The Most Famous 6.5 caliber

By Kerry O’Day

It seems the world had gone crazy over the 6.5 calibers: 6.5 Creedmoor, 6.5 PRC, 6.5-300 Weatherby, 26 Nosler, 6.5-.284 Norma, and 6.5 Grendel.  With all the new .264 caliber (6.5 Caliber), you would think this was a brand new caliber.  But it has been around for quite some time!  One of the oldest 6.5 calibers is the 6.5X55mm Carcano.  This caliber was invented in 1891 and had a bullet diameter change in 1896 from .267 to .264.  In 1891 when it became the official caliber for the Italian Military, it was used in the 1891  Carcano bolt action rifle.  It shot a 162-grain bullet at a velocity of 2300 feet per second.  Other countries that used the 6.5X55 were Finland and Nazi Germany.  This caliber was used in the 1897 wars with Ethiopia, WWI, the Spanish Civil war, and WWII.  In fact, it was not dropped from the Italian arsenal until 1970. 

Another great 6.5 caliber rifle was the 6.5X50mm Arisaka, better known as the 6.5 Jap.  This was the official caliber for the Japanese military and used in the type 38, 35, and 44 Arisaka bolt action rifles  It was adopted as the Japanese Army caliber in1897 and by the Japanese Navy in 1902.  This caliber shoots a 139-grain bullet at a velocity of 2500 feet per second.  It was used by a bunch of different countries including Russia, China, North Korea, and Indonesia just to name a few.  The 6.5 Jap was used in both WWI and WWII and the Korean War.

One more old military 6.5 caliber is the 6.5X55 Swedish.  The 6.5 Swede was introduced in 1890 in a cooperation between Sweden and Norway.  It was built in both the 1896 Mauser and the 1894 Krag Jorgensen bolt action rifles.  The USA also used the Krag rifle but in 30-40 Krag caliber. It was Sweden’s and Norway’s official military rifle up to the 1970s.  The 6.5 swede shoots a 140-grain bullet to a velocity of 2650 feet per second.  The 6.5 Swede is still a very popular caliber to build in custom or semi-custom rifles.  A year doesn’t go by without us building at least one rifle in this caliber. 

In more modern times we have several great calibers made by both Winchester and Remington.  The first hot rod 6.5 was the .264 Win Mag, and was introduced in 1959.  The .264 Win Mag shoots a 120-grain bullet up to 3250 feet per second and a 140-grain bullet to a velocity of 3000 feet per second.  For long-range shooting of big deer-sized animals, this is a perfect caliber except for one problem, the throat in the chamber of the barrel will burn out in as little as 500 or 600 rounds of shooting.  Using a quality stainless steel barrel will help the problem but many old Winchester Model 70 rifles will have the throat burned out and you lose both accuracy and velocity because the bullet jacket will be stripped and leave copper deposits in the beginning of the riflings.  The final death blow to this great caliber came two years later when Remington introduced the 7mm Rem Mag.  Remington was smart by using a stainless barrel on their first run of rifles so the outdoor writers wouldn’t write all the bad things as they had about the 264 Win Mag.

Not many years ago in 1997, Remington introduced what was to be the perfect small caliber for hunting deer-sized animals.  The .260 Remington was nothing more than a .308 Win case necked down to 6.5 caliber.  It shot a 120-grain bullet at 2700 feet per second.  I remember when I was taking my daughter on her first trip to Africa, I was going to build her a new larger caliber rifle (she was shooting a 6mmX.223).  I looked at the ballistics of the .260 Remington and talked to several of my writer friends.  All said it was a good caliber but had problems shooting a heavier bullet.  They also mentioned that it seemed to have more recoil than expected.  So I decided to build Katie a 7mm-08 which she still uses today.  

If you look at the ballistics of the 260 Rem and the 6.5 Creedmoor they are almost identical, in fact, the .260 is a little faster.  Remington made a mistake with this caliber and used a slower 1-9 twist in the barrel.  Creedmoor uses a 1-8 twist so the new higher, longer and heavier BC bullets shoot great in the 6.5 Creedmoor but anything over a 125-grain bullet is too heavy for the 260 Rem.  Remington could have saved the .260 Rem just by changing the rate of twist but then they would have been admitting they were wrong.  It is just easier to make the press happy and produce the 6.5 Creedmoor with the right twist ratio.

With all of the new 6.5 caliber rifles on the market, several really stand out in my mind.  The 6.5 Grendel is a wonderful AR-15 caliber and kills deer-sized game like it should.  The Grendel’s recoil is nothing and the noise is very comparable to that of a .223 Rem.  The 6.5 PRC is one of the most accurate high-velocity calibers I have ever shot.  In the guns we build chambered in 6.5 PRC will commonly shoot way less than ½ inch groups.  The 6.5-300 Weatherby caliber is a real barrel burner but WOW does it shoot flat and what it does to the deer-sized game is almost scary.  The explosive effect it has with light bullets will make you say what was that and you will find the animal dead right there.  At long range, the 6.5-300 Weatherby will shoot several feet flatter than the Creedmoor and has 1000 foot-pounds more energy.  There is nothing more that can be said about the 6.5 Creedmoor that other writers have not already said.  It is a great caliber and I think it is wonderful that a free-thinking shooter can come up with such a great caliber when all the engineers of the Big 3 didn’t do it. 

So what is the most famous 6.5 caliber ever made?  It could be the first high velocity .264 Win or the long-standing 6.5 Swede.  Many will say the new popular 6.5 Creedmoor.  I think the most famous is the 6.5 Carcano and for all the wrong reasons.  First and foremost in 1963, this caliber was used to kill a President of the United States.  John F. Kennedy was shot dead in Dallas Texas with 3 shots from a 6.5 Carcano rifle.  You can have all the conspiracy theories you want on who did it or what gun was used, but the 6.5 Carcano got the blame for the killing.  Many young people have forgotten or never knew about the shooting of Kennedy but it is a part of our history that should never be forgotten.  After his shooting, it changed the way guns could be bought and started a nationwide list of gun owners in America.