In with the new, out with the old? Should the 6.5 Creedmoor replace the .30-06 in the hunting category? Not so fast! Let’s take a look.
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These two cartridges have vastly different histories and capabilities. The young 6.5 Creedmoor is known for its long range capabilities, while the 30-06 is more powerful and has been trusted and relied upon for over a century. Though the 6.5 Creedmoor was designed for competitive pursuits and 30-06 made its mark in war, the 30-06 has also been used in a variety of competitive settings since its birth.
About the 6.5 Creedmoor
Developed by Hornady and Creedmoor Sports, the 6.5 Creedmoor was first intended for target competition. Its stellar performance caught the attention of hunters, who quickly appreciated this accurate, mild kicking cartridge and its wind-defying high BC bullets. This modern 6.5, much like the earlier .260 Remington and the revered old 6.5×55, excels on medium-sized game such as deer, pronghorn antelope, and black bear. Hunters have also successfully used it on much larger game such as elk. All in all, this cartridge is wonderfully versatile.
Gavin’s 6.5 Creedmoor rifle is a surprisingly lightweight and nice handling Bergara MGLite. It’s proven to be reliable, easy to carry, and accurate. This rifle sports a Bergara premier action and Bergara Cure 1:8 twist barrel set in an XLR element magnesium 4.0 chassis. The trigger tech trigger is set at 3 lbs. Gavin added a SilencerCo Hybrid suppressor and an Athlon Midas TAC 5-25×56 mm scope. Though the appearance of the gun might not be traditional, it is capable in a variety of settings. The heart of this rifle is Bergara’s proprietary Cure barrel technology that eliminates shots walking as the barrel heats up and promotes heat dissipation.
The 6.5 Creedmoor ammunition was handloaded using the Forster CoAx press. We used a well proven load, 41 grains of H4350, Hornady cases, CCI large rifle primers and the 143 grain Hornady ELD-X bullet. The load is quite accurate and a bit less than max, averaging 2638 fps. This is the same load Gavin used to hunt and kill a black bear a couple of years ago at 160 yards. To be fair, I must note that there are 6.5 Creedmoor loads in Hodgdon’s Reloading Data Center that will move this same bullet at nearly 2800 fps. That extra velocity would tip things in the 6.5’s favor. Gavin likes the 41 grain mark as he’s found an accuracy node there out of several different rifles.
About the 30-06 Springfield
Rather than the world of competition, the 30-06 came from the world of war. Unlike the 6.5 Creedmoor, which is about 15 years old, the 30-06 has a legacy over 100 years old. It was quickly adopted for hunting and has long been hailed perfect for the one-rifle hunter. The world of suppressors and muzzle-breaks have also made the tolerable recoil of the 30-06 more manageable.
My 30-06 Remington 700 CDL is a pretty straightforward classic-styled hunting rifle. The walnut stock has been pillar bedded and the 24” Remington sporter 1:10 twist barrel free floated. The Remington trigger was replaced with a Timney, set at 3 pounds. Gavin threaded the barrel and made a thread protector for it. Typically I’m content with a 6x Leupold scope, keeping things simple.
Before we kick the old Springfield to the curb, let’s take a fresh look at what it can do with newer powders and the 178 grain ELD-X bullet. I’ve used the 30-06 for a long time and always considered the 180 grain and heavier bullets to be “big” and best used on game that needed to be hit hard. For me, this 178 grain bullet falls into the same category, it’s a big, well made hunting bullet for general purpose big game hunting.
Last year I loaded a 180 grain Berger Elite Hunter over Ramshot Hunter for my mule deer hunt. It proved quite successful. Velocity was decent at 2730 fps, and accuracy was a bit better than usual for this rifle with a three-shot 100 yard group measuring .84 inches. The buck at 350 yards was flattened instantly with a high shoulder hit.
With those results in mind, I turned to Ramshot Hunter again and bumped the powder charge up a bit to a full 60 grains. One of the nice things about this powder is how well it flows through a powder measure. I used MEC equipment to handload this 30-06 ammunition and was able to throw charges within .6 of a grain time after time. I used Nosler brass and CCI large rifle primers. This ammo averaged 2859 fps with the 178 grain Hornady ELD-X.
About the Hornady ELD-X
Hornady developed their line of ELD-X bullets to take advantage of the high ballistic coefficients and excellent accuracy demonstrated by their ELD-M match bullets. The ELD-X bullets differ from their match counterparts by having a heavier jacket and retaining the famous Interlock ring used in many other Hornady hunting bullets. We previously tested both types of bullets in the 6.5 Creedmoor. Gavin has observed match-level accuracy from the ELD-X bullets with the same load we’re using today. He actually had 0.5 MOA groups out of his Ruger precision rifle before accurizing it!
The ELD-X® (Extremely Low Drag – eXpanding) bullet is a technologically advanced, match accurate, ALL-RANGE hunting bullet featuring highest-in-class ballistic coefficients and consistent, controlled expansion at ALL practical hunting distances.
The ELD-X bullets have a high BC and polymer tip with Heat Shield technology for better long-range performance.
For this story we wanted to compare the rifles, each using an ELD-X bullet, the 178 grain 30 caliber and the 143 grain 6.5mm. These high BC bullets retain velocity well, as can be seen in the charts from Hornady’s 4DOF ballistics calculator. The ELD-X can expand at a mere 1,800 fps, and both of our rifles retained more than that velocity at 600 yards.
Perhaps surprising to some is that the 30-06 actually has a flatter trajectory, slightly less wind drift and more retained velocity all the way out to 600 yards! This is because it had a high BC bullet (though not as high as the 6.5’s) and also had a 200+ fps muzzle velocity advantage over the 6.5 Creedmoor. As a hunter, it’s important to know how far the bullet will expand out to. I know that the ELD-X will expand down to 1,800 feet per second. Both the 30-06 and 6.5 Creedmoor retained at least that figure at 600 yards.
The score evened out with recoil. We didn’t have two equivalent stocks to test in the recoil rig, but Guy went online and used a calculator from JBL Ballistics to get some data on the cartridges and loads. Keep in mind this does not take the specifics of the rifle into account. According to the calculations, the 6.5 Creedmoor has about half the recoil energy of the 30-06.
Results of the Ballistics Gel Block test
We tested the bullets in gel blocks at modest range, less than 20 yards. This is a bit of a torture test for the bullets because of the high impact velocity. If it’s going to fragment, the high speed impact will cause that.
The recovered 143 grain 6.5 ELD-X retained grains weight and expanded to .541 inches.
The recovered 178 grain 30 caliber ELD-X retained 110.7 grains and expanded to .615” at the widest point.
I was impressed with the penetration of both bullets, 24.5” for the 6.5, and 27.5” for the 30-06. The temporary wound cavity from the 30-06 was larger, and the gel block was obviously hit harder.
The larger 30-06 remains the more powerful cartridge, it has only gotten better with the new powders and bullets. The high muzzle velocity, combined with the good BC of this Hornady ELD-X bullet produce surprisingly good results downrange. The more powerful rifle of course does produce greater recoil, 24.8 lbs. It’s been used to take all of North America’s big game animals in addition to many more species around the world. I personally have used the 30-06 to take grizzly, black bear, elk, mule deer, pronghorn antelope and more.
Only about half as much recoil energy is produced by the 6.5 Creedmoor, 12.8 lbs, making it easier to shoot well. Though I haven’t taken game with the 6.5 Creedmoor, I’ve hunted with other accurate, light-recoiling cartridges and appreciate them. I’d happily hunt with a 6.5 Creedmoor. Perhaps I can convince Gavin to loan me one of his 6.5’s for a hunt someday! Many have hunted with the 6.5 Creedmoor, and have proven it to be excellent for mid-sized game such as whitetail, mule deer, and pronghorn antelope. It’s even been used successfully on game as large as bull elk. It’s one of those deadly accurate, easy-recoiling cartridges that is especially useful for hunting.
As a side note, Hornady offers the ELD-X bullets in multiple cartridges in their precision hunter line of ammunition.
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