6.5 Grendel Ballistics: The Greatest Compromise?

6.5 Grendel Ballistics: The Greatest Compromise?
April 9, 2021 Edited March 14, 2023 12546 view(s)
6.5 Grendel Ballistics: The Greatest Compromise?

The 6.5 Grendel Option

Students of English literature know the character, but when Alexander Arms introduced the 6.5 Grendel in 2003 the name was an unfamiliar one to many firearm enthusiasts. It comes from the classic poem “Beowulf,” penned more than 1,000 years ago by a long-forgotten author.

The Grendel of lore was a fearsome beast, the first slayed by Beowulf in the epic tale. It was an otherworldly foe so indescribable that the author made no attempt to do so in the prose, although most scholars insist it was gigantic.


6.5 Grendel Stature

The modern version’s stature is well known, even standardized by the Sporting Arms and Ammunition and Manufacturers’ Institute in 2011. Its bullet diameter is a sleek 6.5 mm, and maximum cartridge length is 2.260 inches.

That’s hardly goliath when compared to today’s hard-hitting, long-distance options, although it offers unusual power for owners of modern sporting rifles—some might claim bordering on mythical in the right hands. It’s no coincidence the cartridge’s length is identical to that of a .223 Rem. Designed from the ground up to run in AR-15s and launch bullets that more often than not refuse to sacrifice energy in flight, it’s quickly become a precision favorite.


Competitive Beginnings

Competition shooters understand the aerodynamic advantages of a 6.5 mm-diameter bullet, but when soft-shooting and fast modern sporting rifles were just starting to go mainstream in matches, no AR-15s chambered it in any form. In 1998, North American Sportsman—headed by Arne Brennan—solved the riddle with the 6.5 PPC. It was a resounding success on the circuits, but not exactly mainstream. Janne Pohjoispää and Bill Alexander—of Alexander Arms—refined the cartridge into today’s 6.5 Grendel and unveiled it to enthusiasts in 2003.

It feeds flawlessly in AR-15 uppers chambered for the cartridge, employs the same .223 Rem./5.56 NATO magazines, enhances downrange performance when stretching the distance and perceived recoil is minimal. The 6.5 Grendel has caught on, although it has never gained the traction enjoyed by its more fashionable contemporaries.

It’s a shame, because in a gas-operated semi-auto rifle it’s positively tame to shoot, yet still manages to deliver the knockdown power needed for ethical, one-shot stops during hunting season. Ammunition manufacturers now offer a variety of different loads, including match versions, those for plinking and even opening-day options. You don’t need to look hard to find bolt-action guns for it anymore, either.


6.5 Grendel vs. .308 vs. 5.56 Bullet Size


Ballistics: 6.5 Grendel vs. .308 vs. .223

Deep dives in ballistics are often a perilous, naptime journey, so let’s begin with an eye opener. Delivered from the same barrel and gun, a 6.5 Grendel can deliver more energy on a target 500 yards away than a .308 Win.

Here are the numbers, all from Federal Premium’s American Eagle line for consistency in testing protocol and results comparison. Bullet weights were selected to match as closely as possible.

At 500 yards the company’s 6.5 Grendel 120-grain Open Tip Match load hits with 747 ft./lbs. of authority. The .308 Win. Varmint & Predator 130-grain pulls in with 664. Eighty-foot pounds is a big difference when you want one-shot stops. If you’re wondering, the company’s 75-grain total metal jacket load in .223 Rem. crosses the line a distant third in the race at 514 ft./lbs.


6.5 Grendel vs. .308 vs. 5.56 Energy


Yes, you can go up a lot in bullet weight in .308 Win. The American Eagle 150-grain full-metal-jacket bottail load for the chambering, for example, comes in at 500 yards with1,089 ft./lbs. Recoil is increased, however, there’s a corresponding addition to the time required to deliver an accurate follow-up shot and if you want it in a modern sporting rifle, you’ll be carrying a heftier AR-10.

The .223 Rem. cartridge, despite delivering its bullets at faster velocities, is never equal or better in energy than that from the 6.5 Grendel. According to Federal Premium’s ballistics charts, the .308 Win. is the heaviest hitter inside 400 yards, where 6.5 Grendel makes the pass to permanently take the lead.


Doping the Wind

Doping those annoying breezes downrange and reading mirage are acquired skills that take practice, patience and observation. Faster bullet velocities minimize the concern by reducing the time Mother Nature has to change its course in an often-unpredictable manner.

Wind deflection data provided by Federal indicates subjecting the speedster of the trio—.223 Rem., which leaves the barrel at 2,775 fps—to a 10-mph breeze during flight drifts it only 24.6 inches off point of aim at 500 yards. At the same distance and conditions, the 6.5 Grendel load comes in at 25.4 inches, less than an inch. The slower .308 Win. adds around a foot (36.8 inches) to the adjustment equation.


6.5 Grendel Wind Drift


Accomplished precision shooters can accurately compensate for that drift and make it look easy. Their success, however, is the product of knowledge gained by years of practice and study.

The average enthusiast, however, doesn’t spend huge amounts of time at the firing line or invest in multiple long-range courses. Even if they can, the situations they face include shifting winds in a distant valley or areas where a 10-mph breeze is considered dead calm by locals. Add autumn, when most big-game seasons begin and wind-reading foliage has dropped, and it’s obvious speed can be a decided advantage.


Chris Douglas: Host of Carolina All Out


Hunting Application

A variety of areas across the nation do not allow the pursuit of big game with .223 Rem. or 5.56 NATO. Energy delivered downrange and modest size of the entrance wound are among the reasons cited for the regulation.

If you are among the millions who prefer the fit, function and performance an AR-15, 6.5 Grendel provides the answer—and it’s a good one. Fire controls and manual of arms don’t change, maximizing ease of use and safety.

With the right load, the cartridge delivers more than adequate power out to distances the .223 Rem./5.56 NATO become largely ineffective. Add flatter trajectory at distance when compared to the .308 Win. with decreased wind deflection and it’s hard to find a reason not to bring an AR-15 in the chambering out opening day.


6.5 Grendel Ammo



The 6.5 Grendel cartridge may not grab headlines like other cartridges, but ammunition manufacturers recognize the performance and now offer a variety of loads tailored for practice, plinking, varmint hunting, competition and big game. Although the ammo shortage of 2020 and 2021 has put a strain on supply, most of the time you can find a selection at any major big box store or online supplier.

Keep in mind the cartridge’s versatility, however. Bullet weights typically range from 90 to 123 grains, usually varied by their application. You’ll find loads with full-metal-jacketed bullets that are great budget options for plinking and practice. Ammo with soft points are available for big-game hunting, as well many with polymer-tipped bullets. Add jacketed hollow points and others, and there’s no lack of selection.


6.5 Grendel Vs. Heavier .308?

Heavier bullets have a history of performing admirably and with precision from .308 Win. chambered rifles. It can come with significant amount of additional recoil, however.

As for wind, at 500 yards the 6.5 Grendel load listed in the chart drifts 25.4 inches in a 10-mph breeze. The 150-grain .308 Win. load from American Eagle shifts off target only 23.3 (beating its lighter 130-grain sibling, listed in this chart, and besting the 6.5).

Bear in mind, 1.1 inches is significant in terms of precision, but there aren’t too many shooters who can hold what amounts to .2 MOA at 500 yards. Add moving targets, which can include stationary ones subject to the Coriolis effect, and that slight advantage vanishes quickly.

The tradeoff is the fact that the heavier .308 bullet generates 2,648 ft./lbs. of energy at the muzzle. Not all of it translates to recoil, even less is perceived recoil. It is, however, significantly more than that of the 6.5 Grendel load, at 1,815 ft./lbs. The difference, regardless of muzzle devices, recoil pads or added bulk, is noticeable.

There’s no denying the performance of .308 Win. or 7.62 NATO. But if your shots scarcely stretch beyond 600 yards, and you’re looking for a soft-shooting cartridge that runs in an AR-15 and performs downrange, odds are good you’ll enjoy a 6.5 Grendel experience.

[We'd like to extend a huge thank you to Guy Sagi for his hard work on this article. Check out our other helpful content like infographics and firearm guides. Leave a comment about what this guide helped you with most and share with your friends on social media!]


BCA 6.5 Grendel Uppers


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charles G Conn
April 9, 2021
You stopped using TRACKING NUMBERS. So I stopped using BEAR CREEK ARSNAL.
April 9, 2021
Hey Charles, we still use tracking numbers. Due to high demand our processing time has increased, but you'll be sent a tracking number once your order ships
Ryan M
April 9, 2021
Can confirm, I received a tracking number on Wednesday the 14th for an upper I received Saturday the 17th.
Willard Greenup
January 14, 2022
BCA is using tracking numbers as I ordered an upper yesterday and got it today. My tracking number with Fedex showed delivery on 1/14/2022. I got it today at 11:57am.
April 9, 2021
How long before you will have them in stock?
April 9, 2021
Hey Robert, no official EA yet, but should be within a month or two. Definitely before hunting season!
April 9, 2021
Really hoping to see the 6mm Arc from Bear Creek
April 9, 2021
Yano BCA make some pretty good guns....my 1st purchase from them was my AR47 chambered in 7.62x39 of course hehe and it runs great! I used some brass rpounds out of it 1st then went to steel and never had an issue at all yet about 500rds later! NOw i most recently purchased one of their 6.5Grendel uppers but they only had their 16in. barreled one....:>/ i of course wanted at least an 18in but more so a 20" barreled upper? But i have not had a chance to shoot the Grendel yet as i cant find any ammo? Its been about 2months since my purchase when the ammo was everywhere! Two days after getting my upper i went to order ammo and nota round to be found? Totally sucked and even went to a few local gun shops and nil on all!??? I made the mistake of "back ordering" from SG and am still waiting until July some time mid month?It will be almost 4 or 5months in total wait time and thats "if" Biden dosnt ban the sale of ammo online?! My Blue states Governor cant wait to follow Bidens lead! Hell Virginia is just catching up to us in 2A restrictions! I just hope i dont end up with a 6.5Grendel paper weight? Hell i just purchased an AR45 dedicated lower and cant find parts for it?I still need a barrel/forend/BCG and stock.....I have the upper/lower , buffer kit-minus stock and the lower parts kit. Already in about 400bucks and could be a 400dollar paper weight if the left gets their way! Good luck and happy shooting !!! sorry for the sour note! lol
J. Davis
April 9, 2021
I bought the 20 in. a couple months back although I ran into the same problem with ammo. I got on gunbroker and bid and won some. It wasn't really cheap but I'm shooting and loving my Grendel.
Joseph D Beltran
April 10, 2021
I want a 6.5 grendel upper,20, 22 inch barrel,side charging upper as soon as possible...please keep me advised as to when i can purchase the above beast!
Willard Greenup
January 14, 2022
In stock now. Only 40 left so better hurry! 20" SS.
May 12, 2022
i just bought my second 6.5 Grendel from Sanders Armory in Florida. The18 inch side charger shoots amazing. So I wanted a bit more power in a pistol so I just got my Sanders Armory 13 inch side charging upper. My Aero Persision lower should be at my FFL in a fewc days. Can not wait. I love the Grendel so much, i am looking into a Howa 1500 22 inch bolt in 6.5 grendel for long range fun out to 1000 yards. With a bolt action bolt face, you can push your loads without fear of breaking an AR style bolt. Guys are getting 3000 fps and a bit more with some new powders not normally used on a 6.5 Grendel load . Great carteidge for deer and now even elk at 300 yard and less range.
Dietrich Pilkinton
April 11, 2021
I love the 6.5 Grendel ! I currently have 6 of them they are my go to ar rounds for hunting deer! I think it’s the best AR caliber ever made they’re awesome they’re accurate and they’re great for hunting North American game I am now converting all my rentals over to side charging so I just have to change the bolt face in the bolt that comes with the side charging bolt since they are all 556 bolts! And the PCA guy charging complement a 65 Grendel and are absolutely awesome I would recommend side charging 65 Grendel Sincerely Joe Superfly Superfisky
Like it.
April 12, 2021
Wish i had one
Doyle Bean
April 13, 2021
Looking forward to when the uppers and barrels will be back in stock.
Richard Wayne Stump
April 17, 2021
i ordered a bottom half on the 032921. wondering why it takes so long to ship it. thanks rick stump
Robert V
April 21, 2021
You had a 24" barrel available a few days ago, any chance a 20" or 18" is coming up?
April 22, 2021
we are working on it and will get them out ASAP but as of right now we are probably 3 months out. Keep an eye out though.
be stan
April 21, 2021
Interested in your 6.5 Grendel barrel material & maker & twist rate. How many rds will I get out of the life of barrel?
April 22, 2021
Barrel material is 4150 steel or 416R for the stainless steel. The maker of the barrels is us, Bear Creek Arsenal. The twist rate for all of our 6.5 Grendel barrels is 1:8. The life expectancy of a barrel can be from 2,000- 10,000 rounds, depending on how much the barrel is used. Hope this was helpful.
Willard Greenup
January 14, 2022
If you do not load HOT! You can expect 2000 rounds or better. Middle of the road loads do well. Factory loaded rounds are medium due to SAMMI specs so you could expect to see >2000 rounds.
April 22, 2021
Bought my first 6.5 Grendel upper in 08 or 09, it was manufactured by a different manufacturer. Good upper but was short chambered, took a little time to figure out. Bought my first BCA 6.5 Grendel barrel from Classic Firearms. It was sold as generic but was BCA. Currently have 4 BCA barreled Grendel uppers that I assembled, two 16 inch (one fluted), a 20 inch HB, and a 24 inch HB. Absolutely no complaints with any BCA barrels. All my Grendel BCA uppers will easily shoot MOA with the right ammo (shoot almost all reloads) and if I'm having a good day. Own different caliber uppers with BCA barrels and also no complaints, all shoot and function as they should. Think BCA produces very accurate barrels, especially at their price point.
John Rakoci
April 22, 2021
I came looking for an upper but saw what I've been searching for on this ad ~~ where can I find the high rise scope mount? Do you stock them?
April 23, 2021
No we do not carry those.
Ryan M.
April 26, 2021
This is a very well written article with great info. I like that you added a good effective cap around 600 yards. Will you guys write an article on 6.8 spc? Is that something you guys would possibly be producing in the future?
April 27, 2021
We are not producing that caliber anymore and there are no plans currently to bring it back .
Sarah S.
June 29, 2021
This article is somewhat misleading. While it states that the used 308Win loads chosen in this comparison may not represent the cartridges true potential, it still reads as if the Grendel was superior ballistically, which is untrue. In the same way one could compare 70+gr 5.56 loads to a 90gr Grendel and point out how the 5.56 had less drop, less drift and more energy at distance. Compare Hornady's factory loads: 6.5G 123gr ELDm (.242G7) @ 2580fps .308W 168gr ELDM (.252G7) @ 2840fps By the 1000y mark that means about 30% ish more drop and drift for the Grendel, and only half the energy. Similar story with the best suited Federal Fusion long range loads. The only thing the Grendel has over a 308Win is recoil, smaller action and potentially cost.
May 19, 2022
Sarah, You forgot to add that the Grendel stays super sonic way out past the 308 or the 223, like over 850 yards and farther with the proper loads and a 24 inch barrel. The grendel surpasses the 308 past the 6oo yard range, We have a 1200 yard range. guys are not shooting the 308, they are shooting the 6.5 grendel with more success. The other things that beat it is the 6.5 creedmoor and the 338 lupa and those high recoil calibers. When you look at the little soft shooting 6.5 G, it is a rather remarkable cartridge to experiment with. Guys are now loading 110 grain boolits past 3000 fps at the muzzle with bolt rifles. these loads could cause damage to the AR 15 bolt. The bolt action rifle brought the grendel into the race.
July 26, 2023
I am a 6.5 Grendel lover. I do have a 1000 yard range 23 miles from my home. I can testify to the fact that the 6.5 and 6mm Grendels along with the 6.5 Creedmoor will out preform the 308 as far as a target round goes. Against a grizzly bear at 100 yards, I would go for the 308. The 6.5 grendel can bag a northern whitetail buck easily inside 300 yards with an 18 inch barrel and a 120 grain accubond. All personal experience, except the grizzly of course. The 6.5 grendel is an amazingly efficient cartridge. I love the AR platform so I can switch uppers and maybe a bolt, and I have another caliber. 450 bushmaster, 350 Ledgend and now the new 400 legend. Or get the 224 Valkyrie for varmets.
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