On The Hunt: Dual Purpose Deer Rifle

A brown and white gun

Long range shooting has become quite popular in recent years. This is due in part to the introduction of new calibers, specifically designed for long range shooting, and highly accurate rifles at reasonable prices. Take for example the Ruger American Rifle chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor. The MSRP for the Ruger American starts off under $500 and feature rich versions such as the Bronze Go Wild Camo version (pictured here) with a 24″ threaded barrel for less than $750. The Ruger American platform is also one of the most accurate rifles out of the box, especially considering the price. Add on a decent scope and a bi-pod and you too can ring steel at 1,ooo yards relatively easily.

6.5 CM For Long Range Shooting
The 6.5 Creedmore was developed in 2005 specifically for long-range shooting by Dave Emary, senior ballistician at Hornady. He took the new (at the time) 30 T/C round and necked it down to 26 caliber. The high ballistic coefficient (BC) of this “Magic Bullet” were so impressive that the military decided to take a look at incorporating it into their service rifles. In October 2017, U.S. Special Operations tested the 7.62 NATO (.308 Win), The .260 Remington (which is the .308 Win necked down to 26 Caliber) and the 6.5 Creedmoor. They found that 6.5 Creedmoor performed the best, doubling hit probability at 1,000 meters, increasing effective range by nearly half, reducing wind drift by a third and had less recoil than .308.

6.5 CM For Hunting
There is no doubt the 6.5 CM is great for long range shooting, but what about for medium sized game such as deer and possibly big game such as Elk or Moose? The only way to tell is to look at the ballistics compared to other more established rounds such as the .270 Win, .308 Win and 30-06 Springfield. All these rounds are proven to be effective for just about any hoofed animal. In fact, the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game’s website recommends the following Firearms & Ammunition for hunting in Alaska.

“If you presently own a rifle chambered for the .270 Winchester, 7mm-08, .308 Winchester or .30-06 and can place all of your shots in an 8-inch circle out to 200 yards from a sitting or kneeling position you can be a successful Alaska hunter.”

“The rifle you bring hunting should be one with which you are comfortable. Because of the presence of brown and grizzly bears, many hunters have been convinced that a .300, .338, .375, or .416 magnum is needed for personal protection and to take large Alaska game. This is simply not true. The recoil and noise of these large cartridges is unpleasant at best and plainly painful to many shooters. It is very difficult to concentrate on shot placement when your brain and body remembers the unpleasant recoil and noise which occurs when you pull the trigger on one of the big magnums.”

“For most hunters, the upper limit of recoil is the .30-06 or 7mm Remington Magnum®. A majority of hunters are more comfortable with a .308 or .270.“

So how does the 6.5 compare to these rounds? To get the most apples to apples comparison, we pulled Power-Shok loads for the four different rounds and used the closest grain bullets we could find for each. The .270, .308 and 30-06 are all loaded with 150 grain bullets while the 6.5 CM is a 140 grain bullet. With the same bullet type and weight, one can anticipate all rounds will perform equally with a similar velocity and energy. As the chart below shows the 6.5 CM has the slowest muzzle velocity of the four.

The 2nd chart shows the velocity comparison of the four rounds from the muzzle to the 500 yard mark. Even though the 6.5 CM starts out slower from the muzzle, by the time the bullets reach the 100 yard mark, the 6.5 CM has surpassed (or should I say maintained velocity better than) the .270 & .308. By the time the bullets reach the 200 yard mark, the 6.5 CM has maintained and surpassed the velocity of the 30-06. At 500 the 6.5 CM has a 442 Feet Per Second (FPS) velocity advantage over the .270 Winchester, 259 FPS over the .308 Winchester, and 197 FPS over the 30-06.

Velocity and bullet weight translate directly into energy, and many people consider the minimum of 1,000 foot pounds of energy to ethical take medium sized game such as deer. All four rounds maintain at least 1,000 foot pounds of energy out to 300 yards. By 400 yards, the .270 Winchester drops below the 1,000 mark, and by 500 yards the .308, and 30-06 also fall below the 1,000 mark. However, because the 6.5 CM maintains velocity better due to the higher ballistics coefficient of the bullet, the 6.5 CM maintains 1,025 foot pounds of energy out to 500 yards.

I know there will be many that argue the 6.5 CM is no match for the 30-06 especially on larger game animals like Elk and Moose, but when you compare apples to apples (meaning similar bullet weight and composition), the numbers show otherwise. Both the .308 and 30-06 offer heavier bullet options which do equate to higher energy levels out to 500 yards and beyond, and arguably may make them better choices for larger animals. However, when talking about hunting at extended ranges, you have to take into a couple of other considerations, including bullet drop, wind drift and recoil. While all four rounds are relatively flat shooting, the 6.5 CM does have a slight edge on drop of about 3 inches compared the 30-06 at 500 yards. With a good scope and range finder you can adjust for drop as it is a constant and calculable figure. What is more important is wind drift. The wind is constantly changing and it is the hardest variable to account for. The wind speed and direction at the muzzle may be completely different compared to 500 yards down range. If you compare the wind drift between the four rounds you can see the 6.5 CM is the clear winner. The 6.5 wind drift is 21.1 inches at 500 yards while the .270, .308 and 30-06 are 41.7, 32.9 and 31.4 respectfully. That is anywhere between a 9 and 19 inch difference which can result in a gut shot or even a clean miss.

Finally, when comparing the recoil between the four rounds, the 6.5 CM is the clear winner. As noted from the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game, “for most hunters, the upper limit of recoil is the .30-06”, which according to Chuck Hawks Recoil Table is 17.1 foot pounds of energy for a 150 grain bullet, and over 20 foot pounds for 168 and 180 grain bullets. The 150 grain .270 Winchester is also over 17 pounds of energy and the .308 is 15.8 pounds with a 150 grain bullet, while the 6.5 CM is only 11.87 foot pounds of energy.

Bottom Line on the 6.5 Creedmoor
I know there is a huge love/hate relationship with the 6.5 CM, but when it comes to a true dual purpose (hunting and long range target gun) there are very few that can compete with the advantages of the high BC rounds the Creedmoor spits out. If all of your hunting shots are less then 200 yards, then there really isn’t any advantage to 6.5, other then less recoil. However, if your hunting spot has extended range shots in the 300 -500 yard range, the 6.5 out performs the others in velocity, energy, drop, wind drift and felt recoil, and these advantages only increase as the distances increase. While the 6.5 is an excellent long range shooter, I don’t agree with long range hunting, out past about 400 yards. Once you get out past 400 yards, the wind combined with a potential moving target, such as live animals, make shots out past 400 yards borderline unethical. But if you target practice at 500, 600, 700 yards or more, and get really good at it, then at 3-400 yard hunting shot becomes MUCH easier, and I believe if we are going to harvest an animal at these extended ranges, we owe it to the animal to use the best bullet for the job.