Is The 6.5 Creedmoor Really A Better Cartridge Choice?

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.308 vs. 6.5 Creedmoor: The History

The tale of .308 Winchester starts right after the closing days of World War Two as the United States military leadership decided to swap out the 30/06 Springfield round and to begin the process of retiring the M1 Garand rifle. Although the rifle and cartridge pair performed excellently throughout the course of the struggle, armed forces leadership desired a more innovative rifle with a removable magazine that could perform fully automatic fire in the same fashion of the Wehrmacht StG 44 or the lethal Soviet Ak 47 platform.

After months of trial and error, the US Army dropped the M1 Garand for the M14 rifle. The new rifle came chambered in the innovative 7.62 x 51 cartridge. Similar to the 30/06, this fresh cartridge also shot a .308 caliber bullet. It used a shorter cartridge due to the advancement in gunpowder technology. This allowed for a shorter action in the rifle. Even though the brass casing was shorter, the cartridge had nearly identical ballistics figures to that of the 30/06 round. For example, the 7.62 x 51 fired a 147 gr bullet at 2750 fps vs the 30/06 firing a 150 gr bullet at 2700 fps.  

M14 .308 Service Rifle,
M14 Service Rifle replaced the M1 Garand rifle

Not just for the Military

Winchester noted around the same time period that there was a lot of untapped commercial potential for the new 7.62 x 51 cartridge in the fields of civilian shooting and hunting markets. The company decided to reveal a highly similar .308 Winchester. Winchester focused on the idea that the .308 Winchester could perform virtually every task required of a .30/06 Springfield cartridge with a 180-grain bullet maximum. However, this new.308 Winchester cartridge could be packed into a rifle with a shorter action and also had better accuracy over the .30/06. Because of this, hunters, and shooters all across America took careful note of the .308 cartridge, and it slowly crept up in popularity.

7.62 x 51 Nato,
7.62 x 51 Nato Round

After realizing the inherent power, accuracy, and efficiency of the cartridge, its popularity was compounded exponentially. This made the .308 Winchester one of the most sought-after cartridges for short-action rifles for several decades. Eventually, this version of the .308 would become the gold standard against which all other short-action rounds were held. In reality, several of the also popular short-action cartridges such as the 7mm-08 Remington, the .260 Remington, the .243 Winchester, and the like, can all trace their family tree back to Winchester’s original .308.

The .308 becomes a target itself

Winchester’s .308 was a highly sought-after cartridge for high-powered rifle hunting and competition shooting for several decades. Dennis DeMille and Dave Emary of Hornady Manufacturing noticed the opportunity to construct a new cartridge. The cartridge needed to not only rival but outperform Winchester’s .308 cartridge. This was finally accomplished by Hornady in the early 2000s. The company specifically wanted to manufacture the ideal long-range cartridge that performed just as accurately, if not better, than the .308 at impressively long distances. Hornady also demanded that the new cartridge have less wind drift, less recoil, and an overall flatter trajectory.

6.5 Creedmoor Case
The 6.5 Creedmoor Case modeled on the .30 caliber Thompson cartridge

With that theory in heart, Hornady started with a .30 Caliber Thompson Center cartridge case and modified it to shoot the .264” bullet. Optimized for use with 4350 class propellants, the cartridge possessed a rather large case capacity that allowed for lots of load customization. Hornady also constructed the ideal rifle for the cartridge with a tight 1:8” barrel twist rate. Once the dust settled, the company came roaring out with their new cartridge. The new cartridge could accommodate heavy, long, high-ballistic coefficient bullets in a relatively small action magazine that would not interfere with the powder column.

The 6.5 Creedmoor is born

Dubbed the 6.5 Creedmoor to give kudos to the famous Creedmoor Matches, DeMille and Emary found a great deal of good fortune in their quest to construct the ideal long-distance shooting round. Although rolling out with standard ballistics, the 6.5 Creedmoor presented the shooter with high accuracy with minimal recoil. The high-ballistics coefficient bullets would resist wind drift and slice through the air with exceptional accuracy thanks to its superior energy retention.

6.5 Creedmoor round
6.5 Creedmoor Round

For all of these reasons, the 6.5 Creedmoor has been utilized widely throughout the competition shooting and target shooting communities. Recently, the cartridge has also made significant inroads into the diverse and innovation-hungry hunting community as well.

.308 vs. 6.5 Creedmoor: Cartridge Sizes

It is easy to note the differences and similarities between the .308 Winchester and the 6.5 Creedmoor when compared side-by-side. As both cartridges are used in firearms with short actions, they have highly similar external dimensions.

The 6.5 Creedmoor cartridge case presents with a more aggressive shoulder angle. It also has a more mildly tapered casing compared with Winchester’s .308. This allows the Creedmoor to utilize its signature high ballistics coefficient bullets without needing to sacrifice overall case capacity. The Winchester .308 gives the shooter a slightly longer case length at 2.015” vs. Creedmoor’s 1.920”. However, the overall lengths are very similar at 2.810” for the .308 and 2.825 for the 6.5 Creedmoor.

308 and 6.5 side by side
6.5 Creedmoor on the left and .308 Winchester on the right

Both the Winchester and the Creedmoor have the same SAAMI maximum chamber pressure of ~62,000 PSI and use a nearly identical powder load. They both use a .473” rim diameter.

The case capacity figures below will provide fair indicators to judge approximate differences between each cartridge. However, keep in mind that the exact case capacity varies slightly between brands of brass used during the manufacturing process.

Bullet Diameter

Creedmoor: .264”

Winchester: .308”

Case Length

Creedmoor: 1.92”

Winchester: 2.015”

Maximum Overall Length

Creedmoor: 2.825”

Winchester: 2.81”

Rim Diameter

Creedmoor: .473”

Winchester: .473”

Cartridge cut away
Bullet Cut Away showing the powder charge and bullet head cross-sections

Max SAAMI Pressure

Creedmoor: 62,000 psi

Winchester: 62,000 psi

Case Capacity

Creedmoor: 52.5 gr H2O

Winchester: 53.3 gr H2O

.308 vs. 6.5 Creedmoor: The Ballistics

The information below collects the information between Winchester’s .308 and Creedmoor’s 6.5 with data from Hornady factory ammo loads using a 24” barrel and a 200 yard long zeroing range:

Bullet comparsion of energy
Bullet Energy Comparison comparing the 143 grain 6.5 bullets against the 150 grain .308 bullet

Muzzle Velocity/Energy

Creedmoor 143 gr: 2,700 feet per second at 2,315 pounds

Winchester 150 gr: 2,820 feet per second at 2,648 pounds

100 Yards Trajectory/Energy

Creedmoor 143 gr: +1.9” at 2,076 foot pounds

Winchester 150 gr: +1.8” at 2,252 foot pounds

200 Yards Trajectory/Energy (Zero Point)

Creedmoor 143 gr: 0” at 1,858 foot pounds

Winchester 150 gr: 0” at 1,905 foot pounds

300 Yards Trajectory/Energy

Creedmoor 143 gr: -7.9” at 1,658 foot pounds

Winchester 150 gr: -7.9” at 1,601 foot pounds

400 Yards Trajectory/Energy

Creedmoor 143 gr: -22.4” at 1,475 foot pounds

Winchester 150 gr: -23.1” at 1,336 foot pounds

500 Yards Trajectory/Energy

Creedmoor 143 gr: -44.4” at 1,308 foot pounds

Winchester 150 gr: -47” at 1,107 foot pounds

Ballistic chart 6.5 versus 308 bullet drop
Bullet drop comparsion Chart

Both cartridges perform very similarly at 300 yards. However, it is important to note that the 6.5 mm Creedmoor has a smoother overall trajectory. This is particularly observable between 400 and 500 yards. The smoother trajectory is a result of the Creedmoor firing a lighter-weight round with a better ballistic coefficient. And by utilizing a higher muzzle velocity when compared to Winchester .308 loads. The Nosler ELD-X and E-Tip bullets used in the  Creedmoor cartridge have much less drop than the comparable bullets used in the Winchester .308 at 500 yards out.

Bullet Energy

There is a larger kinetic energy advantage that goes with the .308 Winchester as it starts off. It is between 345 and 357 foot-pounds of force higher than the 6.5 Creedmoor at the barrel’s end when using the ELD-X and the E-Tip. However, at 500 yards, the 6.5 Creedmoor carries 1308 ft/lbs versus the .308 at 1107 ft/lbs of energy. (Specifications are based on the Hornady 308 Win 150 gr SST item number 8093 Versus the Hornady 6.5 Creedmoor 143 gr ELD-X Precision Hunter item number 81499 0.

The information compiled below shows a comparison of how much a 10 mph wind slicing across will impact the same loads as above all the way out to 500 yards:

100 Yards of Wind Drift

Creedmoor 143 gr E-Tip: .6”

Winchester 150 gr ELD-X: .7”

200 Yards of Wind Drift

Creedmoor 143 gr E-Tip: 2.2”

Winchester 150 gr ELD-X: 3.0”

300 Yards of Wind Drift

Creedmoor 143 gr E-Tip: 5.2”

Winchester 150 gr ELD-X: 6.9”

400 Yards of Wind Drift

Creedmoor 143 gr E-Tip: 9.4”

Winchester 150 gr ELD-X: 12.6”

500 Yards of Wind Drift

Creedmoor 143 gr E-Tip: 15.1”

Winchester 150 gr ELD-X: 20.5”

Wind drift comparsion
Wind Drift comparison

There is a notable advantage that the Creedmoor 6.5 has over the .308 Winchester thanks to the unique ballistic coefficient that helps give the cartridge more resilience against wind-related drift. Winchester’s .308 with both the ELD-X and the E-Tip loads drift 3.3” and 2.3” more respectively than the Creedmoor 6.5 loads.

Consider what the intended use will be

It is important, as always, to consider the purpose behind the shooter’s goals. If hunting is in mind, then having the goal of a round that performs well within approximately 500 yards would allow for the shooter to experiment with both cartridges as the drawbacks between the pair are not as pronounced at that distance. Anything over 500 yards will give the advantage increasingly to the 6.5 Creedmoor.

For example, If we take a long-range shot using the .308 Winchester and the 6.5 Creedmoor cartridges. The 6.5 Creedmoor ELD-X will drift 70.1” in a 10 mph crosswind at 1,000 yards, while the Winchester will drift 87.4” at the same distance. That is a whopping 1.5 feet of difference between the expected bullet drift of each cartridge. Such a significant difference can either make or break even the most dialed-in target shooter.

Recoil

Even though the .308 possesses a relatively mild recoil, the 6.5 cartridges will give the shooter even less felt recoil. Although the .308 does have less recoil than the .30/06 and .300 Winchester Magnum cousins, there will be approximately 30% more recoil on the body than the equivalent load fired from the 6.5 Creedmoor. When a shot is tested from a Hawkeye Predator rifle from Ruger, the 178 gr ELD-X fired in the .308 cartridge has an even larger recoil at ~35% when compared with a 143 gr ELD-X Creedmoor cartridge fired from the same rifle.

Although each shooter’s ability to withstand recoil will vary from person to person, calculating the force of recoil is still a very valid means by which to compare and contrast cartridges.

6.5 mm Creedmoor

Bullet: 143 gr ELD-X

Muzzle Velocity: 2,700 foot-pounds

Powder Load: 41.5 gr

Rifle Weight: 8.1 pounds

Recoil Velocity: 10.47 feet per second

Free Recoil Energy: 13.8 foot-pounds

Hornady’s Promotional Video on the 6.5 Creedmoor

Winchester .308

Bullet: 178 gr ELD-X

Muzzle Velocity: 2,600 foot-pounds

Powder Load: 42.5 gr

Rifle Weight: 8.0 pounds

Recoil Velocity: 112.06 feet per second

Free Recoil Energy: 18.08 foot-pounds

Although most shooters will find the recoil from most cartridges manageable, those who are discerning about such things will find comfort in the Creedmoor cartridge. It is important to be aware that repetitive recoil has an increasingly negative impact on a shooter’s ability to shoot accurately, and the Creedmoor cartridge pulls ahead with a fairly significant lead in that respect. All other things being perfectly equal, a shooter will always shoot better with less recoil force on their body.

Bullet Selection

Creedmoor’s 6.5 also possesses an edge when selecting bullets. Since the cartridge was originally designed around being the perfect companion for target shooters, the Creedmoor loadout can manage the heaviest and longest 6.5-millimeter bullets on the market. Harkening to Creedmoor’s 1:8” rifling twist rating, the round most frequently makes use of bullet weights between 95 and 160 grains. The most common grain loads are 120, 129, 140, and 143 grains.

Bullet head
Berger 6.5 mm (.264) 140 Gr VLD Bullet
Shop all 6.5 Bullets at Brownells

The heavier and longer bullets in the 6.5-millimeter range will have a higher ballistics coefficient than the most frequently used bullets in Winchester’s .308, and they will also have an increased sectional density threshold. Sectional density is the measurement of the ratio of the measurement of a bullet’s diameter in relation to its mass. All things being equal, a heavier bullet of any given caliber will also be longer, and it will therefore have an increased sectional density that allows it to penetrate deeper into targets when compared to bullets with a lower sectional density and mass.

.308 Winchester vs. 6.5 Creedmoor: Barrel Longevity

Although the two cartridges possess a highly comparable case capacity, the 6.5 Creedmoor has a smaller diameter barrel and therefore has faster throat erosion. Since more powder is being burned in such a small space, the barrel’s life will be proportionately shorter. Precisely how quickly a barrel will erode with 6.5 Creedmoor when compared to .308 Winchester will depend on several variables such as the durability of the barrel’s construction and the exact types of ammunition used.

Barrel section
Barrel cutaway

For those who are serious about their target shooting, this is obviously an important concern when considering the longevity of their firearms. However, for those who are more interested in using Creedmoor’s 6.5 cartridges for hunting, they can take comfort in knowing that the 2,000-3,000 round life capacity of the barrel will be more than adequate to serve a hunter for many years.

.308 Winchester vs. 6.5 Creedmoor: Ammo Choice

The .308 Winchester is a highly popular cartridge in the shooting and hunting communities throughout the United States, and it scores as one of the top-selling rounds in the nation. Even though the 6.5 Creedmoor also enjoys widespread use, it has yet to permeate the public on the same level that Winchester 308 has. The future will show if or when the market decides that the Creedmoor will overtake the 308 Winchester.

Remmington 6.5
Remmington Premier Match 6.5 Creedmoor Ammunition
Available at Brownells

Large-scale ammo manufacturers such as Berger, Barnes, Black Hills, Hornady, Federal Premium, Norma, Nosler, and Winchester all produce a variety of high-quality 6.5 millimeters. Many of these loads are already more than suitable for hunting. There are many bullet styles built-in 6.5 calibers with hunting in mind and are also on the market. Manufacturers like Berger VLD, Barnes TTSX,  Hornady ELD-X, make good reliable hunting bullets. There is also an immeasurable variety among both cartridges for those who are fans of target shooting; Hornady makes the A-Max, and Sierra makes the Match King. One can even find varmint-sized bullets in both calibers.

Berer bullets
Berger Bullets are available in several different styles and purposes
Check out available 6.5 Creedmoor Rounds at Brownells

Pricing and availability

Although availability and pricing will ultimately come down to each shooter’s state and region, the ammo for both cartridges is highly common. However, the Winchester .308 will still be cheaper to purchase and easier to find on average when compared with the Creedmoor. Also, there is a surplus of full-metal jacketed ammo leftover in 7.62 x 51 NATO. Although various political and economic events have made the round slightly more expensive and in-demand, it is still another inexpensive means to access the caliber when contrasted with the 6.5 Creedmoor. However, it is important to know that the full metal jacketed rounds don’t make for very good hunting grounds and may not be legal for hunting in several states.

The wide availability of reloading components makes custom handloads highly doable for anyone seeking to load their own Winchester or Creedmoor cartridges. There are plenty of bullet varieties to select from as well.

.308 Winchester vs. 6.5 Creedmoor: Rifle Selection

There is a cornucopia of rifle choices to be made for anyone interested in the 6.5 mm Creedmoor or the Winchester .308. And while the Winchester calibers are more common on the market, the Creedmoor variety is by no means difficult to find.

Ruger Precision Rfile
Ruger Precision Rifle
Available at Brownells

Ruger in particular has embraced the 6.5 mm Creedmoor, and the manufacturer offers their FTW Hunter, American, Hawkeye Long Range, Precision, Number One, and Scout rifles in the 6.5 cartridges. Remington, Browning, and Mossberg also all have high levels of support for both the Winchester 308 and the 6.5 Creedmoor cartridges in each caliber. Although the 6.5 Creedmoor is purchasable to be utilized with the AR-10 platform, there isn’t as wide of a selection regarding other semi-auto rifles in the cartridge.

.308 Winchester vs. 6.5 Creedmoor: Which Cartridge Is The Best Choice For You?

While 308 Winchester and 6.5 Creedmoor both present excellent rifle cartridges. You need to look at your own shooting habits to make the proper call for your collection. Don’t let anyone claim that the 6.5 mm Creedmoor can’t be utilized in a home-defense situation. Or that Winchester .308 can’t be used to reach far out when you need to. Still, a quick summary of benefits and use purposes will illustrate that form really does follow function, and cartridges are no exceptions from this age-old adage.

Target Shooting or Hunting?

Are you someone who is a dedicated long-range target shooter looking for the best cartridge to reach out and touch a 1,200-yard target? Then the 6.5 mm Creedmoor will be the cartridge for you. Are you a hunter who wants to score some moose, elk, caribou, eland, kudu, or stags? Then steer yourself towards the Winchester .308 as it has a larger frontal surface area and greater impact energy under 200 yards.

Are you particularly sensitive to recoil from a firearm? Then the 6.5 mm Creedmoor will be your shoulder’s best friend. For those who are new to the world of shooting, the Creedmoor will therefore also be a friendlier entry point. If you are interested in keeping a high level of accuracy while using semi-automatic fire, then Creedmoor also stands above the Winchester .308 to keep your bullets on target.

Long Range shooting
Long-range shooting

Do you want a battle rifle that can withstand the rigorous demands needed for personal defense? Then look into the massive variety of Winchester .308 rifles that are available on the market; the quality of firearms and customizations of that particular platform are nearly endless.

Although the differences in each caliber might seem extreme in some areas. There is really no “perfect” overall choice on the whole. Meticulously consider what your goals are as a shooter before you go spending your hard-earned money on a rifle or cartridge, and you will be well-served by your due diligence.

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