The viability of 6.5mm / .264 calibers for long range precision work

Are 6.5mm cartridges a good choice for a precision rifle?

  • Yes - superior exterior ballistics, lower recoil... what's not to like?

  • Yes - but there are better options, like 300 WM

  • Inconclusive

  • No - bad idea - niche unproved cartridges, decreased barrel life, poor terminal ballistics, etc.


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#1
For the "regular guy" - is a 6.5 among the better choices for a long range (800 - 1,720 yards) precision (capable of effectively engaging a man sized target) gun?

The Appeal of the 6.5 - High Ballistic Coefficient in a Small Bullet
6.5 Creedmoor, 6.5 x 284 Norma, and 260 Remington have gained a lot of popularity due to the high BC's you can get from relatively lighter weight bullets. 6.5mm cartridges have been popular in Europe for a while, but companies like Hornady and Nosler have capitalized on the growing trend in the US with the introduction of the 6.5 Creedmoor and the new 26 Nosler. The higher BC's result in less drag, which of course means that the wind won't blow it off course as easily, and it will retain more velocity down range.

The Cost/Benefit of Larger Calibers - size, performance, and $$$
I understand that you can get much higher BC's from 7.62/.300, .338, .50 caliber bullets, but this is due to the fact that you can push a much heavier bullet (more mass means more inertia). This also means you have to use a larger/heavier rifle with a larger action, you have greater felt recoil (unless you use a muzzle brake/compensator, which can add more weight and noise), and the the ammo and rifles are significantly more expensive.

For a government entity, often the cost isn't the limiting factor. These heavier bullets perform better at longer distances, many already exist in the logistical supply chain for heavy machine guns, and are procured for highly specialized Soldiers whose training far exceeds the value of the per unit cost of these long range precision platforms.

Being Practical, but Not Close-Minded
Some of you will counter that quality .300 Win Mag is widely commercially available at a reasonable price, and you can buy a hunting grade rifle that will shoot about 1 MOA for less than $800, and that would fit the bill as a starter setup for the "regular guy". I would agree.

Also, long range cartridges above .308 caliber get to be cost inhibitive - to the tune of $2-5 per round.

I'm a pragmatist, but I'm also a marketer in the firearms industry - so I end up looking at new options, evaluating their strong/weak points, and deciding how to best market a product honestly (I know, you're either rolling your eyes or trying to figure out how I haven't been fired). Looking at the numbers on 6.5 Creedmoor and the new 26 Nosler, I've been very intrigued.

Nosler has marketed the 26 Nosler primarily based on it's "415 yard point-blank range"; doubtless this is geared toward old-school hunters using duplex reticle scopes who have zero interest in dialing in DOPE and shoot less than one box of ammo per year.

There are hundreds of videos on YouTube of shooters using custom rifles from shops like GA Precision chambered in 6.5mm rounds like the 260 Remington, to engage targets out to a mile. They can do this because of the relatively high BC from 6.5mm bullets, and the higher velocities they can push them at because they are lighter weight.

Direct Comparison - 6.5mm to .308
Compare a 6.5 mm 142 gr Accubond LR to a .308 cal 210 gr Accubond LR


Both bullet have extremely high advertised BC's for <= .308 caliber bullets.

Direct Comparison - 26 Nosler to 300 Win Mag
For the highest weight loaded ammunition offering using VLD style bullets, here are the numbers for the Nolser 26 in a 129 gr bullet vs 300 Win Mag in a 190 gr bullet:



If you look at the velocity, energy, and drop, a few things seem apparent:
The velocity and energy from 600 - 800 yards is bleeding off faster from the 26 Nosler, but the 26 Nosler drops about 60" in that range bracket compared to 80" of drop from the 300 WM. I would need to punch in the numbers to see how this would affect the 26 Nosler at a mile, but given that lower velocity cartridges like the 260 Remington can pull it off, it shouldn't be an issue with quality equipment and ammunition.

The Perceived Benefits
  • Long range performance with lower recoil
  • More affordable than 338 Lapua and other calibers larger than 300 WM
  • A lighter/more compact rifle
  • Reduced recoil
  • Potentially higher muzzle velocity than 300 WM - at longer ranges, more precise adjustments can be made due to the lower rate of drop.

The Perceived Detriments - "...no such thing as a free lunch"

  • Higher performing 6.5 mm cartridges are newer, not thoroughly vetted, and as of yet not as widely adopted as .308 caliber rounds, or even 338 Lapua and 50 BMG. There is not as of yet a wide selection of ammunition, and a lot of it is expensive. 6.5 Creedmoor has more offerings as it is marketed and accepted as both a hunting and competition round. Higher performance rounds like the 26 Nosler are not likely to see much diversity beyond premium hunting ammo, although reloaders (like myself) will be able to load quality ammo for a reasonable price.
    Even for those who reload, there isn't a wide experience base like what you would find with 300 WM or even 7mm Rem Mag (which was used as a sniper cartridge by the USSS). It's all uncharted territory.
    Regardless, in an emergency, you won't be able to find 6.5 mm cartridges as easily as 300 WM - although the same could be said for 338 Lapua and 50 BMG. Although, in an economic panic (ie, Sandy Hook panic buying of guns, then ammo, then reloading components), good luck finding common NATO rounds on shelves - you'll find plenty of 26 Nosler, 260 Remington, and other niche cartridges.
  • Decreased barrel life - for un-chromed rifle barrels, generally speaking if you push the velocity with smaller calibers, you end up with accelerated throat erosion. The 6.5 Creedmoor is pushing a 140 gr bullet at about 2800 FPS, but the Nosler 26 will probably push a 142 gr bullet at close to 3200 FPS. I know that some companies are chrome lining barrels chambered for 26 Nosler, which should increase barrel life substantially.

Conclusion
Jack Nicholson said "People who speak in metaphors should shampoo my crotch" - he'd probably think the same thing about analogies, but I'm going to make the comparison anyways.

I often see people on gun forums asking for advice on how to turn their $120 surplus Mosin into a "sniper rifle". They are asking opinions about aftermarket stocks and other TapCo grade equipment to "upgrade" their gun, when in my opinion, they'd be better served buying a Ruger American in 308 Winchester for $350 and building on that.

I think 6.5 cartridges for long range precision work border on that mentality - trying to play in a high stakes poker game with your lunch money. I can see them being very useful for LE agencies, as a lighter weight bullet with limited penetration for ranges from 200-600 yards. For the "regular guy" it's going to cost you more than 300 WM, and the benefits might be marginal. There are plenty of hobbyist ringing steel at a mile with 6.5mm bullets, but no studies or statistical data that I know of regarding the terminal effects at ranges beyond 1,000 yards.


I like to tinker and occasionally make dumb decisions - I have a 26 Nosler rifle on order, and I'll be comparing notes with my buddy who's shooting a 300 WM. Until then, I look forward to reading your comments.

*Disclaimer - I'm an Armored Cav guy who shoots long range rifles as a hobby, not a profession. I know I am addressing a group with a high level of experience and understanding - I know some points in my post are more basic, but I didn't want to write something that would exclude beginners.
 

Matt Landfair

Matt Six Actual
Staff member
Administrator
#4
I belong to a group of long range enthusiasts, I brought up the topic and hopefully will also provide data and experience.
 

ptrlcop

Established
#5
I think that there should probably be some stratification in roles when we are discussing these calibers in a context beyond banging steel. I'm not qualified to make those distinctions however.

I really want a lightweight .260 or 6.5 creed for a WY Deer gun though.


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
 
#7
My smith is spinning up my "do all" spec'd bolt gun in 260 Rem as I type this... I want a rifle that is light enough to carry and hunt/ stalk with that will also be a consistent sub MOA shooter for competition purposes. What I'm going with is a R700 based 260 with a 20" light varmint contoured stainless barrel, XLR Element Chassis, and likely a Bushnell HDMR for optics. Anxiety is getting the best of me.

I think I'd personally go 30-06 over 3oo WM for MY purposes as well, if I wanted to stay with a 30 caliber.
 
#8
This is like comparing a brand new Ford ranger to a 97 f350. Yes the 1 ton can haul more and costs less than a Ranger but It cost more to drive and its big heavy SOB that rides like a tank. Each has their role. Dont try and make it do something it wasn't designed to.

I also have a .260 build in progress. 22" med palma, xlr element folder.
 
#9
I think that there should probably be some stratification in roles when we are discussing these calibers in a context beyond banging steel. I'm not qualified to make those distinctions however.
Excellent point.

I didn't really clarify on this because I'm a bit wary of posting in a public forum along the lines of "So, do you think 26 Nosler is as good at killing people out to a mile as 300 WM?"

In terms of roles: For the "regular guy", who won't be providing overwatch for a cordon and search or taking out a hostage taker, it would be more of a rifle for developing long range shooting skills and experience with a cartridge capable of killing at that distance.

26 Nosler/260 Remington seem like they are more forgiving for a shooter without specialized training - less recoil, a lighter weight rifle, more affordable to shoot, and still practical for carrying around to hunt. I've carried around the 12 pound monster tactical rifle - I don't need that.

I'm going to be buying one of these, and replacing the ugly stock with a Manners fiberglass stock within the next year or so (full disclosure - I am a Browning employee):
 
#11
26 Nosler is not a viable option. Too many guys are running into EXTREMELY short barrel life to make it practical.

The 260 or 6.5 Creedmoor are great all purpose rounds that provide plenty of punch with good accuracy and are a joy to shoot. The Creedmoor works best in SA platforms but if you run them in LA the 260 has more potential horsepower.

The 6.5x284 is the best of the bunch in terms of speed without sacrificing significant barrel life. You'll get 2000 rounds out of the 284 if you treat it decent at all and it'll provide better long range ballistics than either the 260 or Creed.

In terms of actual field use I don't think any are good options until some major branch of the armed forces makes one of them their cartridge of choice.

I chose to build a 6.5 Creedmoor and it's my favorite little round. When I burn this one up I'll shoot another. If I was shooting exclusively at ranges over 1k a 300 win would be my minimum but I'd prefer a fast 338 over anything else out to 2k yards b
 
#12
I've been a Creedmoor shooter for a little over a year, and I'm sold. The fact that factory ammo in my neck of the woods makes a strong case for the "regular guy" shooter. Remington's lack of a 5R or 700P/LTR chambered in 6.5 makes a strong case against it, at the moment. There's a plethora of custom builders, a growing number of AR barrel makers, and a couple factory bolt gun options that are reasonably priced at the moment, but the lack of the gold standard for entry level rifles (700P or LTR) is something I find frustrating as a guy who doesn't want to spend 2-6 grand per gun.
 

MattJames

Certified Derpologist
Moderator
#13
My first bolt rifle own by me and not Uncle Sam is a 6.5 CM. I already have a .308 and its perfectly viable in that platform. .308 struggles in a lot of ways relative to the 6.5- I get a BC that is on the top end of that caliber, with a MV that isn't pitiful when loaded with a bullet that is comparable to my 130-142 grain 6.5 selections, thus I reap all the advantages of those bullets without struggling to squeeze more MV out of a case that won't hold it with the heavier bullets. Its that or step up to a .300 WN... which is a barrel burner even compared to the 6.5 CM and similar loads. The 215 and 230 Berger's are the shit for .30 cal bullets, but the .308 as a whole is largely limited in on many platforms to a specific COAL.
 

MattJames

Certified Derpologist
Moderator
#15
Yup, nerds with guns.

Im actually amazed at the surprising common personality types that seem to be attracted to it on the .mil sniper side. Would make a very interesting sociological/psychological study if you could get enough of a sample size of the population thats large enough to show a trend.
 

MattJames

Certified Derpologist
Moderator
#17
My whole journey down the PR shooting side is how to cut out as much math as is possible... or at least shorten it to something I can manage in my head.
 

Chris Taylor

Random Factor of the K Power
Moderator
#18
I was talking to a sniper/PR buddy of mine the other day about a rifle I'm building for him to T&E. It's gonna be a hunting gun, so I'm doing it in 260, which he thought was a great choice. He did say that if was gonna be a LR stick, I'd be silly not to do it in a 6.5CM, since it's a better choice for that particular use.
 

Adam

Moderator
Moderator
Vendor
#19
6.5mm bullets are in my opinion the bees knees in terms of barrel life, inherent accuracy and availability. Your talking bullets like a 140 Berger hybrid that has a G1 BC of .614 and can be pushed hard. Just for reference my 6.5 creed is at 2980 and I've seen 6.5 saum at 3100!!! Those are some pretty heavy numbers in terms of drop. Along with wind cheating abilities its easy on barrels in most cases (6.5-284 eats barrels). My 1st .260 rem went around 3000 rounds. My current Creedmoor is going strong at 3300 rounds. I know I know barrels are consumable but still i'm lazy and want to stretch it as far as I can. Recoil is in the area of what .243 feels like so now your talking about a fast, flat and low recoil rifle that will give you decent barrel life and the ability to shoot matches or take it out hunting.

Now lets talk calibers inside the 6.5mm family. Options are kinda endless. Just depends what you want to do. Most guys start dabbling in .260 REM and 6.5 Creedmoor. Both are almost identical in terms of performance. I've come to figure out that for those new explorers that Creedmoor tends to offer the most bang for the buck. You get affordable and quite accurate factory match ammo, If you reload you will see that ability to load the longer VLD bullets is quite nice when working with a DBM. Please don't get me wrong, 260 is a great cartridge and their are some die hard fans of that round. I just didn't like the fact that I couldn't seat the bullets out of the neck junction when i wanted to gas them up and load the bullets long.

Their is a plethora of other 6.5s out there at are just as incredible. For instance 6.5x47 Lapua, 6.5 LRP, and even 6.5x55 Swede. All are excellent in their own right. Now if you want pure unadulterated 6.5 greatness than take a look at 6.5 saum. The round was designed by George Gardner at GA Precision back in early 2012. He wanted a way to push the high BC bullets at their true speed potential. The 6.5 saum has proven to be a winner in most areas. Speed wise you can get 130 class bullets in to the 3300 FPS area and the 140 class bullets into the 3100-3200 FPS area. Barrel life is still relatively good providing you use a slow burning power like H1000. Major downside is cost of ammo and brass. I wont blow smoke its to expansive for me to get into. I enjoy shooting my buddies gun from time to time but its just not currently for me.

I'll leave you with this statement. You can put a 6.5 bullet on dog crap it and its still flys better than anything else. I was told that when I started down the 6.5 path and its as true today as it was when I started.

-Adam
 
#20
When you look at G7 drag data. If you want a high BC easy shooting round that Bucks wind, .260 and 6.5 creedmore are the rounds of choice. If you look at the precision rifle series and the calibers that the pros are shooting it is predominately those 2 rounds. Now as far for military applications? It is my opinion (and it is just my opinion) that the military will always take the path of least resistance, thus the army choosing .300WM.