Brace yourself. Here comes yet another 6.5mm rifle cartridge. The 6.5 PRC. Many are saying this is what the 6.5 Creedmoor should have been in the first place! Or maybe not.
- 6.5 PRC muzzle velocity (2,900 fps) exceeds 6.5 Creedmoor muzzle velocity by about 200 fps and trails the 264 Win. Mag. by roughly 150 fps.
- Fits many short-action rifles/magazines, similar to the 6.5 Creedmoor and 308 Win.
- Engineered for long, high B.C. bullets and fast twist (1:8) barrels.
Will 6.5 PRC Bury Current 6.5mms?
First, let me reassure all owners of 6.5 Creedmoors, 6.5 x 55 Swedes, 260 Remingtons, 6.5x57mms, 6.5-284 Normas, 6.5-06s, 6.5 Remington Magnums, and 264 Winchester Magnums (whew): You do not NEED a 6.5 PRC. If you’re happy with your current 6.5mm rifle and cartridge, stick with it. But if, like so many rifle loonies (as my friend John Barsness refers to us) you enjoy investigating all things that go bang in a controlled direction, you might want to investigate this newest 6.5mm cartridge. So let’s do just that.
First, the name. Obviously 6.5 stands for bore diameter. Even though 6.5mm is really just .2559” diameter, this round fires .264” diameter bullets, the same as all other 6.5mm cartridges. PRC stands for Precision Rifle Cartridge, but I’m tempted to call it the Precision Ruger Compact because it was created by necking down the 300 Ruger Compact Magnum case. Why they didn’t just label it the 6.5 RCM I don’t know. It might have been easier for everyone to understand. I guess Precision Rifle Cartridge emphasizes its potential for long-range, precision shooting competitions where it should shine — unless competitors determine they don’t want to put up with the increased recoil and shorter barrel life.
Size Isn’t Everything, But It’s Something
Before we get into those potential negatives, let’s size up this cartridge. Rim and head diameters are .532”, the same as the 300 Win. Mag. rim and belt and slightly smaller than the trend-setting 300 WSM “short-fat” case. Shoulder angle is 30-degrees. An empty 6.5 PRC case is 2.030” long. With a Hornady 143-grain ELD-X bullet aboard, cartridge overall length (COL) measures 2.960”. That compares to COL of 2.825” for the 6.5 Creedmoor, 7mm SAUM, and several other short-action cartridges. Final SAAMI specs for this cartridge aren’t out yet, so COL might not be finalized at 2.960.” Keeping COL to 2.825″ means the cartridges would fit Remington M700 short-action magazine boxes, which are 2.84”. These are the nit picky little things that make a big difference in whether a new cartridge soars or flops. Speaking of little things: The PRC’s neck is .272” long, slightly more than one caliber. This should provide for straight bullet alignment, something accuracy buffs appreciate.
The 6.5 PRC holds about 28% more powder than the 6.5 Creedmoor. Through a 24” barrel it’s supposed to send Hornady 143-grain ELD-X bullets 2,960 fps, but my Hill Country Rifles custom M70 averaged only 2,887 fps with 3-shot groups huddling .75” to MOA. These were factory loads. Hornady’s 147-grain ELD-Match loads averaged 2,870 fps and punched .996” and .446” groups. I’m awaiting Lyman dies to begin handloading, hoping to approach the 2,960 fps claimed by Hornady for their 143-grain bullets, but dies aren’t available as of this writing.
Even at these velocities the PRC bests 6.5 Creedmoor muzzle energy levels by 356 f-p. With 200 yard zeros and a 10 mph right-angle breeze, the PRC drops 19” at 400 yards and drifts 8.5 inches. The Creedmoor drops 22.5 inches and deflects 9.4”. The PRC keeps kinetic energy above 1,000 f-p all the way to 850 yards. The Creedmoor takes it to 720 yards.
Here’s how the 6.5 PRC stacks up against other 6.5s with a 30-06 thrown in for reference:
All these velocities should be taken as averages because the same ammunition of any cartridge fired through different barrels often varies in muzzle velocity by as much as 100 fps. Different handloading guides show top cartridge muzzle velocities varying as much as 200 fps, too. Nevertheless, these numbers show us the 6.5 PRC percolates confidently in the center of the 6.5mm list, suggesting it could be a sweet compromise of recoil, barrel life, and ballistic performance. Actual average barrel life remains to be seen, but similarities in powder capacity and operating pressures (I’m guessing they’ll be around 62,000 to 65,000 psi) to the 6.5 Rem. Mag. suggest barrels should retain good accuracy to 1,000 rounds, perhaps as many as 2,000. This always hinges on how “hot” barrels are shot. Typical one- to three-shot strings while big game hunting should result in a lifetime of hunting accuracy. Target competitions are another matter. Competitors might select the 6.5 PRC over the 6.5 Creedmoor not so much for its reduced drop as wind deflection. That’s always a moving target, if you’ll forgive the pun. At 800 yards the PRC deflects four inches less than the Creedmoor. At 1,000 yards it’s seven inches less in a 10 mph, right-angle wind.
Our long line of 6.5mm cartridges suggests choosing one might drive you nuts, especially when so many give similar performance. What most shooters do is consider ammo cost and access, rifle cost and availability, and sometimes recoil levels. Here the 6.5 Creedmoor, with its head start, wins. My prediction is it will make the 260 Remington obsolete. The 6.5 Rem. Mag. and 264 Win. Mag. have tough rows to hoe since they’ve been around since the 1960s and haven’t exactly caught fire. The Grendel is too weak for most big game hunters. The Swede is popular with pragmatic traditionalists, but, like the 6.5-284 Norma, suffers from minimal ammo options plus relatively throttled velocities. The 26 Nosler and 6.5-300 Wby. are fire breathing dragons a bit over the top for most hunters who fear not only barrel burning and recoil, but also the cost of big, magnum ammunition. That seems to plant the PRC neatly in the middle of the muddle.
Another consideration is twist rate. Right now a 1:8 twist seems ideal for the longest, high B.C. projectiles currently popular in 6.5s. Many older 6.5mms including 6.5mm Rem Mag., 264 Win. Mag., some 6.5 Swedes and even the 260 Rem. have 1:9 twist rifling; adequate, but not optimum. That leaves the 6.5 PRC standing right in the middle.
While PRS shooters will be entertaining the PRC for their high volume, extreme range shooting competitions, I assess it with the eye of a hunter. The Hill Country Rifles Custom M70 Winchester I’m currently testing in 6.5 PRC is the perfect platform. The rifle’s sleek, classic lines, open grip and reasonable weight (8.6 pounds with a Swarovski Z5 3.5-18x44mm scope fixed in Talley one-piece rings) make it an easy-carrying, smooth handling, beautifully balanced rifle with more than enough punch and accuracy for everything from pronghorns and feral hogs to sheep, caribou and elk. With the right bullet I wouldn’t hesitate to use it on moose or most African plains game. In short, this rifle and cartridge come about as close to being the mythical, all-round North American big game rig as the 270, 30-06, 7mm Rem. Mag. or even 300 Win. Mag. Certainly you’ll get more punch and versatility out of the 7mm and 300 at responsible hunting ranges, but with added recoil and slightly more carry weight in a standard-length action. If this PRC lives up to its early promise, it will replace the 6.5-284 Norma as one of my favorite do-all cartridges.
Of course, the 6.5 PRC is so new that the jury is not only out, but has barely begun deliberrating. It will take years before we’ll know if the advantages of this short-action round will let it catch the 6.5 Creedmoor. In the meantime, based on the two existing loads from Hornady and the performance we’re seeing in custom-chambered rifles like the Hill Country Rifles M70, we could well be seeing the birth of the best balanced, most versatile 6.5mm cartridge yet.
The author appreciates rifles, cartridges and bullets of many shapes and sizes and has no absolute favorites, but ones as nicely balanced as the 6.5 PRC and Hill Country Rifles M70 come close.