6.5 creedmoor for black bear hunting: will it do the job?

With the popularity of the 6.5 Creedmoor cartridge among hunters and competition shooters alike, we begin to imagine all the possible applications of this round. Already popular among deer hunters, many wonder if the 6.5 Creedmoor will also be effective on black bear.

The 6.5 Creedmoor is an adequate cartridge for hunting black bear as long as shots are taken within 500 yards.  Black Bear have heavy shoulder bones, so use a heavy bullet of at least 140 grains and a controlled-expansion bullet, but most hunters report the 6.5 Creedmoor performs well on black bear.

Short answers, however, will not tell the entire story and a more in-depth review of the cartridge and the animal is necessary here. Yes, the 6.5 Creedmoor can kill black bears when hunted at reasonable distances. Generally, rifles used on deer hunts are also used-and effective on black bear. Remember, many black bears have fallen to the anemic .30-30 Winchester; but let’s circle back to this in a bit.

Black bears are often brought in close to the hunter using bait piles, allowing a short shot. In this application, the 6.5 Creedmoor is an adequate cartridge, but is adequate enough? Male black bears can reach weights eclipsing 600 pounds, have fairly thick hides and layers of fat. Not to mention some fairly large bones.

At close ranges, a 6.5 or .26 caliber bullet can punch through all this and reach the vitals. A problem with .26 caliber bullets is the relatively smaller sized entrance hole they punch. A bear’s hide and fat layer allow for entrance holes to constrict after impact; exterior blood loss may be minimal, making tracking a wounded bear both difficult and dangerous.

For this reason the 6.5 Creedmoor should not be the first choice for black bear hunting. Though the Creedmoor has higher velocity and energy levels than the .30-30 Winchester, the advantage of .30 caliber bullets (and the entrance wounds they produce) should be considered. This is not to say that the .30-30 should be your first choice either, this is more an illustration comparing two lighter hitting cartridges and their efficacy on black bears.

6.5 Creedmoor Numbers Compared to Common Deer Cartridges

Cartridge6.5 Creedmoor.270 Winchester7mm Rem Mag.308 Winchester
Recoil11.7 ft/lbs16.3 ft/lbs22.4 ft/lbs17 ft/lbs
300 Yard Velocity2,241 FPS2395 FPS2579 FPS1996 FPS
300 Yard Energy1,543 ft/lbs1894 ft/lbs2407 ft/lbs1787 ft/lbs
6.5 Creedmoor compared to three quintessential deer cartridges.

When we look at the Creedmoor’s ballistic numbers next to three of the most common deer hunting cartridges, we see that it is a small caliber cartridge with low velocity and energy levels. The benefit is of course felt recoil for the shooter; but a hunter with the gumption to take on black bear is likely not daunted by rifle recoil. Bear hunting is a serious business and should be treated as such.

Though the 6.5 Creedmoor has enough velocity (minimum 1900 FPS) to open up at 300 yards, I would be hesitant to take a 300 yard shot on a black bear with the Creedmoor. Can the 6.5 Creedmoor kill black bear at 300 yards? Sure, but ethically, I still have my reservations. All of this is moot, again, if you intend to bait black bears in close.

Even at close range, the benefit of harder hitting cartridges with larger caliber bullets should not be underestimated. If hunters happily tote their trusty .270 Winchester, 7mm Remington Magnum or .308 Winchester into the woods for deer, surely they would do so if hunting a larger bodied and more dangerous game such as black bear-and they should.

Caliber Consideration

Many black bears are killed using the same rifle hunters use to harvest deer, but bear are not deer. Injured black bears can be very dangerous, and trying to track a wounded black bear’s blood trail is fraught with challenges.

Though smaller caliber cartridges can be effective on black bear, it would be wise to begin black bear cartridge selection at .27 caliber and continue to look at even larger caliber cartridges in a hope to either anchor them on the spot, or create a catastrophic impact wound with an ample blood trail. .28, .30, .33 and .35 caliber cartridges make ideal black bear killers.

If you are set on using a rifle chambered in .26 caliber for black bear hunting, look at some of the more potent 6.5’s like the 6.5 PRC or 6.5×300 Weatherby Magnum. No, you do not need to hunt black bears with a magnum, but .26 caliber cartridges are not ideal for bears without the extra oomph the higher case capacity of the 6.5 PRC (not necessarily considered a magnum) or 6.5×300 Weatherby Mag offer.

If you intend to hunt black bears using a spot and stalk method where shots may be taken at longer distances, the 6.5 Creedmoor may very well let you down. In these hunting scenarios, toting a rifle chambered in larger and harder hitting cartridges is recommended.

Verdict: 6.5 Creedmoor vs. Black Bears

The 6.5 Creedmoor, like many other cartridges, will kill black bears but it is not nearly in the top echelon of black bear cartridges. The light-recoiling 6.5 Creedmoor should be considered a borderline ethical cartridge choice for black bear hunting. I certainly would not go out and buy a rifle chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor as a bear specific gun, though it is an adequate choice for whitetail deer at most of the distances they are hunted.

When hunting even quasi-dangerous game, being a bit over-gunned is preferable to being under-gunned.

As hunters, we should respect our prey, and do everything within our power to make quick and clean kills. Getting a slightly sore shoulder from practicing with a harder recoiling rifle should be a price we are willing to pay in order to harvest game. Honor the hunt, honor the prey, put your time in at the range. These things are the least we should be willing to do in order to take an animal’s life.