The calibre hunter

Remarking on his love for the 6.5 calibre group, Byron Pace takes a look at the cartridge that started it all

The 6.5mm shares similar acclaim to the 7mm, and offers a wide range of designs from various manufactures over many different weights. There are few animals on the planet that can’t be tackled with a 6.5mm-based cartridge. A few years back I splashed out for a 6.5×55 Schultz, having fallen in love with the rifle while testing. With a number of years passed, I don’t regret it at all.

There are a number of modern cartridges that have taken advantage of the excellent ballistics offered by the 6.5mm projectile, with the .260 Rem, 6.5 Creedmoor and 6.5×47 Lapua arriving in quick succession. All these were quickly picked up in the world of target and silhouette shooting, offering consistent results. Although proven to be more accurate than the forerunning 6.5 Swede, these new cartridges are essentially trying to replicate what it already offered, but in a shorter action with more efficient case designs. They have indeed achieved this, but from a hunting point of view there is very little to separate any of them.

What it does prove, though, is that the 6.5mm was worthy of three separate companies in the last decade putting time and resources into optimising the end result. In reality all this hasn’t offered anything new to the hunting world, apart from being able to pack the same performance into a shorter action. Though I have a hankering for the Creedmoor, the cartridge that started it all – the 6.5×55 Swedish – is the one that has made it into my cabinet.

The 6.5mm projectile started to really see use after 1886, when a number of European countries began experimenting with new military cartridges such as the 6.5×52. By 1894 Norway had adopted the 6.5×55 after a joint Norwegian and Swedish venture into designing the new calibre. For the Norwegians, their involvement was sadly lost in the sands of time, despite their country adopting the calibre shortly after. Today it is known as the 6.5×55 Swedish Mauser owing to the Mauser rifles adopted by the Swedish military.

As with most cartridges that have seen extensive military use, the easy availability of rifles and ammo helped make it a popular choice for the sporting shooter across Europe. Though most European cartridges had been unable to find success over the water in America, the 6.5×55 did.

The 6.5 Swede is an excellent cartridge for UK shores, covering the full spectrum of game we have available. With most rifles barrelled with a 1-in-8 twist as standard, they are most usefully loaded from 120-140gn, but the lighter 90gn would make for an excellent foxing option if the rifle shot them well enough. It is renowned for being mild recoiling for its down-range performance, and the long 140gn designs offer excellent penetration.

The calibre is fondly spoken of by almost all who use it, but don’t think it’s a magic pill. This is a modest cartridge, and although trajectory is acceptable, don’t expect it to compete with faster modern designs. That said, you will have no problem putting a round where you want it. It will be perfectly capable of taking red deer, and will drop all but the biggest African antelope with ease. Successfully used on moose and bear, it’s a bit underpowered for such tasks, though will do the deed in the right hands.

Shooting 140gn Hornady SST handloads at 2700fps will result in a 1in high zero at 100 yards, with point of impact on the money at 175 yards. At 200 yards it will land a shade over an inch low. Out at 300 yards you are looking at a drop of just under 10in. 250 yards shows a drop of less than 5in, which would mean a top of shoulder shot for a roe; manageable for 95 per cent of stalking situations.

The 6.5 Swede is a forgiving cartridge to shoot, and delivers pretty much everything a stalker in this country needs. It certainly would make for an excellent choice if anyone is trying to choose a new rifle.

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