In 2017, just as the 6.5 Creedmoor mania was reaching a fevered pitch, Hornady announced yet another 6.5mm/.264-inch cartridge offering. Dubbed the 6.5 PRC (Precision Rifle Cartridge), this new round was based on the .300 Ruger Compact Magnum necked down to accept .264-inch bullets. The RCM parent case offers an efficient profile with plenty of powder capacity, and the neck of the offspring 6.5 PRC cartridge is long enough to allow for the use of heavy-for-caliber bullets with high ballistic coefficients. With 147-grain ELD Match and 143-grain ELD-X bullets, the 6.5 PRC can still generate velocities of almost 3,000 fps. Best of all, the 6.5 PRC is compact enough that it can be chambered in short actions.
Some hunters may read this and immediately start searching for the laugh reaction button. Seriously, who needs another hunting cartridge? Aren’t there enough rounds already in existence?
Fair questions, and I’ll try to address them. First, let’s look within the 6.5 family of cartridges to more closely examine where the 6.5 PRC fits. It’s not as fast as the really speedy 6.5s, like the .26 Nosler and the 6.5-300 Weatherby, but muzzle blast, barrel length, powder use and gun weight will be lower in 6.5 PRC rifles. The .264 Winchester Magnum can’t match 6.5 PRC ballistics in a 24-inch barrel and, as the name implies, it too requires a magnum action. The 6.5 Creedmoor and the .260 Remington—both great cartridges in their own right—lag behind the 6.5 PRC in terms of performance especially at really long ranges when shooting competitively. The 6.5-284 Norma is enjoying something of a renaissance, but despite the cartridge’s many attributes, the PRC does offer some advantages.
First and foremost, the 6.5-284 started as a wildcat, and there are no SAAMI specs on the cartridge. That means chamber length varies, and in some cases with long bullets the 6.5-284 demands a long action. There’s also the issue of cost; a box of 6.5x284 will run about 50 dollars minimum—considerably more than Hornady’s factory 6.5 PRC loads in the 30 to 40 dollar range.
Ah, you say, you have a trump card—the 6.5 Remington Magnum. It predates the 6.5 PRC and offers similar ballistics with many bullets. But before you rake in the chips, understand that the 6.5 Remington Magnum has its warts. First, it’s a belted magnum with a rather short neck and, in many cases, 1:9 twist barrels limit the effective use of 140-plus-grain bullets—the heavy-for-caliber, high ballistic coefficient bullets that serve as the bedrock upon which the 6.5’s reputation as a long-range round is built. Plus, there aren’t a lot of 6.5 Rem. Mag. rifles floating around.
The 6.5 PRC offers a lot to long-range shooters, but why should hunters consider this round? For starters, the 6.5 PRC shoots flatter and hits harder than its world-beating brandmate the 6.5 Creedmoor. Aside from its trajectory curve, the 6.5 PRC also offers hunters more energy with the same bullet than you’ll get with the Creedmoor round. When hunting big game like elk, mountain goats or caribou at extended ranges, that extra oomph only serves to stack the odds of a clean kill in the hunter’s favor.
The other compelling reason for considering this load is that the PRC is a short 6.5 magnum-class cartridge that can be loaded in a short-action rifle, and it doesn’t demand a 26-inch barrel for maximum performance. That means PRC rifles can be sheep country light and they still offer the reach you need to shoot across a canyon. As time passes, I find myself less and less enthused at the thought of lugging a nine pound rifle into the high country, and the PRC offers a solution. Likewise, the PRC doesn’t produce jarring recoil. Despite brave talk about handling magnum recoil, I’ve met just a handful of shooters who were really adept at controlling the setback generated by lightweight mountain rifles chambered for fast .300 magnum calibers. The various .300 magnums offer more punch at all ranges than the PRC, but I don’t know that all that extra muzzle blast and recoil results in faster, cleaner kills.
Hornady currently offers two loads for the 6.5 PRC—a 143-grain Precision Hunter with their superb ELD-X bullets and a competition load with 147-grain ELD Match bullet. More loads are sure to follow, and rifle companies are now chambering guns in 6.5 PRC. SAUER is leading the way with the inclusion of 6.5 PRC rifles across their Model 100 line, but look for additional companies to launch 6.5 PRC-chambered guns in the future.
My experience with the 6.5 PRC is relatively limited, but I took a Montana whitetail deer at 262 yards with a PRC rifle, and tagged along with Hornady’s Neal Emery when he harvested whitetail and mule deer with the cartridge. Performance in each case was outstanding at ranges varying from 90 yards to over 300. The PRC is lethal on deer-sized game, but I wouldn’t hesitate to use the cartridge on elk, black bear or goats. Likewise, if you need a cartridge to stretch out for long shots on Coues deer, sheep or any other North American game, the PRC has you covered. Aside from the great bears there’s no North American game for which I think the round is underpowered, and that level of versatility comes at a bargain in terms of recoil, gun weight and ammunition cost.
After Neal and I filled our deer tags, we spent some time target shooting with PRC rifles in the wide-open spaces of northern Wyoming, a landscape that’s ideally-suited to testing the limits of a long-range round. With rifles centered at 100 yards, clanging steel and punching paper out to 400 yards was elementary. Eventually, we stretched the 6.5 PRC out to 1,185 yards to see what the load could do at that distance, and Neal and I took turns shooting a stump at that distance on an adjacent hillside. The 6.5 PRC has what it takes to be a dedicated long-range round.
Hornady did their homework here, and the 6.5 PRC fits quite nicely in the crowded 6.5 landscape. Do I think that this new round will prompt hordes of shooters to give up their .270s, .308s and Creedmoors? No, I don’t. I’m enthusiastic about the 6.5 PRC, but I’m also a pragmatist. I understand that for many hunters, the 6.5 PRC won’t do anything that their 7mm Rem. Mag., .30-06 Sprg. or .243 Win. won’t do, but before I buy a new rifle, I want to know that it’s chambered in a round that offers me the best performance for a wide range of hunting situations. The PRC does that in an efficient, affordable package that’s ideal for lightweight hunting rifles. Hornady’s newest round is certainly worth a hard look if you’re in the market for a new hunting rifle with long-range capabilities, and it’s deserving of a place in the current 6.5 hunting cartridge lineup.