Bullet test: 6.5 Precision Rifle Cartridge (PRC) 

Testing the Hornady 6.5 PRC bullet

The 6.5 PRC was straightforward to load for and I didn't push the ballistics too far on this first outing - Credit: Broadsword

Broadsword puts the latest Hornady 6.5 Precision Rifle Cartridge (PRC) through its paces in this detailed bullet test and review

Cartridges come and go all the time, with few actually having the kind of impact with regard to accuracy and efficiency that capture a shooter’s imagination. Back in the day, the 6.5 x 55 Swede and 7mm Mauser (.275 Rigby) were all the rage, but now new additions such as the 6.5 Creedmoor from Hornady seems to be the only cartridge people are taking about.

One genre of cartridges that never really has taken off here in Britain, other than for long-range target shooting, has been the Magnum calibres, or short high-performance rounds. Most deer species don’t need them, but where suitable their use helps with longer shots and especially at bucking windy conditions, the bane of all riflemen’s lives.

The 6.5mm or .264 calibre has certainly been enjoying a resurgence these days as people rediscover its superior ballistic properties. The 6.5mm Swedish has always been popular, as has the .260 Remington, both as standard SAMMI spec or the Ackley Improved version. Larger 6.5mm cartridges such as the 6.5mm Mag Rem and .264 Win Mag never took off on these shores, with only the 6.5-284 Norma gaining any ground, especially with long-range target shooters or varminters. So what can we expect from the new 6.5 PRC?

Some Magnums are not really Magnums, but in reality just standard cartridges with a bit more ‘oomph’ to them. Many of the Winchester short Magnum rounds were made with the idea of being able to shoot from short-action rifles, and many are still popular with long-range shooters. Nothing has really stuck with the hunting community other than the old .300 Win Mag cartridge, but Hornady introduced the 6.5 PRC (Precision Rifle Cartridge) in 2018, which can be viewed as a Magnum version of the 6.5 Creedmoor round offering 200-250fps more velocity. The Creedmoor round is superbly efficient and shoots a 140gr bullet at 2,700fps, while the 6.5 PRC can launch that same weight bullet at 3,000fps+.

A man sitting at the base of a tree shooting a rifle

I liked the way Weatherby had made this model High Country into a lighter weight rifle idea for lugging about in the field but coupled to the flat shooting 6.5 PRC cartridge - Credit: Broadsword

Devil in the detail
The 6.5 PRC cartridge is a very nice-looking round, having very pleasing dimensions in a characteristic and popular short, fat profile.

The overall length of the case is 2.030", with a Magnum-sized case head of 0.532", rebated design, and a diameter of 0.5320" at the base slowly tapering to 0.5158" at the shoulder, so it’s pretty straight walled. This gives it an H20 capacity (Hornady cases) of 69.4gr actual weight. Its 30°-shoulder allows adequate propellant burn flow into the base of the bullet without compromising reliable feeding from the magazine, and the neck length of 0.2718" supports the normal range of bullets loaded, from 100-147gr. The neck diameter is 0.297", so minus the 6.5mm bullet, or 0.264", equates to 33 thou of case wall thickness.

Importantly, the cartridge overall length (COL) is a maximum of 0.2955", which is sufficiently long to allow a good, uncompressed powder charge yet still allow a well-supported bullet and corresponding longer throat in the chamber area. 

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This cartridge was purpose-built for long-range shooting at 1,000yd and beyond. Because of this, it was designed to use the longest and heaviest bullets available for the 6.5mm calibre without the base of the bullet taking up valuable powder capacity. This also means that BC values of the bullets are high, but the downside is that they bullets are long and therefore need a minimum of 1 in 8" rifling twist to fully stabilise them. 143gr and 147gr Hornady bullets weights are the factory loadings, but I used weights from 85gr to 147gr just to see.

Compared with the 6.5 Creedmoor, the PRC round is not much longer but looks like it’s had a few more dinners! This means that it fits short-action rifles, but the case capacity is nearly 10gr more in favour of the PRC. Both cartridges achieve maximum velocities from high pressures, typically 65,000psi for the PRC versus 62,000psi for the Creedmoor. A shorter, fatter case has always allowed internal combustion of the powder to be more uniformly burnt due to having a wider powder column.

Similarly, a shorter case means a shorter bolt travel and cycling time, but in practice only marginally over a long action.

Hornady originally designed the PRC to shoot the 143gr bullet at 2,960fps and 2,782ft-lb, and the 147gr at 2,910fps and 2,764ft-lb, with their primary goal being to minimize bullet drop and wind drift at extended range. But maximum and careful hand loading can deliver velocities of 3,100fps with a 143gr ELD X bullet and 3,000fps with a 147gr ELD Match bullet if using a 26" barrel. Therein lies the crux, as that barrel length or longer is fine on a target range, but most hunting arms use a 24" barrel length.

The 6.5mm Creedmoor is known for having a relatively mild recoil. However, the 6.5 PRC achieves its velocity advantage at the expense of about 35% more recoil.

Bullet reloading supplies

As you would expect, Hornady have the reloading dies and cases all covered and the myriad of 6.5mm bullets and suitable reloading powders makes working up a decent load no problem - Credit: Broadsword

The scores are in!
I had the new Weatherby Vanguard High Country in 6.5 PRC with a 24" barrel, and picked up some Hornady custom reloading dies and cases, too. Factory 6.5 PRC ammo is hard to come by, but I had some Hornady 143gr Hunter ELD X and Hornady 147gr Match, which shot 2,835 fps/2,553ft-lb and 2,696fps/2,372ft-lb respectively, with all groups around the MOA mark. Velocities were a tad low due to the 24" barrel length. To get the best from this barrel meant reloads.

Light Bullets

Bullet

Weight

Reload

Muzzle
Veloc. 
(fps)

Energy
(ft/lbs) 

COAL
(")

Sierra
HP

85gr

62.0gr
Norma 204

3562

2395

2.5760

63.0gr

3622 

2477

 64.0gr

 3683 

 2560

Fox
Lead-free

100gr

59.0gr
Norma 204

3289

2403  

2.9080

60.0gr

3336

2471

61.0gr 

3398

2564

61.5gr

3426

2606

Lapua
Scenar

108gr

54.0gr
Vit N150

3147

2353

 2.895

55.0gr

3194

2424

56.0gr 

3240 

2494

Hornady
GMX
lead free

120gr

55.0gr
Vit N555

3044

2470  

2.8880

56.0gr

3101

2563

57.0gr

3145

2635

57.5gr

3170

2677

58gr

3194

2719

Lapua 
Scenar

123gr

55.0gr
RL17

3121

2659

2.8995

56.0gr

3168

2741

57.0gr

3215

2822

Heavy bullets

Bullet

Weight

Reload

Muzzle
Veloc. 
(fps)

Energy
(ft/lbs) 

COAL
(")

Barnes LRX
lead free
 

127gr

55.0gr
RL19

2789

2229

2.9150

56.0gr

2811

2264

57.0gr

2993

2565

58.0gr

3043

2652

58.5gr 

3067

2695

Nosler
AccuBond

130gr

53.0gr
Ramshot Hunter

2791

2422

2.8945

54.0gr

2861

2545

55.0gr

2908

2629

56.0gr 

2977

2755

57.0gr

3023

2840

Hornady
SST

 

140gr

55.0gr 
H1000

2488

1925

2.9110

57.0gr 

2636

2159

59.0gr

2741

2335

61.0gr

2952

2709

55.0gr
Vit N555

2877

2574

56.0gr

2961

2726

57.0gr 

3004

2806

ELD X 
 

143gr

53.0g 
Vit N555

2809

2523

2.908

54.0gr

2854

2604

55.0gr

2898

2686

56.0gr

2942

2768

56.5gr

2965

2810

ELD

147gr

52.0gr
RL19

2760

2486

2.900

53.0gr 

2808

2573

54.0gr 

2855

2661

55.0gr

2903

2750

55.5gr

2926

2795

Down-range performance
I like to try all bullet weights, as the 6.5mm calibre lends itself well to both fox and deer use. The Sierra 85gr Hollow Points are well-made bullets and always prove accurate when tested. From the Weatherby we had 1.15" groups at 100yd, with the best reload of 63.0gr of Norma 204 powder for 3,562fps and 2,395ft/lb.

A nice lead-free option would be the Fox 100gr bullets with a load of 60gr of Norma 204 powder for 3,336fps/2,471ft-lb and inch groups. If you like a bit of longer-range varminting, then the 108gr Lapua Scenars with 56.0gr of Vit N150 powder, Federal Match primer and COL of 2.895", yielded 3,240fps velocity and 2,494ft-lb energy and shot 0.75" groups.

Accuracy was also very good with another lead-free offering in the form of Hornady’s 120gr GMX bullet, which shot 0.95" with a load of 56.0gr of N555 powder for 3,101fps/2,563ft-lb. Switching to a lead-cored bullet, the Nosler 120gr Ballistic Tip with the same load gave 0.80" groups and 3,089fps for 2,543ft-lb.

Upping the bullet weight to the 127gr Barnes LRX, the best load and powder was 58.0gr of RL19 with 0.65" groups for 3,043fps and 2,652ft-lb. A good, flat-shooting deer load with excellent ballistic properties down-range. The Weatherby also really liked the Nosler 130gr Accubond bullet with a load of 57.0gr of Ramshot Hunter powder for 3,023fps and 2,840ft-lb – a maximum load and 0.75" groups.

Now to the bullet weights the PRC was meant to shoot. I couldn’t get to the high velocities offered by a 26" barrel, but accuracy and velocities were still more than good enough.

A good 140gr-class bullet was the Hornady SST, offering sub-MOA accuracy with all the reloads and the most accurate at 0.75". A good all-round load was 57.0gr of Vit N555 powder. The H1000 powder was a bit slow but accurate. The Vit load achieved just over the 3,000fps barrier at 3,004fps and 2,806ft-lb energy, but that was near maximum so take care.

Equally the 143gr ELD X bullet are designed to expand compared with the ELD Match bullet and offered good ballistics with the 55.0gr of Vit N555 powder for 2,898fps and 2,686ft-lb and 0.75" groups.

Finally, the 147gr ELD bullet, designed for the best long-range advantage, shot well with Reloader RL19 powder. A charge of 55.0gr was accurate at 0.5" groups with the handful of bullets I had, and achieved 2,903fps and 2,750ft-lb from the 24" Weatherby barrel.

Running it through the Quickload Ballistic program, the down-range trajectory proved that the PRC does shoot flatter than a 6.5 Creedmoor with the same bullet weights. The 6.5 PRC at 3,004fps/2,805ft-lb with a 140gr SST bullet shoots 42.5" low at 500yd with a 100yd zero and still has 1,444ft-lb energy with a wind drift in 10mph wind of 16.0". For a 6.5 Creedmoor with the same bullet at 2,700 fps/2,267ft-lb, the results are 54.7" drop at 500yd with 18.3" wind drift and the energy dropped to 1,128ft-lb. The SST’s BC of 0.520 lets it down a bit, as the 143gr ELD X and 147gr ELD Match designed for the PRC have BCs of 0.625 and 0.653 respectively. For the 143gr ELD X bullets, at 2,965fps/2,810ft-lb, at 500yd the wind drift is cut to 13.2", drop is 41.4", and energy is still healthy at 1,613ft-lb. Much better.

A line of bullets

l to r: - 6.5 Creedmoor, 6.5 PRC, 6.5mm Rem Mag, 6.5-284 Win and 264 Win Mag. You can see the more modern non belted shorter fatter case design of the 6.5 PRC - Credit: Broadsword

Conclusions
Is the 6.5 PRC worth bothering with, compared with the 6.5 Creedmoor for normal stalking duties or those occasional longer shots? Well, with a 24" barrel length at normal deer ranges, the data indicates that it isn’t really worth it. But if you shoot at long range in windy conditions, or even indulge in long-range varmint shooting, where the targets are much smaller than deer, then any advantage is a bonus. The PRC will deliver more terminal energy with less wind drift and a flatter trajectory. That means potentially better shot placement, but you still have to play your part in the whole procedure.

Personally speaking, the 6.5 Creedmoor will do everything I need, but if you want maximum performance then the PRC is certainly worth a look. If you shoot a lot of rounds, then you may decide that the 6.5 PRC, as with the 6.5-284, will probably have more throat erosion and thus give a shorter barrel life due to it being a little over bore capacity for the 0.264 calibre. But if used only for stalking, after that initial load development and sighting-in then round count is not such an issue.

The 6.5 PRC does have quite a bit more recoil than the 6.5 Creedmoor, but with a sound moderator it felt no worse than a stiff .30-06, to be honest.

I quite like this round and intend investigating further out to 1,000yd, so stay tuned. Used sensibly it might just be an excellent all-round cartridge in the future. However, cartridge choice and reloading dies will be the limiting factor that will no-doubt influence each shooter’s decision. 

Contacts:
Raytrade Ltd    Weatherby rifles    01635 253344
Edgar Brothers     Hornady, Alliant powder    01625 613177
Norman Clark Gunsmiths   Reloading Supplies 01788 579651
Hannams Reloading  Reload kit    01977 681639
JMS Sporting    Quickload Ballistic program    07771 962121
Tom’s Targets    Steel Targets    07989 072693
RUAG    Norma powder    01579 362319