Rifle shooters tend to select calibers based on usage. (I guess handgun shooters do, too, but that’s a different article). They understand that what may work for one purpose (like long-range targeting or hunting a variety of animals), may or may not be the best for other uses.
If you are going to Africa on a safari for large, dangerous game you wouldn’t pack a .30-30 lever rifle – you’d take along something more potent. Conversely, if you hit your stand of shag-bark hickories in search of bushy tails, you would most likely be carrying a .22LR, not a .45-70. (Or maybe not… I’m thinking about all those squirrels I dispatched over the years with my hard-cast midrange .44 Magnum loads out of my 8 ⅜” S&W 629 – maybe it was a bit of overkill…). Anyway, there’s a right rifle for each purpose and calibers tend to be designed to fulfill at least one specific need, real or imagined.
.300 Win Mag
The .300 Win Mag was released in 1963. Its parent case was the .375 H&H Magnum, which was shortened, blown out and necked down to .30 caliber. One nice feature is that it was designed to fit in a standard-length action. Bullet diameter is plain-jane .308 caliber, 7.62mm. With the case body blown out to reduce taper for more powder volume and the shoulder moved forward, the cartridge ended up having a case neck not as long as its bullet’s caliber, which meant that the bullet had to be seated a bit deeper for stability.
There were other .30 caliber magnums before the .300 Win Mag, but not very many survived. The only other older .300 magnum still around today that I know about is the .300 Weatherby Magnum, introduced by Roy Weatherby in 1944. This cartridge was based on a shortened, blown out .300 H&H Magnum case. So, we seem to have just these two standard-action-length (2.5 inches) 30-caliber magnums left today from he original crop of .30 magnums. We do have some newer .300 magnums, most notably the .300 Winchester Short Magnum, .300 Remington Ultra Magnum, .30 Nosler, and .300 PRC. It’s interesting that none of these have achieved the popularity of the .300 Win Mag.
In addition to civilian uses, the military has employed the .300 Win Mag for a good while in the sniper rifle role. See below (in Applications) for a specific link to the M2010 Enhanced Sniper Rifle.
The 6.5 Creedmoor has grown to be one of the more popular .26-caliber cartridges (.264, to be exact). 6.5 caliber bullets have long been known for having, in general, a higher ballistic coefficient and sectional density than some other rifle calibers.
It was designed for long-range target shooting, and has been successful in the deer woods and fields as well. Some loads for this round nip at the heels of the .300 Win Mag in terms of velocity and trajectory, albeit with lighter bullets. Recoil tends to be less, as well.
The 6.5 CM was introduced by Hornady in 2007 and is based on a necked-down .30 Thompson Center case. Designed from the start for way-out-there targets by Hornady senior ballistics expert Dave Emary who partnered with Dennis DeMille (VP of Creedmoor Sports), it has enjoyed much success by not only target shooters but also by hunters. Delivering almost 1600 ft./lbs. of energy at 300 yards, the 6.5 CM is plenty of rifle for whitetails and similar game out to reasonable ranges.
As with the .300 Win Mag, the military has expressed an interest in the cartridge as well. With ammunition from Hornady, sniper rifles in this caliber can engage targets from point-blank to over 1100 yards.
The United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) tested, in 2017, three cartridges for possible adoption. They included the .260 Remington, a longer-range NATO version of the 7.62x51 and the 6.5 Creedmoor. The Creedmoor came out on top in terms of accuracy, as the rounds were tested in three different weapons. They were the Knight’s Armament SR-25, the H&K M110A1 and the FN SCAR Mk 20 Sniper Support Rifle.
The .260 aquited itself well enough, but the long-range accuracy of the 6.5 CM brought it to the top of the trio, as it doubled the hit probability at 1100 yards. Another bonus is that the 6.5 Creedmoor can use, due to case similarities, the same magazines as the 7.62x51.
Several military organizations have adopted the 6.5 CM, most notably the USSOCOM. They even built a light, belt-fed machine gun around it. The military designation of the 6.5 CM round in this guise is the X1200.
Before we get into specific ballistics, here’s an interesting chart I found concerning wind drift and our two cartridges…
If we try to compare the two closest bullet weights (the 143-grain 6.5 and the 15-gr .300), we see that they are not all that far apart in wind drift. (I have no information as to the velocity of the wind or from what direction it is acting on the bullet). At 100 yards, they are only .2 inches apart; out to 500, the .300 bests the 6.5 by only 5.1 inches. That’s not a lot, given the fact that the Creedmoor has less recoil, by a long shot (pun intended!):
This might be a good place to insert a conversation I had with one of my boyhood friends. Gordon is a hunter – his trophy room would put many museums to shame – and he’s been around the world on various hunts and safaris. He own both calibers, among many others (including a .416 Rigby - he eats his Cheerios!). Here’s a quote from a text he sent me when I asked him about the two cartridges…
“The .300 has more knockdown power by far. The 6.5 shoots flatter but it’s not enough for bigger game. I talked to Craig Boddington (author, TV host, editor at Guns & Ammo magazine, guide, former Marine) at the Safari Club International convention in January. I’ve booked a Marco Polo sheep hunt for next year. I asked him about taking the 6.5 and the man who knows everything said ‘No Way!’. That was all I needed to hear.”
So, the 6.5 is the more pleasant of the two to shoot but it lacks the oomph to take larger game when compared with the .300 WinMag. He did comment on the recoil between the two – not much similarity there. He told me that after a very few shots, the .300’s recoil becomes really rough, recoil pad or not. If you are at all recoil-sensitive, better steer clear of the magnum.
Let’s look at a couple more charts. First, we have a chart that shows the trajectories for the 6.5 Creedmoor and the .300 Win Mag. The chart supposes a 6.5 CM load of a 143-grain bullet at 2700 f.p.s., and a .300 Win Mag load of a 150-grain bullet at 3260 f.p.s. I created the chart in Shooter’s Calculator. This handy, free tool gives you a quick look at bullet trajectory, bullet energy, point blank range and recoil figures based on data you input.
This chart assumes a 200-yard zero. Notice how close the two lines are, especially around 500 yards. In my somewhat limited experience, that would be the furthest range that I would take a shot, and that would happen only under ideal conditions. The 300-yard difference is less, obviously. Now… if you were a long-range target shooter, the ranges past 500 yards would attract your attention. By the time you get to 1000 yards, there is an approximate 10 foot difference in drop between the two. Draw your own conclusions…
Here’s the other chart…
This also assumes a 200-yard zero. As we did with the wind drift chart, let’s look at the two closest bullet weights and make an inference or two… the 6.5’s 143-grain bullet and the .300’s 150-grain. At 300 yards, the 6.5 has dropped 7.9 inches, while the .300 has gone down 5.8 inches – a difference of 2.1 inches. All the way out to 500 yards, the difference is only 9.6 inches. That’s not a whole lot, in my book.
So What? Which Is Better?
I might come up with a conclusion or two, in terms of caliber selection based on the info above. If I were hunting medium-sized thin-skinned game and the shot would be taken at or less than 500 yards, I’d probably opt for the 6.5 CM. There’s only about 5 inches difference in wind drift and less than 10 inches bullet drop between the 6.5 and the .300 at 500 yards. The ELD bullets are very range-friendly and tend to keep their velocity and energy at distance. But…
If I were going after larger, tougher game at the same or longer distance, the .300 would be pulled from the gun safe and the 6.5 left behind. The .300’s 150-grain bullet energy at 500 yards is almost equal to the 6.5’s at 400, according to the table above. Even my recoil-sensitive shoulder would recover… I would much rather have more energy than I thought I’d need and beat myself up a bit than to try to use a gun that is kinder to my shoulder but may not do the job.
Above, we’ve touched on some possible uses for each of these cartridges. Let’s look at each in a little more detail…
I see the Creedmoor as the go-to medium-power cartridge for thin-skinned game out to 500 yards or so. The 6.5 does seem to retain velocity and energy over other calibers, with higher ballistic coefficients and sectional density than many other cartridges. This has made the 6.5 (.264) diameter the darling of many reloaders and shooters over the years. When the 6.5 CM came out, it was well received and has earned a good reputation for what it does.
For long-range targets, it works. This is born out by the military’s adoption of it for sniper rifles. It will really “reach out and touch somebody” in the right hands. Also, the military has adopted it for machine gun use.
What it doesn’t do is perform its particular brand of magic on large game at longer distances. As my friend mentioned above, that’s a job for the .300 Win Mag.
.300 Win Mag
The standard-action-length magnum in thirty caliber is one of the most popular mags going today. There aren’t too many critters in the U.S. of A. that this potent caliber can’t put down. Since its introduction, it has garnered praise from those who have employed it to take game at way-across-the-bean-field distances.
If I were hunting large or dangerous game at any range, I’d choose the .300 Win Mag. It just plain dumps more energy than the Creedmoor can. Additionally, if I wanted to take an elk at 600 yards, the Win Mag would get the nod. It just works better on larger game.
Even the Army (and other branches of the military) has recognized the cartridge. It is used in, among other rifles, the Remington-700 based M2010 Enhanced Sniper Rifle.
So, in addition to hunting dangerous game and long-range targeting, we see it being used by military (and law enforcement) in sniper guise.
What it boils down to is that we need to remember that the 6.5 Creedmoor is great for what it does. One personal example… our second-oldest son took a deer with his, way across a picked corn field and it did an admirable job. The deer went down for the count, where she stood. For thin-skinned medium to large game out to 500 yards or so (or targets at longer ranges), the Creedmoor will get the job done.
However, the .300 WM pushes a larger-diameter, heavier bullet downrange at higher velocity. You pay the price in at least double the recoil that the CM generates, but when you need to take out a target at long range and make darn sure that it’s down & out, you’ll grab your .300. Wanting to add a large sheep to your collection at 400 yards? The .300 Win Mag was designed to do that and many similar jobs.
Either cartridge will do a great job if you remember what the limitations are. They are each well-designed and effective medium-to-long range steel ringers (or deer droppers) that will serve you well for years. Let’s hear from those of you out there who have experience with either of these great rounds below!
[We would like to extend a huge thank you to Mike Hardesty for his hard work on this article. Shop our selection of related products by clicking the links below and check out other helpful guides to .45 ACP, Rimfire vs Centerfire, Coyote Hunting, and more!