Why The 6.5 Creedmoor Is So Lethal

How much gun do you really need to hunt North America? The 6.5 Creedmoor might very well be the answer.

What are the facets that make the 6.5 Creedmoor lethal:

  • Exceptional sectional density, the 6.5 has superior penetrating ability.
  • With a high ballistic coefficient, the bullets it fires have better characteristics against air resistance and wind drift.
  • Its standard 1:8 twist rate means 6.5 CM rifle can fire heavier bullets.
  • It works in a short action.
  • Its squat case means it can seat longer bullets.

Newfoundland is one of the few places in the Western world where a hunter can take multiple big game species during a single adventure. Those who put a woodland caribou, moose and black bear on the skinning pole within one season are considered to have completed the Newfoundland Grand Slam. When I told an acquaintance that was my intention, he remarked, “I guess you’re taking a .300.” When I told him I’d be using a 6.5 Creedmoor, his face almost fell off.

Hornady introduced the 6.5 Creedmoor a decade ago. Hunters who feel it offers no advantage over the 6.5×55 Swede or .260 Remington have mostly shunned it. Many considered it a specialty cartridge for long-range competition. Today, it’s the most popular rifle cartridge in North America. The rise of the “Creed” is as much a story about bullets as it is a cartridge case. And, while some consider it nothing more than a flat-shooting solution for deer hunting, it’s much more.

I’m sure readers of the gun press are sick of hearing about the 6.5 Creedmoor; after all, it seems every magazine has an article about it. There are several reasons for this. For starters, the cartridge offers the best balance of external and terminal ballistics, and recoil, that you can currently comfortably achieve from a shoulder-fired weapon. Another reason is that many gun and outdoor writers are using the cartridge to hunt a wide array of animals, all over the globe.

All the new rifles chambered for the 6.5 Creedmoor, and all the new ammo for the cartridge, means there are a lot of media hunts occurring. These hunts — sponsored by manufacturers — occur to entice gun and outdoor writers to tell their readers about the effectiveness of their products. This translates to the 6.5 Creedmoor being used for game animals usually reserved for larger caliber cartridges. Funny thing, the most important message being conveyed by these outdoor communicators is that you really don’t need all that gun you thought you did.

When Mossberg invited me to attempt the Newfoundland Grand Slam in the fall of 2018, they offered to let me take any of their rifles I wanted. I’d been anxious to wring out their new Patriot Revere and I thought this would be a great opportunity to put the 6.5 Creedmoor to a test on medium and large game. I topped the rifle off with one of the new Bushnell Nitro riflescopes — I knew I could trust it because I’d recently spent a month in Africa with several of them. I also selected Federal’s new AccuBond ammo, because I’ve probably killed more big game animals with AccuBonds than any other bullet.

The great professional hunter and gun writer Finn Aagaard developed the most reliable killing power formula many years ago. He said, “Proper bullet placement + sufficient penetration = a quick, clean kill.” Nowhere in that formula did he mention “.30 caliber” or “magnum.” This is mostly because they’re just not necessary. A good bullet, placed in the right spot, works.

The Math On The 6.5 Creedmoor

There are several things helping the 6.5 Creedmoor fit well within this formula. The first is sectional density. Sectional density (SD) is the ratio of an object’s mass to its cross sectional area, with respect to a given axis. For bullets, this is computed by dividing its weight (w) by the square of its diameter (d) times 7000: SD=(w/d2)7000. The SD of a 165-grain 0.30-caliber bullet, like might be fired from a .300 Winchester Magnum, is 0.248. By comparison, the sectional density of a 140-grain, 6.5 mm (0.264 caliber) bullet is 0.287. Sectional density is important because it has a direct correlation to penetration. All else being equal, the higher the SD, the higher the potential for penetration.

Another advantage is ballistic coefficient (BC). Ballistic coefficient deals with a bullet’s ability to overcome air resistance during flight. In short, BC is similar to drag, and it’s calculated in a variety of ways. I wish I had the literary skill to give a comprehensive explanation of the mathematics behind BC in a single paragraph. I do not, and doubt anyone else does. The best, hillbilly-simple way I can explain BC is to say that it’s a numerical description of a bullet’s aerodynamic properties.

I mention SD and BC because, to understand the 6.5 Creedmoor, you must understand both. Here’s why: When working with bullets of weights and lengths compatible with common big-game cartridges and rifles, 6.5mm (0.264 caliber) bullets offer the best balance. As an example, for a .30-caliber bullet to have the same SD as a 140-grain 6.5-caliber bullet, it would have to weigh more than 190 grains. To achieve the same theoretical penetration potential, both bullets would have to be pushed to the same velocity. That means the rifle firing the .30-caliber bullet would kick about twice as hard.

The BC of these same two bullets is almost identical as well. This means that if they’re launched at the same velocity, they’ll both strike the target at the same time, with the same wind drift and drop. However, it will take a lot more powder to push the heavier bullet to the same velocity. That means a larger case, a larger rifle — and again, more recoil.

Given the constraints of shoulder-fired sporting weapons, 6.5mm bullets simply represent a sweet spot in bullet diameter. But, 6.5mm cartridges are nothing new. The 6.5×55 Swede has been around since 1894 and the .260 Remington since 1997. Both duplicate or slightly exceed Creedmoor velocities in factory ammunition. So, why all the fuss over the Creed? That’s where the cartridge case comes in.

The 6.5×55 Swedish Mauser requires a long action because the overall cartridge length is 3.15 inches. With an overall length of 2.8 inches, the .260 Remington will work in a short action; however, the case is 2.035 inches long. This means you cannot seat ultra-high SD and BC 6.5mm bullets deep enough to work in short action rifles. The Creed’s case length is 1.92 inches and will work with any 6.5mm bullet.

And finally, factory rifles are built to specifications set forth by the Small Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers Institute (SAAMI). The 6.5 Creedmoor has a specified rifling twist of 1:8. The .260 Remington, 1:9. This means the Creedmoor is capable of firing more aerodynamic bullets. Swede rifles are built with a 1:8 twist, but they’re just not popular in America and ammunition options are limited. When it comes to 6.5mm rifle cartridges, the Creedmoor offers the best of everything, particularly at moderate velocities that generate comfortable recoil.

North Country Safari

It was noon and the lodge was full of hunters. After a visit to the restroom, I’d stepped out onto the veranda above the lake. Excitement was in the air, and one of the guides yelled, “Where’s your rifle?” I pointed to it, leaning next to the door to my room, but before I could speak he said, “There’s a moose! Shoot the moose!” Low and behold, along the edge of the lake about 300 yards from the lodge stood a bull moose. I grabbed my rifle.

As the group of hunters and guides began offering advice with regards to how much high I should hold, and what type rest I should take, I dropped into the seated position and slung up. Knowing my bullet would drop about a foot at that distance, I placed the intersection of the reticle about 12 inches above the killing spot, settled in and pressed the trigger. A third of a second later, we all heard the bullet smack.

The bull bucked and ran. I hit him two more times before he stopped, wobbled and collapsed into the bog, about 75 yards from where he was standing when the first bullet hit him. It had impacted just forward of center body, clipping a lung, piercing the diaphragm, poking through the intestine and exiting the other side. The other two shots — taken at the ass end of the moose — were unneeded. My shooting was less than stellar but the Creed was plenty.

The woodland caribou was more of a hunt; my shooting was not much better. We stalked to within 280 yards, and I put the first bullet low into his chest, just forward of the stag’s right leg. He broke into a run and when he stopped at about 300 yards, a spine shot put him down. Come to find out, that second shot was not needed either; the internal bleeding was extensive and the caribou’s short 40-yard run was all he had left.

My final day hunting was in a stand over a bait pile. At 5 pm, a mass of blackness emerged from the thickness and began staring at me like I’d been flirting with his wife. After giving me the evil eye, the big — 355 pounds as it turned out — bear turned almost broadside and I poked an AccuBond behind his shoulder. We later found I’d misjudged the mark; with the bear slightly quartering away, the bullet passed just in front of the heart. We found him 80 yards deep into the forest.

The 6.5 Creedmoor worked fine for me as a big-game cartridge. It would’ve worked even better had my shooting been more precise. Of course, I should have known that. In his 1927 book, “Wilderness Hunting and Wildcraft,” the late Townsend Whelen wrote that one of the best big-game cartridges was the 6.5×54 Mannlicher, saying its, “long bullet drives well through heavy bones and muscular tissues. It is the lightest cartridge that I would consider suitable for all American big game.” Interestingly, that 110-year-old cartridge is ballistically inferior to the 6.5 Creedmoor.

Sometimes, “enough gun” is a lot less than you think. And that is the lesson hunters are learning from the 6.5 Creedmoor, and why it’s becoming so popular. We could have been doing something like this all along with the 6.5X55 Swede. Problem was, too many gun writers were addicted to .30 calibers and magnums.

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the January 2019 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

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