You face a conundrum if you’re determined to own one of the best-balanced, easy shooting, deadly accurate whitetail rounds ever developed. Will it be the .260 Rem. or 6.5 Creedmoor?
“Conundrum” is a 5-dollar word for a “tough question.” But this one is actually easy because both of these new cartridges are peas in a pod. And they truly could be considered the absolute, all-around best for whitetails, black bears, mule deer, pronghorns and even sheep. They’re not excessive for coyotes, either, and with the right bullets you won’t find an elk or moose that will like them.
Those of you who know either cartridge might be shaking your heads about now. After all, these short-action rounds throw 140-grain bullets just 2,700 fps. That’s hardly magnum horsepower. And that’s partly why they’re so deadly.
For every action there’s an opposite and equal reaction, which is why so many of us flinch when igniting super magnums that spit 160- to 180-grain projectiles 3,100 to 3,500 fps. Ouch. You might not think you flinch. You might not want to admit you flinch. But, unless you practice shooting your magnum a lot, you probably flinch.
With a .260 Rem. or 6.5 Creedmoor you won’t.
These efficient little devils, based on the .308 Win. case, only need about 45 grains of powder to reach full potential in a 24-inch barrel. They’ll come darn close to that in 22-inch barrels, but they’re built on short-action rifles, so you can gain the extra bit of speed (maybe 25-50 fps at most) with the additional 2 inches of barrel and still keep overall rifle length the same as a standard-length magnum with its 24-inch tube. Efficiency again.
But the real benefit is the reduced recoil with the lighter bullet and powder charge. A 7mm Rem. Mag. burns 64 grains of R-19 powder to drive a 140-grain bullet 3,100 fps. A 6.5 Creedmoor burns just 45 grains to reach 2,700 fps. The recoil energy from the 7mm (if both rifles weighed the same) is 18.9 foot pounds. The Creedmoor recoil is just 12.3 foot pounds. This suggests you’ll flinch less and shoot best with the 6.5. The .260 Rems and 6.5 Creedmoors I’ve shot feel like a .243 Win. Obviously they kick a bit more than that because the .243 Win. is also based on a .308 Win. case, but it spits just a 100-grain bullet, so would have to kick less. Nevertheless, the recoil from any of these is so minimal that it doesn’t begin to approach the “ouch” stage.
But what about that sacrifice in velocity? Aren’t these two .264 caliber shorties going to leave you in a long-range freefall? Not really.
If you remember, they and the 7mm Rem. Mag. were both throwing 140-grain bullets. That means the .264 caliber (6.5mm) projectiles are going to be longer for their weight and have a higher ballistic coefficient. This means they slip more efficiently through the atmosphere. Zeroed at 250 yards, the above loads at stated velocities fly like this:
Now, if you were trying to terminate a moose at 500 yards, you wouldn’t argue strongly for either of the 6.5s. But how many of us ever take shots at game much beyond 300 yards? Is the 1-inch difference in drop at 300 yards going to make you miss a whitetail or even a coyote? Not even the 4-inch difference at 400 yards means much, especially if you memorize your drops and compensate for them. Notice how wind deflection is almost identical. Only a half-inch better for the 7mm at 500 yards.
The .260 Rem. came out in 1997—it’s essentially the .308 Win. necked down. The 6.5 Creedmoor came out in 2007—it’s the .308 Win. necked down, but also shortened slightly with a sharper shoulder and straighter walls so bullets can be seated long without protruding into powder space, while still functioning through short-action rifles. At best, the Creedmoor might yield 25 fps more speed than the .260 Rem. For hunting, the difference isn’t going to make a difference. Choose either.
But realize this: Factory-loaded ammunition isn’t widespread. Remington, Federal and Nosler load the .260 Rem., and Hornady loads the Creedmoor. They have some nice options, but for maximum benefit, plan to handload. Bullets range from 95-160 grains, making this pair of modern 6.5mms two of the best whitetail rounds going.
.260 Rem. (left) and 6.5 Creedmoor (right) shown alongside a .308 Win. (center).