If you’ve researched short action rifles recently, you may have seen some rifles being offered in 6.5 Creedmoor. Using a case similar, but not quite the same, as a .308 Winchester, the 6.5 Creedmoor uses skinnier, lighter bullets and sends them downrange faster. 6.5 Creedmoor has gained in popularity as a great selection for medium to long range (500-1000 yards) shooting. Ballistically speaking, the skinny 6.5mm bullets perform exceptionally well, very closely matching the ballistic profile of a 300 Winchester Magnum, but with a LOT less recoil and cost. Since I thought many other people out there would be looking at pro’s/con’s to the 6.5 Creedmoor vs the 308, I thought I’d do some research and summarize in an article.
308 is a decent performer in the grand scheme of things, but it is not the pinnacle for shooting at really long range. Within 500 yards, you’re really splitting hairs between the 6.5 CM and 308 Winchester as far as drop goes, but the 6.5 does offer a bit better resistance to wind drift. At 700-1000 yards, 6.5 Creedmoor offers a substantial advantage in hit probability.
Case Design: 6.5 Creedmoor vs 308 Winchester
While the 6.5 Creedmoor looks somewhat like a 308 Winchester, it’s actually based on the .30 TC case. Worthwhile noting if you intend on reloading for your 6.5 Creedmoor. The 6.5 CM also has a sharper shoulder at 30 degrees than the 308’s 20 degree shoulder. This will make brass last longer in the 6.5 Creedmoor, but feed more reliably in semi automatics for the 308.
There are lots of match quality and . . .value priced brass for 308 Winchester.
6.5 Creedmoor brass is pretty limited. I’ve seen Norma and Hornady brass, that’s it.
Brass Availability Win: 308
Currently (10/18/2015), both 6.5 Creedmoor and 308 brass from Hornady go for $38.99, so there isn’t really a cost advantage if you’re comparing similar quality brass.
There is a surprising selection of bullets for 6.5mm. Small shops will still have more 30 cal bullets for reloading, but most will also have some perfectly usable 6.5mm bullets as well.
Really, bullet selection comes down to what is useful considering case design. In 308 Winchester, bullets in the 170+ grain size are hard to load to magazine limitations AND get enough powder and speed out of. The Sierra Matchking 175 grain in a Federal Gold Medal Match has a BC of .496 at the speeds a 308 is sending it along (2600 fps). Compare that to the 6.5 Creedmoor, which is sending a 140 grain bullet out at 2710 fps with a better BC of .526-.535, the Creedmoor is sending a ballistically superior bullet at higher speed. So the 308 has more selection and availability, but the 6.5 Creedmoor is using ballistically better bullets. Those bullets drop less at range and drift less in the wind.
For hunting North American big game (CXP2-CXP3 game), both cartridges are very similar and very much up to the job. Hornady’s GMX or Interbond, or Nosler’s Accubond will do the job if you need more penetration, otherwise there are plenty of decent hunting bullets. If you want to hunt CXP3 sized game at longer ranges, you’ll still need to go to a magnum loading like the 7mm Remington Magnum or 300 Winchester Magnum and the differences in range between the 6.5 and 308 are not worth worrying about. The 6.5mm bullets do have better Sectional Density (more lead behind less surface area) than comparable 308 bullets, which should give them better penetrating potential.
Cost-wise, 6.5mm bullets cost less to ship and use less material and so 6.5mm bullets are slightly cheaper to buy than 308 bullets from most manufacturers. Sierra lists their 140 grain HPBT Matchking in 6.5mm at $41/100, while their 175 grain 30 cal version is $44.24.
A clear win for 308 Winchester. It’s available in pretty much any bolt action rifle style that you might be interested in. 6.5 Creedmoor is starting to show up in more rifle models, but it’s still pretty rare to see one sitting on a rack. Buying online or from a bigger gun shop and you’ll find the 6.5CM’s showing up. The Ruger Precision Rifle is offered in 308, 6.5 Creedmoor, and 243, and I’m curious to see how much it helps bolster the popularity of 6.5 Creedmoor. The rifle is an ideal entry rifle into long range precision shooting, so 6.5 Creedmoor should be the cartridge of choice for it due to the better long range ballistics.
As a comparison of availability, 6.5 Creedmoor is available from Savage in about 10 models, while 36 of their models come in 308.
Firing lighter bullets, the 6.5 Creedmoor will have less recoil than a rifle of the same weight in 308 Winchester. Because it’s also in a short action, 6.5 Creedmoor may have a chance at unseating 7mm-08 and 243 as the low-recoil CXP2 cartridge of choice.
With higher speeds and a smaller bore, the 6.5 Creedmoor will see a shorter lifespan than a comparable barrel in 308, but it’s not ridiculously overbore (like the 6.5-284, 26 Nosler, etc) so it shouldn’t be too terrible. Still, a win for the 308.
You’re not going to find a box of 6.5 Creedmoor at the local fishing place that also sells ammo anytime soon, but it is available at big box outfitting stores. Hornady has several styles for hunting or matches. Cabelas.com lists 6.5 Creedmoor ammo with A-Max bullets at $28.99 (10/18/2015) and 308 with A-Max for $30.99. Realistically, there’s going to be more availability for low cost ammo for the 308, especially if you want cheap surplus ammo for practice, but once you look at high quality match or hunting ammo, costs should be similar or slightly lower for 6.5 Creedmoor. If 6.5 Creedmoor gains in popularity (which appears to be the case right now), it may be harder to find because stores will have issues keeping stock.
Summary: Better Performance, If You Want It
The 6.5 Creedmoor is clearly a ballistically better cartridge than 308. The 308 was designed in 1952 for a semi-automatic military rifle, while the 6.5 Creedmoor was designed in 2007 for better long range target performance in a bolt action rifle. That said, ballistics aren’t everything. It’s nice to be able to find a box of shells at the only store within 200 miles of your hunting camp, and 308 is very common. And at the distances that most people hunt, 308 is absolutely capable of taking any North American game. So if you’re looking to get into long range target shooting, the 6.5 Creedmoor should be your choice, while a regular range hunting rifle will be just fine with the venerable 308 Winchester. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with the good old 30-06 either.