Thankfully, you’re never more than an upper away from a whole new rifle!
If you’ve ever wanted to reach out further and with more energy than 5.56 NATO will let you -- 6.5 Grendel might be exactly what you’ve been looking for. Further range, more power, and still in an AR-15 footprint. We got all of the details and more for you so you can see if Grendel is right for you!
History!(Because It’s Fun!)
Bill Alexander of Alexander Arms is the inventor behind 6.5 Grendel. You may also know him as the big brain behind other fun things like 50 Beowulf!
While we can all respect him as an inventor and firearms designer, I think we should give him props for his naming conventions -- Beowulf is a great poem and many of Bill’s designs are named because of it.
Grendel is the monster that attacks Beowulf’s mead hall who Beowulf slays at the start of the poem.
The impromptu English lit aspect aside, 6.5 Grendel is Alexander’s attempt to build a better mousetrap.
While 5.56 NATO can do many things, there is often been the need or at least the desire to give it a little more power. Grendel does this without sacrificing too much in terms of recoil and capacity.
However… after Alexander invented the 6.5 Grendel… things got a little strange. Alexander Arms wanted to keep the rights to 6.5 Grendel name and required payment for other brands’ use of it, much like they still do with 50 Beowulf.
To get around this, Les Baer came out with a very slightly modified barrel and bolt and started calling it a 6.5 Grendel type 1.
Alexander Arms started to be known as the type 2 and this lead to great confusion since normally 1 comes before 2.
Ol’ Bill eventually got with the program though and submitted 6.5 Grendel to SAAMI for approval as an official cartridge. As a part of that process, he had to give up any trademark claims on the name.
Since SAAMI approval, the type 1 version of the cartridge has gone the way of the dinosaurs and is basically unused these days. However, bolts and barrels made to type 1 specs can still be found if you look hard enough -- but there is no reason to use them.
Bear Creek Arsenal uses 6.5 Grendel type 2 bolts and barrels.
Likely the most fitting application for Grendel is for hunting mid-sized game. Anything along the lines of whitetail or mule deer and smaller are perfect for Grendel if you stick within about 350 yards.
For most people, 350 yards is way more than enough.
In closer range the Grendel has a lot of energy behind it and makes for a great predator or boar rifle due to the extra punch it carries.
If you want your AR-15 to have more authority, dropping on a 6.5 Grendel upper is a great option.
Long Range Precision
Out to 400 yards, 6.5 Grendel has about the same trajectory as 6.5 Creedmoor -- granted it has a lot less energy, but it has the same drop at least.
If you’re interested in giving PRS/NRL a try with a gas rifle, Grendel is a decent option. It might not be the top of the pile, but it won’t let you down either.
Grendel has legs though and can stay supersonic out to 1,000 yards even from an AR-15, though you may want to get a 20+” barrel if that’s your goal.
A ranch rifle is a little different and is a bit of a niche application. To me, a “ranch rifle” is a firearm that you need… on the ranch.
If you work a piece of land, be it a ranch or some forest or anything really, you might keep a firearm with you for loads of reasons.
Maybe you work in bear country, maybe you need to stop cougars, maybe you need to protect animals, maybe you need something to humanely put down injured animals.
Whatever your reason, you need a firearm with you. Grendel is an often overlooked but outstanding option for the role.
If you need to reach out to some range, you can. If you need to defend yourself from something with sharp teeth and claws, you can. Grendel covers a larger envelope than many other more “standard” AR-15 cartridges.
Zombies, sun flares, nuclear attack, EMPs, $GME going to 25 cents, the Moon falling out of orbit, whatever your end of the world scenario is -- Grendel will be there for you.
The downside is that 6.5 Grendel ammo might not be as easy to get as something like 5.56 NATO will be.
But the upside is that you have an AR-15 package that can pack more punch than 5.56 and can reach a long further than 300 Blackout.
Both of those together make for a very attractive option if you need it.
Grendel falls into a nice middle ground between 5.56 NATO and larger platform calibers like .308 Winchester and 6.5 Creedmoor.
If you want to push ballistics in your AR-15, Grendel is a great round to do it with.
While it can’t replicate large-frame rounds, it can get you a lot closer than 5.56 NATO can.
Out to 300 yards, the drop difference isn’t much to make a difference.
Past 500 yards is when things get interesting. At 500 yards, Grendel has 10” less drop than 5.56 NATO but still carries ~900 ft.lbf of energy. 5.56 NATO at 500 only has about 450 ft.lbf.
If you go by the old adage of needing 1,000 ft.lbf for hunting deer, then Grendel has you covered out to about 400 yards -- far outpacing just about any other AR-15 cartridge.
Even at the muzzle, Grendel is a major contender with about 600 more ft.lbf than 5.56 NATO and 400 ft.lbf more than 300 BLK.
There aren’t many cartridges that can over such an advantage at both CQB ranges and long distances.
Small Frame, Big Caliber
More power is more better, right? Well, not always.
While .308 Win and 6.5 Creedmoor have much more energy at long range than 6.5 Grendel does, 6.5 Grendel still lets you reach out on game to about 400 yards with the right ammo. That is much further than most people will ever hunt.
And 6.5 Grendel does it with less weight and less recoil.
For paper and steel punching, Grendel is supersonic past 1,000 yards with ease. And again, less recoil.
It comes down to this:
Grendel, Winchester, and Creedmoor have about the same drop to ~400 yards.
Grendel and Winchester have about the same wind drift to 1,000 yards.
Grendel drops below 1,000 ft.lbf at about 400 yards, Winchester at 600 yards, and Creedmoor at 700 yards.
If you’re hunting at 400 yards or less or feel good about your wind calls for steel and paper out to 1,000, Grendel makes a lot of sense.
Compatibility and Special Parts
One of the nice things about Grendel is that there really isn’t much you need to change to make it work in an AR-15.
If you just want to get a complete upper, then all you need is some 6.5 Grendel magazines. Although, in a pinch -- 5.56 NATO mags work alright too, but you’ll have to down load them by a few rounds. More than once I’ve forgotten my 10-round Grendel mags at home and instead used a 10-round 5.56 NATO mag but only loaded 6 or 7 Grendels in it.
Maybe you have a spare ar upper laying around and want to build yourself a Grendel, it’s still easy!
A 6.5 Grendel barrel and 6.5 grendel bolt are all that is needed outside of the standard AR-15 upper parts. Make sure to get a type 2 bolt and a type 2 barrel (it’s really rare to see type 1 these days, but double-check to be sure).
Outside of the barrel, bolt, and magazine -- everything is the same for a Grendel AR and a 5.56 NATO AR.
How To Choose Ammo
Something a little odd about Grendel is that it can be a little bit… haunted.
I’ve spoken with a lot of Grendel shooters and I’ve had this issue myself with two different barrels. While most barrels will like most ammo, they also almost always hate at least some ammo.
My best barrel is sub MOA with Hornady 123gr Black. That same barrel is 5 MOA with Hornady 123gr SST. I have no idea why, but my barrel just hates that SST round.
I strongly recommend that you get a wide range of ammo, just one box each, and test it through your barrel. A simple 5 round group should be enough.
Based on that 5 round group you can quickly find what your barrel will like and what it won’t like.
Once you know your barrel likes it, then stock up!
6.5 Grendel is a great cartridge and really expands the usefulness of the AR-15.
Be it long range paper punching or little house on the prairie living, 6.5 Grendel gives you more punch and more power at longer ranges while staying inside a normal AR-15 platform.
Tuning in an ammo load for your AR-15 rifle can be a little annoying sometimes, but the results and well worth the effort.
If you want to give your AR-15 a bit more spice, 6.5 Grendel is one of my top recommendations.