I’m writing this article to follow up on a couple of comment threads that I’ve seen at SurvivalBlog: To have a substantive long range accuracy advantage over .308 Winchester, requires 6.5 Creedmoor to use the 140 grain bullets that have accurate loads that are more often then not, are typically at velocities of between 2,600 to 2,700 fps. The low recoil advantage should not be underestimated. However this advantage is easily offset by the much longer barrel life of barrels chamber in .308 calibers. However, exceed 2,900 fps (feet per second) in .308 diameter barrels, and barrel wear is greatly accelerated.
Because in my area it is difficult to find 500 yard shots, and I had the old trusty 6.5×55 Swedish Mauser (SE) rifle, I duplicated the 7.62 NATO Match load trajectory of the 168 grain .308 bullet at 2,650 fps, with a very mild recoiling 123 grain 6.5 bullet at only 2,601 fps. Even with a worn barrel, this custom load for this barrel produces Minute of Angle (MOA) accuracy. As the barrel wears, the load will have to be changed. Starting out with an MOA load, the old Swede will stay accurate enough for 500 meters for significant time. The ballistic coefficient of the 123 grain AMAX and SST bullet is .510, a tad higher than the B.C. of the 168 grain .308 bullet that is usually around .475. The result is a near perfect match in trajectory as determined by a ballistic calculator.
This was done to match the calibration of the BDC (ballistic drop compensator) military style ‘turret’ scope set up for this trajectory. It has the markings on the external dials in meters, and can quickly be adjusted on the fly as targets may present themselves quickly at nearer, and farther distances. This is intended to be a poor man’s DMR (Designated Marksman Rifle), that really should be a semi auto, but this is what I got. The result is also a recoil that is so mild, roughly 11 lbs, and on par with the .243 Winchester, that the hit can be seen in the scope every time, eliminating the need for a spotter. And therefore, the follow up shots are more accurate, as the shooter can see his misses and corrects his aim, and can get back on target quicker.
There are many advantages to 6.5 cartridges. If I could afford to make the jump, I’d go the .260 Remington that uses .308 brass that is superior to the 6.5 CM, yet never gained the ‘popularity’. I could also go for a the 6.5×55 SE in a modern action using modern European load data and exceeding the performance of both the 6.5CM, and the .260 Remington, and the newer wildcat, the 6.5 Timber Wolf that can be run in an AR-15 platforms at 6.5 CM speeds, and bullet weights. That would be ideal! There is now so much to choose from.
7.62mm NATO for Preppers
Even though there are advantages to these cartridges, the sensible choice is for most folks, as mentioned my earlier remarks, is sticking with 7.62mm NATO. It can be purchased in bulk, and there are different factory produced ‘match loads’, that one can find in the ‘off the shelf’ ammunition that works best in their rifle. Hopefully it is a load that shoots at least 1.5 MOA that is accurate for ranges not much further than 500 meters. 800 meters is about the limit for 7.62 NATO, but most folks should limit their expectations to 500 to 600 meters. It gets to tougher to hit beyond 400 meters with these loads, and very tough as we attempt 650 meters. of course if the shot is ‘dialed in’ at the range, it’s not so hard. I could also say the same about typical .30-06 loads, if you can buy it through CMP, or UN Ammo Company (UNAC), in Arizona. Performance would be similar. However, ball ammunition is getting harder to find in .30-06, and it is much older production than 7.62 NATO that replaced the M1 Garand that uses .30-06.
7.62 NATO is shorter and lighter and was made to replace and duplicate the old standard M2 ball ammunition. However, the 30-06 in bolt action rifle does have performance advantages, and can better perform at extreme long ranges, or out to 1,000 meters with hand loads at an affordable price of about $1. It will outperform either 7.62 NATO, or it’s slightly more powerful kin, .308 Winchester. It might be interesting to note that .308-.312 military cartridges of comparable ability was first used in Mosin Nagants prior to 1900. This level of performance on the battle field continues to prove itself as a sensible choice. This class of cartridges, first using heavy bullets of between 170 to 200 grains has been thoroughly time tested, reviewed and reinvented in only slightly different form using lighter bullets, to be deployed yet again, over and over by different countries. It has proven been found to be useful over a span of over 130 years. Can we argue with success? The performance of heavy .30 caliber bullets is hard to beat.
Using a 200 grain .308 bullet that has nearly the same ballistic coefficient (B.C.), and has similar speeds as the best 6.5 CM bullet for the job, say a 140 grain Amax. I would have the same trajectory and accuracy, or ability to ‘buck’ the wind. However, the recoil is much more stout, but it does deliver a larger meplat (bullet frontal area) with much greater energy, and with more potential destructive force at the 1,000 meter line. For example the 200 grain .30-06 Barnes X Long Range bullet with a ballistic coefficient of 0.546, launched with an ‘accuracy load’, as suggested by Nosler, a max load of 56 grains of RL19 powder, generates 2,620 fps in their 24 inch ‘test’ barrel. At 1,000 meters the energy on target would by my ballistics calculator, would be about 734 foot pounds of force (energy).
In comparison, the 6.5 Creedmoor, using one of best, and most comparable bullet for extreme long distances out to 1,000 meters, would be the 140 Amax that has a slightly higher B.C. of 0.585 than that of the 200 grain .30 caliber bullet. This could be launched from the Creedmoor with an accurate load with at maximum pressures as determined by Nosler, that is 40.5 grains of H414 with a 140 grain bullet. This load is not necessarily the most accurate load, yet it is comparable to the 200 grain load, and in fact has the ballistic advantage in this ‘race’ ,as it is launched at 2,672 fps. Yet this best case 6.5 CM example, would deliver an smaller meplat with much less energy of about 546 foot pounds of force. A percentage difference of 25% less energy, or force of the 6.5 Creedmoor, should also be accompanied by the smaller meplat of the 6.5 bullet to make the analysis complete.
Even though the 6.5 CM load used in the comparison was the best case, or the load that would give the 6.5 CM it’s best performance, the .30-06 is still king. Unfortunately the .06′ has a stout recoil. Fortunately the recoil for this special purpose long range rifle can be made heavier to greatly dampen the recoil, or a muzzle break could be added instead of weight, or both. At extreme long ranges, energy is significant as it is the function that cause the bullet to do it’s job, in terms of penetration and deformation. Given the same type of bullet construction, the .30-06 could do much more damage. In the theater of the shooting range, versus the reality of the battlefield, especially at these great distance, IHMO, this factor is greatly underappreciated.
To get back to work working on guns, 7.62 NATO is plentiful in military ball form that typically is not match grade in accuracy. Yet the military ball supply in .30-06 is dwindling and aging. In a comparison the cartridges in terms of the number and quantity of factory produced ‘match grade’ loads needed for extreme long range, I suspect it is about the same. And Federal has some of the best factory loads denoted by the term ‘match grade’ on their boxes. Speed and mass, or velocity is deciding factor for long range shots. If comparing factory 180 grain loads of both .308 Winchester that is in fact a higher pressure load than the 7.62 NATO that designed for semi auto rifle use, the comparable 180 grain .30-06 factory load should run about 150 fps faster on average because the .308 Winchester has a higher maximum pressure limit as determined my SAAMI specification of 62,000 psi, a tad higher than the 60,000 psi for the .30-06 cartridge, because there are older .30-06 rifles still in circulation. Modern .30-06 rifles might be capable of 65,000 psi that the hand loader can make use of.
The difference in performance inside of 500 yards is not enough to justify switching to .30-06. However, if more ambitious, if you can afford to step up to the premium and heavy for caliber loads in .30-06, it outclasses both the 6.5 Creedmoor, and .308 Winchester, especially if one can reload. For extreme long range you’ll have a hard time find factory ammunition capable of MOA, or less. My old rifles are only capable of sub-MOA when fed my best reloads. Modern .30-06 rifles, and modern rifle in general might be more forgiving, and it might be possible to find factory loads that are at least MOA. Odds are, that if you are out for extreme long distance shooting, hand loading will likely be necessary, because precision ammunition in heavy for caliber bullets that have the necessary ballistic coefficients, would be hard to find. With modern rifles built for extreme accuracy, finding MOA, or better ammunition, albeit, factory fodder in standard weights, might be found.
For Those Opting for .30-06
If one is serious about extreme long range shooting with the .30-06:
Remaining energy is 876 ft pounds at 1,000 meters. There is virtually no difference between the proposed 208 Amax load used in the comparison, and the HSM Trophy Gold ammunition in terms of external ballistics.
Even if one does not have a rifle and scope accurate enough for 1,000 meters, they can be a better choice for long range shooting in areas where strong cross wind are a common occurrence. 180 grain expanding bullet is good for most any target in most conditions.
Clearly the .30-06 suffers from disinterest. Handloaders naturally have an advantage as they can create the loads the .30-06 needs to match and exceed the popular Creedmoor. It is now more understandable why Hornady’s brilliant marketing strategy was able to initiate the 6.5 Creedmoor’s raging popularity. There is distinct lack of competition, and they got the packaging just right. However, the 6.5 cartridges are not ubiquitous, they are not a “common caliber” cartridge. If you need an extreme long range rifle, I would learn to handload, and I would use the .30-06. The recoil is not that bad, and can be managed in variety of ways, again, by adding weight, a muzzle brake, or a Limb Saver, or all three if need be. As few have the time to handload, I can certainly understand why the Creedmoor is so popular at the moment. It is the easiest way to get into the extreme long range game. All I have to do is load up my Swede with the same bullets, and I am in the Creedmoor class as well. But I would use the .30-06 first. If you can afford the Creedmoor and lifetime supply of factory ammunition, then it would be the easiest way to get in that game. Like my Swede, it is a sweet shooter. You’ll love it.
A small number of riflemen capable of accurate long distance fire, combined with tactics that take advantage of this kind of ‘fire superiority’, can easily wreak havoc on a larger force of attackers, or defend a barricade across a driveway or road, from as far away as one can shoot accurately. Long distance shooting is a huge ‘force multiplier’ that can also be used at night. If you already have a .30-06, there may be no need to run out and buy anything else now that you know what it is potentially capable of. It is probably as good, or better than .308 Winchester, or 6.5 Creedmoor for the ranges you and the rifle are capable of.
Most scoped rifles will be zeroed for 100 to 200 yards, and will have trouble returning accurate fire much further than 350 meters. Plan accordingly, and you will have fire superiority from 400 meters and beyond, especially if you know the range to target, and have zeroed your rifle accordingly. Try the Superformance 150 grain .30-06 at advertised speeds of 3,080 fps, or the Superformance 165 grain load at 2,960 fps — whatever shoots best for you. These are a very flat shooting round that allows the common 3×9-scoped .30-06, the ability to engage targets quickly without needing to gauge the range as accurately. I know of no other common caliber rifle with this advantage.
Of course a nice semi-auto might be better, but it would probably not be as accurate, and it would cost a lot more, especially to get an accurate one. With Superformance loads, if zeroed for 500 meters, these flat shooting rounds would be accurate enough that there would be a change in the point of impact of no more than 6 inches, from 460 to 535 meters, a 75 meter margin of error. Anther way to look at it: There would be a 75 meter in diameter area that can be covered with 500 meter zero. This is a significant improvement in the ability to hit your target, an edge that the attackers would likely not have, as the best they’ll likely have, would be a 7.62 NATO, and more likely, only an AR-15 rifle. The old Ought Six just got a lot more interesting.