[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]By Terry Wieland
At a recent gathering, I was button-holed by a lady wanting some ballistic advice. Seems she and her husband were having pig problems on their ranch in Texas, and his .223 was not putting them down the way he’d like. What should he get instead?
Before I could utter a word, the lady then added that he had shoulder damage, so any kind of hard-kicking rifle was out. And then, as I began to say something, she said, “What about this new Creedmoor we’ve heard so much about? You can shoot out to a thousand yards, with no kick at all.”
The 6.5 Creedmoor is undoubtedly a fine cartridge, but the laws of physics have not been repealed to accommodate it. And while it has been around only 11 years, it is really not even that new; it is a cartridge that puts to use all the lessons learned since the first 6.5 appeared in the 1890s. It does absolutely nothing that the 6.5×55 Swedish (born in 1894) would not do — and perhaps do a little better — if it had the same advantages in terms of throating, rifling twist, super-efficient bullets, modern powders, and a sprinkling of internet pixie dust.
To be blunt, the 6.5 Creedmoor has nothing magical about it. Yet, magic is exactly what is being attributed to it.
In the past, the same thing has been claimed for other cartridges. Some that spring to mind are the .303 Savage, .22 High Power, .280 Ross, .250-3000, and the .244 Holland & Holland. The all-time champ in the blow-hard department is probably the .280 Halger, although some wildcatters have rivaled P.T. Barnum in their claims.
To give an example, one guy altered the shoulder angle on what was essentially a .300 Weatherby, and claimed an extra 200 feet per second, enhanced accuracy, and 10,000 psi lower pressures. All from changing the shoulder angle? I think not, thank you.
Also in the past, such claimants hoped to get the attention of someone like Jack O’Connor (Outdoor Life) or Warren Page (Field & Stream) to sing their praises in print. Today, they post the hogwash on websites or phoney-up YouTube videos. If nothing else, the Internet has fostered the great age of the huckster, and today wildcat cartridges sprout, flower, and disappear as quickly as tulips in spring.
You will notice that, with few exceptions, the over-touted cartridges rarely make the list of true all-time greats. Of those mentioned above, only the .280 Ross and the .250-3000 deserve to be on the list, which includes the .30-06, .270 Winchester, .416 Rigby, and — maybe the finest cartridge of all time, for Africa at least — the .375 H&H.
When you start analyzing the claims, you find that most are based on some naïve belief in the supernatural effects of high velocity. This is almost always combined with light bullets and explosive performance, simply because you can’t get the highest velocities without using light bullets.
Go back and look at the true greats, like the .416 Rigby and .375 H&H, however, and you see that their genuine and enduring reputations were made partly on the basis of bullet weight, and partly on proper bullet construction. The .375 H&H has based its performance on a 300-grain bullet of various configurations, while the .416 Rigby was loaded for many years with a steel-clad 410-grain bullet that delivered the ultimate in penetration.
Another example: The 7×57, as used by elephant hunter W.D.M. Bell, was loaded with a 175-grain bullet that penetrated, and just kept on penetrating. Same with the 6.5×54 Mannlicher-Schönauer, which established its reputation on four continents with 154- to 160-grain bullets. They weren’t particularly fast, and it had a looping trajectory that demanded the hunter get closer than 300 yards, but put that bullet in the right place and you had your animal.
The 6.5×55 Swedish, a cartridge that I have hunted with, reloaded for, and admired since 1988, established a twin reputation over the course of a century as both a premier match cartridge, and a big-game cartridge. The finest 300-metre target rifles, made in Europe, were always available in 6.5×55, while Scandinavian moose (European elk) hunters swore by it. In both cases, these reputations were won, not with light bullets at high velocity, but by heavy-for-caliber bullets ranging from 140 to 160 grains.
At the annual Sportsman’s Show in Toronto in the late ’80s, I met a lady who held the record for the largest moose ever taken in Ontario. Her rifle? A cut-down army surplus Swedish Mauser, using Dominion 160-grain round-nosed bullets. One shot was all it took, she told me. She liked the 6.5×55 because it wasn’t loud, didn’t pound her, and it did the job. Her moose-hunting husband used a .30-06. She thought he was over-gunned.
Interestingly enough, Jack O’Connor’s wife, Eleanor, who was a top-notch shot and big-game hunter in her own right, almost always used a 7×57, and she said the same thing about the .30-06. When she shot an elephant in Zambia, she decided the 7×57 was a little light (in spite of W.D.M. Bell) and used a .30-06. She put the bullet in the right place, and down he went.
All of this is not to argue that the average elephant hunter should use a 7×57 (like Bell) or a .30-06 (like Mrs. O’Connor), nor that a Cape buffalo hunter should go out with a 6.5×54 M-S (like Werner von Alvensleben), only that it’s impossible to over-state the value of putting a good bullet in the right place. There is nothing magic about it: It’s purely a matter of good marksmanship, skill, and judgement.
Unfortunately, all too many hunters — lacking the aforementioned skill and judgement — prefer to substitute magic, and look for it in the claims of cartridge designers and bullet makers.
In the early 1950s, Roy Weatherby wrote some stuff (and got it published) making the most outlandish claims for his cartridges. In one instance, he told of a long safari in Africa in which his .257 and .270 Weatherbys out-performed both a .375 H&H and a .470 Nitro Express. A hit on an animal anywhere, he claimed — in the paunch, in the ham, it didn’t matter — and the animal went down. Magic!
Well, I have used all of the above cartridges, and I admire them all, and I have hunted with all except the .470 NE, and guess what? When I put the bullet in the right place, they work; when I don’t (and I have done it), they don’t.
In the years that followed, Weatherby cartridges gained a bad reputation, and by extension the users of Weatherby rifles and cartridges came to be regarded by African professional hunters as either ballistic babes in the wood, or by wealthy guys who tried to substitute flashy rifles for old-fashioned skill. When I took my .257 Weatherby to Africa in 1990, I was greeted with a few raised eyebrows. I had my bad moments, but I also had my good ones. I used the .257 (loaded with the old original 115-grain Trophy Bonded Bear Claws) and my .416 Weatherby (loaded with 400-grain Bear Claws) and both performed extremely well. In both cases, it was as much a triumph for the bullets as it was for the rifles. Neither one depended on extreme velocity, only on good bullet construction and proper placement thereof.
I would have done just as well — or just as badly — had I been carrying a .270 Winchester and a .416 Rigby. One of my companions on that safari, which included both Tanzania and Botswana, was Finn Aagard, a former Kenya PH then living in Texas and writing for the NRA. His rifle was a custom Mauser with interchangeable barrels, one a 6.5×55 and the other a .416 Taylor. The Taylor, a wildcat little heard of now, was the .458 Winchester necked down. Finn liked the rifle because it was efficient for its size, and didn’t kick much or deafen him any more than he already was. Of course, he was a superb game shot. That helped.
In the end, I wasn’t able to help the lady with the pig problem very much. She knew just enough about rifles to object to every suggestion I made, but not enough to realize what the real difficulty was. That, of course, is that there’s no magic to any of this, and no rifle combines supernatural killing power with no noise or recoil. I asked what ammunition her husband was using, but she didn’t know.
I don’t hunt pigs with a .223 myself. The .223 is not my idea of a good big-game cartridge regardless of what bullet you use. However, I know several guys who do, and they generally get all the pigs they shoot at when they venture out. They pay extra for good game loads. They do not hunt with standard bargain-basement military ammunition, or light varmint bullets. Their results come with good expanding bullets, generally a little heavier and a little slower, put in the right place. From W.D.M. Bell to Eleanor O’Connor to my Ontario-moose-hunting acquaintance, it’s a formula that’s worked for more than a century, and the rules are not about to change now.
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