Full disclosure: This is not the article I intended to write. I tend to be old school, I like cartridges that have been and will be around for decades. I also believe in most cases the best cartridge for any purpose has already been invented . This makes me immune to the hype new cartridges enjoy. However, sometimes a new cartridge comes along that is interesting and seems like it does find a way to be relevant. Like the .300 BLK for instance, it is truly a useful new cartridge that will most likely be here to stay. That said, let’s talk about the .243, 7mm-08, (and others) vs 6.5 Creedmoor. Like most North American Gun Nuts(™) the standard benchmark of performance for me begins and ends with .30 caliber bullets. I haven’t ever felt the real need for anything beyond a .30-06, or .308 since I first started hunting.
Then two things happened. First, I began to consider that in the near future I would be asked to help select good general purpose hunting rifles for a couple young ladies. I thought that would be easy: just get them a .243 Winchester. Rifles chambered for .243 are everywhere, they are proven, they shoot soft, are accurate and versatile. The .243, despite what some might say, is not underpowered, it just requires a tiny bit of good marksmanship. The .30 calibers were quickly ruled out because when full grown neither of these young women will be over 5’ 3” and although they are much hardier than they appear; they will not likely shoot a rifle if they can’t enjoy shooting it for an hour at the range . As I began my research I saw the number of rifles marketed at Youth also chambered in 7mm-08. I found this interesting, and was swayed in that direction for some time because so many experienced hunters love it. Just as I had firmly settled on the .243 and was about to visit Liberty Tree Guns to make my purchase my attention was finally caught by the second thing.
The second thing was that the buzz surrounding the 6.5 Creedmoor is not going away. Usually a new round gets a lot of media hype and in a few months after every news source has said how great it is, you don’t hear any more about it, and you can’t find the ammo anywhere because it didn’t catch on. But the 6.5 CM was like a mosquito in your darkened bedroom at night, it just kept buzzing until I had to investigate. The Creedmoor is everywhere, and is being held up as a new wunder caliber. I finally had to look at it closely.
I knew the 6.5 Creedmoor was ultimately derived from a .308 case (by way of the .30 T/C), and carried a .264 Bullet. So I began to reason that if the .243 (6mm) and the 7mm-08 (.284), also both derived from the .308, are thought of as wonderful calibers for youth and ladies then it would make sense that the 6.5 Creedmoor, being dead in the middle size wise, and also sharing a distant .308 lineage, would likewise be a good youth/ladies caliber, right?
Which brings me, finally, to the point of this article. If considering the purchase of a new rifle for general fun and adventure, and to hand down to future generations, is there a reason to jump on the 6.5 CM bandwagon instead of choosing the reliable and stable, proven .243, 7mm-08, or similar, to fulfill the same role in one’s battery of guns?
Disclaimer: Please understand all these comparisons are relative, and somewhat generalized, but if the shooter does their job well the animal on the receiving end of any of these choices will never know the difference. This is a game of fractional inches.
.243 vs 6.5 Creedmoor.
In the 1950s, Warren Page, legendary firearms editor for Field and Stream magazine, almost immediately after the .308 Winchester’s introduction, necked-down a .308 case to accept a .24 caliber bullet. Winchester soon came out with their standardized version of a necked down .308 they dubbed the .243 Winchester. They saw it as a deer cartridge someone might want to shoot varmints with. They were right. It has been the most popular offspring of the .308 since its’ introduction. It has proven to be an effective Class 2 game (deer, antelope, medium sized hog) cartridge, an excellent varmint & coyote cartridge, and continues to win at long range accuracy contests. Generations of new and savvy shooters have learned to hunt with .243 rifles. It has remained in the top 5 or 6 rifle cartridges by sales for decades. Among the group of .223, .308, .30-06, and .30-30 the top 5 is pretty hard to crack.
You have likely already read ten articles on the history of the 6.5 Creedmoor; it has become a highly written about cartridge. If you somehow have not heard of it, here are the broad strokes. Released in 2007 by Hornady for the purpose of making small overlapping holes in paper at half a mile away it has excelled so much, that it has become the new darling of hunters as well. It isn’t magic, quite, but there are physical peculiarities of 140-ish grain bullets of .264 diameter that fight gravity and wind better than similar bullets of slightly larger or smaller weights and diameters.
So how do they stack up?
The 6.5 has more energy at every distance than a .243, and the longer the distance the bigger the advantage. The 6.5 drops a little more but drifts less at every range. Gravity is constant; wind is not, therefore doping for distance is much easier than adjusting for wind. The Creedmoor is within 5 inches of drop of the 243 all the way out to 500 yards; at 500 yards the CM has drifted 7 inches less than the .243. This gives the edge to the Creedmoor. Where the .243 runs out of steam as a deer cartridge somewhere around the 300 yard mark; the Creedmoor is still viable energy-wise past 500 (not that I advocate taking shots at game at .3 miles). Even in the category of varmint rifle, there are good loads for the Creedmoor that will duplicate the effects of the .243 on groundhogs and coyotes. Recoil for the two cartridges in rifles weighing around 8 lbs will be barely more than a .223 and about half that of the .30-06. Either are well below the accepted comfort threshold. The two other areas where the .243 might still hold an advantage, but probably not much longer, is in ammunition price and availability.
Verdict: 3 to 2 for Creedmoor
6.5 Creedmoor vs 7mm-08
The other heavily favored hunting cartridge for youth & ladies is the 7mm-08 Remington. Officially Introduced in 1980, it is a necked down .308 case topped with a 7mm (.284 diameter bullet). This cartridge pretty much duplicates the 7mm Mauser cartridge which has killed everything, everwhere. It is loved for being a mild shooting, effective cartridge. It is very popular, just not as popular as a .243 or its’ parent .308. There is no shortage of rifles or variety of ammunition for this cartridge, and many swear by it. Here is the thing though: power wise against the Creedmoor it takes a slight lead at short range, but by 125 yards it has lost its advantage and the tide turns; at 200 yards the Creedmoor is besting it handily and by 500 yds all the 7mm sees is Creedmoor tail lights. Similarly, the two are very comparable at fighting the effects of gravity, but by 250 yards the edge begins to go to the 6.5. When it comes to wind, again, the 7mm never stands a chance, by 200 yards the 7mm has drifted an inch farther. Recoil wise, data suggests no one will notice a difference in similar rifles, tie. This is a case where even though the 7mm is great, it just isn’t better.
Verdict: Creedmoor 4 to 1
By this point in my comparison I had started to feel a little shell shocked myself and I thought, If this thing is so good, could it be as good as a .308 for the types of hunting we generally do in North America?
6.5 vs .308
The .308 (and it’s great uncle the .30-06) are the golden standard among North American shooters. The .308 Win is the top selling hunting rifle round everywhere. It does pretty much everything well. It was the standard for long distance sniping and target shooting for many, many years. While the .308 packs a bigger wallop all the way out to 300 yards, the difference there is not astounding. The Creedmoor has 88% of the .308’s energy at the muzzle and by 300 yards the Creedmoor has turned the tables on the .308. As a less than 300 yard hunting round, you can use heavier bullets in a .308 and challenge bigger critters with more authority. After 300 yards though, the Creedmoor passes it, by 400 the roles have switch, and by 500 they have almost completely reversed each other. In drop too, the tale is the same as you would expect. By 300 yards the Creedmoor is pulling away and by 500 yards the difference if enough to cause a miss instead of a kill, the .308 will drop more by 7 inches. It should not come as a shock that in the wind, the .308 is drifting an inch more by 200 yards; by 500 yards there is most of 8 inches difference. The .308 is a fantastic round, and for reasonable, ethical, hunting distances that any person should be taking shots at live game, it is supremely effective. To be good with it a long ranges requires a good knowledge of ballistics and quite a bit of skill. For a new shooter the Creedmoor greatly levels the playing field. Recoil is a win for the Creedmoor as well, most would not say that the .308 has punishing recoil, but the 6.5 has much less recoil for very similar, and at long ranges, better, performance.
Verdict: (and this pains me) Creedmoor 4 to 1
6.5 Creedmoor vs .270 Win
Ok, the 6.5 creedmoor is a fantastic long distance cartridge, and it holds its’ own at shorter ranges, can be loaded for woodchucks or elk. Great. But how does it stack up to the darling of long range elk hunting: Jack O’Conner’s favorite .270? Better than you would most likely believe. Out of this group tested the .270 smokes everything else energy-wise once the range opens up past 100 yards. Even the .308 doesn’t pack the energy the .270 does at that range unless you load it heavy. Against the Creedmoor the .270 never gives up the power lead, although by 500 yards the .270 is beginning to more rapidly lose steam. The thing to notice here though, is that the 6.5 is still viable at that distance, and is a solid second place finisher among this group in this category. The .270 is crazy good at beating bullet drop, the only cartridge in this article to best the it at the 500 yard mark, and only then by ½ inch, is the .243. By that distance though, the .243 is puttering along with anemic energy while the .270 is still ready to take care of elk sized business. The Creedmoor hangs in there on bullet drop until about 300 yards and then the cracks start showing, at 500 yards they are 5 inches apart, still minute- of- deer though. Wind drift, where the Creedmoor beats everyone, it is nearly a photo finish. At the 500 yard mark the .270 only drifts ¾ of a inch more. It is a check mark in the Creedmoor’s favor but only by a nose. Recoil wise, the 6.5 is much more friendly than the .270 which is closer to the .30-06 than it is to the feather pillow soft .243.
Verdict: Tie Actually much closer than the results display even though the check marks call it a tie, I would call it for the .270 by a nose, but the Creedmoor is no slouch.
In the final analysis if you refuse to shoot targets or critters at anything more than 300 yards, you will be in good shape with any of them. If you want to ring steel, punch paper, and make it easier on yourself to hit a deer size critter at those ranges with incredibly manageable recoil the Creedmoor is impossible to discount. Will I give up my .30-06 or .308? No. But I am quickly coming to the conclusion it could be the new one rifle solution for the lower 48 states. Not just for youth or ladies, but for anyone who wants one rifle for everything between woodchucks and elk while still being kind to their shoulder. Yes, I think I have to get one for myself now… oh and a couple for the girls too. I think I’ll give Eli at Liberty Tree Guns a call…