Why compare the 6.5 Creedmoor vs a .308 Winchester at all? I mean, I own both and each caliber has its place and function. But unless you’ve been living under a rock for several years, or you just don’t care about rifles and rifle cartridges (blasphemy!), you know that the hype, buzz, and absolute unbelievable feverish popularity of the 6.5 Creedmoor isn’t going anywhere. And the 6.5 VS .308 debate is far from over…
There was a period of time in 2020 where you could find a decent .308 rifle—and ammunition if you got lucky—on the shelf of any number and type of outdoor/outfitter stores, but the same could not be said of a 6.5 CM. (Especially a left hand 6.5 CM, but that’s a different story)
6.5 Creedmoors got snapped up so fast, they accumulated only slightly more dust than .22 caliber ammunition before being whisked off the shelves. Which is to say, they were and remain super-popular.
In fact, the popularity of the 6.5 Creedmoor is emboldening rifle cartridge inventors to step on the gas, hoping for another success story like the 6.5 CM was and still is. In fact, the 6.5 PRC and the 6.8 Western were both spawned out of the hope to follow the 6.5 CM into infamy. 6.5 PRC enthusiasts are going so far as to say that the PRC variant of the 6.5 is what the Creedmoor “should’ve” been. Oh, careful with that one…
Well, let’s take a closer look at two historically, uber-popular cartridges—6.5 cm vs .308—to see just which cartridge will survive the test of time … and the fickle popularity of hunters and shooters alike.
We’ll leave that 6.5 PRC conversation I gotta have with my wife for another time.
Oh, and if you want to know how the 6.5 stacks up against the .308 Winchester’s little brother, here’s our article comparing the 6.5 Creedmoor vs .243 Winchester.
6.5 vs .308 History
.308 Winchester History
In 1954, Winchester designed and created the civilian variant of the 7.62x51mm NATO round—the .308 Winchester (thank you, Wikipedia). Since then, the Winchester .308 has become the most popular short-action, big-game hunting cartridge in the world. Marine Snipers, law enforcement and a host of “old salts” have relied on the .308 to do everything from fight wars, to down whitetails and smack elk and just about everything in between.
It’s hard to say anything bad about the .308 or believe that another cartridge would ever dethrone it … until…
6.5 Creedmoor History
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.
From there, the 6.5 CM has enjoyed such a meteoric rise to stardom with, it would make any Hollywood hopeful jealous beyond their wildest dreams. Yes, the 6.5 CM has become a superstar darling of the hunting world!
6.5 CM vs .308 Win Basics
Size is as good a place as any to start out a comparison between the 6.5cm and the .308. Because after all, especially in kinetic killing ability, size does matter.
What’s bigger, .308 or 6.5 Creedmoor? A typical .308 bullet is bigger than a 6.5 Creedmoor round. As a .308 is literally .308″ in diameter and a 6.5(mm) Creedmoor is .264″ in diameter, the .308 is technically “bigger”. But bullet diameter is only part of the size difference between 6.5 Creedmoor and .308 Winchester cartridges. The other important size differences that affect ballistic and kinetic characteristics are bullet length/shape and bullet weight in grains.
Being smaller in diameter, mass production of the 6.5 CM has maxed out at a practical 143 grain weight limit. While the .308 can push heavier rounds in the 178 grain range. In many hunters’ eyes, this makes the .308 slightly more appropriate for “bigger”, big game like elk and even moose, depending on range and conditions.
When you whittle the math down, assuming your rifle will hold 5 cartridges, the difference in weight is slight—you’ll be packing less than half an ounce more with the .308 than the 6.5CM. But in contrast, you’ll get almost 25% more weight per bullet from the .308. And what that means is more hitting and knockdown power. Bigger, hits harder. Or does it?
We’ll get to ballistics and energy shortly.
This is where things get interesting. Because the popularity of the 6.5 CM is steeped in its history as a competition shooter’s favorite round. It was in long range shooting competitions that the 6.5 Creedmoor proved to be an insanely accurate cartridge. So much so, that once the popularity of longer range hunting took off, so did the legendary accuracy and downrange performance of the 6.5 CM for use as a hunting round.
Simplifying the explanation and comparison to the ridiculous, the casing on a 6.5 CM is shorter than the .308 casing allowing a longer bullet to be seated in a short action rifle. Combine that with longer than average bullet lengths on the 6.5 CM and the result was a high ballistic coefficient, stable round that maintained accuracy at long distances.
Leaving the realities of human error and marksmanship out of it, hunters who dreamt of shooting deer, elk, and any other animal that’s hard to sneak up on, fell in love with the 6.5 CM’s long range capabilities.
6.5 Creedmoor vs .308 Ballistics
For fun, let’s just compare the following two all-range hunting bullets made by the same manufacturer to keep things simple.
Hornady has a very popular line of rifle bullets—ELD-X®(Extremely Low Drag-eXpanding) that’s targeted at long range hunters, so this comparison makes sense for us game chasers. For the 6.5 CM, there’s the 143 grain ELD-X, and for the .308 it’s the 178 grain ELD-X.
Both are super big-game bullets that reach out farther and hit harder.
6.5 Creedmoor vs .308 Ballistics Charts
Everyone loves looking at ballistics charts, present company included. At the very least, they help you justify what you’ve already decided or believe to be true. But sometimes they tell you something you didn’t know or might not have suspected.
And you’ll see below why this comparison between 6.5 CM and .308 Winchester reveals something interesting…
Here’s the breakdown of how I compared the 6.5, 143 gr Hornaday ELD-X to the .308, 178 gr Hornady ELD-X using Hornady’s own ballistics calculator:
|Characteristic||6.5 Creedmoor||.308 Winchester|
|Bullet Weight||143 gr||178 gr|
|Zero Distance||25 Yards||25 Yards|
6.5 Creedmoor vs .308 Velocity
From a speed perspective, there’s nothing unpredictable from the 6.5 to the .308. Starting at 2700 and 2600 fps respectively, their velocities maintain about 100-200 fps difference all the way out to 1000 yards. Plenty of speed to ensure full expansion of the bullet.
6.5 Creedmoor vs .308 Trajectory
As far as trajectory is concerned, the .308 has been in such heavy use by the military and civilians that trajectory numbers better be dead on by now. But since the 6.5 CM comes out of the barrel a little faster and the bullet is 25% lighter, the difference in bullet drop out past 500 yards is significant and increasing.
Simply put, the .308 bullet is going slower and has less BC than the 6.5 CM, so it stands to reason it will slow down faster and thus drop faster/more.
6.5 Creedmoor vs .308 Energy Chart
Now here’s where things get interesting, and why the 6.5 CM is such a hot new option for hunters.
I’ve talked about Chuck Hawks’ minimum 1000 ft. lb. of energy rule of thumb for effectively dispatching big game. So what’s interesting about the 6.5 CM vs the .308 from an energy perspective is that even though the .308 has 25% more weight, out at long range distance—past 500 yards—the 6.5 CM has no significant difference in energy from the .308.
And if you look at the numbers below, that makes the 6.5 CM just as devastating from an energy perspective as the .308 is all the way out to 1000 yards. And they both are within that 1000 ft. lb. killing rule of thumb out just past 700 yards.
.6.5 CM vs .308 Accuracy
Let’s get this out of the way—accuracy is a function of operator skill plus equipment capability. Saying a rifle or cartridge is more accurate than another is like saying one car “drives” better than another. Both rifle/cartridge and vehicle perform as a function of the person at the wheel or behind the trigger.
Shooters, cartridge inventors, rifle manufacturers, and outdoor magazines love to bandy about “SUB-MOA guarantees” when it comes to any particular cartridge or rifle. That usually means at 100 yards, a bullet will inherently group consistently below 1 minute of angle. Once again, avoiding complicated math explanations, that equates to 1.047″ at 100 yards.
Now, I can tell you from personal experience on the bench, prone, kneeling, or with a rifle in all manner of vice, sub-moa takes practice, skill, and patience. And those three are in short supply in the average hunter’s busy life.
So, bottom line—accuracy is relative.
But, if a shooter does their job, different bullets, in different rifles, with different barrel twist rates, and different manufacture batches of ammunition, will perform … better or worse than other cartridges. And the practical limits of a cartridge are subjective and vary shooter to shooter.
All that caveating aside, the 6.5 CM vs .308 Winchester… Accuracy by the competition and hunting community is perceived to be better for the 6.5 CM than the .308 Winchester. And in our example above, the 6.5 CM has a higher ballistic coefficient than the .308 which allows it to remain accurate and stable out at long distances. Thus outperforming the .308 … as long as the shooter does their job.
.6.5 CM vs .308 Recoil
And in the next section, we’ll start talking about why the 6.5 CM vs the .308 is so compelling to hunters, especially new ones. One word—recoil.
Comparing the 6.5 CM to the .243 Win, I talk about recoil as a big factor. And for new shooters, not accustomed to explosive cartridges than jar shoulder and jaw to different extents, in this case, less is actually more. The less recoil the better new shooters are able to develop good trigger control, breathing, and shooting habits.
Comparing the 6.5 CM recoil to the .308 Win’s recoil:
|Cartridge||6.5 Creedmoor||.308 Winchester|
|Bullet||143 gr ELD-X||178 gr ELD-X|
|Muzzle Velocity||2,700 fps||2,600 fps|
|Rifle Weight||8 lbs.||8 lbs|
|Recoil Energy||13.8 ft. lbs.||18 ft. lbs.|
|Recoil Velocity||10.5 fps||12 fps|
Now, I’ve talked about the two components of recoil before—energy and velocity. And how heavy recoil cartridges can feel less jarring due to lower comparable recoil velocity. But you’ll see here why more and more shooters and hunters are opting for the 6.5 Creedmoor. And not just for accuracy. Because, if you can get the same energy for less punishment (see ballistic energy comparison chart above), then why not?
And the chart above clearly shows that the .308 has roughly 30% more recoil energy and roughly 20% more recoil velocity. And that translates into more felt recoil for the shooter. And take another look at that recoil energy chart above. Out past 400 yards there’s negligible terminal energy difference. So why not shoot a rifle round that punishes you less?
.308 vs 6.5 Creedmoor for Hunting
Both the .308 and the 6.5 CM are very good North American big game cartridges. You can hardly find fault in either one of them when used properly and with proper shot placement and the right grain bullet.
Sure the .308 may be slightly “better” at dispatching elk-sized game, but down below 400 yards, you’d be hard pressed to find an elk shot with a 6.5 CM that would know the difference.
.308 vs 6.5 Creedmoor Deer Hunting
So many whitetails and muleys have been killed with a .308 that it hardly warrants belaboring how great a deer rifle cartridge it is.
On the other hand, the 6.5 CM is so popular right now, that the number of big game that are being pulled out of the woods with Creedmoors is stacking up fast. And even out to 700 yards—shot placement once again—the 6.5 CM will put down deer, antelope, etc.
.308 vs 6.5 Creedmoor Hog Hunting
A longtime favorite of hog hunters, the .308 will down a mean and angry pig fast. And since the AR platform has several .308 offerings, that makes the cartridge a compelling choice for hunting hogs.
Yet of late, rifle manufacturers or AR and MSR platform rifles are starting to increase their offerings of rifles chambered for the 6.5 CM. After all, the 6.5 is a short action round that’s perfect for semi-auto use. And its big game size bullet and even lower recoil in a semi-auto are causing a big surge in 6.5 CM modern sporting rifles.
.308 vs 6.5 Creedmoor for Elk
Here’s where a comparison of 6.5 CM vs .308 Win. will find more dissention.
Any “real” elk hunter will offer the opinion that the .308 itself is barely enough for those big old elk. But Jack O’Connor and his favorite .270 Winchester would dispute that carte blanche.
Regardless, watching one of my favorite episodes of Randy Newberg, Hunter, an elk shot with a .308 seemed pretty dead, pretty fast to me.
Check out Randy’s elk hunting caliber video. His explanation candidly illustrates exactly the point of this entire article and the philosophy I was taught about hunting any game.
Accuracy kills. Enough said.
But just in case you thought that the 6.5 CM was too small for elk, uh … it’s not. Once again, the energy out to 700 yards is enough to put an elk down. That is, as long as you do your job and put the bullet where it’s supposed to go.
And video being worth more than words, here’s a 603 yard shot that proves that very point. This elk was going nowhere.
.308 vs 6.5 Creedmoor Cost
Let’s face it, rifles are rifles, and it will hardly change a rifle’s price from one caliber to another. So the “cost” of a 6.5 CM vs .308 Win. as far as rifles go will be negligible. At least it will be gated on how much you are willing to spend, not what caliber a particular rifle is chambered for.
6.5 Creedmoor vs .308 Ammo Price
A box of Hornady 178 gr., .308 cartridges will run you roughly $50+.
While a box of Hornady 143 gr., 6.5 CM ammunition will cost roughly the same price.
So no special benefits of shooting one or the other unless you’re going to buy .308 (7.62x51mm) bulk military surplus ammunition to practice with. But from a hunting perspective, there’s no sense practicing with bullets you aren’t going to hunt with.
On the other hand, and this is subjective and anecdotal, you’ll be more likely to find .308 ammunition in the global ammunition shortage time we live in, than you will run across 6.5 CM ammunition on the shelf.
6.5 vs .308 Barrel Life
- The average 6.5 Creedmoor barrel life is around 2500-3000 rounds.
- While the average barrel life of a .308 Winchester can push upwards of 5000 rounds.
Yet how many of us hunters can say we’ve worn one of our hunting rifle’s barrels out? I shoot more than most of the big game hunters I know, and I’m not even close.
Come to think of it, I should shoot more. Or maybe I just have too many rifles. What?
6.5 Creedmoor vs .308 Wrap Up
I have both of these, so once again—subjective opinion here.
Which caliber is better, a .308 or 6.5 Creedmoor? A .308 Winchester is a “better” all-around caliber than the 6.5 Creedmoor, simply by virtue of its size and the availability of numerous, proven bullet weights. But for an increasing number of hunters and shooters, when you factor in lower recoil, long range ballistic performance, and just flat out popularity and coolness, the 6.5 Creedmoor has displaced the .308 as the “better” choice, especially for a first rifle.