New cartridges are always something cool to talk about but scary to spend money on, but when new cartridges have been out for over 15 years -- are they still new?
These once-new, now-standard cartridges have a lot in common but finding what is right for you might take some more learning.
Invented by Bill Alexander of Alexander Arms (same guy that created the .50 Beowulf) and named for the monster that attacks Beowulf’s (from the poem by the same name) mead hall, the 6.5 Grendel is a simple attempt to build a cartridge that is basically just more powerful than 5.56 NATO without sacrificing too much in terms of recoil and ammo capacity.
Bill did a great job and invented an awesome cartridge… but then things got strange.
Kind of like with the .50 Beowulf, Alexander Arms held a trademark on Grendel and didn’t want to share. To get around this, Les Baer slightly modified the barrel and bolts they sold.
And then for reasons that I honestly don’t understand, the Les Baer version started to be called “Type 1” while the Alexander Arms version was called “Type 2”
This has lead people to think that maybe Type 1 is the real one… it isn’t.
Thankfully, Alexander Arms got with the times and submitted 6.5 Grendel to SAAMI for approval -- to get approval from SAAMI, Alexander Arms also gave up their trademark.
This is awesome for us shooters since the Type 2 Grendel is the better, stronger, version. While there are still Type 1 bolts floating around out there, they are pretty rare.
Bear Creek Arsenal exclusively uses the Type 2 6.5 Grendel barrels and bolts.
Unlike 6.5 Grendel, the 6.5 Creedmoor was designed as a competition cartridge right from the start.
Dave Emary and Dennis DeMille of Hornady Manufacturing wanted a better competition cartridge than the .308 Winchester. And since they worked for a huge ammo company, they decided to build one.
The new cartridge needed less recoil, less wind drift, and a flatter trajectory than the old .308 Winchester and that’s exactly what they created.
Hitting the market in 2008 the 6.5 Creedmoor has been a huge success right from the start and has won a lot of competitions.
Since then, it’s largely been supplanted with the top shooters with smaller 6mm cartridges like the 6mm Creedmoor, 6 Dasher, and most recently the 6 GT.
But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a great cartridge… because it is. Period. What the 6.5 Creedmoor still brings to the table is just how easy it is to work with.
From reloading to learning to finding ammo for it, everything about it is just easy for shooters to handle.
And it’s pretty good on game animals also making the cross-over from competition to hunting simply for shooters.
In short -- 6.5 Creedmoor isn’t the most cutting-edge specialized round that it started out as, but it is still an outstanding jack of all trades.
Because both 6.5 Grendel and 6.5 Creedmoor use the same bullets but in different weight ranges, their ballistics in match ammo is similar -- like brothers.
But at the same time, Creedmoor with having so much more case capacity and using heavier/longer bullets still has a powerful advantage.
There are lots of great factory ammo options for both cartridges, but I’m going to stick with Hornady ammo for these ballistics since that makes things a little easier and keeps it apples to apples.
Looking at 6.5 Creedmoor 147gr Hornady ELD-M it has roughly 80-inches less drop at 1,000 yards than comparable .308 Winchester does and about 100-inches less drop than 6.5 Grendel.
But Grendel is still supersonic at 1,000 yards, although barely at 1200-ish FPS.
Creedmoor still has legs at 1,000 yards moving at a respectable 1,550-ish FPS.
Inside of 400 yards both 6.5 Creedmoor and 6.5 Grendel give almost the same drop staying within 6-inches of each other.
Past 400 yards though and 6.5 Creedmoor starts to pull ahead quickly as the flatter shooting cartridge.
Hunting ammo we see basically the same thing, out to 400 yards and 6.5 Grendel sits neck and neck with 6.5 Creedmoor -- but after that, Creedmoor is clearly the flatter shooting cartridge.
However, keep in mind that even though their trajectory is very similar -- Creedmoor delivers a lot more energy on target at all ranges.
At the muzzle 6.5 Creedmoor has about 600 ft.lbf more energy and at 400 yards Creedmoor still has about 400 ft.lbf more.
Bolt-Action or AR?
Both Creedmoor and Grendel can be found in bolt-rifles and in ARs.
If you want to build an AR-10 in 6.5 Creedmoor, it’s easy. It’s a standard AR-10, just with a different barrel. The bolt,bolt carrier, and magazines are the standard .308 versions. [And as always a 6.5 Creedmoor complete upper will do the trick too, allowing you to shoot a new caliber out of the box with no tools.]
Grendel in an AR is not as easy, but still pretty easy. 6.5 Grendel needs a barrel, bolt, and new magazines… kind of. [You can also buy a 6.5 Grendel upper that will fit perfectly on your standard 5.56 lower and open you up to hunting and long range shooting opportunities with just popping 2 pins.]
Personally, I’ve forgotten my Grendel magazines at home a number of times and made do with 5.56 Mags just fine, but at a lower capacity. Real 6.5 Grendel mags are better for reliability, but 5.56 NATO mags work in a pinch.
The bolt we talked about a little already, make sure to get a bolt that matches the barrel. Generally, this means type 2, but make sure to read the manufacturer’s description just to be sure.
As for bolt-action rifles, 6.5 Creedmoor is an absolute standard and basically, every manufacturer offers it. Grendel can be harder to find, but there are some mini-actions out there.
It might seem kind of silly to use Grendel in a bolt-rifle, but it has some cool advantages. If you’re shooting at mid-ranges and want a super light, easy, and handy rifle that packs more punch than 5.56 NATO can, 6.5 Grendel is great.
For a hog rifle, a medium deer rifle, or a sheep rifle -- 6.5 Grendel has a lot of things going for it.
Grendel and Creedmoor are solid options for hunting, depending on what you’re hunting.
6.5 Creedmoor is more power, period. It’s moving faster and carries more weight.
This means bigger game and longer ranges, but don’t get fooled -- shooting game at long ranges isn’t easy, make sure you temper the range of the cartridge with your personal skill.
Going with the old maxim of 1,000-ft.lbs being required for a good deer cartridge; in a perfect world, Creedmoor can take deer at over 700 yards.
Grendel on the other hand is more like a 400-yard cartridge.
That’s still pretty awesome for such a compact and easy-to-use cartridge. With recoil being so light and actions so small, Grendel makes for a real contender for mountain or stalking hunts.
In the last few years anything 6.5mm has been largely replaced by 6mm options when it comes to the top end of the competition, but you’ll still see a lot of 6.5mm cartridges at most matches.
Why? Because of 6.5 Creedmoor, mostly. It’s highly accessible, factory ammo is great, and it’s really forgiving for people learning the fundamentals of long range precision shooting.
If you’re interested in PRS, NRL, or F-Class and have a 6.5 Creedmoor rifle -- get out there and give it a try!
Grendel though… sure, you can use it. But it’s not common. There aren’t many people that shoot in the gas rifle division normally so you might be the only one at your match, but you’ll still be in for a good time with a cartridge that can at least finish the match.
Long Range Precision Shooting
Both are outstanding. For plinking or learning the discipline, you can’t go wrong with either option. Though, Creedmoor will edge out Grendel simply because it’s easier to work with at long ranges and it’s a lot easier to tune in a load for.
I’ve shot Creedmoor past 1,000 yards and Grendel to 800 yards. Both are a lot of fun and teach you a lot without being overwhelming.
One of These Cartridges Might Be Haunted…
I feel compelled to mention that Grendel can be… weird. Spooky even. Definitely not haunted though, I hope.
I’ve spoken with a lot of hard-core 6.5 Grendel shooters and something that nearly all of us have run into is that some loadings, either hand loaded or factory bought, will just not group.
For example, my 6.5 Grendel rifle is a sub-MOA rifle using Hornady Black 123gr ammo. But with Hornady SST 123gr ammo it shoots 5 MOA. I have no explanation why.
And this isn’t just me, I know several other excellent shooters who have the same issue. But weirdly, we have the issue with different ammo.
Your rifle will like the ammo that it likes, that is normal. But it will also really hate some ammo. If that happens to you, just know that you’re not alone and you should try other loadings.
My love for 6.5 Creedmoor isn’t going away any time soon, as evidenced by the fact that I have an AR-10 and no less than 4-bolt rifles all chambered in it.
But 6.5 Grendel has a place in my safe also and I love taking an AR-15 out to 1,000 yards.
Grendel has proven to be a great long range shooter and an awesome rifle for coyotes of all sizes.
I think there will be a long future for both cartridges as we see better bullets and more rifles offered in both of these 6.5mm kings.
[We would like to extend a huge thank you to David Lane for his work on this article! Be sure to leave a comment before you go and check out our other helpful guides like 6.5 Creedmoor vs 308 and our guide to AR Pistols.]