If you’ve had your finger on even a faint pulse of the firearms world these past couple of years you’re surely aware that the 6.5 Creedmoor has become the darling of the industry. It could hardly be called an overnight success, however, because it caused nary a ripple in 2007 when Hornady introduced the cartridge. And why should it have? After all, it’s a metric caliber that has never been really popular here compared to Europe. Then too, it virtually duplicated the ballistics of the existing .260 Remington and 6.5×55 Swede, and as such, was far from being the kind of fire-breathing magnum that excites the hunting fraternity. And lastly, it was actually designed specifically for NRA across-the-course competition with the help of the 2005 NRA High Power Champion, Dennis Demille, who so happened to be good friends with Dave Emery, Hornady’s Chief Ballistician and a fellow High Power competitor.
Despite his victory at Camp Perry using a rifle chambered in the 6XC, a semi-wildcat 6mm that was (and still is) highly popular among competitive shooters, Demille was dissatisfied with the cartridge. So during Service Rifle Week at Camp Perry, Demille told Emery what he envisioned to be the ideal factory-loaded cartridge for high power competition. In a nutshell, it had to be a short-action cartridge with less recoil than the .308 Win. to make it a tad faster in rapid-fire strings, a caliber with accurate bullets of very high ballistic coefficients and reloadable with readily available components so that the factory loads could be duplicated using reloading data — data that would be shown on the factory ammo box — a first.
Long story short, Emery returned to Grand Island and, with the collaboration of then-Marketing Director Neil Davies and engineer Joe Thielen, came up with the 6.5 Creedmoor, named after a famous long distance NRA shooting range established on Long Island in 1873.
The “Creed” is based on the .30 TC, another Hornady-developed cartridge that was introduced that same year. Apparently, Thompson-Center simply wanted to have a proprietary round with its name on it, even if it didn’t do anything the .308 Win couldn’t. Despite the fact that every description of the Creed I’ve seen has it being a necked-down .30 TC, the TC itself is nothing but a slightly modified .308 Win. — the parent of both.
Though the differences are relatively slight, the Creed is more similar to the TC than the .308. Both the TC and Creed are 0.095-inch shorter in overall case length than the .308, and both share the same 30-degree shoulder, whereas the .308’s is 20 degrees. And where the .308 case body tapers from a head diameter of 0.470-inch to 0.454-inch at the shoulder — a difference of 0.016-inch — the Creed has only a 0.008-inch taper. Again, all are very small differences that are barely noticeable even when the three are seen side by side.
If the 6.5 Creedmoor is virtually identical to the .260 Rem., a cartridge that had a six-year head start under its belt and was not setting any sales records, why in the past couple of years has this modest little .26 caliber taken off like a rocket? Consider: Hornady offers 10 loads for the Creed ranging from 120 to 147 grains. Now granted, the Creed is their baby, but to have that number of loads for a cartridge that’s only 10 years old is quite extraordinary.
The question as to why can be answered with one word: ACCURACY! When I was a young buck and thought I knew a lot about guns, cartridges and shooting, I thought it simply intuitive that there was no such thing as an “inherently accurate cartridge” — a phrase that appeared often (and still does) in the gun magazines of the day. Any cartridge, I figured, with a good barrel and sufficient handload development could be just as accurate as another if fired in a machine rest to eliminate the human factor. I mean, even then I was smart enough to know that, all other things equal, no one could shoot a .300 magnum as accurately as a .243.
That was about the time when the .22 PPC came upon the Benchrest scene and began to dominate competition. As a budding gunwriter back in the early 1970s, I had the chance to test several PPC rifles and every one of them was more accurate than any .22 centerfire cartridge I had ever shot. Grudgingly, I began to think that maybe there was something after all to this “inherent accuracy” thing!
Eventually, the characteristics that define what makes a super accurate cartridge became evident. For one, a squat case (compared to, say, the .30-’06 Sprg.), because a short, fat powder column burns more uniformly than a longer, more slender one. Secondly, a minimum body taper for more accurate coaxial alignment with the bore. Thirdly, a sharper shoulder angle provides a more positive datum line for more accurate headspacing. And lastly, a relatively long neck for the caliber, which again, contributes to bullet alignment and sufficient neck tension for the longest, heaviest bullets.
The Creed has all four of the aforementioned attributes: its body length is shorter than that of its parent .308 Win. case; it has a 30-degree shoulder angle compared to the .308 family’s 20 degrees; it has a body taper of only 0.008-inch from head to shoulder, and a neck length of 0.285-inch, which is 0.020-inch longer than the caliber. Combine those attributes with accurate bullets and a mild recoil factor and you’ve got not only an accurate cartridge, but a cartridge that can be shot accurately by almost anyone.
Again, the intense interest in the 6.5 Creedmoor is only a recent thing, because for more than half its existence it was appreciated only by competitive shooters. But let’s face it, if you were to combine all serious High Power and thousand-yard shooters, they would barely fill a basketball court. Nope, it’s hunters who make or break a commercial cartridge and it’s been only recently that the Creed has made inroads there…big time. And why not? The 6.5×55 Swede — which is another cartridge that literally matches the Creed ballistically — has been harvesting everything from roe deer to moose, and winning countless shooting events in Europe, for more than a century.
Of course, a cartridge can only gain popularity if it’s adopted by the gun manufacturers and, as of today, literally every major and lesser rifle maker now offers one or more models in 6.5 Creedmoor. And its availability in “value-priced” rifles such as Ruger’s American, Winchester’s XPR, Mossberg’s Patriot, Remington’s 783, et. al., have added to the impetus.
The one anomaly I find associated with the 6.5 caliber is the almost mystical performance attributed to it in terms of ballistic coefficients, flat trajectories and terminal ballistics — particularly deep penetration. There’s nothing magical about a .264-inch bullet; there are 7mm and .30-cal. projectiles with comparable BCs and sectional densities enabling them to shoot just as flat, but they must be driven at higher velocities, which means larger cartridges (more powder) and more recoil. The Creed just manages to put it all together in a cartridge that is super accurate, pleasant to shoot and perfectly adequate for all but the largest non-dangerous thin-skinned game. Oh, and it’s also kicking butt in High Power and 1,000-yard competition.–Jon R. Sundra for HuntForever and now SafariClub.