Byron Pace takes a look at the modest 6.5×55, a cartridge finding increasing favour on UK shores
I have always been a fan of the old European calibres. There is a good reason they have stood the test of time, and they come from a period where velocity was not the beginning and end of every conversation. The 6.5×55 is one of those good old moderate calibres.
The European convention for naming calibres always makes life easy for comparison purposes and, as we can see here, this calibre is in the same territory as the infamous 7×57 Mauser. Along with the 7mm bullet, the 6.5mm offers superb ballistics, with high ballistic coefficients providing an ideal combination of trajectory, wind deflection, down range energy and hunting performance. There are a number of modern cartridges that have taken advantage of this recently, with the .260 Rem, 6.5 Creedmore and 6.5×47 Lapua arriving in quick succession. All these new calibres are trying to replicate what the 6.5×55 already offered, but in a shorter action with more efficient case designs. From a hunting point of view, there is very little to separate them.
The 6.5mm bullet really came into use after 1886, when a number of European countries began experimenting with new military cartridges such as the 6.5×52. After a joint Norwegian and Swedish venture into designing the new calibre, Norway adopted the 6.5×55 in 1894 – although the involvement of the former was sadly lost in the sands of time. Today it is known as the 6.5×55 Swedish Mauser, owing to the Mauser rifles adopted by the Swedish military.
As with most military calibres, the easy availability of rifles and ammo helped to make the calibre a popular choice for the sporting shooter across Europe. While most European calibres had been unable to find success in America, the 6.5×55 did, although its following waned with the introduction of the .260 Rem.
The 6.5 Swede is an excellent calibre 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 120-140 grain, although the lighter 90-grain would make for an excellent foxing option. It is renowned for its mild recoil and down range performance, and the long 140-grain bullets offer excellent penetration.
This 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 perfectly acceptable, don’t expect it to compete with faster modern designs. Accuracy is exceptional, and it is perfectly capable of taking red deer and dropping all but the biggest African antelope with ease. Although somewhat underpowered for moose and bear, it will do the deed in the right hands.
Shooting 140-grain Hornady A-Max handloads at 2,700fps results in a 1in high zero at 100 yards, with bullets landing smack on the money at 175 yards. Out at 200 yards it will land a shade over an inch low, and 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 shoulder shot for a roe – perfectly manageable for 95 per cent of stalking situations.
The 6.5 Swede delivers everything a stalker in this country needs. It would make an excellent choice for anyone choosing a new calibre. ■
Thanks to Hannams Reloading: www.hannamsreloading.co.uk