Smokey Merkley

Smokey Merkley

Traditionally, American gunners have not displayed a fondness for .26 caliber rifles, or 6.5mm caliber as it is called in Europe. Like wayward sons, the 6.5mm sits between .25 and .277 calibers, neglected and hardly noticed from a nation of .30 caliber enthusiasts. At least this was the case a decade ago.

There has certainly been a parade of mediocre European military numbers such as the 6.5 Italian Carcano, the 6.5-50 Japanese Arisaka, the 6.5x53R Mannlicher and the 6.5x58 Portuguese Vergueiro.

The Swedish 6.5x55 on the other hand is still enjoying some success because of the relaxation of import restrictions of military rifles in the 1980s. The 6.5mm Remington Magnum, introduced in 1966, offered .270 class ballistics with a 120-grain big game load with about 2,400 foot-pounds at the muzzle, and was easy on the shoulder.

The other indigenous 6.5mm caliber, the .264 Winchester Magnum introduced in 1960, is based on the .375 H&H case, necked down to fire a 6.5mm bullet. It is a pretty accurate cartridge with muzzle energy listed at 3,040 foot-pounds, but the bore of the 6.5mm barrel doesn’t handle the pressure generated by the powder capacity of the .375 case efficiently, and there have been issues with limited barrel life.

Alexander Arms really boosted the popularity of 6.5mm cartridges when they manufactured the first AR-15 platform rifle in 6.5 Grendel in 2003. Wilson Combat and others followed suit and added the 6.8 SPC to their lines of AR-15 platform rifles.

In 2007, Hornady’s Dave Emary introduced the 6.5 Creedmoor for serious hunters and competitors. The 6.5 Creedmoor has a muzzle velocity of 3,010 feet per second and retains 2,078 feet per second at 500 yards with a 140-grain bullet and a ballistic coefficient of .585. It still has 1,346 feet per second at 1,000 yards.

The 6.5 Creedmoor was designed for both hunting and competition. It has given competitors a very flat shooting round that can be used at 1,000 yards. It is not a NATO round, and NATO rounds dominate high power matches and the Creedmoor isn’t allowed. As a hunting round, the 6.5 Creedmoor is an easy-on-the-shoulder, hard hitting, accurate round for midsize game out to 600 yards.

Leave it to Weatherby to not be outdone in the 6.5mm hunting rifle market. The 6.5-300 Weatherby Magnum has been on the market for a couple of years, and according to the company, it is now one of their most popular big game rifles.

They even have a video they show on Facebook of one of the grown Weatherby boys hunting mountain sheep in Alaska with a 6.5-300 Weatherby Magnum.

Weatherby offers three bullet weights for the 6.5-300 Weatherby Magnum: 127 grains, 130 grains and 140 grains. They all cost $98 for a box of 20 rounds. The 130-grain bullet has a ballistic coefficient of 571 and leaves the muzzle of a 26-inch barrel at 3,476 feet per second with 3,487 foot-pounds of energy. It retains 2,557 feet per second with 1,887 foot-pounds of energy at 500 yards.

The recoil of the 6.5-300 Weatherby should be pretty substantial, and I would think barrel life would be around 10,000 rounds. However, it hasn’t been on the market long enough to make a definitive statement concerning barrel life. We will just have to wait and see unless some facility decides to run a test.

Just for comparison, I do my long-range hunting (400 yards or more) with a .300 Weatherby Magnum. I use a 180-grain Spire Point bullet with a ballistic coefficient of .425 when I use Weatherby’s commercial cartridges. I get a little slower bullet at all ranges out to 500 yards and quite a bit more energy at all ranges out to 500 yards than the 6.5 calibers offer.

I do get about 6 inches more drop at 500 yards when both are zeroed for 300 yards than the 6.5-300 Weatherby. However, when I load my own cartridges for the .300 Weatherby, I get a much flatter trajectory and way more foot-pounds of energy at all ranges.

I suspect that the 6.5-300 Weatherby’s use of the .300 Weatherby case uses more powder and generates more pressure than the smaller 6.5 bore can efficiently handle, and the problem would be exacerbated by trying to hot rod the cartridge by those who load their own cartridges.

I’m only mildly interested in the recent increase in 6.5mm calibers that have been developed over the last decade and the variety of bullets available to reloaders and commercial ammo buyers. But coyote hunting is fun with the 6.5 Grendel, 6.8 SPC and 6.5 Creedmoor with their flat trajectories.

I think that there are many reasons why most long-range shooters prefer .30 caliber rifles in America. I expect the various .30 caliber magnum cartridges to continue to dominate the long-range, big game hunting fields, followed closely by the 7mm magnums, the 30-06 Springfield and the 270 Winchester.

The 6.5’s with their impressive ballistics are simply lost in the crowd between .25 and .277 calibers, and the small diameter bullets are too small and lightweight to maintain sufficient momentum for the long-range hunting of big game.

Smokey Merkley was raised in Idaho and has been hunting since he was 10 years old. He was a member of the faculty of Texas A&M University for 25 years. There he taught orienteering, marksmanship, self-defense, fencing, scuba diving and boxing. He was among the first DPS-certified Texas Concealed Handgun Instructors. He can be contacted at mokeydo41245@hotmail.com.