximum pressure but .260 Rem has slightly (1.9%) more powder capacity.
Ultimately, it’s easier to get a few FPS more velocity out of the .260 as it’s easier and safer to use extra case capacity than to push the max pressure boundary. However, if you compare commercial loads using the same projectile, velocities are usually identical or dang close (usually within 50 fps or about 2% spread or less, with .260 typically but not always taking the slight lead. Example: .260 Rem SST vs. 6.5 CM SST).
In the USSOCOM testing, .260 and 6.5 went head-to-head and were found to perform identically in every aspect from reliability in a semi-auto to accuracy and ballistics. Crushing the incumbent .308, of course, which smells of old fish.
However, 6.5 Creedmoor was still the clear winner for a handful of reasons, including vastly larger commercial market and manufacturer adoption plus the important ability to load longer projectiles within a cartridge overall length that still fits in an SR-25/.308 magazine.
Either way, though, both the .260 and 6.5 will blow the Velcro clean off a .308 shooter’s shoes at 1,400 yards.
This article was originally published in 2018.