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As things now stand, a 6.5 Creedmoor vs 30-06 showdown is, in essence, a title fight for today’s best all-around big-game cartridge. The 6.5 Creedmoor was developed in 2007 for target shooters by Hornady, lay dormant for a number of years, and then burst forth as the Cartridge of the Century, at least so far. The 30-06 was designed in 1906 by the Springfield Armory for soldiers, quietly built up a head of steam for a decade, and then went nuts after World War I when American soldiers discovered what it could do. How popular the Creedmoor will continue to be in the future we don’t yet know. The 30-06 has stayed at, or very near, the top of the heap for a century, which is astonishing. How many people now drive Model T Fords? The ’06 comes from that era. On the other hand, the Creedmoor’s rise has been so astonishing that we must now ask, which one is better?
The 6.5 Creedmoor, the Little Cartridge that Could
The clever folks at Hornady dreamed this one up with two realities in mind: First, there are not a lot of competitive shooters in the United States and never will be because it’s too difficult and expensive. Second, this small group of shooters is a gold mine just the same because it’s members burn ammo by the ton. Between April and October of any given year, a serious competition rifleman will go through more rounds than the average hunter does in several lifetimes.
So, they set out to create a new cartridge for these folks, determined that it must not kick a lot, or cost a lot, or be a pain in the ass to reload. And that it must be very efficient at long range and very, very accurate. The Creedmoor met all of these requirements, and the rest is history. Hunters, who were tired of having their brains beaten out by magnums, discovered it. They found out what Scandinavians have known since 1894 when the 6.5×55 Swede was introduced, that small 6.5mm cartridges do just fine on big game. Since then, the Creedmoor’s popularity has grown like no other cartridge before it.
The 30-06, “Huge Cartridge” of Millennials
I say “huge cartridge” of the millennials because a couple of years back I was on the firing line shooting an ’06 and next to me was a 20-something with an AR-15 who was staring at my ammo as though it was a nest of saw-scaled vipers. “What’s that huge cartridge?” he asked, which gave me pause. We’ve come a long way to where the 30-06 is considered huge.
But the 30-06 is a handful, wherein lies its popularity. It has enough horsepower to handle just about any hunting contingency you can encounter. However, as Sir Isaac Newton reminded us, every action has an equal and opposite reaction, so the ’06 kicks, and if you’re used to an AR, it really kicks. That said, it’s remains a marvelously versatile big-game cartridge.
Related: 6.5 Creedmoor vs 308 Wiinchester
Which Is Better? Head-to-Head Comparison
To pick a winner in the 6.5 Creedmoor vs 30-06 matchup, you need to take a close look at all the factors that might make one cartridge better than another. So, here’s the breakdown:
6.5 Creedmoor vs 30-06: Recoil
Even case-hardened shooters who can take lots and lots of kick without it affecting their accuracy don’t like getting bashed every time they pull the trigger. Probably the classic case is Warren Page, Field & Stream’s immortal shooting editor, who used a souped-up .375 as his heavy rifle instead of a genuine heavy rifle of .40 caliber or more. There was no tougher shooter than Warren, but he hated kick, and made no bones about it.
The Creedmoor puts out around 12 foot-pounds of recoil, which is readily manageable by just about everyone. The .30/06 will deal you about 20 foot-pounds, which is the maximum amount of kick that the average shooter can tolerate, but is still a problem for a lot of people. You can, if you wish, put a muzzle brake on your ’06, and then wonder where your hearing went all of a sudden.
Winner: The 6.5 Creedmoor
6.5 Creedmoor vs 30-06: Accuracy
This one is easy. The 6.5 Creedmoor was designed for High Power competition and, as a rule, you’re wasting your time in any phase of High Power unless your rifle will produce ½-inch 20-shot groups. That’s very fancy shooting even in this exalted age. Hornady knew that unless their cartridge would print groups the size of fly poop, it would fail.
The 30-06 came of age when the standard for hunting rifles with iron sights was 3 inches at 100 yards, and minute of angle groups from a big-game rifle were just about unheard of. It was, and is, an accurate cartridge, but its pedigree is nothing like that of the Creedmoor.
Winner: The 6.5 Creedmoor.
6.5 Creedmoor vs 30-06: Price, Variety, and Availability of Ammo
MidwayUSA, which is my bellwether for a great many things, lists 94 brands and varieties of Creedmoor ammo for sale. Considering the relative youth and exotic nature of the round, this is astonishing. However, the 30-06, which has been with us forever, lists 122. But on the third hand, a lot more of the Creedmoor ammo is actually available compared to ’06. Prices are similar, except premium 30-06 seems to cost more than premium Creedmoor. As far as local availability, wherever you go, someone is going to have 30-06 ammo. The same cannot be said for the Creedmoor.
Winner: The 30-06, but by the slimmest of margins.
6.5 Creedmoor vs 30-06: Effectiveness on Game
In a time when everyone disagrees about everything, almost everyone agrees that the best bullet weight for the Creedmoor is 140 grains. You may, if you must, go down to 120 grains, but you will gain nothing. One-forty is it. That weight works very well on just about every big-game species you can expect to hunt, and it benefits from the marvelous bullets that we now have. When I hunted moose in Sweden with a .338, the Swedes, who were armed with 7x57s and 6.5x55s, looked at me pityingly.
The 30-06, on the other hand, does best with 180-grain bullets, and it will handily digest 200-grain slugs, which put it in an entirely different league from the Creedmoor. Look at it this way: The Creedmoor is as fine a caribou cartridge as I can think of, but if I were hunting caribou in grizzly country where the bears think a rifle shot is a dinner bell, I’d leave the Creedmoor in the closet and take a 30-06.
Winner: A tie, except for really big animals, where the nod goes to the 30-06.
6.5 Creedmoor vs 30-06: Barrel Life
Some of this is guesswork, as I’ve never burned out a Creedmoor barrel. However, people I know who shoot them in competition say that first-class accuracy goes after 2,000 to 2,500 rounds. For a hunting rifle, I’d say 3,000 at the minimum. By comparison, the 30-06 rifles I’ve burned out have lasted about 5,000 rounds. You could still hunt with them, but their first-class accuracy was gone.
The Winner: The 30-06.
6.5 Creedmoor vs 30-06: Ease of Handloading
The 30-06 would probably shoot adequately if you fed it rock salt and nails. It has no quirks or peculiarities. The Creedmoor was designed with the knowledge that most of the people who used it would handload it, and so it has a mild disposition and no oddities.
The Winner: A tie.
6.5 Creedmoor vs 30-06: Performance at Long Range
The 6.5 Creedmoor was designed to perform at ranges of 200 to 1,200 yards. Hornady chose that caliber because 6.5 bullets can be made heavy for their diameter, and without using a ton of powder, can keep their velocity over long distances.
Springfield Armory envisioned the 30-06 as a 500-yard cartridge at most, and yet in Vietnam, snipers like Marine legend Carlos Hathcock routinely hit with it at ranges over 800 yards with rifles and scopes that were relics of World War II.
Winner: The 6.5 Creedmoor.
And the Winner Is…
I can harldy believe I’m saying this, but for the average hunter, for just about any kind of hunting, the 6.5 Creedmoor will serve you better. The less you flinch, the better you shoot. The better you shoot, the faster the animals drop.
Read Next: The Best 6.5 Creedmoor Hunting Loads