Idaho holds some of the most rugged, bear-hiding country anywhere. Even if you spot an animal hidden in its canyons, it’s difficult to get within reasonable rifle range without several hours of climbing. Once you get there, often the animal is not. This is where a long-range-capable cartridge can be a huge advantage. Last year I hunted Idaho’s Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness and so I carefully chose my rifle and round: a Proof Research bolt-action loaded with Hornady’s new 6.5 PRC Precision Hunter ELD-X ammunition. It may be the most advanced cartridge and load ever developed for a hunting rifle.
Why does the world need a new cartridge when the .270 Win., .30-06, 7mm Rem. Mag. and a host of other sufficient options abound? It’s because Hornady is convinced that its 6.5mm ELD-X bullet, with its ultra-high ballistic coefficient (BC) and controlled expansion, is so superior to other hunting bullets that the Grand Island, Neb., company devised a cartridge specifically for it. The words that follow are not so much for the hunter who’s content with his venerable .30-30, but rather for the aficionados among us who pore over cartridge data to choose the perfect round for the scenario at hand.
In its 143-grain ELD-X hunting-load form, the 6.5 PRC (Precision Rifle Cartridge) derives 2960 fps from a 24-inch barrel to produce 2782 ft.-lbs. of energy. This places it in the magnum category, but it’s not a speed freak. It has ample energy for deer, bear and elk, but it’s also mild at the other end, generating about 20 ft.-lbs. of recoil in a 7.5-pound rifle. The real story, though, is what happens to the 6.5 PRC’s numbers as range increases—say, if you have a once-in-a-lifetime shot opportunity across a canyon.
Many competitive shooters prefer 6.5mm cartridges because they hit a sweet spot in the caliber spectrum. Their bullets typically balance ballistic coefficient and weight; they slip through the wind over long distances, yet they’re not so heavy as to wreck your shoulder at the range. Hunters—and hunting ammo manufacturers like Hornady—have taken notice.
The 6.5 PRC is based on the non-belted .375 Ruger case necked down to hold a 6.5mm bullet. It’s a short-action cartridge that’s 260 fps faster than its rock-star little brother, the 6.5 Creedmoor, yet it’s not as punishing on shooters, bullets and barrels as super-magnums like the 6.5-300 Wby. Mag. With a maximum cartridge overall length of 2.955 inches, the fat-bodied 6.5 PRC can be loaded in most short-action rifles with a magnum-size bolt face diameter of .532 inch. Key to the PRC, however, is the bullet it was designed to push.
Most hunting bullets have a ballistic coefficient somewhere between .200 and .500. Hornady’s 6.5mm ELD-X bullet, with its boattail design, long ogive, AMP (Advanced Manufacturing Process) jacket and Heat Shield polymer tip, has a BC of .623 according to Hornady’s revolutionary Doppler radar technology that measures such complexities.
At short range a bullet’s BC doesn’t mean much, but the farther the ELD-X travels, its incredibly high BC allows it to outpace other bullets at a surprising rate. Just compare it to a faster round like the 7mm Rem. Mag. Hornady’s specs show that a 139-grain InterLock bullet with a BC of .392 leaves the muzzle of a 7 Mag. at 3150 fps with 2597 foot-pounds of muzzle energy. The 6.5 PRC’s 143-grain ELD-X overtakes the 7 Mag. bullet at around 250 yards and then begins pulling away. By 800 yards the PRC is 383 fps faster and has 61 percent more energy. It also has 60 percent less wind drift. That’s eye-popping. I’m not advocating shooting at 800 yards, but if you did you’d want the most accurate, wind-defying round possible, and this is likely it. Essentially the super-high BC gives you something free at longer distances, and the PRC comes with 20 percent less recoil than the 7 Mag., making it easier to shoot.
Using the success of the 6.5 Creedmoor as a model, Hornady worked closely with the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute to control and disseminate the 6.5 PRC’s precise specs to rifle makers for reaming chambers. The company stressed minimal freebore in the chamber throat, which can reduce a rifle’s accuracy potential. It also recommended a fast, 1:8-inch twist rate to stabilize long bullets. Hornady’s effort to provide an inherently accurate foundation resulted in the 6.5 Creedmoor quickly becoming a standard in Precision Rifle Shooting competitions because the cartridge typically shoots well in everyone’s rifles, factory or custom. The 6.5 PRC is for hunters who want a little more punch than the Creedmoor can provide. Currently about a dozen rifle manufacturers are chambering for it, including Montana Rifle Co., Sauer and custom builders such as GA Precision and Proof Research.
In Idaho, my Proof Research rifle featuring a carbon-wrapped target barrel would’ve been the ticket had we spotted a bear across a canyon. After all, the rifle and 6.5 PRC Precision Hunter load held .35-inch groups at 100 yards, and at 500 yards the ELD-X bullet still had more than 1,600 ft.-lbs. of energy. Thankfully, however, that wasn’t necessary. My guide, Adam Beaupre of Horse Creek Outfitters, spotted a black bear across a roaring river, and I almost rolled it into the torrent with one shot from 125 yards. The ELD-X passed through both shoulders and killed the bear instantly.
The ELD-X bullet is designed to work at all ranges via a jacket engineered to roll back over itself and expand, thanks to initiation by the Heat Shield tip. (The tip is made of heat-resistant polymer that will not deform or melt in flight, so the bullet will maintain its high BC.) At close ranges, the bullet’s thin, hollow nose expands and sheds some of its frontal area for around 60 percent weight retention, but the shank stays together for penetration. At long ranges the bullet still opens up and retains closer to 80 percent of its weight.
All told, the 6.5 PRC is one of the most perfect hybrid hunting/long-range target rounds ever conceived. It was built using all the knowledge ballisticians have gained over years of collecting data, and it uses new technology that wasn’t possible when the .264 Win. Mag., for example, was invented. As a rifle geek and a hunter, I hope it catches on.