I just got off a long phone conversation with the Colonel (my father). Because after informing him that I’d just ordered myself a new Christmas “present” in 6.5 Creedmoor, we both launched off into a 6.5 Creedmoor vs .243 Win compare and contrast “discussion” that drew lines right down the middle of old-school “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” practicality vs “Ooh, look at the shiny new object” impulsiveness that he’s finally learned to just shake his head at while I go ahead and do what I’m gonna do.
To be fair, with several rifles chambered in .243 Win gracing our family tree, it’s easy to see why he’s questioning my 6.5 Creedmoor decision. When he asked, “Why is everyone so enthralled with the 6.5?” My tongue-in-cheek reply to him was, “Because it’s cool, man.”
I could hear his head shaking through the phone.
Then again, just why is the 6.5 Creedmoor threatening to dethrone the .243 in wild popularity? Let’s take a look.
.243 vs 6.5 Overview
The 6.5 vs .243 Winchester origins are similar while at the same time being totally unique.
The 6.5 Creedmoor is a cartridge that, for having been released in 2007, sure feels “new” to most of us who are now being inundated by everything 6.5 CM.
In contrast, the .243 Winchester is a 1955 classic cartridge that if you were brought into hunting early, was surely your first rifle caliber. And if not, it was the one you should’ve had.
.243 Winchester History
The .243 Winchester caliber/cartridge was developed and then made available for sale in 1955. It was released by Winchester for its Model 70 bolt action rifle and its Model 88 lever-action rifle. Shortly after that, the little round took off and became popular with hunters, shooters, and sportsmen everywhere.
Now, it’s hard to find any major rifle manufacturer who doesn’t offer a rifle chambered for the little .243 Winchester caliber.
The .243 cartridge itself is basically a .308 shell casing, necked down to .243 inches. Originally marketed as a target and varmint round, nowadays the .243 caliber rifle cartridge is used for everything from prairie dogs to pronghorns to mule deer to wild hogs and everything in between. And don’t tell your tough, canon-packing hunting buddies, but more than one of their friends has probably used a .243 for elk.
In 70 to 85 grain bullets, the .243 is deadly on groundhogs, coyotes, prairie dogs, javelina… Name your roughly 10-50 pound animal.
But it wasn’t until manufacturers and then hunters figured out that with the right barrel twist rate a .243 round of 90 grains up to 115 grains could be used to dispatch deer-sized big game with ruthless and virtually recoilless efficiency and effectiveness.
Another boost to the .243’s popularity happened when the United Kingdom enacted the Deer Act in 1963. One stipulation in the Deer Act precluded any rifle having a “calibre” of less than .240 inches or a muzzle energy of less than 1,700 foot pounds from being used on deer.
Because of all this and its light recoil—which we’ll get into below—the .243 is now considered by many to be the most popular entry-level big game hunting cartridge of all time.
But if there’s one thing that rifle caliber inventors are famous for, its striving to invent the next most popular caliber of all time.
Enter the 6.5 Creedmoor…
6.5 Creedmoor History
If ever there was a classic “hockey-stick” curved chart of popularity over time, it’s the 6.5 Creedmoor’s meteoric rise to being part of the everyday conversation of rifle enthusiasts everywhere.
The 6.5 Creedmoor was developed in 2007 in partnership with Hornady by Senior Ballistics Scientist Dave Emary an Dennis DeMille, a Vice President at Creedmoor Sports. And that’s how the caliber/cartridge got its name.
Specifically designed to be a highly accurate long-range target shooting round that could be chambered in short action rifles. And high ballistic coefficients and great aerodynamics delivered on that goal to such a degree that the 6.5 Creedmoor caught the attention of long-range and accuracy-driven hunting enthusiasts.
If it feels to you like the 6.5 Creedmoor’s only been around for a few years, you’re not alone. Once I started hearing about the 6.5 CM in just about every conversation I had on what I should get for a new rifle, it seemed like it was only a couple more years before 6.5 Creedmoor rifles were sold out while poor neglected .308s littered the racks of rifle shops everywhere.
And to top it off, the 6.5 CM can deliver .300 Win Mag muzzle velocities and trajectories at much lower felt recoil than the .300 WM’s dental-busting, shoulder-separating recoil effects.
And that’s not to mention outperforming other cartridges in accuracy and ballistics to the point that if you don’t have a 6.5 Creedmoor right now in your stable of rifles, people will start to wonder just who are you and why you’re still living in the past.
6.5 Creedmoor vs .243 Ballistics Chart
Okay, that’s enough nostalgia. Let’s compare the numbers of these two rifle cartridges—.243 vs 6.5 Creedmoor ballistics. And for that comparison we’ll use a couple of my favorite deer hunting bullets and cartridges for each of these rounds.
- .243, 100 gr, Federal PowerShok with a muzzle velocity of 2960 Feet Per Second (fps) – Personal experience, I’ve found this round to be deadly on deer of all sizes out to 300 yards and one of the best deer bullets for .243 Win rifles.
- 6.5 Creedmoor, 120 gr, Hornady GMX with a muzzle velocity of 3050 fps- An equally efficient and deadly round on deer.
6.5 vs .243 Ballistics – Trajectory
The biggest takeaway from the 6.5 vs .243 ballistics trajectory comparison in those two cartridges is that given each bullet’s characteristics:
- The .243 has a Maximum Point Blank Range (MPBR) of 296 Yards
- The 6.5 CM has an MPBR of roughly 325 yards
- Beyond 300 yards the 100 gr .243 starts to drop significantly more than the 6.5 CM 120 gr in inches.
So out past 300 yards, I’d say advantage goes to the 6.5 Creedmoor.
6.5 vs .243 Ballistics – Velocity
The muzzle velocity comparisons of these two bullet weights and cartridges is a slight comparison of apples to oranges, but nevertheless, both bullets come out of the barrel moving very fast: the 6.5 CM 120 gr @3050 fps is screaming and the .243 Win 100 gr @2960 isn’t considered standing still.
These are both fast moving projectiles.
And I chose them because they were close in weight, close in muzzle velocity, and more importantly, in my mind closer in hunting purpose than the oh-so-popular Hornady 6.5 ELDX 143 gr, which has a muzzle velocity of 2700 fps, but also weighs 43% more than the little 100 gr .243 bullet. So that comparison didn’t make sense to me.
Regardless, as velocity charts go these two bullets follow a predictable and very standard big game cartridge downward arc. But the important thing to remember is a much disputed rule of thumb for velocity.
It takes, arguably, around 1500 fps of velocity in order for a given, average big game projectile/bullet to fully expand upon impact. If we just use that number—instead of get into a holy war about whether it’s correct or not—you can see that the .243, 100 gr is capable of fully expanding out to 600 yards vs the 6.5 Creedmoor 120 gr, which can fully expand out to roughly 900 yards.
So out at distance, you’re going to get better expansion farther with a 6.5 vs .243.
6.5 vs .243 Ballistics – Energy
The simple purpose of hunting bullets is to kill animals, efficiently and effectively. So pontificating ballistics charts and velocity numbers is all well an good… However, what we really want to know when comparing the 6.5 Creedmoor vs .243 is how effective is each one at killing game?
To figure that out, we have to go down the white rabbit hole of kinetic energy. And just how much energy it takes to cleanly dispatch a deer-sized big game animal.
In his mini dissertation on The Killing Power of Big Game Bullets, Chuck Hawks [all hail the rifleman] suggests that the minimum kinetic energy necessary to effectively kill big game animals is 800 ft. lbs. Others argue that it’s 1,000 ft. lbs., and I’ve used that number myself in other situations.
But when it comes to people that know about getting deer dead, the buck stops with Chuck.
So 800 ft. lbs. it is…
Now, before we go any further… In real estate they say that the three most important things are “Location, location, location…” Well, in rifle shooting with the purpose of dispatching big game animals, it’s “Shot placement, shot placement, shot placement…” Because simply put, all the energy in the world won’t kill a deer if you shoot it in the hoof!
EOR – End of Rant
Back to our 800 ft. lb. number. A quick check of the above 6.5 vs .243 energy chart reveals that past 400 yards you’re getting into Chuck’s “no-go” zone for energy performance out of the .243. Which is interesting, because if you remember, this .243 round still had enough velocity to fully expand out to 600 yards.
In contrast, the 6.5 Creedmoor, even at only 120 grains, maintains enough energy out a little past 700 yards to effectively kill big game.
So the 6.5 Creedmoor, compared to the .243, has more energy to shoot and kill big game, farther away. And it would seem another 300 yards worth.
If you haven’t noticed, the 6.5 CM vs the venerable .243 is kicking some old school butt so far.
And then the bubble burst…
.243 vs 6.5 Creedmoor Recoil
I’m gonna go ahead and spoil this one for you. The 6.5 Creedmoor recoil vs .243 recoil is where the “beating you” streak ends. Because if there’s one metric that the .243 kicks the heck out of (no pun—okay, a little pun intended) most other cartridges, it’s in felt recoil.
Recoil is the reason that the little .243 has been the go-to caliber for youth, new shooters, and rifle shooters who see no reason, out to 300 yards, to take a beating every time they pull the trigger (Wait, was that my inner voice?)
Here’s the data.
I won’t go into too much recoil detail here, but recoil is more than just how hard the rifle kicks you, it’s also how fast it does that. Those two recoil metrics are recoil energy and recoil velocity.
- .243, 100 gr. recoil is – 8.8 ft. lbs. @ 8.7 fps
- 6.5 Creedmoor 120 gr. recoil is – roughly 13 ft. lbs. @ 10 fps
So the 6.5 Creedmoor vs a .243 in felt recoil is over 50% harder in ft. lbs. and just a little faster in feet per second. So the .243 isn’t in danger of being dethroned due to low recoil … or is it?
You see, every rifle I’ve seen in 6.5 Creedmoor lately has come with a threaded barrel so you can put a muzzle brake on it, thus reducing recoil to about AR-15 levels of easy on your shoulder. My range experiences prove this out as the 6.5 hardly bucks with that brake on it.
However, what you get in reduced recoil, you may pay for in hearing loss. Because my Little Bastard muzzle brake on my 6.5 is LOUD!
Safety tip: wear those ear plugs!
.243 vs 6.5 Creedmoor Barrel Life
Barrel life is simply figuring out how many rounds you can fire through a rifle barrel of a given caliber before it loses accuracy—wears out.
After a ton of research and investigation:
- What’s the average .243 barrel life? 1500 rounds
- What’s the average 6.5 Creedmoor barrel life? 3000 rounds
Here’s what that means to you. If you’re a recreational hunter, you might shoot 100 rounds a year. You should shoot more, but here we are in reality-land. At that pace, your .243’s barrel will wear out in 15 years, and your 6.5 CM barrel will take 30 years to wear out.
And neither of those numbers is scary to casual shooters and hunters. It’s when you get serious into competition or you shoot regularly like you should that barrel life may become an issue.
But there’s two hidden silver linings to shooting so much that you wear out a barrel:
- You are gonna get real good and accurate with your rifle. Which is a good thing.
- If you legitimately wear out a barrel, you may just “have” to get a new rifle. Also good…
6.5 Creedmoor vs .243 for Deer Hunting
I think we’ve done enough research and investigation to make some totally unobjectively biased statements about the 6.5 Creedmoor vs .243 for deer hunting.
- Out to 300 yards, they’ll both kill deer in a hurry, provided you do your job and put the bullet in the vitals.
- The 6.5 Creedmoor will give you a little more MPBR to play with and let you aim dead on out to 325 instead of “only” 296 yards.
- The 6.5 Creedmoor’s 120 gr bullet may be a little better at dispatching bigger deer, but try telling that to the countless deer that have fallen to .243 100 gr rounds.
- Out past 400 yards, the 6.5 Creedmoor is hands down better at maintaining velocity, energy, and trajectory than the .243 is.
- As of the publishing of this article, the 6.5 Creedmoor is a red hot rifle round that’s only gaining in popularity. Sorry, .243, the 6.5 CM is just “prettier” than you are right now.
- Cool factor and the ability to say “I just picked up a new deer rifle in 6.5 Creedmoor” and have all your shooting buddies nod and grunt in approval? Priceless.
.243 vs 6.5 Creedmoor Long Range
And here’s where the 6.5 Creedmoor vs the .243 just hits the gas and leaves the little cartridge in the rear view.
You see with a ballistic coefficient of 0.45 and up vs. the little .243 “pill’s” .355 BC, the reason long range shooters love this cartridge is that it resists wind drift much better, especially at longer ranges and with a true 140 gr. match grade bullet with a BC of over 0.5.
6.5 Creedmoor vs .243 Wrap Up
Look, here’s the bottom line. If you want a tried, true and tested rifle caliber you can pass down to your kids, get a .243. You’ll never regret it. And if you want one of the coolest new calibers to grace the safes of shooters and hunters since the .243 came out, get a 6.5 Creedmoor. You won’t regret that either.
Because though low recoil, long range energy and ballistic performance, and wind-defying ballistic coefficients make the 6.5 CM a darling … for the moment, the .243 Win is going nowhere as the best entry-level big game cartridge EVER!
But you might want to hurry up and get your 6.5 Creedmoor bought and paid for before you succumb to the already inevitable social-buzz and firing fury behind the 6.5 Creedmoor’s big brother, Hornady’s 6.5 PRC.