Close encounter with Creedmoor

6.5 Creedmoor – what’s all the fuss about? Will O’Meara bites the bullet (not literally) and finds out.

Here in Ireland we have limited access to reloading, and owing to population density and a relatively small shooting fraternity, there is a limited range of ammunition readily available off the shelf. For these reasons, ammunition availability has always been a key factor in my decisions of calibre.

It is the reason I shot a .270 Win for almost 15 years; it is the reason I chose a 7mm Rem Mag for a recent upgrade of hunting rifle. I keep up to speed out of a deep-rooted interest in what modern calibres are capable of delivering, and rounds such as the .338 Norma Magnum or Edge +P and the PRC developments are all interesting, but ammo availability on this little island will probably stop them entering my gunsafe for the foreseeable.

But there is a recent calibre that has transcended such difficulties: the 6.5 Creedmoor. I remember not so long ago that there seemed to be a wash of 6.5s emerging from the wildcat vaults, all seemingly destined to be common chamberings – it was going to be a 6.5 race between Grendel, x47 Lapua, and Creedmoor.

I think it is safe to say that Creedmoor has won that race, and its rise to mainstream had drawn my interest, but the question for me was going to be application. What would I use it for?

A mil-mil set-up makes it easy to level up and make the hits

The rise in popularity of Precision Rifle has provided the answer. There are lots of tactical accents to PRS, so 10 years ago, .308 would have been what you expected to see being used.

So the obvious question for me is: Why is the 6.5 Creedmoor better than the .308? Recoil would seem to be the first answer, and bucking the wind is probably the second.

It’s hard not to argue that a milder-recoiling rifle is easier to shoot well, and when you’re observing strike to make next shot correction, the less recoil the better. A quick look to compare the .308 Win with the 6.5 Creedmoor shows us that with similar profile projectiles the 6.5 is about 30 per cent more efficient in respect of wind.

So we now have access to a calibre that is purpose-built for the range, ammo is widely available from a range of manufacturers, factory chamberings are common, recoil is relatively low, efficiency is good and it’s not a barrel burner – good news all round.

My intention for this journey down the target shooting rabbit hole was to explore what could be achieved with off-the-shelf offerings. The Tikka T3 CTR seemed like an easy decision, as did the Steiner M7xi scope.

Of course it would get tricked out as time went on, and isn’t that the beauty of a Tikka – they are known to shoot ‘out of the box’, and as the fancy takes you, you can modify and accessorise to your heart’s content. 

The first job as usual was to set the rifle up. I always follow the same process here: take the barrelled action out of the stock, have a close look at everything, set the trigger, put it all back together, give it a first clean and scope it up.

This Tikka was going to run the Steiner M7Xi 4-28×56 with the MSR2 reticle, sitting nicely in a pair of Burris tactical rings that have MOA adjustability. All these products are from the GMK distribution line, so you’ll find them all in the one shop – in my case John Lamberts in Camolin. John claims it’s the cradle of civilisation – I’m not so sure about that one, but it’s definitely not just a gun shop, it’s an experience! 

So it was time break the barrel in. Some three-and five-round groups with cleaning and cooling between them showed me instantly that this rifle was going to be a shooter. The ergonomics are clean, simple and functional, the adjustable cheekpiece puts my head in a good position for acquiring targets without strain, and the palm grip is nice in the hand.

Time spent on set-up will pay dividends

I tried a couple of ammo types and it became a two-horse race between the 136gn TRG Scenars and the slightly heavier 144gn Sako Range FMJBT (Full Metal Jacket Boat Tail). Both use Lapua projectiles; the 144gn Range come in a 50-round box that work out great value for money, and the Scenars are slightly more expensive and in the normal 20-round packaging.

Some shooting of groups off the bench and in prone revealed that this rig prefers the 136gn, but the 144s would be plenty good enough for practice too, both delivering either side of half MOA.

The 10-shot grouping consistency of the TRG at 200 yards was really impressive. I believe that this is a great way to test your ammo – 200-yard groups really show up the differences between ammo and give a great indication of what your rifle prefers. 

So I was all set to stretch the legs on the 6.5, but before we get into that I want to tell you a little more about the set-up. The Burris rings are unusual – the build of them is stout and strong alloy, but they use a nylon-type spacer between the scope and the ring.

This spacer gives you the option of between 0 and 40 MOA; I went with 20. The instructions were clear and it went together easily – I suppose an additional benefit is that your scope won’t get marked by the rings.

I used the low Burris rings and the set-up is sweet – the bell sits just high enough off the barrel to allow the front scope cover to close. As I mention it, the scope covers are also really good – they are simple and robust and I hope they will wear well.

So having put it all together with my little Fixitsticks torque set, I sat back to admire the set-up. It was then I thought of fitting a scope level. I dug out an Accuracy First model that I’d had on a .300 Win Mag a few years ago and fitted it to the Steiner’s 34mm tube.

I fitted the level on the far side of my turrets, and it sits in behind the turret as snug as you like – I can see it without breaking cheek weld and there’s no obscuration of the turrets

I am going to run a Hausken JD224 moderator on this rifle and I am going to try run it for competition too. This means I will need to find a way to reduce mirage on long shot strings – I have a plan.

Shooting with a moderator suits me so much that I will do whatever it takes to make it work; the benefits, I find, are definitely worth it. This moderator has the added mesh, which JL Firearms fitted for me, which ups the performance of noise suppression and recoil reduction – and the added weight of a mod also reduces muzzle flip, so it’s win-win.

When I got to the range, I experimented with different set-ups in the prone position. This mostly involves toying around with where the recoil pad sits in the shoulder and also on how much to load the bipod. In my experience, different rifles can prefer different set-ups – but the fundamentals always remain the same and consistency is key.

Need more elevation on your scope? The Burris and its spacing system may provide the answer

I found that loading the bipod – a Spartan Precision in this case – delivered good results and good return to target on the follow-through of each shot. It took me a while to consistently build in the checking of my cant level to my shot routine, but it’s great to have that reassurance and consistency at longer ranges. The rifle in this pretty standard set-up shot really well, was very repeatable in multi-shot strings, and was easy to get on with.

The Steiner is ideal for this type of shooting – the clicks are positive and the MSR 2 reticle was intuitive. I shot mostly at 12,16 or 20 power and never really cranked it up to 28 when shooting, but no doubt it will be useful for spotting or if you need that magnification on a tiny target.

I did wonder how I would get on with the floating dot in the centre of the crosshair – but it hardly cost me a thought in practice, it just worked. For windage, I found that the 0.2 mRad hashmarks on the windage axis worked well, and I also did some holdover practice at varying ranges, switching targets every shot. This is one advantage of a mil/mil set-up: your holdovers are the same as your clicks, so you can dial or hold without translation.

The MSR reticle demonstrates its Finnish roots with the dedicated milling reticle (for ranging targets). I haven’t used this yet and it’s a skill I haven’t practised for a while, but it’s definitely useful even if it’s only if your rangefinder won’t work in the rain – something I have to deal with a lot!

The Steiner is also a first focal plane scope, which means I can never be at the wrong magnification if I am using the reticle for holdovers or wind hold-offs. It did happen on one occasion last year when I had a second focal plane scope and had the wrong magnification selected when I used the ballistic crosshair, which resulted in a miss high.

Will is a fan of moderators and the advantages they deliver

For figuring out holdovers or clicks at different ranges, I use the truing system. I think this was developed by Todd Hodnett of Accuracy First – that’s where I came across it anyway – and I like how it works. The overarching philosophy is “the bullet speaks the truth”.

I zero at 100, input my ballistic and atmospheric data into my Ballistic Arc app, and shoot whatever data it tells me at around 800-1000 yards. The distance you true at really depends on your bullet – basically you’re picking a range that is safely this side of where the bullet goes transonic.

In my case I was maxed out for targets at 800 yards, a little closer than I would like for this bullet. I had to add three clicks to my solution to come on target. Usually I then reduce the muzzle velocity of my bullet speed input until I get the correct holdover for 800 yards. 

A feature of the Ballistic Arc App is a truing calculator – you input the range you shot at and the elevation you applied and it gives you your corrected muzzle velocity. It sounds kind of complex, but really you are just playing with the muzzle velocity in the app until it reflects what you actually shot. The bullet speaks the truth.

Once set up, zeroed and trued, it was time to practise some alternate positions. I didn’t have a barricade to practise on, but a builder’s trestle did the trick. This gave me an opportunity to practise building good positions using the Practical Precision Beserker bag and their pillow too. These worked really well and added great stability and support.

Invest time into finding ammo that your rifle likes – it will pay you back

Adding the Spartan tripod into the mix added further stability. I focused on body position and exploring different holds. There’s lots more scope to train and improve here going forward but the basic principles remain the same: alignment, breathing, trigger press and follow-through. Now it’s just a case of putting in the practice and lining up the schedule with a few competitions – I’m looking forward to it.

My key take-aways so far in this journey are: Take the time to set up your rig, match your ammo to your rifle, practice the fundamentals and explore what works for you in each scenario.

I find that I learn the best lessons when I learn them through mistakes. Mistakes are the portal to discovery – so get out there with your rifle, learn what works and enjoy the journey. 

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