Today we’re talking long range cartridges and the enigmatic enterprise of the intrepid 6.5 Creedmoor round. TTAG reader and LGS (local gun shop) raider Marcus M comes in with a question, and some confusion, about long range shooting.
”I see everywhere about how good the 6.5 Creedmoor is. I went to two matches with my rifle (AR-10 in .308 Win) and I lost big time. Like it wasn’t even fair. I spent $2,000 on that rifle and $2,000 on the scope and I’m shooting the best ammo I can get or make. I can shoot at 1,000 yards all day, but in these (steel plate) matches I just can’t keep up anymore. What happened? I never used to get smoked like this! Do I need a 6.5 Creedmoor to get out of last place?”
The short answer here is no, you don’t need a gun chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor to shoot long range. The longer answer, though, is that you probably should consider it, as it offers better performance than .308 in a .308-sized rifle.
6.5 Creedmoor isn’t the be-all, end-all, so don’t be fooled by marketing or some of the “wisdom” you hear thrown around the range. But 6.5 is the best out there for the most common full-size non-AR-15 rifles currently in production.
Marcus’s situation is familiar to many people who have spent time in the long range sports. I gained and lost interest several times over the years and spent much of that time being critical of 6.5 Creedmoor…but now it’s about all I shoot.
I saw it initially as the start of a race, and sure enough other rounds came out to compete for popularity, but all failed to grab attention.
When the 6.5 Creedmoor was initially developed, there were few viable options outside of .308 Win and 5.56/.223 for long range. There were, of course, long range options on a custom basis, but the only way to really get competitive off-the-shelf long range rifles was to do so in military calibers.
The .300 Win Mag chambering was the dominant force for years, and even rounds like .338 Lapua gained some traction despite the price tag. People wanted to shoot long range, but the options were frustrating.
Some of you out there are saying, ‘Josh, years back you wrote some bad things about 6.5 CM.’ What they don’t understand is that when I wrote those things, it was still considered a fad cartridge that was being heavily marketed despite offering no ballistic superiority to 6.5x55mm Mauser.
Nothing I wrote was wrong then and it’s still true today. I am not surprised that 6.5 Creedmoor succeeded, but I wasn’t at all under the impression at the time that it would be widely available, which is a major consideration. Plenty of guys I know have some WSSM or RSAUM nonsense that they can’t find ammo for despite the most recent magnum craze that lasted several years.
Unlike most other fad cartridges, though, the 6.5 Creedmoor stuck, not because of of its merits and ubermench status, but because of the simple fact that it did better than .308 Win in the same size rifle as .308 Win.
Regardless of how you slice the pie, the 6.5 Creedmoor’s success depended largely on the fact that the .308 AICS pattern magazine and 700-style short action were already in extremely common use. It was a drop-in solution for improvement over an already existing round, not a totally new system.
New systems don’t always work. This is again why 300 BLK ended up being so successful commercially in the AR-15. The other popular, and now dying, rounds of the day such as 6.5 Grendel and 6.8 SPC required so many changes to the AR host platform that they just weren’t feasible for most shooters. The magazine problems alone were enough to turn most people off.
The 300 BLK, again, was a drop-in solution that used all the same parts with the exception of the barrel as 5.56, including magazines. Had it not been designed that way, it probably would have been a commercial failure like the rest.
The emphasis here is not on the merits of the cartridge itself, but what is generally and economically viable. The 6.5 Creedmoor beats .308 at most .308 ranges from barrels even half as long. A 13-inch 6.5 CM rifle can handily best a 24-inch .308 ballistically using off-the-shelf ammunition. Precision rifles can thus be smaller and more efficient by way of more efficient bullets.
This is all fine and dandy, but as I mentioned, the 6.5×55 does the same thing. So why isn’t it as popular? Different case head, different action length, different magazines, etc. It’s the same bullet, but with a different system to launch it.
If you go this route, you may as well go custom and do a 6.5-284 or something similar. The point is, while ballistically identical for all intents and purposes, the 6.5×55 doesn’t fit our most popular platforms.
You don’t need a 6.5 Creedmoor if your goal is steel plates at 1000 yards, but it makes sense to have one because it’s more widely supported. Make sense? If you move to Sweden, well that’s a different story.
My advice to Marcus is the same advice I would give to anyone who is new to long range or even the experienced competitor coming to the line after some years away from the sport.
The distances haven’t changed, the steel plates are still at unknown distances, and the wind certainly is still there. But if you plan to shoot to win, you have to either compete against identical cartridges or upgrade to a cartridge that puts you on equal footing with those on the top of the leaderboard.
The problem we have here is that Marcus told me he only took about five years off of long range because of a move for work. He still competed up until that point and still shot long range from time to time while traveling. His equipment is arguably top-shelf from some very high end companies.
He showed me his groups on his phone and they were exceptional for a semi-auto, coming in at 3/4” at 100 meters. He is a technically proficient shooter with a military background and is no slouch on steel. But in the last five years his gear became obsolete in direct comparison to the even mid-tier shooters.
It’s not that Marcus has poor equipment, it’s that he had to spend about $5,000 to get a .308 that could best all other .308’s, but now isn’t competitive against some $1,000 off-the-shelf 6.5 Creedmoor rifles.
He is, categorically, a better shooter than most on a detailed level. It is harder to shoot a .308 than a 6.5 CM and you need to be a better shooter in general to master it. The 6.5 CM isn’t cheating, it is just the byproduct of good engineering inside the same magazine dimensions.
Looking over his scores, his game doesn’t fall apart until about 800 yards, meaning that if your are a good shooter like he is and already have a .308 of good quality, you probably won’t need to worry much inside that range.
Past 800 yards his hit likelihood dropped to just 30%, and by 1000 yards he was hitting 10% of the time in matches. Even the best .308 runs out of gas at about a half mile (880 yards) and it’s that last 200 yards that can make or break a game. By comparison, a 120gr 6.5CM from a 16” barrel at 2,900 fps is still supersonic at nearly a mile, where even the best .308 round is going subsonic at 1100 yards.
I’m going to leave this open ended. The point is, if you shoot 500 or 800 yards recreationally it doesn’t really matter if you have a 5.56, .308, or a .45-120 Sharps. If you are shooting past 800 yards on a regular basis, it’s probably a good idea to get something that’s chambered for more efficient bullets.
If you shoot a lot, get something affordable like 6.5 Creedmoor that has factory options at a low cost. If cost isn’t a consideration, get what you like such as a .300 PRC or .338 Lapua.
Better yet, decide where you want your game to begin to break down and build the best rifle with the best cartridge for shooting inside that distance. There’s no sense in building out a 6.5 Creedmoor when you only shoot 200 yards regularly. Hell, a good 1911 in .45 ACP can ring steel at that distance, but that’s another story for another time.
About the rifles in this article:
Rifle #1: Mesa Precison Arms titanium action with a Proof Research carbon fiber barrel chambered for 6.5 Creedmoor. Chassis is by KRG with extended forend. Mount and optic are SIG SAUER TANGO6 5-30x in a Giessele 34mm Super Precision Mount.
Rifle #2: Tuebor Precison stainless action with a Brownell’s Premium Barrels M24 contour 6.5 Creedmoor. Custom Magpul 700 Pro Chassis with night vision mount. Mount and optic are respectively SPHUR 34mm 0MOA and US Optics Foundation 5-25X. Suppressor pictured is an OSS 762 Ti.