Over the past two decades in the sport I’ve learned short barrel precision rifles shoot well and look cool. Most of the short rifles I’ve built were 16″ barrel 308 Winchesters. Always looking for something new, I wanted to see how one of the trendy 6.5mm match cartridges would fare in a shorter barrel. When I customized my Savage Model 10 FCP-SR, I threaded and chambered it in a 16.5″ long 6.5 Creedmoor with a 1:8 twist Shilen select match barrel.
The rifle’s parts were ordered from Brownells:
- Shilen Select Match barrel 6.5mm 1:8 twist, #7 contour
- MAGPUL CTR stock
- MAGPUL cheek riser
- Tangodown BG17 grip
- MDT AICS style magazine
- Nightforce, NXS, 5.5-22x56mm mil/mil
- Spuhr mount
- Nightforce 20 MOA rail
- Vais varmint brake
To see how the rifle was built, take a look at Building a custom Savage Model 10 in 6.5 Creedmoor.
With factory Hornady 120 AMAX holding approximately 1.2 MOA at 2774 feet/second with a standard deviation of 19.6, I felt there was room for improvement. Initial load development and accuracy testing (for more see: 6.5 Creedmoor load development: 16.5 inch barrel, 123 SMK and 140 SMK) showed the most promise with 123 grain Sierra MatchKing (SMK) over Varget. My final load, pushed the 123 SMK at 2625 feet/second with exceptional accuracy.
The initial 3 shot load development group was .208″, while it was two shots short of a meaningful group, it still showed the promise of the load.
Heading back to the range and experimenting with OAL, I managed this 5 shot group with the same load. I was hooked.
While the velocity of the load is 149 feet/second slower than factory Hornady, the exceptional accuracy is a big sell for me. Running a ballistic calculator, next to some more traditional cartridges, you can get a feel for how the short rifle will perform.
All of the data shown in the table above was recorded first hand, in rifles I own, using a MagnetoSpeed barrel mounted ballistic chronograph. The first three loads listed are for the 16.5″ 6.5 Creedmoor, the last four are for comparison purposes. The 123 SMK and 142 SMK loads are hand loads. The 120 AMAX loads are Hornady factory match ammunition.
While the 16.5″ 123 SMK doesn’t hang with the 26″ barreled 6.5 Creedmoors, it does do pretty well when compared to the 22″ 308 Winchester with the 175 SMK. The 6.5 Creed/ 123 SMK has similar wind drift and drop out to 400 yards, however, when distances start to open up, the 6.5 shows a slight edge, besting the 308 at 1,000 yards by 0.2 mils of drop and windage.
Keep in mind, both of the 123 and 142 SMK loads could be pushed faster for a flatter trajectory, I just prefer precision to speed.
Heading to longer ranges, the little rifle is a blast too shoot. Firing in the grass, prone with a bipod and rear bag, I was able to produce some nice targets (note the addition of the MDT folding stock mechanism at the rear of the chassis in the image above).
At 300 yards I shot this 2.093″ (.668 MOA) group.
Pushing back to 500 yards, I dialed my dope a little high and fired this, 5 shot group that is just over 3″. Unfortunately, it printed off the paper and I didn’t have a ruler- I did have a camera and a Sharpie thought!
My second group managed to stay on paper. This one measured 3.761″ (.718 MOA) overall and approximately 2.5″ vertical.
This 12″ gong was engaged with a vengeance at 600 yards.
At 700 yards the rifle shot well. We were ringing a 1/3 scale IPSC steel that was 6″x10″ with authority. I took time to swing over to this “E” target head and fire the 5 round group above. Not too shabby for such a tiny little rifle.
Shooting the rifle was a pleasure. The low recoil of the 123 SMK and 6.5 Creedmoor cartridge, coupled with the excellent Vais muzzle brake made for a soft shooting rifle. With the Nightforce NXS set at 22 power and I was able to see my hits on the target, even without loading my bipod.
The downsides to the short barrel are decreased velocity and increased noise. The decreased velocity matters if the majority of your shooting is at longer range. I mostly shoot inside of 700 yards, so I don’t consider it a huge loss. For general purpose use, I would most likely build a rifle with a 20-22″ barrel. The short barrel and Vais brake work wonders, but they are loud. When shooting this rifle in soft sand of wet grass, you are covered in dust or water.
If you’ve been considering building a short barrel 6.5 Creedmoor, you might want to give it a try. I like mine.
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