Which is better .308 Winchester or 6.5mm Creedmoor?

I’ve been seeing a lot of 6.5mm Creedmoor love and hate on various places across the internet. I’ve also noticed that most of the activity on this blog has been around the various blog posts related to my 6.5mm Creedmoor hunting rifle project. Needless to say, the 6.5mm Creedmoor is a trendy cartridge and a hot topic right now. With all the praise and bashing, I’m seeing a ton “which cartridge is better” discussions between the 6.5mm Creedmoor and the .308 Winchester. These “which is better” discussions remind me a lot of the same type of discussions between the .30-06 Springfield and the .308 Winchester that have been floating around for years.

6.5mm Creedmoor (left) vs .308 Winchester (right)

Actually, I think that is the best way to sum up the discussion is with an analogy: the 6.5mm Creedmoor is to the .308 Winchester as the .308 Winchester was to the .30-06 Springfield.

The 6.5mm Creedmoor (I’ll refer to it as the 6.5 from here out) is the newest kid on the block compared the .308 Winchester (I’ll refer to this cartridge as .308 from here out). The 6.5 is a tried and true cartridge now. It’s no longer just a fad. Plenty of firearm manufacturers are offering everything from bolt-actions to AR-10s chambered for the 6.5. The availability and variety of .308 ammo no longer dwarves the availability and variety of 6.5 ammo.

Ballistically, the 6.5 is better than the .308. Whereas the .308 was ballistically similar, albeit inferior, to the .30-06. Just take a look at the table below that compares the three cartridges from the same Hornady Precision Hunter product line.

6.5mm Creedmoor.308 Winchester.30-06 Springfield
Bullet143 gr ELD-X178 gr ELD-X178 gr ELD-X
Sectional Density.293.268.268
Ballistic Coefficient.625 (G1)
.315 (G7)
.552 (G1)
.278 (G7)
.552 (G1)
.278 (G7)
Muzzle Velocity2700 fps2600 fps2750 fps
Muzzle Energy2315 ft/lb2672 ft/lb2989 ft/lb
500 Yard Velocity2030 fps1846 fps1969 fps
500 Yard Energy1308 ft/lb1346 ft/lb1533 ft/lb
500 Yard Drop (100y zero)-54″-61.2″-53.6″
500 Yard Drift (10 mph cross wind)15.1″18.4″16.9″

Sure, one could argue that both the .308 and .30-06 will start out with higher muzzle energies and will retain more energy out at 500 yards making them better options for hunting. Of course, following the premise of that argument one should also point out that the .30-06 out performs the .308 in terms of energy at the muzzle (and out at 500 yards) while also dropping and drifting less than the .308. Typically, that is countered with the fact that .308 has a lower recoil impulse while maintaining acceptably adequate energy, drop, and drift. Again, following the premise of that argument there is the fact that the 6.5 has a lower recoil impulse than the .307 while maintaining acceptably adequate energy, less drop, and less drift. Add to that the 6.5 has a better sectional density which translates into greater penetration potential over the .308 (and the .30-06) and you arrive at the conclusion that yes the 6.5 is better. In my opinion, the amount of better is larger between the 6.5 and .308 than it was between the .308 and the .30-06.

I’m guessing that right about now many readers are ready to interject with their “what abouts” and “yeah buts” statements. So let me unravel my opinion a little more.

Yes, I do think the 6.5 is a better cartridge. However, that doesn’t mean the .308 is a bad cartridge.

As a hunting cartridge, both the .308 and the 6.5 are excellent choices. The terminal ballistics of both cartridges are sufficient for most (if not all, but I’ll leave that for another post) North American game. Out to 500 yards the difference in drop is less than a foot and difference in drift is just over three inches. While there is a difference in drop and drift, it’s not significant enough to claim the 6.5 is so much better. Likewise, the difference in recoil between the 6.5 and the .308, while present, isn’t nearly as significant as the difference between the long action .30-06 and the short action .308. The recoil of the .308 is very manageable that even less experienced shooters can shoot it well.

The difference in ballistics make the 6.5 a better option for those who are more sensitive to recoil than the typical shooter or for those who are looking to shoot accurately at extended ranges.

Cartridge1K Yard Velocity1K Yard Energy1K Yard Drop1K Yard Drift
.308 Winchester1299 fps667 ft/lb-382.4″87.4″
6.5mm Creedmoor1478 fps693 ft/lb-325.2″70.1″

Out at the 1000 yard mark, the difference in drop is just over 4.75 feet and drift is just under a foot and a half. The .308 will remain supersonic to just past 1100 yards whereas the 6.5 will remain supersonic to over 1300 yards. However, most people I know aren’t looking send lead out to those ranges.

The .308 does offer one advantage that I can think of over the 6.5 and that is a longer barrel life. Both of these cartridges generate similar pressures and burn about the same amount of powder when ignited. Given the smaller bore diameter of the 6.5, throat erosion on the 6.5 barrel will happen faster than it would in a .308 barrel. For serious target shooters, this is a concern that is generally chalked up to the price of a flatter trajectory. However, for hunters this generally isn’t a concern since the typical 2000-3000 round life of a 6.5 barrel will yield many years of hunting.

I’m sure there are still some “yeah buts” and “what abouts” that I haven’t covered. But, I still hold the 6.5 edges out the .308 as the better cartridge. It’s also a better choice for those who are more recoil sensitive than the typical shooter. It’s trajectory is better for extended distance target shooting. But the differences here are so small, that it’s not worth retiring the older .308 lead slingers. In my opinion, that .308 may still make more sense to those who are going to do a lot of shooting and would prefer re-barreling rifles less frequently.

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