Bullets, Ballistics and Gun Cartridges, Oh My! Those Amazing 6.5mms

By Ron Spomer

What’s the best whitetail deer cartridge?
Listen to our shooting expert –
and win that perennial deer camp debate!

Would you believe the all-around best cartridge for deer hunting is also the best for most other North American big game? Actually, it’s several cartridges, and odds are you’ve never seen or shot any of them. But you ought to.

If you want to see an ordinary gun cartridge (the 308 Winchester) enter the phone booth and emerge as Super Centerfire, make sure you study the .260 Remington.

hunting cartridges-deer cartridges-bullet ballistics

Here are the mild-recoiling, flat-shooting, hard hitting, short and efficient 6.5mms. L-R: 6.5 Creedmoor, 260 Remmington, 5.5×55 Swede, 6.5-284 Norma. With the right bullets, each is capable of handling any North American deer, including moose. (Photo: Ron Spomer)

What’s a 6.5?

This mild, unassuming short-action cartridge was created by necking the 308 Winchester down to .264 caliber. It functions through light, short-action rifles, stands just 2.8-inches tall, burns a paltry 46 grains of powder, throws a 140-grain bullet at 2,700 fps, kicks up only 14 foot-pounds of free recoil energy in a 7-pound rifle and runs neck and neck with the famously flat-shooting .270 Winchester – which is arguably the best deer cartridge in history.

To appreciate the .260 Remington, consider that the .270 Winchester stands 3.34″ tall, must run through a standard-length rifle action, burns 59 grains of powder to push a 150-grain bullet 2,900 fps and jolts you with 20 foot-pounds of free recoil in a 7-pound rifle. Here’s what the ballistic performance of both bullets looks like:

Drop/Energy/Wind Drift comparison, both zeroed at 240 yards, 10 mph right angle wind

deer cartridge comparison-hunting rifle ballistics chart


These numbers tell the practical deer hunter two salient facts: ballistic performance between the two is virtually undetectable, especially in field conditions, and the .260 Remington won’t kick as hard. That means you’ll probably shoot it more accurately, and everyone knows shot placement puts meat in the freezer and antlers on the wall.

hunting cartridges-deer cartridges-bullet ballistics

Here’s a Kansas buck that fell in its tracks when hit with a 130-grain Nosler Accubond fired from a 6.5-284 Norma cartridge in a Blaser R39 rifle. It was ranged at 267 yards. (Photo: Ron Spomer)

The 6.5 Family

This little-known .260 Remington isn’t the Lone Ranger out there. It’s a near ballistic triplet to the 6.5×55 Swedish Mauser and 6.5 Creedmoor. If you can handle just 2 foot-pounds more free recoil, the 6.5-284 Norma makes any of the four short-action 6.5mms nigh perfect for most big game hunting. The 6.5-284 can add 150 fps muzzle velocity to the same long, extremely efficient 140-grain .264 bullets the others shoot.

The 6.5 Advantage: High BC

Those long, sleek bullets are the real magic behind these mid-size 6.5mm cartridges. Target shooters discovered this some time ago, but hunters are just now beginning to appreciate it. We used to think we needed bigger, heavier bullets and magnum doses of powder to increase ballistic performance. Turns out we can get much of the same results from high BC .264-caliber bullets without the magnum recoil. Here’s an example:

Drop/Energy/Wind Drift comparison, both zeroed at 240 yards, 10 mph right angle wind

deer cartridge comparison-hunting rifle ballistics chart


What’s going on? Ballistic Coefficient. The longer, sleeker and more pointed a bullet, the less energy it wastes pushing air out of its way. It conserves energy. You can get the same trajectory performance out of the .300 Winchester Magnum, but you’d have to fire a 200-grain boat tail spire point to do it. And that’s a lot more recoil, more powder, a louder blast, occasional reduced barrel life and most times a longer barrel and a bulkier rifle.Look carefully at those numbers. Even though the “little” 140-grain bullet carries 400 foot pounds less energy at 200 yards, it’s already deflecting less in the wind. By 500 yards it’s packing MORE punch than the 180-grain .300 magnum bullet, falling 5 inches less and drifting 8 inches less. It’s outperforming a .300 magnum.

Goldilocks Cartridges

The sweet thing about the mid-power 6.5mms is their overall balance. You might call them the Goldilocks cartridges. Not too slow, fast, weak, strong, loud, painful – but just right. They deliver all the performance you need for deadly results on whitetails, mule deer, black tails, pronghorns, sheep, hogs, black bears out as far as anyone ought to be shooting. And I wouldn’t hesitate to use them on caribou, elk and moose. After all, with the right bullet they’re outperforming .300 magnums.

hunting cartridges-deer cartridges-bullet ballistics

The 6.5s shoot a nice variety of bullet sizes from 95 grain through 160 grain. the optimum seems to be the extremely sleek, low-drag, high BC 140 grains. (Photo: Ron Spomer)

Those are the facts. And now, you have all the ammunition you need to convince anyone with an open mind that the 6.5mm cartridges are Super Centerfires in a mild-mannered package.

Ron SpomerAbout Ron Spomer:

Ron is rifles/optics columnist for Sporting Classics and North American Hunter magazines and host of Winchester World of Whitetail on NBC Sports. Learn more at (www.ronspomeroutdoors.com).

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One Response to Bullets, Ballistics and Gun Cartridges, Oh My! Those Amazing 6.5mms

  1. Ben says:

    That 6.5 shot sure looks good!

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