The 6.5 PRC was released by Hornady in 2018 and has recently become very popular. Its large-diameter .300 Ruger Compact Magnum parent case was necked down to 6.5mm, creating an excellent short-action powerhouse.
So what is the 6.5 PRC? The 6.5 Precision Rifle Cartridge is a short-action magnum centerfire rifle cartridge. The 6.5 PRC was created with the design goal of shooting a high BC bullet at 3,200fps from a short-action rifle. It is popular for hunting and long-range shooting.
It was really just in 2021 when the 6.5 PRC went mainstream. Although many shooters were interested in the cartridge right when it was released, production lines didn’t produce enough of the cartridge to bring it to the hands of the average hunter.
Now that it has made a name for itself, however, it seems to be overtaking rifle sales. When I look on the shelves of most gun stores, I see 6.5 Creedmoor everywhere, 6.5 PRC right behind it, and then many of the more time-tested rounds (.308 Win, 7 Mag, .270 Win, .30-06, etc).
Pros of the 6.5 PRC
- Flat shooting
- Excellent resistance to wind deflection because of the cartridge’s speed and its design which allows for long, high BC bullets.
- Generally lighter weight rifles due to the short action and short barrel length required.
- Decent barrel life when compared to similar magnum cartridges.
Cons of the 6.5 PRC
- Many hunters consider it to be on the lighter side for hunting elk-sized game.
- Ammunition is becoming common, but tends to still be slightly more expensive than more traditional cartridges.
- No one knows if the cartridge will continue to be popular long-term, and thus what availability will be like in the future.
The 6.5 PRC is designed for accepting long, sleek, high BC bullets, and most factory loads pair those two together. These bullets, in addition to the 6.5 PRC’s speed which gives the wind less time to act on the bullet, produce an excellent round for bucking the wind.
To illustrate just how good this cartridge is at bucking the wind, I looked up several common loads for each of the 88 most popular centerfire rifle cartridges and looked at how much wind deflection they exhibit at different distances. At 500 yards, the 6.5 PRC ranks #7 out of 88 cartridges for the lowest amount of wind drift. That’s impressive.
One of the benefits of a 6.5 PRC that many people overlook is that it works well in a relatively short barrel. Because it is a short action cartridge, the column of powder in the rifle is fatter and shorter than many other cartridges. This makes the powder ignition faster, and also the quantity of powder used (about 45 grains of H4350) is not too overbore, and thus requires less burn time.
And speaking of barrels, let’s also discuss the barrel life expectancy…
The barrel life on a 6.5 PRC is approximately 1,328 shots. Its barrel life is considered moderate for a high-performance cartridge–lasting longer than cartridges like the .28 Nosler, but much shorter than a 6.5 Creedmoor.
6.5 PRC Ballistic Performance Chart
|Velocity (fps)||Drop (in)||Wind Drift (in)||Energy (ft-lbs)|
On paper, the 6.5 PRC is an incredibly impressive round. Just look at the cart above! It produces excellent energy for hunting out to extended distances, shoots fast, and shoots flat.
The maximum effective range of the 6.5 PRC for hunting is approximately 730 yards, at which distance many bullets will slow below 1,900 fps which can cause a bullet to fail to expand. It produces 1,500 ft-lbs of energy for elk-sized game out to 510 yards, and 1,000 ft-lbs for deer-sized game to 810 yards.
One interesting tidbit about the 6.5 PRC is that if you look at sales per capita of all US states, the 6.5 PRC is most popular in Wyoming. That makes sense for this cartridge because it excels at long ranges on deer-sized game. Wyoming is wide open country with antelope running everywhere, so the 6.5 PRC is an ideal round for that territory. I’m always interested to look up which cartridges sell best in which states, as it always reveals something about the cartridge.
The 6.5 PRC is a controversial round in the hunting community. Because of its velocity, it produces impressive numbers. It has more energy than a .308 and is similar to a .30-06 beyond 500 yards. However, it shoots lighter-weight .264 caliber bullets which may not penetrate as deep or mushroom as large. Many hunters have successfully hunted elk with a 6.5 PRC without issue, but others have reported baffling instances of wounded game with the cartridge.
In my opinion, this is a question of bullet selection, and shot opportunity. No matter the load, I personally wouldn’t risk a quartering-to shot on an elk with a 6.5 PRC. There is a risk it may not penetrate sufficiently. Similarly, I wouldn’t take a Sierra Gameking or Berger Hybrid Hunter, chuck it into my PRC, and chase elk. Those bullets don’t have the reputation for penetration needed for elk.
However, if you use reasonable shot angles and choose an excellent controlled-expansion bullet (a Barnes LRX, Hornady GMX, etc would be good choices), there is no reason why the 6.5 PRC couldn’t be relied upon to take elk. I personally would still prefer a little more, but I wouldn’t fault someone for disagreeing with me either.
Last year, I took a custom 6.5 PRC rifle to Texas to hunt aoudad sheep. We came over a rise and found a small pack of aoudad. The sheep spotted us but hesitated after running only 50 yards. I immediately hit the ground and lay prone as we watched the barbary sheep graze. It was difficult at first for me to identify the largest ram in the pack, but when they turned their heads away from us, the curled horns gave away their size.
The largest ram bedded down, and I waited 2 or 3 minutes for him to stand. When he did, he was perfectly broadside. I sat on my butt with my gun rested on shooting sticks because I had to get above the brush to make a shot. I squeezed the trigger and the suppressed 6.5 PRC rocketed out a Sierra bullet at the animal. The aoudad soaked up the punch, ran 10 feet and crashed almost immediately. The hunt was done, and I have a beautiful pedestal mount of that ram in the sitting room of my home.
Other than that anecdotal experience, some hunters prefer to just look at the numbers. I averaged several loads for the 6.5 PRC and plugged them into two popular formulas to determine a cartridge’s ability to take down game efficiently. According to the Hornady HITS formula, the PRC gets a score of 1,054, which is barely higher than the .270 Winchester, and puts it at #45 of 88 centerfire rifle cartridges (remember that list includes the big boys like the .50 BMG too).
If you prefer the classic Taylor’s Knockout Factor Formula, then the 6.5 PRC scores on average 15.9, which is slightly lower than the .270 Winchester on that test.
In my personal opinion, in normal hunting conditions at a range of 400 yards, I would rather shoot an elk with a .270 than a 6.5 PRC, so I’d lean more toward the Hornady HITS formula over Taylor’s Knockout Factor Formula.
The 6.5 PRC can be used to ethically kill elk. With proper shot placement and a controlled-expansion bullet to punch through an elk, it is very effective. It produces the recommended 1,500 foot/pounds of energy for elk out to 506 yards, and its light recoil enables hunters to shoot accurately.
The 6.5 PRC is a perfect choice for hunting deer. Deer hunters recommend hitting with at least 1,000 ft-lbs of energy for an ethical kill, and the PRC maintains that power out to 812 yards. Most 6.5 PRC loads utilize high BC bullets which aid in wind deflection, and its short action allows for use in lighter rifles.
The 6.5 PRC is a good choice for black bear hunting, but is too light for safe hunting of a grizzly bear. Bear hunting often occurs from close distances such as from a stand, and the 6.5 PRC delivers 2,481 ft-lbs of energy at 100 yards, which is easily sufficient for hunting black bears.
The 6.5 PRC can kill moose cleanly and ethically. Because moose are very large-bodied animals, multiple shots are often required, and the 6.5 PRC’s mild recoil aids in quick follow-up shots. While its 2.64 caliber bullet does not mushroom as large, its added velocity produces excellent damage.
For me, the 6.5 PRC is the absolute perfect round for deer-sized game. I’d pick it above any other cartridge for mule deer, whitetail deer, antelope, aoudad, mountain goat, bighorn sheep, etc. It’s absolutely a fantastic choice and one that I will be choosing for many of my hunts.
I also feel a little uncomfortable with the 6.5 PRC on much of the larger game that I see people hunting with it.
I personally wouldn’t shoot an elk with a 6.5 Creedmoor at all. I know a lot of people do, but I’ve seen the 6.5 Creedmoor performance on elk-size game and I wasn’t impressed. Personally, I’d be much happier with a 6.5 PRC in my hands for elk. Now having said that, I’d pick a 7mm Rem Mag over both options.
For hunting plains game in Africa, the 6.5 PRC would be my ultimate choice for game up to blesbok, black wildebeest, and hartebeest. I’d prefer not to shoot a greater kudu or a blue wildebeest with a 6.5 PRC.
That’s my take on its hunting capabilities. You can see how I think of the cartridge. It’s all just opinion and you’re perfectly free to disagree with that.
The 6.5 PRC produces on average 16.27 ft-lbs of recoil energy, at a velocity of 11.19fps, making the recoil noticeable but very mild compared to many other hunting rounds. For comparison, the recoil of a 6.5 PRC is slightly less than the recoil of a .308 Winchester or .270 Winchester.
In my experience with the 6.5 PRC, I’ve always been surprised by how mild the recoil is for a round that is capable of such performance. My wife or 12 year-old son would have no problem shooting a 6.5 PRC rifle given its low recoil.
Comparing the 6.5 PRC’s Recoil to Other Common Cartridges
- 6.5 Creedmoor – 11.83 ft-lbs of recoil energy, and 9.54fps of recoil velocity
- 6.5 PRC – 16.27 ft-lbs of recoil energy, and 11.19fps of recoil velocity
- .270 Winchester – 17.64 ft-lbs of recoil energy and 11.64fps of recoil velocity
- .308 Winchester – 18.27 ft-lbs of recoil energy and 11.62fps of recoil velocity
- .30-06 Springfield – 21.34 ft-lbs of recoil energy and 12.55fps of recoil velocity
The 6.5 PRC is most comparable to the 6.5 SAUM, the 6.5-284 Norma, and the 6.5 Weatherby RPM in terms of ballistics and caliber. Compared to more common cartridges, it shoots 200fps faster than a 6.5 Creedmoor, and produces approximately the same downrange energy as a .270 Winchester.
The 6.5 PRC compared to some of the most popular rifle cartridges:
|Muzzle Energy (ft-lbs)||Muzzle Velocity (fps)||Drop at 500 Yards (in)|
|7mm Rem Mag||3,122||2,937||-44|
One complaint the industry had when the 6.5 PRC was announced was that it simply isn’t very unique. There are other cartridges with very similar properties. Let’s look at a few of them:
- The 6.5 SAUM is similar to the PRC, but it shoots about 50fps faster because of its added case capacity. Because of its rebated rim and lower compatibility with a range of powders, the 6.5 SAUM has not seen as much success.
- The 6.5-284 Norma Match is extremely similar to the 6.5 PRC as they are both short-action .264 caliber cartridges. Both shoot a similar speed, but most loads will favor the 6.5 PRC. Unfortunately, the 6.5-284 typically uses a 1:9 twist rate that is a little slow for today’s very long bullets.
- The 6.5 PRC and the 6.5 Weatherby RPM are so similar that you could almost call them twins. The real difference is the 6.5 PRC is about 100 fps slower, which may sound like a bad thing until you realize that the 6.5 PRC is already slightly overbore. The 6.5 Weatherby RPM is an extreme hotrod caliber that will burn out barrels more quickly.
- The 6.5 PRC is often called a magnum version of the 6.5 Creedmoor because of the similarity between the rounds other than the speed advantage of the 6.5 PRC. The 6.5 PRC shoots approximately 120fps faster than the 6.5 Creedmoor.
The History of the 6.5 PRC
The cartridge was originally created for use in PRS (Precision Rifle Series) matches. George Gardner from GA Precision approached Hornady in 2012 or 2013 about creating a round that would better meet the needs of competitors.
The rules for the PRS matches do not allow cartridges that shoot in excess of 3,200fps, and all bullets must be .308 caliber or thinner.
He also wanted the cartridge to utilize a short action because it aided shooters who worked quickly through a PRS match in cycling. Short actions also slightly increase the rigidity of the action which can aid in accuracy.
Dave Gardner explained the idea behind the 6.5 PRC as he decided what caliber would be the best match for his design goal:
“The 6mm’s can be pushed [to 3,200fps], but they have lower BCs. The 7mm’s have higher BC’s but can’t be pushed at 3,200 fps in a short-action. The lack of bullet selection in the .25 and .270 [calibers] ruled those out—so that’s why I settled on the 6.5.”George Gardner quoted in Outdoor Life