This debate is much like when people compare the 9mm Parabellum to the .45ACP. Regardless of what we present, there are those who will have their hard headed preconceived notions on the two calibers. It’s okay for people to have favorites but I think everyone can agree that both the 6.5 and .308 are fantastic cartridges for hunting and competition alike. Is one really better than the other though? Let's compare.
.308 Winchester History
The .308 Winchester (7.62X51mm NATO) was derived from the beloved .30-06 after powder technology had advanced, allowing new casing options to be engineered. Since the .308 was a shorter action round than the .30-06, it was capable of greater reliability in semi-automatic weapons for military use.
After being developed for the military, the .308 was thrust into the civilian market in 1952 as a hunting load where it was offered in Winchester's famous Model 70 rifles. Two years later, the .308 Win was adopted as the 7.62x51mm NATO for global military usage, and is now one of the most successful military cartridges of all time.
6.5 Creedmoor History
To give you an idea on just how new this round is; while Hornady was developing the 6.5 Creedmoor; George W. Bush was President, Apple released the very first iPhone, and Michael Vick was found guilty for dog fighting. If these random facts mean nothing to you, then just know that the 6.5 CM was released to the public in 2007.
Hornady’s goal with the 6.5 CM was to develop a round that could be magazine fed, shot with little perceived felt recoil and a high ballistic coefficient all while still offering good barrel life and accuracy. Though the caliber got off to a slow start in 2007, USSOCOM adopted the round in 2019 to replace their .308 rifles and maybe it was about time. Either way, hats off to Hornady.
.308 WIN VS 6.5 CM
Tried and true for over 60 years, the .308 is inherently accurate, and still chosen by competitive shooters and hunters alike. Hunters are likely the reason the .308 has done as well as it has because it’s such a versatile cartridge. Loaded in a range from 125-180 grains, the .308 can shoot small game at long distance and drop large game with heavy hitting large grain bullets.
While the 6.5 CM is the new kid on the block, it offers some pretty outstanding ballistics. Since its slow start in 2007, it’s gained a lot of traction and is now quickly becoming a new staple for special forces units in the military, civilian gun stores and ranges alike. As far as hunting cartridges go, the 6.5 CM is a direct competitor to the .308., the 6.5 is offered in loads ranging from 85 to 160 grains. Shootable and terminal out past the .308, the 6.5 offers some unique characteristics that the .308 cannot replicate.
6.5 CM vs 308 Win Accuracy
Comparing the accuracy between the .308 Win and 6.5 CM is like comparing a Porsche to a Ferrari. They are both incredibly accurate cartridges with high ballistic coefficients. But when distances start to stretch, the advantage clearly goes to the 6.5 CM. It is less susceptible to wind, and because it retains velocity better than the .308/7.62mm, it also retains more energy at distance and drops less. All of this leads to almost a 50% higher hit probability at 1,000 yards.
6.5 CM vs .308 WIN Recoil
Recoil is a huge variable when talking about shooting accurately at distance, and since the 6.5 boasts 25% less recoil (15 ft lbs vs 19 ft lbs) when set side by side to a comparable .308 — the 6.5CM is the clear winner here.
Price and Availability of Ammo
This isn’t even a competition, the .308 has been a ridiculously popular round since the 1950’s. There are more brands, prices, and types of ammo for the .308 than probably any other round in existence. The 6.5CM is starting to become very popular as well, and many manufacturers are picking up and making many different loads for the 6.5CM.
But due to the availability of cheap military surplus ammunition and the fact that you can find it at any gun shop, no matter how small, there’s no comparion in the .308 vs 6.5 Creedmoor; the .308 Winchester is the clear winner.
308 WIN Price
If you’re buying 308 ammo in bulk, .308 Winchester steel rounds can cost about 55 cents per round. Brass 308 Winchester rounds could be had for around 83 cents per round.
6.5 CM Price
It’s going to be hard to find 6.5 Creedmoor in bulk, but depending on the projectile weight and load you should be able to find suppliers offering boxes of 20 rounds for anywhere between $2.45 per round to $2.78 per round.
*These prices were accurate at the time of this article’s updated publish date on July 22nd, 2021. Before the ammo price hike in 2020, prices were significantly cheaper.
6.5 Creedmoor vs 308 Ballistics
When shooting out to about 300 yards, both rounds have a very similar trajectory. However, once the distance starts to stretch past 500 yards, the flatter trajectory of the 6.5 Creedmoor starts to shine. The 6.5 has a higher ballistic coefficient, muzzle velocity and hits on average 6” higher than a comparable .308 at 500 yards.
The .308 does have an advantage when it comes to kinetic energy from the muzzle to about 300 yards though. But again, once the distance reaches about 500 yards the 6.5 closes the gap to minimal differences.
Due to the high ballistic coefficient, the 6.5 is far less susceptible to wind drift, on average drifting 3.5” less at 500 yards when compared to a .308. If you’re shooting past 500 yards the 6.5 caliber is vastly superior in trajectory, energy and drift. But since most civilian shooters and hunters won’t be shooting at those distances, the vast improvement in the newer cartridge may not be seen as much.
6.5 Creedmoor vs. .308 Winchester Conclusion
It makes sense for the military to increasingly use the 6.5 CM vs .308 Winchester for its increased performance at long distance engagements but as you saw above, the current price is simply not affordable for the average consumer. In 2019, the price of 6.5 CM was actually fairly close to the cost of .308 (only about 10 cents more per round). But financially speaking today, the cost of the .308 is going to work for the average American’s pocket much more than the 6.5.
Although the .308 is old, it would be inaccurate to refer to it as a “dated” cartridge, as it still dominates the market today for hunters and target shooters. Ballistically speaking, the 6.5 CM is the superior round, and blatantly so. With better drop, wind drift, energy retention and recoil, the 57 years of technological advancement has certainly paid off for the Creedmoor load. The 6.5 is a “current” cartridge, fitting into today's fads while also delivering a solid, efficient, and effective bullet.
However, you might also want to consider barrel life. .308 barrels will typically last anywhere between five to ten thousand rounds depending on what kind loads are being used. Whereas, 6.5 CM barrels will only last about two thousand rounds. It might take you that many rounds just to learn the gun and get familiar with your rifle. By then, you’d have to get a new barrel to avoid losing accuracy which doesn’t sound very wallet friendly.
As we’ve noted above in detail, unless you’re shooting at long distances past 500 yards, you might not ever get to appreciate the 6.5 CM for what it can do over the .308. Make no mistake, the 6.5 CM is badass. But civilian shooters on a budget might take a look at the .308 and after comparing the ballistic data to the 6.5, might just shrug and grab the cheaper box with significantly more rounds. Ultimately, we think that buyers should learn on 308 guns and get good with that before moving onto the 6.5 creedmoor.