The expanding popularity of precision rifles has been accompanied by discussion about abandoning the 308 Winchester in favor of the 6.5 Creedmoor. But what about the other match calibers out there? Specifically 6.5×47 Lapua, 260 Remington, 243 Winchester, 6BR, 6×47 Lapua, and 6 Creedmoor? As a shooter experienced with these cartridges, I decided to weigh in on the debate. This discussion is primarily for shooters looking to punch paper or ring steel and should not be expanded to hunting, law enforcement and military usage without consideration for the context.
We’ll look at the benefits of these cartridges over the 308 Winchester as well as hand loading, bullet diameter, and magazine restrictions.
Why not 308? 308 Winchester has been the gold standard in precision rifles for decades. The cartridge is widely used by military/law enforcement and stands on solid ground in the US shooting market. You can shoot a 308 accurately past 1,000 yards and harvest most game with it. The movement away from the 308 isn’t so much about what it can’t do, but what other cartridges can do better. Take a look at the table below:
Note this table is comparing 16.5″ and 26″ 6.5 Creedmoor loads against a 22″ 308 Winchester with a 175 grain Sierra MatchKing (SMK) and 24″ 300 Winchester Magnum with a 190 SMK. At 1,000 yards, the 26″ 120 grain 6.5 Creedmoor requires 2.2 mil less of elevation and 0.4 mil less of drift over the 22″ 308/175. Further, the short 16.5″ 6.5 Creed/120 still has 0.8 mil less drop and 0.1 mil less wind than the 308/175 at this range! All that downrange performance with 5.5″ less barrel. Amazing! This advantage in external ballistics isn’t limited to the 6.5 Creedmoor, the other cartridges examined in this post offer similar advantages over the 308 Winchester. Simply stated, these cartridges tend to shoot flatter and with less wind drift than a 308.
Back in my retail gun sales days we’d have guys walk into the store and declare they were “recoil junkies”. I guess they didn’t know any better. Talk to most guys in retail now and they’ll tell you today’s shooters don’t like recoil. Take a look at the widespread use of muzzle brakes and thick recoil pads for further evidence of this (for those of you who’ve been in this sport for less than 20 years, trust me, it’s become more prevalent). The cartridges we will discuss in this post have less recoil than a 308 Win.
How else does this help you shoot? Lower recoiling rifles tend to encourage good fundamentals in marksmanship. As a rule, your trigger control is going to be much better with a rifle that is comfortable to shoot (kicks less). Lower recoil also means your sights stay closer to, or on, the target after a round is fired and you are less likely to have to rebuild your position. Amongst the mid-range F-Class TR shooters (limited to 223 Rem and 308 Win), there is discussion about the advantages of 223 over 308 for this very reason. The lighter recoiling 223 rifles stay on target better, allowing for faster follow up shots during a relay.
The 308 Winchester isn’t a bad choice for most applications, however, the 6BR, 6×47 Lapua, 6 Creedmoor, 243 Winchester, 6.5×47 Lapua, 6.5 Creedmoor, and 260 Remington will shoot flatter with less recoil making them attractive options for the competitive shooter.
Do you hand load? Whether or not you hand load is an important factor to consider. Of the cartridges we are comparing, factory match ammunition is most readily available for the 6.5 Creedmoor. Factory match grade ammunition is also available for the 6BR, 243 Win, 6.5×47 Lapua and 260 Rem, but is less plentiful and harder to obtain. Besides a few specialty ammunition makers, 6×47 Lapua and 6 Creedmoor are essentially hand loading only cartridges. If you don’t reload, 6.5 Creedmoor is the obvious choice.
6mm or 6.5mm? The next step is deciding between 6mm or 6.5mm. In some shooting sports the movement has been from 6.5mm to 6mm. This is primarily because the lower recoil of the 6mm cartridges allow shooters to reacquire their targets and take faster follow up shots. I’ve noticed a few downsides to the 6mms when compared to the 6.5 mms. The 6mm tend to be harder to tune during load development with shorter nodes (with the exception of the 6BR- hand loaders dream); presumed barrel life may be shorter, and effects on long range steel targets are harder to detect. For these reasons, I’ll often recommend a 6.5mm to most shooters who ask my opinion. I’ve found the 6.5×47 Lapua one of the easiest cartridges to develop loads for and capable of holding extreme precision.
Are you feeding from a magazine? Depending on the sport you plan on engaging in, you may or may not have to feed from a detachable magazine. Since the AICS style magazine has become ubiquitous in short action precision rifles, the cartridge you select should work with them if you need to use a detachable magazine.
AICS magazines and 700 actions are the Archilles’ Heel of the 6BR. While there are now spacers available (expensive spacers) to modify the magazines to allow them to feed the 6BR reliably, ejection of the relatively short case in Remington 700 actions can be an issue. I’ve built a few 6BRs that work well on 700 actions, however, there are plenty of shooters who have encountered problems.
On the other end of the spectrum, the longest cartridges in this post, 243 Winchester and 260 Remington, feed well from AICS style magazines but may run into problems with the magazine space limiting the overall length of the cartridge. This length restriction results in shorter overall lengths for hand loads, yielding less powder capacity and longer bullet jump to the lands.
The 6×47 Lapua, 6 Creedmoor, 6.5×47 Lapua, and 6.5 Creedmoor all feed extraordinarily well from AICS magazines.
Does primer size matter? The 6 Creedmoor, 243 Win, 6.5 Creedmoor and 260 Remington all use large rifle primers. The 6BR, 6×47 Lapua, and 6.5×47 Lapua use small rifle primers.
Anecdotally, it is easier to get a lower standard deviation (sd) with small rifle primers. In my experience this is true, in fact Lapua even makes 308 Palma brass for long range shooters. The Palma brass is a standard 308 case with a small primer pocket to give shooters lower sds. The best way I’ve found to lower my sd with the large primer rifle cartridges is use Russian primers– Tula (no longer imported and sell for huge money when you can find them) and Wolf. Wolf may make lackluster 5.56 and 9mm ammunition, but they have large rifle primers figured out. Incidentally, I use CCI 450 primers in all of my small rifle loads.
Some shooters are concerned about primer flow in the large primer cases. I haven’t encountered this enough to believe it is an actual concern in most rifles. Alternatively, during the introduction of the 6.5×47 Lapua, there was concern over whether or not a small rifle cartridge would work reliably in extremely cold weather, however, this appears to be unwarranted.
Given the choice, I prefer small primers in my match rifle cartridges, but that wouldn’t be enough to make me choose one cartridge over another.
What about external ballistics? I often joke that I have the slowest chronograph in the internet. I take a look at some of the data people post online and I’m floored. I’ll load the same charge with the same components and same barrel length at the same temperature and I’m not even close. My guess is these guys are using inexpensive unreliable chronographs (some of the entry level units are fast-buy a good chronograph if you can swing it, if not, split the cost with a couple of other guys and share it) to gather their data or they are at such high elevations they are realizing velocity gains. Keep this in mind when you are comparing load data. If you are on the coast in Florida in July, your loads may not be the same as some guy on a mountain in Montana in February.
I’ve found the 6.5×47 Lapua and 6.5 Creedmoor remarkably similar in terms of velocity with a given bullet and barrel length. Theoretically, you may have a slighter edge with the larger Creedmoor case, but that difference may not be realized once you have completed the load development process. I’ve found the 6mm versions of both cartridges to be similar as well. I have managed to pushed the 6 Creedmoor faster than the 6×47 Lapua, but those loads weren’t particularly accurate. Once the dust settled, my match loads for both guns ended up with similar velocities.
I’ve been somewhat disappointed with the 243 Winchester- I’ve found the most accurate nodes away from the top end and was effectively getting 6×47 Lapua or 6 Creedmoor velocities while burning more powder.
The 6BR is a not speed demon, nor was it designed to be. While the other cartridges discussed here will give you flatter trajectories and less drift, it is supremely accurate. A trade off I think is well worth the sacrifice in speed.
To0 look at actual data for any of these cartridges, take a look around Rifleshooter.com. I’ve posted quite a bit of load development data for all of these cartridges, as well as actual groups with test gun specifications.
So which one would you pick? It really depends on your needs and who you are as a shooter.
Don’t hand load: buy a 6.5 Creedmoor or stick with a 308 Win. Loaded ammunition is readily available, it feeds well from an AICS magazine and it shoots flatter with less drift and recoil than a 308 Win.
Reload AND need a cartridge that feeds from a magazine: I would pick either the 6.5 Creedmoor or 6.5×47 Lapua. Traditionally, 6.5×47 Lapua had a advantage of better, Lapua brand brass (if you think your Hornady brass is as good as Lapua brass weigh 100 cases of each and let me know how that goes). Recently, Lapua announced it would be manufacturing 6.5 Creedmoor brass. This may turn the tables in favor of the Creedmoor, however, I still am a huge fan of the 6.5×47 Lapua. My preferred bullets for both are the 123 SMK, 130 TMK and 142 SMK. Ever indecisive, I move between them with some regularity.
You hand load and do not need to feed from a magazine: get a 6BR. This cartridges was designed from the ground up to be accurate; short powder column, long neck, small rifle primer and a steep shoulder make for one of the most inherently accurate cartridges on the market. At the 300 and 600 yard lines it is hard to beat and the load development is shockingly simple. Grab a can of Varget and some 107 SMKs and have at it. It is worth noting the 6.5×47 Lapua was actually developed to compete directly with the 6BR.
You are an established shooter and reloader who enjoys precision rifle games and matches: get a 6×47 Lapua or 6 Creedmoor. Both feed extremely well from AICS magazines. Occasionally, you can find manufactured 6 Creedmoor brass with the correct head stamp from Hornady, otherwise, you need to form your own. Forming brass for both is exceptionally easy, simply neck down a 6.5 Creedmoor or 6.5×47 Lapua case and you are ready to load. Over a number of rifles I’ve built, I’ve found the Lapua a little more accurate than the Creedmoor. This may be due to the availability of Lapua brass. While I personally favor the 6×47 Lapua, either will serve you well. My preferred bullet for both cartridges is the 107 SMK.
If you have a pile of 243 Winchester or 260 Remington brass or are just some cranky dude that hates change: (if you found this post via Facebook check the comments section for those guys), stick with what you know. They both work fine and feed well from AICS magazines. While they also have larger case capacities than the newer cartridges, I’ve found when tuning, they tend to shoot best at more conservative loads. In fact, when I’ve re-chambered two different rifles from 243 Winchester to 6×47 Lapua and 6 Creedmoor, the loads I developed for the same barrel with the same bullet in different calibers had similar velocities, negating any actual advantage from the larger powder capacity (however the 243 loads burned more powder to get the same speeds). I like the idea of the 260 Remington but have always found it to be somewhat more temperamental during load development than I thought it should be. Again, that is just my opinion based on my experience.
Sometimes, I have a hard time deciding. Take a look at the two rifles I shoot the most below:
Both have custom actions and McMillan A5 stocks. Both have the same length 1:8.5 twist Bartlein barrels from Brownells. Both have a DBM systems. The top is a 6.5 Creedmoor and the bottom a 6.5×47 Lapua. Despite the caliber differences, I shoot these rifles interchangeably. So choosing a caliber may matter little less than you think.
The 308 still gets the job done. My friend Jon LaCorte from TRACT Optics likes his 308. He shoots it so well, he was nipping at my heals the last match we shot together. TRACT is a new optics company that sells direct to shooters, if you get a chance check out their website.
I hope this was helpful. The best part of buying or building a new rifle is deciding on what you want. There is far more information available to shooters now than when I started so make sure you read everything you can before you pull the trigger!
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