LJ Bonham is a semi-subsistence hunter, hunting magazine editor, and firearms enthusiast who lives in the Rocky Mountains.
Creedmoor! Creedmoor! Creedmoor!
If you follow hunting guns and ammunition, you’d think the world had just scrapped every cartridge which doesn’t have the name “Creedmoor.” The gun magazines can write about little else, and the internet is awash with tedious, ill-mannered fan boys who proclaim the new rounds can slay an elephant at 1000 yards without even leaving the rifle.
There's a New Kid in Town
It took a few years after its 2007 introduction to gain traction in the marketplace, but now 6.5 Creedmoor ammunition sales run equal to the .300 WSM or .375 H&H. Will this tidal wave ebb, or will it wash cartridges hunters have relied on for a century or more from the landscape? Some hunters, raised on AR rifles and the .223 Remington, take the notion a small, fast bullet can slay dragons as dogma. They often find the recoil generated by larger cartridges a bit intimidating. They wonder why anyone needs a .308 Winchester or .30-06 “just to kill a deer.”
Evolution From Paper Puncher to Hunter
Add in the current long-range hunting cult, and the Creedmoor’s sudden popularity becomes clear. The 6.5 Creedmoor originated as a precision target cartridge designed to beat rounds such as the 6.5 x 47mm and 6mm PPC in shooting matches. Its sole original mission: make tight groups on paper targets all day long.
In addition to accuracy, target shooters want a cartridge with low recoil. They often shoot a hundred rounds or more in a range session or a match. Heavy recoil just wears them down and accuracy suffers. Hunters, on the other hand, need enough power to make a clean kill. They don’t anticipate more than one or two shots to accomplish this task, so recoil is a secondary consideration.
The target shooting fraternity and the long-range hunting world feed off each other for the simple reason many match shooters are also hunters. It’s natural they would try to make a target cartridge into a hunting cartridge. The Creedmoors have just enough power to kill game with as little recoil as possible.
All Aboard the Magical Creedmoor Tour
Once the 6.5 Creedmoor’s well-deserved reputation for shot after shot accuracy leaked to the world at large, people just had to have one. Make no mistake, it is a good cartridge, and now it has been joined by a little brother, the 6 Creedmoor which uses 6mm, or .243 caliber, bullets. Many match shooters think it is even more accurate than the 6.5.
Ammunition companies are always on the lookout for new products to sell, and gun writers need something to hyperbolize to increase magazine circulation. They both have found a ready market in the people who fancy themselves world class snipers and yearn to zap game animals over a mile away just to prove they can. What effect this new ethos will have on basic hunting skills is open to debate.
The most popular hunting cartridges have a different pedigree. They were either designed as hunting rounds or military cartridges. While they too are accurate, they exist for one primary reason: to kill animals as quick as possible, not punch paper. These rounds have put meat on tables for decades and few hunters have ever complained about them. So, can the new wave replace the old guard?
The author analyzed the 6 Creedmoor, 6.5 Creedmoor, .243 Winchester, .308 Winchester, .30-06 Springfield, and 7mm Remington Magnum for trajectory, effective range, and recoil with modern ballistic software available free online from shooterscalculator.com. Calculations were corrected to standard temperature (59F/15C) and pressure (29.92 inHg/1013 mbar) at sea level.
The four classic cartridges in this test need little introduction. The .243 is the most popular low recoil round which can still ethically take deer sized game. Both the .308 and .30-06 were U.S. military rifle cartridges in their day. The .308 is still on duty. The 7mm Rem. Mag. is the best-selling hunting cartridge in the world.
Trajectory in this test is defined as Maximum Point Blank Range (MPBR): the distance over which a bullet rises three inches above sight line and then drops three inches below to hit within a six-inch kill box. Imagine a bullet arcing through a six-inch diameter pipe for a certain distance and you have the idea.
Effective range in this test is the minimum impact energy recommended for a humane kill on medium game (1200 ft-lbs.) and large game (1500 ft-lbs), and the minimum velocity most hunting bullets require for reliable expansion (1800 fps). If the minimum energy range exceeds the minimum expansion range, the minimum expansion range becomes the maximum effective range since unexpanded bullets are much less effective regardless how much energy they possess.
Recoil calculations were based on a modern mid-weight, synthetic stocked, 8.0 pound rifle. The .30-06 and 7mm Rem Mag. were based on more traditional wood-stocked rifles which weigh 9.0 pounds on average. As a general rule, more than 15 ft-lbsf is considered enough recoil to affect most shooters’ accuracy. The less recoil, the more accurate the shooter, and hence, the more effective the cartridge.
All calculations were based on the heaviest Nosler AccuBond™ bullet available for each caliber, unless otherwise noted. The AccuBond™ is a good all-round hunting bullet with high ballistic coefficients (BCs) and terminal performance similar to the time tested Nosler Partition™. Both BC and sectional density (SD) are noted for each bullet tested. BC quantifies a bullet’s aerodynamic efficiency, and SD predicts relative ability to penetrate into a game animal; the larger each number, the better. Most experts agree BCs around .450, or larger, make bullets fly flatter and drift less in cross-winds. SDs greater than .230 are preferred for big game bullets.
Specialized long range bullets were not used for this test as they are unnecessary for most hunting situations. Muzzle velocities are the nominal industry standard for the tested bullet weight in each caliber for factory loaded ammunition. Hand loaders can achieve much better performance in many instances.
Points were awarded as follows:
- One point for every 10 yards MPBR beyond 200 yards and one point deducted for every 10 yards less than 200.
- One point for every 25 yards beyond 200 yards for maximum effective range on medium and large game, respectively, and one point deducted for every 25 yards less than 200 yards.
- One point for every 25 yards beyond 200 yards for minimum expansion velocity, one point deducted for every 25 yards less.
- One point for each ft-lbsf recoil less than 15, and one point deducted for every ft-lbsf greater than 15.
Here’s how each cartridge ranked. Detailed performance figures are summarized in the table at the article’s end.
First Place: 7mm Remington Magnum, 56.0 Points
160 gr. AccuBond (.531 BC/.283 SD) at 2950 fps. Some may say it is unfair to include this magnum cartridge in this test, but the simple fact is it’s the best-selling hunting cartridge world-wide. If we are to consider the Creedmoors as serious contenders, they’ll have to hold their own against the 7mm Rem. Mag.
Second Place: .30-06 Springfield, 40.5 Points
180 gr. AccuBond (.507 BC/.271 SD) at 2700 fps. This grizzled veteran has served America through three wars, and along with the .375 H&H, is considered the most versatile hunting cartridge in existence. It is the second best-selling cartridge in the world.
Third Place: 6.5 Creedmoor, 34.1 Points
140 gr. AccuBond (.509 BC/.287 SD) at 2700 fps. 6.5mm bullets are among the most efficient out there. Thanks to those bullets, and low recoil, the upstart came in third by a whisker.
Fourth Place: .308 Winchester, 34.0Points
180 gr. AccuBond (.507 BC/.271 SD) at 2600 fps. The .308 now out-sells all other centerfire rifle cartridges in the United States, and with good reason. Paired with a lighter recoiling 165 grain bullet, it could have out-scored the 6.5 Creedmoor.
Fifth Place: 6 Creedmoor, 32.7 Points
100 gr. Partition (.384 BC/.242 SD) at 3050 fps. While no company yet offers a 6 Creedmoor load with the 100 grain Nosler Partition, I elected to standardize both it and the .243 Winchester with this excellent hunting bullet to give them the best possible chance. Nosler does make a 90 grain, .243 caliber AccuBond. It has a lower BC and SD than the heavier Partition, and would have handicapped both 6mm cartridges in this test.
Sixth Place: .243 Winchester, 26.7 Points
100 gr. Partition (.384 BC/.242 SD) at 2960 fps. This popular varmint and deer cartridge finished behind the 6 Creedmoor because the newer cartridge generates almost 100 fps more muzzle velocity with the same bullet.
What did We Learn?
The Creedmoor Brothers are indeed contenders. Thanks to efficient cases and bullets, they can hold their own against the most popular hunting cartridges. Although raw numbers do not tell the whole story.
7mm Remington Magnum
The 7mm Remington Magnum has been a hit since its introduction in 1962. It drives efficient 7mm bullets at high velocities with just a bit more recoil than a .30-06. The Seven Rem. Mag. can use the heaviest bullets in its caliber. It is suitable for all North American game and it will drop anything Africa has to offer other than the Big Five’s largest members.
The .30-06 has been around for over a century because it is so versatile. Loaded with 110 grain bullets, it makes a fine varmint round. Stoked with 220 or even 240 grain projectiles, it will kill anything which walks on four legs except perhaps elephant. While they are good, the Creedmoors can’t match this flexibility, especially when it comes to big, heavy animals such as grizzly bear. Add in the fact .30-06 ammo is available anywhere on the planet, and you have a cartridge which won’t die.
The 6.5 Creedmoor is a serious hunting cartridge. It has a better case design than its nearest rival, the .260 Remington. Since it originated as a competition cartridge, it is more accurate than most hunters will ever need. Hand loaders may experience blown primers if they get too close to the 6.5 CM’s maximum allowable pressure, which limits its development potential. Most factory rounds are now loaded 4000 - 5000 PSI lower than the SAAMI approved limit to avoid this problem.
Both the 6.5 CM and the .260 Remington cases are too short to realize the 6.5mm caliber's full potential, in my opinion. Bullets heavier than 140 grains are so long they intrude deep into the case. This reduces powder capacity to such an extent they cannot generate adequate velocities with heavier bullets. While the 140s are sufficient for medium game, the 6.5mm caliber becomes a giant killer with 156 or 160 grain bullets. If I chose to hunt with a 6.5, I’d pick the 6.5x55 Swedish as it excels with the heaviest bullets but causes less chamber throat wear than the 6.5mm magnums.
The 6.5 Creedmoor in action. The shooter is very skilled and experienced, and the conditions were perfect.
The .308 Winchester is such a good cartridge. It doesn’t get much press, but it has one undeniable strength—it just works. Like the .30-06, it can do it all, from varmints to bears, and use less powder in the process. Its only drawback is the same as with all short-action cartridges: it can’t use the heaviest bullets available in the caliber. This fact is what gives the .30-06 the edge when used for the biggest, non-dangerous game animals. Like the “Ought-Six,” .308 ammunition is ever present and affordable.
If any Creedmoor has a chance to displace a classic cartridge, it is the 6 Creedmoor. The .243 Winchester, once the gold-standard, short-action 6mm varmint and medium game round comes up short against this more efficient newcomer. Both the .243 and 6 CM can use the heaviest 6mm bullets, but the Creedmoor drives those 100 fps faster, which makes it a viable 300 yard deer and antelope round with negligible recoil. Its 294 yard MPBR means hunters don’t have to compensate for bullet drop out to the round’s maximum medium game range, either. Just point and shoot. Despite the velocity increase, hunters must face the fact 6mm bullets are not the best choice for large, tough animals such as elk, red stag, and kudu, and they don’t do well in strong cross winds, either.
Anyone who thinks the .243 Winchester will die because the 6 CM has arrived will have to wait a long time. This great little cartridge won’t go away without a fight. The rifles chambered for it number in the millions, and ammunition is plentiful and cheap. Many a novice hunter has taken their first deer with the mild, accurate .243. It’s also used by many experienced hunters who appreciate this dual purpose cartridge’s virtues.
Will the Creedmoors replace today’s popular hunting cartridges? The answer is a qualified, “no.” They can do anything any other medium power cartridge such as the .308 can do. They are efficient, but they pay a price for their low recoil—they give a hunter little room for error with shot placement. Truth is, all too many hunters aren’t good shots under the best circumstances, and when you add in the variables encountered in the field on real hunts, a little extra power becomes important.
Yes, the 6.5 CM can kill an elk or moose at 300 yards—if. If the animal gives you a perfect broadside presentation. If there is little wind. If you don’t miscalculate the range. If you don’t hit a major bone. The potential problems are endless.
The real world seldom gives a hunter such perfect moments. More often than not, you'll face a shot ten minutes before last light on the season's last day through a narrow lane in thick timber, with no time for a range finder, on an elk quartering a big, tough shoulder toward you. If the six-by-six bull doesn't fall in his tracks, you could loose him in the dark. At such a moment, would you rather have a 6.5 Creedmore or a 7mm Rem. Mag. in your hands? In the excitement, you’ll forget the extra recoil the second the bullet leaves the barrel, trust me.
Would I buy a rifle chambered for a Creedmoor? Right now, no. I am more than satisfied with the hunting rifles I have. If, however, I could no longer physically tolerate heavy recoil, I would give them a serious look. There’s a good chance I’d still choose a .308 and just load it to lower pressures. I would try a 6 Creedmoor, though, if I became a serious coyote hunter.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2017 LJ Bonham
Larry on June 20, 2019:
I am that guy who has had both shoulders operated on and recoil is a huge issue. I have a 243 and a 308. What is a good reduced 308 load that would still handle large game?
mtman2 on May 21, 2018:
Yes the article was on the 6.5 Creedmoor and several others; however the one mention the great 117yr old 6.5×55 Swede got was it was the one the author would choose to hunt with...hahah= so why not just use it period// I do so gladly...