I’ve seen a lot of new shooters asking about which Precision Rifle Caliber to get started with, the easy answer…6.5 Creedmoor! People become interested in shooting long range but they are not sure where to start, and that’s understandable. There are quite a number of calibers to choose from and they each have areas they are better suited to than others and areas they aren’t so great for at all. This article is going to focus on the 6.5 Creedmoor and the reasons it’s an excellent caliber for the purposes of tactical rifle shooting!
6.5 Creedmoor Vs. 308 Winchester
I can’t even address this topic without discussing 308 Winchester, but not in the way you probably think. It’s very outpaced by the 6.5 Creedmoor but it was the standard for a long time. Around five years ago when I was getting into distance shooting that was the common recommendation, and to some extent it still is. 308 Winchester as a Precision Rifle Caliber is not a bad choice. However, the 6.5 Creedmoor is better. The components to set yourself up to handload ammunition are plentiful. Factory match grade ammunition is easily found and obtained at reasonable prices.
The 308 Winchester caliber is immensely popular and can be found in almost any gun shop or sporting goods store. However, that doesn’t necessarily make it the best choice available. There is a lot of discussion about ‘how far can that caliber reach’…which is somewhat misleading. While I frequently see people say that 308 Winchester is a fine Precision Rifle Caliber capable of 1000 yard shooting, that’s not really a realistic expectation of performance, especially for a new shooter.
Can you shoot to 1000 yards with a 308 Winchester? Absolutely. Farther? Sure, I’ve made hits to 1200 yards with a 308 Winchester. It still wouldn’t be my first choice for the task. If we are being realistic about performance, I think you should consider 308 Winchester an 800 yard caliber in experienced hands, and a 600 yard and under caliber in a new shooters hands. The wind has more to do with how accurately you can hit at distance than anything, and for new shooters the 308 Winchester can be challenging.
There are a lot of 308s out there with shorter barrels and guys are buying ammunition with 168gr and 175gr projectiles that aren’t the best performers. You can certainly load for maximum performance by choosing higher quality, more expensive, projectiles with higher Ballistic Coefficients or BCs and that will increase your odds of success. However, there are calibers out there that perform better out of the box and help reduce the steep grade of the learning curve that a new shooter has to deal with.
6.5 Creedmoor Barrel Life
Another reason I hear everybody beating the 308 Winchester drum as a choice for a Precision Rifle Caliber even over the 6.5 Creedmoor is the barrel life. Barrel life of the 308 Winchester is commonly regarded to be 5000+ rounds of accurate fire. People get that number in their heads and start discounting better performing calibers thinking that anything less than 5000 rounds will mean frequent and costly barrel changes and trips to the gunsmith. Well, that’s not really accurate either.
There was a time in my life when I was shooting at the range every week. I was attending at least one major match per year with a 300-500 round course of fire for the weekend. I was reloading constantly. I really thought I was shooting a lot. I looked at my log book to see how many rounds I had on my barrel, a cut rifled Rock Creek, to determine whether I was getting close to needing to rebarrel the rifle. You know what? I had only logged a little over 2000 rounds in just shy of two years of what I thought was heavy shooting. That’s the point.
People think they do or will shoot a lot more than they actually wind up doing in reality. Unless you are an instructor teaching classes weekly, or a rabid competitor that is shooting multiple matches a month, you just aren’t going to rack up the round count you probably assume you will. For those 2000 rounds I had logged on my rifle I would have to be logging more than 150 rounds a month to burn through that in a single year. Most matches that aren’t on a national scale have round counts around 50 shots.
See what I’m getting at? If you aren’t shooting 3 matches a month and logging 150-200 rounds average EVERY month…it’s going to take you longer than you think to burn up a barrel. So don’t get overly stressed about life expectancy of a barrel. Barrels should be looked at like powder and bullets, its a consumable commodity that requires periodic replacement. You have more to brag about if you’ve shot out and rebarreled your rifle a couple times than having the original barrel still on your gun.
6.5 Creedmoor Vs 308 Winchester Ballistics
Where I am going with all this? I think these days a new shooter interested in getting into long range shooting should take a hard look at the 6.5 Creedmoor as a Precision Rifle Caliber. The 6.5 Creedmoor is ballistically superior to the 308 Winchester. There is match grade factory ammo available at reasonable costs for the 6.5 Creedmoor. The 6.5 Creedmoor produces less recoil, and reloading components are every bit as plentiful as that of those for the 308 Winchester. Yes, you are looking at barrel life of 2000-3000 rounds depending on how hard you run the 6.5 Creedmoor, but remember what I mentioned earlier. It will take a lot more shooting than you are realistically going to do to achieve that round count. If you do manage to get there quickly, then you are probably either an amazingly busy competitor or professional who knows better than to gripe about rebarreling when accuracy drops off.
Lets talk some ballistics. At 750 yards, at a Density Altitude of 6000ft (I live in Colorado), a 308 Winchester firing 175gr Sierra Matchkings at 2650fps will be running about 162 inches of drop, and 47 inches of wind drift. A 6.5 Creedmoor firing a 140gr AMAX at 2850fps will produce 131 inches of drop, and 30 inches of drift. That’s just shy of 3ft flatter shooting, and a foot and a half less wind drift at the same range. Those are pretty common numbers with common factory ammunition.You can get even better performance hand loading. On top of all that, the 6.5 Creedmoor will out shoot the 308 Winchester with less recoil. That makes it easier for shooters with less than perfect skillsets able to stay on target easier and follow up their shots more expediently.
There are other Precision Rifle Calibers that are quite common and often recommended. 260 Remington was very popular as the 6.5mm Calibers were gaining traction as contenders for a Precision Rifle Caliber. However, factory 6.5 Creedmoor ammunition from Hornady is plentiful and reasonably priced. Not so much with 260 Remington. 243 Winchester and other 6mm calibers will outperform the 6.5mm cartridges, but the difference is less significant than between 308 and the 6.5s. The barrel life also tends to drop off a bit and quality factory ammunition is not as easily obtained.
The 6.5mm and 6mm calibers are extremely popular these days when considering a Precision Rifle Caliber. The problem with recommending a 308 Winchester these days is that you essentially set up the newer shooter for a really humbling experience. On top of the handicap they possess with regard to experience and their shooting skill set, you are now suggesting they start going to matches to try and have fun competing against a field dominated by flatter shooting, faster flying, ballistically superior cartridges. Unless you shoot like Mark Walhberg in Shooter, you just flat aren’t going to be able to compete. That contributes to some of the daunting feelings that newer shooters have to deal with. We were all new to this sport once and overcoming a lack of skills and experience is trial enough, lets not start off handicapped by our gear as well, especially when better choices like the 6.5 Creedmoor exist.