Okay, I finally did it! After punching paper and ringing steel with at least a dozen rifles chambered to the 6.5mm Creedmoor, I finally got around to taking an animal with this amazingly popular little cartridge.
Actually, my wife, Donna joined the Creedmoor Club on the same hunt a few days before I did. We shared a Mossberg Patriot in stainless and synthetic, wearing a Riton 4-16x50mm scope. I chose Federal Premium’s 120-grain Trophy Copper load because we’d be hunting blacktails on California’s Central Coast, near our Paso Robles home. We call this area the “condor zone,” long mandated as a lead-free area for hunting. As the Creedmoor’s popularity continues its upward spiral load offerings continue to multiply, but as Opening Day neared, Trophy Copper was the only homogenous-alloy load I could get my hands on.
We Chose… Wisely
Turns out it was a good choice; the rifle wasn’t particularly finicky and it shot extremely well with that particular load! Accuracy with the 120-grain Trophy Copper was consistently sub-MOA, and it actually grouped that load slightly better than some of the loads I had on hand with 140 and 143-grain bullets, including Match loads. This only proves that there’s no predicting what load or bullet weight, type, or style a given rifle might deliver its best accuracy!
Our Mid-August “Vineyard Deer” Hunt
The hunt was on Steinbeck Vineyards, close to home, with Mossberg’s Linda Powell and Riton’s Brady Speth, with fellow writer-friends Andrew McKean and Bryce Towsley also on board. The hunt was mid-August, which probably sounds weird, but the second Saturday in August is the traditional opening for our coastal “A Zone” season. Our deer aren’t normally large, but with plenty of food and water year-around our “vineyard deer” can be excellent. These are our “backyard deer,” so I was excited and looking forward to sharing our Central Coast with good friends. I was also ready, or thought I was. I got in several range sessions with the Mossberg; accuracy was consistent, and once zeroed the Riton scope stayed zeroed. Also, I have to admit that I was anxious to finally join the crowd and hunt with a 6.5mm Creedmoor.
My History with the Creedmoor Cartridge
Mind you, I’m not exactly a stranger to the cartridge. I was present in 2007 when the Hornady team unveiled the new cartridge at an Outdoor Sportsman Group editorial round table. (I’ve even written about the Creedmoor Craze previously on this site.) Based on the .30 TC (or .308 Winchester/.300 Savage) case shortened and necked to take a 6.5mm (.264-inch) bullet, the cartridge is designed for short actions, but with its stubby 1.920-inch case it allows longer, heavier bullets to be seated farther out. Taking advantage of the 6.5mm bullet diameter’s excellent aerodynamics, it can keep a 140-grain bullet supersonic to well beyond 1200 yards, but at modest muzzle velocity and thus little recoil.
At that introduction, the Hornady folks were very clear that the Creedmoor was intended primarily as a target cartridge, designed for accuracy and long-range performance. I enjoy ringing steel at long range, but I’m not a competitor. I guess I took them literally, because I had only passing interest in the cartridge!
How does the Creedmoor Compare to Other Cartridges?
At first glance, the Creedmoor’s ballistics seemed familiar, if not downright redundant. Its 140-grain bullet at 2700 fps is about the same as the best loads for the old 6.5×55, and it’s ballistically identical to the .260 Remington, introduced in 1997. The 6.5×55 Swedish Mauser has been around since 1891, and it’s a classic cartridge that I admire greatly. I have used the .260 quite a bit; both my daughters took their first game animals with a .260, and I’ve used it in both Africa and North America.
The 6.5×55 is too long to fit into a short (.308 Winchester-length) action. The .260 Remington, based on the .308 Winchester necked down, certainly will. However, although both have their followings, neither have become particularly popular. The only real advantage the Creedmoor offers is that, thanks to its short case, it easily handles the longest and most aerodynamic 6.5mm bullets in a short action. From the start, the 6.5mm Creedmoor was (and is) a great little cartridge, but although a few competitors were early adopters and won matches, it was a slow starter. I never expected it to achieve the amazing popularity it has today!
Unavoidable and Inescapable
Right now, the 6.5mm Creedmoor is almost unavoidable and inescapable—America’s hottest centerfire cartridge except for the .223. It has become huge in competitive circles, and of course legions of hunters have discovered it. Like I said, in the past few years I’ve had a lot of 6.5mm Creedmoor test rifles come and go. Accuracy was always good and often exceptional, and with light recoil it’s fun to shoot. I hunted with Creedmoors a few times, but you know how hunting goes: Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose, and I never got a shot when I was carrying a 6.5mm Creedmoor rifle!
Falling Short of My Mark… Sort Of
My chance came on about the fifth day of the season. We spotted a mature three-by-three working through rows of grapevines. Steinbeck’s Ryan Newkirk set up the sticks. After all the suspense, I wish I could say it was my finest hour, but I fell quite a bit short. The buck was in a clear lane between mature vines, perfectly broadside, and the crosshairs were on the shoulder. To my horror, the buck started to walk as I finished the trigger press! I couldn’t call it back and I knew perfectly well the hit was too far back!
We caught up with him a few rows south and got him finished. Pure and simple, I made a bad shot. I doubt results would have differed no matter what cartridge I was using, but that was not exactly the beginning of my hunting career with the 6.5mm Creedmoor that I’d envisioned.
Donna’s Creedmoor Debut, and a Striking Coincidence
Donna’s Creedmoor debut was a whole lot more auspicious! On opening morning, using the same rifle, scope, and load she cracked a really nice four-by-four, an awesome deer for our area. Shooting in vineyards is more difficult than it sound because there are always branches and vines hanging. Donna’s shot was just behind the shoulder, a shot Americans favor because it ruins very little edible venison. Not that I’m one to talk, you could say that her shot might have been an inch farther forward—but no more—to be absolutely perfect. The buck was down a few rows over, and a finisher was required.
Now here’s an interesting coincidence. A couple days later Linda Powell shot a fine heavy-antlered buck with shot placement almost exactly the same as Donna’s. One cannot infer much from just a handful of deer. No two shots are alike, and no two animals react exactly the same upon receiving a bullet. However, with almost identical shot placement, Linda used a .308 Winchester, and her buck went right down and stayed down. Again, with my bad shot I doubt it would have made much difference, but there’s food for thought here.
Overall Impressions… and Concerns
The 6.5mm Creedmoor is a fine cartridge for medium-range work on deer-sized game, and it does its work with very mild recoil. I wish I’d performed a bit better when I joined the Creedmoor Club, but it wasn’t the cartridge and for sure I will use it again. However, the incredible hype surrounding the cartridge right now concerns me. It is not a dragon slayer, and as good as it is for long-range target shooting, it lacks both energy and bullet weight to be an ideal long-range hunting cartridge. At normal hunting ranges I am convinced it is not the equal of the .270 Winchester, and it is certainly not a .30-caliber. If I change my mind I’ll let you know!