With the introduction of the 6.5 Creedmoor in factory ammunition, its popularity has exploded in the hunting industry. Naturally, once a new offering comes to market hunters want to know the limitations of the cartridge and bullet setup. In North America one of the big questions for a cartridge is what size of game animal does it effectively work against. For the 6.5 Creedmoor you might be surprised how effective this cartridge can be when paired up with the right projectile.
The 6.5 Creedmoor is capable of killing elk, but most hunters consider it too light. As a general rule, 1,500 ft-lbs of energy is required for elk hunting, and the 6.5 Creedmoor maintains that to 300 yards. However, its thin diameter and lighter bullets do not cause as much damage as traditional elk rounds.
Though the 6.5 Creedmoor has the energy to harvest bull elk hunters should be cautious when approaching that 1500 ft-lb energy threshold. Many factors go into a successful harvest and when it comes down to your cartridge of choice holding up against a large animal such as a bull elk your choices will become more important to insure an ethical harvest.
Speed, Energy and Recoil
The 6.5 Creedmoor has recently made waves in the hunting industry with the introduction of factory ammunition becoming more readily available and some of the brandname rifle companies chambering in the 6.5 Creedmoor. However the 6.5 Creedmoor is not necessarily a new cartridge. This cartridge has been in existence for many years in the target industry.
With a mild recoil target shooters appreciated the ability to see their bullets impact down range without the necessity of a spotter. This appreciation carries over nicely into the hunting world. Where hunters can judge hit or miss and also easily stay on target incase of a needed follow up shot. Also hunters that are recoil sensitive will appreciate this cartridge.
Because the 6.5 Creedmoor is light in recoil, the 6.5 Creedmoor is a good option for youth hunters seeking elk. Just realize its limits and stick to perfect shot presentations.
NOTE* For hunters looking to make the recoil nearly non-existent the 6.5 Creedmoor pairs nicely with a muzzle-break and or suppressor where it is legal to use one.
With a slim 6.5mm bullet and a modest speed the cartridge works well in the target world. However, speed is one of the major components to producing energy and though energy on impact is not a concern in the target world it is a major one in hunting.
With muzzle velocities ranging from 2750fps with a 140 gr. projectile up to 3150fps paired with a 100 gr. projectile the 6.5 Creedmoor isn’t breaking any records and can be considered a mild cartridge. *data from Hornady handbook of cartridge reloading.
Using a ballistic calculator and inputing a muzzle velocity of 2700fps with a 143gr. bullet the energy calculation comes out at 2314ft-lb at the muzzle. Now thinking of a 1500ft-lb threshold for harvesting elk the 2314ft-lb calculation for the 6.5 Creedmoor is appearing more viable.
However, when when you extrapolate the speed and energy of the projectile say at the muzzle, 200 yard common zero distance, and minimum energy threshold for ethical harvest of a bull elk how does the 6.5 Creedmoor hold up against a popular titan cartridge such as the 300Win Mag?
For the 6.5 Creedmoor I pulled data from the Hornady reloading manual and for the 300 Win Mag I used data gathered from my personal rifle setup. The Creedmoor is paired with a 143gr ELD-X bullet and the 300 Win Mag is paired with a 212gr ELD-X bullet.
|6.5 Creedmoor||300 Win Mg|
|Muzzle||2700 fps 2314 ft-lb energy||2865 fps 3863 ft-lb energy|
|200 yard common zero||2417 fps 1854 ft-lb energy||2578 fps 3128 ft-lb energy|
|Minimum energy threshold for Elk||350 yards with a velocity of 2209 fps||800 yards with a velocity of 1783|
Note* Most bullet manufactures recommended a minimum of 1800fps too 2000FPS in order to initiate proper bullet expansion.
Now to get the disclaimer out of the way and shed more light on the comparison between the 6.5 Creedmoor and the 300 Win Mag.
The 300 Win Mag is very popular in the west for its versatility though it does’t compare apples to apples with the 6.5 Creedmoor. For instance the 300 Win Mag is a long action and the 6.5 is a short action. Use the tabled comparison above to take note of the known effectiveness of the 300 and the potential shortfalls of the 6.5 Creedmoor and remember with the proper pairing of components and distance the 6.5 Creedmoor still holds a place in the elk hunting ranks.
A self imposed distance restriction is highly recommended when using the 6.5 Creedmoor against bull elk. Using a ballistic calculator either downloaded on your mobile device or home computer can help better determine your personal rifle and cartridge’s limitations. I personally use the Hornady app on my smart phone for all of my ballistic work.
The Setup. Bullet Selection.
Bullet selection for the 6.5 Creedmoor will be imperative if you choose to use this cartridge on an animal such as a bull elk. Due to its reduced effectiveness beyond 300 yards your bullets selection and characteristics can either hinder the rounds performance or give it that little extra edge.
The most common bullet on the market today is going to be a copper jacket with a bonded lead core of some fashion usually tipped with either polymer or left as a rounded lead meplat. The expanding characteristics of these bullets are rather similar with the jacket folding back over itself and producing a “mushroom”shape. This allows for the bullet to retain mass and also transfer energy into the animal.
The problem with a bullet such as these is when your speed and corresponding energy is near its minimum recommended amount you can experience lack of penetration especially if your bullet strikes a large bone. In some cases even with moderate energy these bullets can pancake out when striking a hard object such as an elks front shoulder joint, stopping penetration almost immediately.
The bullet that will give you that extra small assurance is a solid copper core bullet. Not to be confused with a full metal jacket (FMJ) round these bullets will have either a polymer tip or a hollow point design that insure a controlled expansion. The difference between these bullets and the ones previously stated above is the solid copper body instead of lead.
This bullet design still allows for the transfer of energy through the bullets expansion although, the main body of the bullet will hold its shape. This allows for better penetration through a harder object such as a large shoulder bone on an elk. The solid core of the bullet will not pancake out if your shot is unfortunate enough to strike in a less than optimal location.
For those looking to make the switch to a solid core bullet look for the brand name Barnes. Barns has bullets such as the TSX and LRX that are solid core and available in the 6.5mm calibre.
Big Bulls and Small Bullets
With out a doubt elk are large animals that require the right equipment to harvest both effectively and ethically. The 6.5 Creedmoor is on the lower end of the spectrum in terms of suggested elk cartridges however, with the right setup and understanding of the cartridge it can still be effective. With that understanding now comes the final link in the chain being the animal itself.
A common comparison and argument that is often brought up when asking if a cartridge is effective against a particular animal is the archery statement. The idea that people have successfully harvested bull elk with archery equipment somehow justifies a potentially under-calibered rifle setups. Not to dive into this argument but rather pull some wisdom from the archery world that can prove useful in the case for the 6.5 Creedmoor.
In the archery world heavy bone is avoided at all cost due to its likelihood of stopping or even deflecting an arrows penetration. This is usually avoided with proper shot angel and assuring that the animal is not moving. The same process should be followed when it comes to the application of the 6.5 Creedmoor against a large animal such as a bull elk. Of course the distance will more than likely be different when looking at this comparison although, the technique is interchangeable.
When talking about Heavy Bone in an animal I’m referring to the large bone structure of the front and rear legs. For this example I am focusing on the connection point of the scapula and upper leg bone. This joint is the largest mass of bone in the front of the elk and has the potential of reducing a bullets penetration to the point that it is no longer a lethal wound.
Also, note to hunters that like the high shoulder shot where the scapula is very thin. The scapula begins to thicken when closer to the joint and also has a high ridge that runs the length of the blade. This ridge can cause an unlucky projectile to loose needed energy.
When looking at shot placement on an elk using a cartridge like the 6.5 Creedmoor insure that the elk is at minimum broad side. This will give you a large target area and reduce the likelihood of hitting the heavy should bone. Do not worry about rib bones when aiming on an animal, both bullets and arrows pass through rib bones with little resistance.
With the animal broadside aim for a point of impact approximately 6 inches back from the shoulder joint and on the lower third line of the body. A good reference point is to line up your vertical crosshair with the animals front leg. Then with your horizontal crosshair line up the shoulder joint. The aiming point of your crosshair should be sitting in a spot known to archery hunters as the “golden triangle” due to its lack of heavy bone and thick lung tissue making for massive hemorrhaging and fast harvests.
Tip* A slight quartering-away will expose a larger target area.
My personal favourite shot angle is the slight quartering-away where I can line up my point of impact and my desired exit area. Usually this makes for a point of impact just on the back edge of the “golden triangle” and my exit landing on top of the should joint. This allows for exceptional penetration and maximum damage through the chest cavity and any extra energy remaining in the bullet will be dumped into the offside shoulder.
Ensuring that the elk is also stationary will significantly reduce the chances of a foul hit. Many hunters use a call of their specific preference to make the animal pause in a good location in order to have a stationary target. Be cautious however when making a noise to stop your animal. Doing so essentially gives up your position to the animal and though the bull will be standing still your working on borrowed time to execute your shot process.
Timing of the hunting seasons can also help in reducing potential shot distance and set up a better shot angle. In the rut elk can be called into the hunters location for a closer shot while in late season elk tend to be in large herds. By predicting the herds path you can have the herd file past a potential ambush location.
The use of the 6.5 Creedmoor in the hunting world is a relatively new story. With this comes the questions of the cartridges effectiveness against particular animals and in this case elk. I now hope after reading this article some of your questions or even doubts will be put to rest.
The 6.5 Creedmoor excels in many aspects in the hunting world with reduced recoil and high ballistic coefficients to name a couple. This round and cartridge pairing is known to be effective against animals such as deer, hogs, antelope, and sheep. When using this cartridge on elk keep in mind some of the information stated above. Cater towards the 6.5’s strengths by staying within the effective range of the cartridge and you will be cutting tags with confidence.