Is the 6.5 Creedmoor The New King of Cartridges?
Love it or hate it, the Creedmoor is riding a wave of popularity that’s unprecedented in the history of metallic cartridges
Hornady introduced the 6.5 Creedmoor in 2007, and few people cared. The masses of shooters and hunters weren’t interested in a short-action cartridge with similar ballistics to the century-old 6.5×55 Mauser. But the Creedmoor wasn’t made for the masses. It was developed by Hornady engineers Dave Emary and Joe Thielen, with the guidance of competition shooter Dennis DeMille, to win High Power Rifle matches.
It did just that, and the new round’s reputation quickly rose in the relatively small world of long-range target shooting. It took an explosion of interest in long-range shooting in general, spurred in part by the 2014 release of the movie American Sniper, to launch the 6.5 Creedmoor to stardom. As every-day shooters and hunters grasped the cartridge’s long-range and all-around capabilities, it became a trend—and then a sensation. In the history of metallic rifle cartridges, there has never been anything like it. Some shooters now swear that the 6.5 Creedmoor is sexier than Gal Gadot and deadlier than John Wick. Others hate it worse than tax day or ketchup on a hot dog.
6.5 Creedmoor Ballistics: Just the Facts
To understand the 6.5 Creedmoor’s rise, you need a basic grasp of ballistics. When shooting at distance, time-of-flight matters most, because the longer a bullet is in the air, the more time gravity and wind have to act upon it. It takes the best factory .308 Winchester load 1.687 seconds to reach 1,000 yards. The 6.5 Creedmoor can do it in 1.543, and it hits that 1,000-yard target with 4 percent more energy. Another major factor in precision shooting is recoil. No matter how tough you think you are, you’ll shoot better at distance with a lighter-kicking gun. And compared to that same .308, the Creedmoor produces 42 percent less recoil. That’s not hype or speculation—just simple ballistic facts, and damned significant ones to anyone who cares about hitting at long range.
It wasn’t long after competition shooters confirmed the 6.5 Creedmoor as a superior paper-punching and steel-whacking distance cartridge that hunters started taking it into the field. Because it kicked less than what most of them were using, they shot it better. And they discovered, contrary to what gun writers had been preaching, that “enough gun” for big game doesn’t necessarily start at .30-caliber. The elk they shot with 6.5mm bullets died just like the ones they’d shot with bigger projectiles. (One outdoor writer who knew this almost a century ago was the great wilderness hunter Townsend Whelen, who in his 1927 book Wilderness Hunting and Wildcraft proclaimed the .30/06 and 6.5×54 Mannlicher—a 6.5mm cartridge ballistically inferior to the Creedmoor—as two of the world’s best big-game cartridges.)
.30/06 vs. 6.5 Creedmoor
Since at least the end of WWII, the .30/06 has reigned as the most popular big-game cartridge in the world. But that distinction is now in serious jeopardy. At 1,000 yards, the 6.5 Creedmoor outpaces even it by a few hundredths of a second. Just this past fall, a major ammunition manufacturer told me that their long-time sales-leading .30/06 load is now second to the Creed. Federal currently offers 15 different Creedmoor loads, with more on the way. Hornady offers as many Creedmoor loads as .30/06s.
New 6.5 Creedmoor rifles are also outselling ought-sixes. In the past, when a manufacturer introduced a new rifle, it was always chambered for the latter. Now, some new rifles are offered in 6.5 Creedmoor and not in .30/06. For the last three years, the biggest trend in new rifles and ammo has been line extensions to include the 6.5 Creedmoor. Not every rifle and ammo manufacturer I spoke with was ready to call the Creed the world’s most popular all-around hunting and shooting cartridge, but none could think of any other cartridge that has had so meteoric a rise, and they’re eager to take advantage of it.
6.5 Creedmoor Controversy
As wildly as the Creedmoor is loved, it’s also hated. When it comes to the best—whether that’s Tiger Woods or LeBron James—love and hate tend to be split down the middle. Emotional attachments to cartridges have always been able to eclipse human bonds and defy logic, but never more so than with the Creed. The fact something could be better than Grandpa’s ought-six is a hard pill for many to swallow, and some that manage to get it down may never digest it.
Not surprisingly, the 6.5 Creedmoor has also become a cartridge of mythical abilities, and some hunters lose sight of reality in its presence. A Nosler employee told me about a customer who traded his .270 Winchester for a 6.5 Creedmoor so he could shoot elk at longer ranges. If his goal had simply been less recoil, he might have had an argument, but the best .270 loads will get to 1,000 yards a tenth of a second sooner and hit harder than the best that the 6.5 Creedmoor has to offer. You can do a lot with the Creed, but it won’t part the sea or shoot through the turret of a Russian T-34.
With the 6.5 Creedmoor, I’ve taken moose at 300 yards and seen other big game animals taken at twice that distance. I’ve yet to see a rifle chambered for the cartridge that shot poorly, or one that recoiled too hard for, well, anyone. I know serious long-range practitioners who’ll shoot nothing else. I’ve also seen the mere mention of the Creed turn benign social media posts into hostile frenzies, and heard otherwise sane people ignore ballistic fact and swear the 6.5 Creedmoor is a bad idea, marketing hype, and even a fad. Like with Voldemort from Harry Potter, there are some who refuse to speak its name, even while stumbling through piles of 6.5 Creedmoor brass at the range.
Why the 6.5 Creedmoor is a New Leader
So just why is it so popular? You won’t find the answer in some ballistic riddle or in anyone’s idea of a magic bullet. It’s much simpler than that. I once asked a Remington ammo guy why, in today’s age of the wonder bullet, does their 75-year-old Core-Lokt ammunition still sell so well. His response was, “It works. If it didn’t, hunters wouldn’t keep buying it.” And so it is with the 6.5 Creedmoor. Aside from the fact that it offers the best balance of ballistics and shootability for 90 percent of what rifle shooters and hunters do, whether you love it, hate it, or don’t give a damn, the 6.5 Creedmoor works. As an all-around performer that punches paper as well as it pounds big game at long range, it’s on top of the world. The free market has spoken. The 6.5 Creedmoor has pulled the sword from the stone, and if it hasn’t already been crowned king, it soon will be.
6.5 Creedmoor Rifles For Hunting
At SHOT Show in Las Vegas, there are times when it seems like every new product on the floor is in some way connected to the 6.5 Creedmoor. The cartridge’s wild popularity, more than anything, has been driving the guns and ammo industry for the past few years. Here are 10 prime examples.
1. Steyr Scout Rifle in 6.5 Creedmoor
Since its introduction in 1997, the Steyr Scout rifle has been chambered only for Jeff Cooper’s cartridge of choice: the .308 Winchester. Starting in 2019, Steyr will also be chambering it in 6.5 Creedmoor. $1,787; steyr-arms.com/us
2. CVA Cascade
The affordable Cascade is CVA’s first bolt-action centerfire rifle. It has a 22-inch, 4140 carbon-steel barrel with a threaded muzzle and protective cap. It’s available in 6.5 Creedmoor, but not .30/06. $567; cva.com
3. Winchester Model 70 Extreme Weather MB
Designed for the harshest conditions, this new 6.5 Creedmoor rifle from Winchester is built on the legendary Model 70 action and features a matte stainless-steel action and barrel, a Bell and Carlson stock, an M.O.A. trigger, and a muzzle brake. $1649.99. winchesterguns.com
4. Savage Impulse
The new Impulse Big Game rifle in 6.5 Creedmoor from Savage features a Cerakote finish, KUIU camo stock, and AccuTrigger, adjustable comb and length of pull, and a lightning-fast straight-pull action. $1447; savagearms.com
5. Weatherby Mark V Subalpine
The sharp-looking Subalpine, with aluminum-bedding block, tips the scales at just 5.75 pounds. You can’t get it in .30/06, but you can have it one in four Weatherby Magnum chamberings, or the 6.5 Creedmoor. $2,700; weatherby.com
6. Browning X-Bolt Max Long Range Hunter
7. Springfield Armory Waypoint
Available chambered for the 6.5 Creedmoor in several configurations—one as light as 7 pounds—the Waypoint is built on an AG composite stock, comes with a TriggerTech trigger, and has a 0.75 MOA precision guarantee. $1699.00; springfield-armory.com
6.5 Creedmoor Rounds For Hunting
1. Remington High-Performance Rifle Ammo
2. Norma Professional Hunter Ammo
Famous for building a company around a single cartridge (the 6.5×55 Mauser), even Norma now has a 6.5 Creedmoor load. It’s topped off with the very high-BC Swift Scirocco bullet. $37 per $20; norma-ammunition.com/en-us
3. Berger Ammunition
You can now get Berger bullet performance in ammunition loaded by Berger. Their 156-grain EOL Elite Hunter bullet is optimized for long-range flight and terminal performance. With a 200 yard zero it will drop less than two feet at 400 yards. bergerbullets.com
4. Browning Long Range Pro
In 2019, Browning added this new 130-grain 6.5 Creedmoor load to its Long Range Pro line of centerfire rifle cartridges. Topped with a Sierra MatchKing bullet, it’s one a handful of 6.5 Creedmoor offerings from Browning. About $26 per 20; browningammo.com