The 6.5 craze shows no signs of slowing down; in fact, it’s looking to be the bore diameter of the 21st century. While there is a glaring abundance of rifles and ammunition for the cartridge which many shooters won’t even mention aloud—it rhymes with ‘need more’—the other 6.5mm cartridges are gaining popularity every day. We’ve got an impressive lineup, considerably expanded in the last twenty years, and from the 6.5 Grendel to the 6.5-300 Weatherby Magnum, there is a useful 6.5mm cartridge at all sorts of velocities.
While both the .260 Remington and that ‘other cartridge’ produce respectable muzzle velocities, there are those shooters and hunters who prefer a bit more speed without going into the realm of the .26 Nosler and 6.5-300 Weatherby Magnum. I have long been a fan of the 6.5-284 Norma, as my own rifle—a custom gun from the Savage Custom Shop—is wonderfully accurate as a target rifle, and gives a velocity advantage over the other short-action cartridges. The additional velocity makes a difference out past 1,000 to 1,500 yards, and the ability to handle the full range of 6.5mm bullets, including the heavier 156- and 160-grain projectiles.
The idea of a cartridge with a bit more oomph than the short-action cartridges give has apparently been on other companies’ minds as well. Hornady released the 6.5 PRC in 2018; based on the .300 Ruger Compact Magnum (itself based on a shortened .404 Jeffery) it beat the velocity of the 6.5 Creedmoor by roughly 250 fps, and has an overall length of just under three inches, with the same .532-inch rim diameter of the H&H cases. Designed to run in a short-action receiver, the 6.5 PRC was envisioned to compete strongly in the precision shooting competitions, as well as make a sensible hunting cartridge.
Launching a 143-grain bullet at a muzzle velocity of 2960 fps, the 6.5 PRC has enough case capacity for a respectable trajectory; it will mimic the path of the 180-grain bullets in the .300 Winchester Magnum. Using a 200-yard zero, the 6.5 PRC will print 6-inches low at 300 yards and 18-inches low at 400 yards. The factory velocities can be beat by judicious handloading; the Hornady manual lists velocities as high as 3150 fps with a 140-grain bullet, albeit with a 26-inch barrel. My own experiences have shown a 24-inch barreled rifle giving just about 3025 fps with a 143-grain Hornady ELD-X bullet. With a 30-degree shoulder, and a short case, the 6.5 PRC can exhibit feeding issues (just as any case of this shape can) and the larger diameter case body can eat up precious room in a magazine. But, the 6.5 PRC is accurate, hits hard, and is tolerable on the shoulder.
Weatherby grabbed some attention—mine especially—with last autumn’s announcement of their 6.5 Weatherby RPM (standing for Rebated Precision Magnum). It is the first Weatherby cartridge not to wear the Holland & Holland belt, and the first to use an angled shoulder instead of the famous double radius. The 6.5 Weatherby RPM is based on the configuration of the 6.5-284 Norma (and its parent .284 Winchester), but the case is elongated in order to give a greater case capacity and to fit properly in a .30-06-length action. The RPM drives a 140-grain bullet at 3050 fps, giving a near-identical trajectory to the 6.5 PRC. The rebated rim poses no more of an issue in the 6.5 Weatherby RPM than it does in the .284 Winchester or 6.5-284 Norma, the 35-degree shoulder gives good headspacing and the RPM shares the .473-inch case head of the .30-06 and 7mm and 8mm Mauser family of cartridges. Weatherby houses the RPM in their Mark V Backcountry Ti, weighing in at under five pounds, using their smaller six-lug Mark V action.
Which of the two is the better choice for the hunter? This decision is going to depend your wallet—for the moment. Quite obviously, the cost of the Weatherby Backcountry Ti (MSRP $3,349) is hefty, but if ultra-light rifles in cool calibers grab your attention, this is a slick combination. While the 6.5 PRC is available in more affordable rifles, I haven’t been a fan of the short, squat designs; the WSMs, the RSAUMs, the RCMs have been, in my experience, more trouble than they're worth. If your rifle feeds them well, so be it, and I’m well aware these cartridges have their fervent fans. The shorter bolt-throw never gave any measurable advantage, and they have proved—again, in my personal experiences—to be finicky to load for. But enough bashing of the short magnums, the 6.5 PRC has shown to be either a hair-splitting cartridge, or a minute-and-a-half cartridge, depending on the rifle. The 6.5 Weatherby RPM has shown to exhibit fine accuracy, and the handloads are showing to be of proper velocity and consistent as well.
In this particular instance, I give the advantage to the 6.5 Weatherby RPM, with hopes that the cartridge will be chambered in more rifles in the time to come. That’s not to say that the 6.5 PRC is a bad cartridge; I’ve spent a bit of time hunting with it, and more than a bit punching paper with it. Their velocities are nearly identical—and nearly indistinguishable from the performance of the 6.5-06 A-Square—so I doubt any game animal will ever notice the difference. In the end, the decision is going boil down to which cartridge shape you prefer. For me, being a huge fan of the 6.5-284 Norma, I’m drawn to the 6.5 Weatherby RPM.