by Philip Massaro - Friday, March 31, 2017
Wildcatters are an intriguing lot, they never seem to tire of the labors required to produce a cartridge that’s just a little bit different. Neck it up, neck it down, shorten it, blow out the case walls—it’s all good stuff. From the days of A. O. Neider and Charles Newton, to the line of P.O. Ackley cartridges, to Col. Townsend Whelen’s efforts; there are plenty of little niches that have been filled.
When the .284 Win. was released in 1963—designed to mimic the performance level of the .270 Win. and .280 Rem. in a short action rifle—it wasn’t long at all until the wildcatters began to work their magic on the rebated rimmed case. Being 7mm wasn’t necessarily a bad thing for the .284 Win., but the deep-rooted following for the longer predecessors forced it to the wayside. For the record, the .284 Win. is a fine cartridge in and of itself, though it has become nearly obsolete.
Of all the variations developed on the .284 case—and there are many—the 6.5-284 has been the most successful, and with very good reason. It represents an excellent case-capacity-to-bore-diameter ratio, delivering respectable velocities, without being over the top. The 6.5-284 can handle the lighter bullets very well, yet can also push the heavier, higher Sectional Density bullets just as well, making for both a good varmint cartridge—even if a bit heavy—and a perfectly viable big game cartridge as well. It is the darling of the 1,000 yard target community, with good reason; it is one of the most accurate cartridges I've ever come across.
The original 6.5-284 wildcat cartridge had the last name of Winchester, with an overall length of 2.800”, just like the .308 Winchester and its ilk, in order to fit in the magazines of the short-action rifles. The Swedish firm of Norma saw the brilliance of this design, with its 35˚shoulder and very slight tapered body, giving it a legitimate name in 2001; the 6.5-284 Norma came onto the scene as a SAAMI-recognized cartridge. Norma had a bit of foresight in its application for approval: they extended the specified overall length from 2.800” to 3.228”, to allow the longer spitzer bullets to be seated out further, taking full advantage of that case capacity.
The 6.5mm bullets are a bit of an enigma; by design the high Ballistic Coefficient they possess will give flat trajectories and good resistance to wind deflection, and the high Sectional Density figures of the 140, 156 and 160-grain bullets give superb performance on game animals. If you take a look at some of the modern developments in the 6.5mm caliber—the .260 Remington, the 6.5mm Creedmoor and 6.5 Grendel—they have garnered quite a bit of attention from the shooting community, driving the 6.5mm bullets into tight little groups very far downrange. It’s kind of funny that it took us this long to appreciate the full potential of this bore diameter—including the 6.5-284 in that mix—when we had the 6.5x55 Swedish Mauser and 6.5x54 Mannlicher Schonauer since the late 19th century. Sometimes the answer is right in front of our face all along.
While the 6.5-284 Norma makes a fantastic target round—my own Savage Model 116 will hold 1/3-MOA out to 500 yards with 140-grain Hornady ELD Match bullets—it is also a great hunting round. Norma’s 156-grain Oryx factory load, at 2850 fps, is a fantastic hunting round, and that same rifle of mine shoots the bonded semi-spitzer very well. If you handload for the 6.5-284, as I do, you have a world of bullets at your fingertips. I have had fantastic results with the 125 and 132-grain Peregrine PlainsMaster, the North Fork 140-grain hollowpoint and the 130-grain Swift Scirocco II, with the lighter bullets traveling between 2850 and 3000 fps, and the 140 North Fork rolling out at 2700 fps. Hornady’s long and heavy 160-grain InterLock round nose also works in the 6.5-284 Norma, and though it leaves my barrel at 2600 fps, it would make a great black bear bullet, especially if the distances are on the closer side of average. Look to powders like IMR4955 and Hodgdon’s H4831SC for a good balance of fine accuracy and consistent velocities.
My Savage rifle was built in their Custom Shop, on the Model 116 action, a long action, to allow for extra room in the magazine for the really long bullets. The Berger Hybrid and Nosler AccuBond bullets can be very long, and if they don’t touch the lands and grooves of the throat—which is a very bad thing—you can seat them out a bit further.
As a hunting cartridge, the 6.5-284 Norma has been touted—by this author and some colleagues—as one of the best for game animals up to the size of elk. I feel it’s one of the best cartridges ever developed for whitetail deer hunting, anywhere, at any distance. In my opinion, the 6.5-284 Norma represents the best balance of case capacity and velocity in the caliber; it has a bit more horsepower than the Creedmoor or .260 Rem., yet isn’t as overbore as .264 Win. Mag. or 6.5-300 Wby. Mag. It gives terminal performance very close to the .270 Win., with recoil scarcely more ferocious than that of the .243 Win. It accompanies me on many hunts throughout the year, and that’s not going to change anytime soon.
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