6.5 PRC - Review
By John Johnston
In October of 2017 Hornady announced the birth of a new cartridge, the 6.5 PRC.
PRC stands for Precision Rifle Cartridge. Hornady had this cartridge in mind for many years. Due to the ammo shortage in 2012 and 2013 plus their work on the new ELD line of bullets, the project was put on the back burner. Now that the ELD bullet line is up and going with great success, it was time to take the PRC seriously. Nick named the “6.5 Creedmoor’s big brother” it was a big point of interest at this past SHOT SHOW. However, the big question remained, “why?”.
Like all 6.5 cartridges, it got my attention immediately. Seekins Precision was one of the first to chamber their new Havak rifle in the PRC but when contacted they said that the wait would be considerable. It was the same story with Sauer and Christensen Arms. Savage is the only one of what I call the Big Four American Rifle Makers to publicly state they were going to chamber a tactical rifle in the PRC. So far it is not listed on their web site. I went to the folks at Montana Rifles and they said they are going to chamber their new X3 model in the PRC and agreed to build one for me.
6.5 Creedmoor, 6.5 PRC and 6.5 SAUM (GAP) (L to R)
Let’s get back to the question “why”; in other words, are there not enough 6.5 caliber rifle cartridges? The governing body of the Precision Rifle Series set some ground rules about six years ago which included the maximum caliber that could be shot would be .308 and maximum velocity would be 3200fps. It seems there was a lot of interest within the competitors for a cartridge that would be faster and shoot flatter than the favored 6.5 Creedmoor. Sure there were other calibers that could have been considered but the 6.5mm had better ballistics and had a considerable line up of bullets from which to choose plus the weight of the bullets kept wind drift down.
George Gardner, the owner of G. A. Precision Rifles and quite a successful precision rifle shooter himself, collaborated with Hornady to design a cartridge that would meet the maximum limits set for Precision Rifle Series but would not burn out barrel throats quickly, to be unique enough that other cartridges would not chamber in the rifles and be able to shoot the heavier bullets between 3000 and 3050fps. The case had to be of such a design that it would load easily in top loading actions as well as from magazines. Their idea was for a round that would be popular with the F Class shooters, the long rang hunting crowd, as well as the precision rifle shooters and the every day hunter.
Hornady did not have to look too far for a case; in 2008 they had developed the Ruger Compact Magnum round in .375 and .30 caliber. This case would meet their needs and still fit a short action rifle. Since the basic part of the 6.5 PRC would not be difficult to transform into a 6.5 caliber; it was an easy decision.
Utilizing their ELD line of bullets they came out with an ELD X and ELD M lines of ammunition. I am sure other types of bullets from the Hornady stable will be used when there is a demand. If you look at the ELD M next to the ELD X, there is very little difference. The ELD M is shooting a 147gr. Bullet while the ELD X is using a 143gr. Bullet; The OAL is the same at 2.95 inches. According to the box the 143gr. ELD X is going 2960 fps., while the slightly heavier 147gr ELD M is leaving the barrel at 2910 fps. It will be interesting to see what reloaders can get out of PRC with lighter bullets.
MONTANA Rifle X3
The X3 was a lighter version of their X2 design, they accomplished this weight loss by using slightly more of a taper on their in house made barrel, using aluminum for the trigger guard and bottom metal plus they re-designed their stock. I requested a muzzle brake be installed on my rifle since I would be shooting this rifle off a bench. The bare rifle weighed in at just a hair over 7 pounds with the brake. The stock is a unique combination of carbon fiber, foam and aluminum. There is even aluminum blocks imbedded into the stock for mounting the swivel studs. With the Hi-Viz recoil pad, this rifle is very pleasant to shoot and probably does not need a muzzle brake at all. The barrel is made in house and has button rifling. It is hand lapped to the extent I had a difficult time checking the barrel twist due to the smooth land and grooves. The model 99 action is of their design and has a controlled round feed. Basically it is a combination of what is good with the old Winchester model 70 and the Mauser 98 action. I found the machine work to be excellent. The trigger is the same as the old Winchester model 70. It broke at 3.5 pounds at first but after easily adjusting it; I had it set at 2.25 pounds. The X3 handled the recoil well and was a pleasure to shoot.
Montana Rifles X3 with a Swarovski X5 ready to test
For this testing I wanted to use the best scope I had in my shop. It is a Swarovski X5 but it was happily on another rifle. Luckily I found one of our members who had one for sale and I was glad to pick it up. I have tremendous trust in this scope and have used one to shoot a factory 6.5 Creedmoor out to 1400 yards. Once you get used to setting one up, it is easy to use. The X5 will definitely get the 6.5 PRC out to those long ranges accurately.
Hornady ELD M and ELD X
First up was the ELD M which I used for breaking in the barrel and it did not take long due to Montana Rifles’ lapping procedure. I bore sighted the scope and started to shoot my first group. My first shot was low and to the right. My second shot appeared not to be on the clean target at all. I even walked down range to see if I could find the hole. It turned out the second shot was in the first shot hole. Normally I would make the adjustments to get the rounds into the center of the target but I decided to see what a five shot group would look like with this new X3. The second two shots were also in the same hole but slightly higher, cutting the first two. The fifth shot was just a hair to the right. This may have been me, or the wind which was left to right at 7 mph. The temperature on the range was 101 degrees, so barrel heat may have also been the culprit. I cleaned the barrel and got it shooting dead center the next morning with the ELD M. The X3 and ELD M 147 gr. consistently shot right around 0.50 MOA. The average velocity of five rounds was 2924, the ES was 38 and the SD was 19.8 according to my LabRadar set to read at 12 ft. from the muzzle. There was one round that showed signs of high pressure. The bolt was hard to lift and there was the telltale shiny spot on the rim. However, this only happened once in over 100 rounds shot. The primer was not flattened.
The first five shot group shooting Hornady Match ELD M ammunition
The ELD X shot almost as well, with an occasional group coming in at less than 0.50 MOA. The average velocity was 2964fps, the ES was 16 and the SD was 8. All this shooting had been from my air conditioned shooting room at 116 yards. It was time to stretch the distance out to 300 yards. I shot both rounds at 300 yards. They did not shoot to the same point of aim but they were only about 3 inches apart. The groups were consistently under 0.75 MOA for both rounds. I kept the groups to three due to the heat. Texas was having the hottest summer on record.
The question still remains, how does the 6.5 PRC stack up against the other 6.5 caliber cartridges. Powder capacity of the PRC is 68.9 gr. of water, Creedmoor 52.4, 264 mag. 80.7 and the 6.5 SAUM 73.2. Depending on the weight of the bullet, the PRC will be around 200fps. faster than the Creedmoor. Shooting the same 143gr. ELD X bullet, ballistic charts say at 1000 yards the PRC is 6.42 MOA flatter shooting, 228fps faster and has 225lbs. more of energy. This study was done with factory ammunition on the Hornady calculator. The SAUM is just a little bit faster than the PRC. The old .264 magnum is fastest of them all but uses a lot more powder and requires a long action. The weight of a short action would be well appreciated on a hunt in the mountains and with a rifle chambered in the PRC you would still have the horsepower needed to have a clean harvest.
6.5 PRC ELD X ballistics using the Hornady calculator
Like the 6.5 Creedmoor, the gun industry has been slow committing to this new round. It was designed for Precision Rifle shooter but Ruger has been mum about chambering their Precision Rifle in the 6.5 PRC. F class shooters and long range hunters may be interested in taking a closer look at the PRC. It does have the flat shooting velocities, the accuracy of a long 6.5 bullet and the down range energy needed. I plan on using this rifle in an elk hunt next month. After all my testing I am sure if I do my job, the 6.5 PRC ELD X will down a bull elk.
Even though this X3 with the Swarovski are staying in my safe, I am not sure if I would have run out and purchased a 6.5 PRC since I have 6.5 Creedmoors, 6 Creedmoor, 6.5 SAUM and other 6.5’s. It will be interesting to wait and see where this 6.5 PRC goes in the future. After all, the 6.5 Creedmoor had its naysayers and now our military is re-chambering their .308 sniper rifles.
After twenty-five years with a major law enforcement agency, John Johnston retired to the hill country of central Texas. His law enforcement career was diverse with assignments with the tactical/motorcycle unit, patrol, and criminal investigation. After retiring, writing became his calling. He started with a newspaper column, which he still writes, and then he moved up to major magazines in the area of shooting and hunting. He is known for his unbiased product testing and evaluations. Having a full size range from 25-450 yards next to his home was his dream come true. 2010 marked his fiftieth anniversary in the hunting, shooting and reloading sports. You will notice his writing style is quite relaxed and he prefers to write like he is speaking to you around a camp fire. John welcomes questions and comments whether good or bad. You can reach John at [email protected].