The 6.5 Sherman, and other 6.5’s I have known
By Gene Solyntjes
3,329 fps! I looked down at the chronograph in surprise. After shooting rifles chambered in 6.5 millimeter since 1968, this number seemed surprising to me. What it meant was a 143 grain ELDX Hornady bullet had achieved this velocity in this Bartlein 26 inch long, 5r barrel from just 60.5 grains of Reloader 22 in this new 6.5 Sherman barreled rifle. I was later to duplicate this velocity with Re 23.
Other, much larger cases can achieve this velocity, but only with the usage of considerably more powder, seemingly out of proportion to their small increases in velocity. I have no axe to grind with regard to anyone elses’ choice as to a 6.5 mm cartridge. But, if you possess a long action, standard boltfaced rifle and plan any hunting on the western United States, you would do well to strongly consider this cartridge, and also the Hornady ELDX 143 grain bullet for your hunting.
The combination of high velocity, extremely high ballistic coefficient bullet and a standard ’06 diameter case type means” four in the magazine, one in the chamber” for any standard bolt action; and this is a very powerful combination that can be extremely helpful in a hunting, not just shooting, situation in the limited time from when you actually spot game and have to take a shot quickly and accurately, with no time for rangefinding etc.
I had read about the new 6.5 Remington magnum ,and I owned a “shot out” 22-250 on a short Mauser action at home. The Remington 600 action is super strong, stiff and SHORT. I also realized potent 6.5 bullets are long. These long bullets in a 600 rifle would have to be seated too deeply so that they would significantly reduce that cases’ powder capacity. I realized my short ’98 Mauser rifle would be a better platform for the newly announced 6.5 Remington magnum than the Remington 600 rifle the factory used to chamber this cartridge in. The long 140 grain 6.5 bullets could be seated out further in my magazine, providing useful powder space in this case. The .22-250 rifle was modified as to the bolt face, and also the magazine, so the larger belted cases could be fed properly, and a new barrel arrived. That cartridge was finicky to load, but once the right combination was arrived at that worked, it has been with me ever since. That 6.5 magnum now occupies space amongst my other weapons, with its throat pretty well gone and is used as a “loaner”. This rifle has performed well on Elk, Mulies, White tails, Antelope and Black tailed deer in Oregon.
My move to Seattle allowed me to write for Precision Shooting, Rifle, Cartridge Collecting etc. and also exposed me long range competition of 600 and 1,000 yards. I grew to appreciate heavy .30 Caliber bullets in the .308 Baer magnum ( an improved .300 Weatherby) and was absolutely astounded when I was allowed to shoot a 6.5 x 284 and see that this rifle with its long, high BC bullets, which did not punish me under recoil, actually drifted less in the wind at long distances. This was truly astounding at the time. Since that day I have used two 6.5x284 rifles in competition, and have another one, a Savage/Krieger for hunting and also target shooting. I have had to live with the fact that every 900-1,000 rounds, this cartridge was so hot that that the barrel had to be set back three threads and rechambered. Now, all those original barrel threads are gone in the Savage, but that great Krieger barrel still shoots well enough that, at a long range course that I recommend, at NRA Whittington, I was able to hit a 12” square gong with it at 1,300 yards on the second shot, which had the instructors amazed. For some reason this barrel likes the 130 grain Nosler Accubond bullets. If that’s what the barrel likes, that’s what if gets!
So, we come to today, with my trusty 6.5 x 284’s whose chambers are good for 1,000 rounds or so. I have experienced encounters with larger 6.5 cartridges. I was asked to develop loads for a .264 Winchester magnum custom rifle with a Sako action. This is a 70 grains plus case, compared to a 50 plus grain case capacity of a 6.5 x 284. Testing proved to be a challenge but this was a well made rifle. In two weeks work, I found that this rifle liked 140 grain bullets and it liked them hot! One afternoon I was able to shoot a 5/8” group with this Sako. The barrel got so hot between shots that this group took 47 minutes to be shot!
This is not meant to be a put down to those who have a rifle in this caliber. An owner nowadays has a far better choice of components, both in powder burning rates and also superior constructed bullets, than they ever had when this cartridge was designed back in the 1950’s.
Back then, 6.5’s were midsized European cartridges, like the 6.5 Swede. These smaller cases were teamed with 160 grain, long heavy, round nose bullets, and extremely fast twist barrel rates that at times looked like as if they were threaded internally, not rifled! This combination proved to be extremely deadly on the Moose in Sweden and Finland. Then the Americans came along, using the shortened 2.5 inch standard magnum case, necked it down to 6.5 millimeter, and wonderous velocities resulted. Unfortunately, the bullets to handle these very high velocities just were virtually not available. Bullets shot at short range tended to blow up and in the situation of long range hits, failed to expand properly. The news spread and when Remington brought out their 7mm magnum they also had a Core Lokt bullet , perfect for the magnum case and we all know what happened next. Thus, the huge success of the 7mm mag and the eventually dwindling production of the .264 magnum.
So, after decades of shooting the 6.5 x 284, and knowing about the .264 mag, how could I end up with a chambering in the 6.5 Sherman? First of all, I had a “bad” rifle. A weapon meant for prone shooting in .284, it showed up from the Colorado gunsmith, and I was amazed at the barrel, a Bartlein 32 inches long with a 1 inch muzzle diameter. The weapon weighed 22 pounds without the scope. It never shot well. After spirited conversations with the ‘smith, I emailed Bartlein and they called me very soon after my email. I was told in no uncertain terms that a barrel that heavy could not be free floated because the Remington’s barrel tenon on a long actioned, magazine rifle simply cannot support that much heavy weight.
I pondered this news and made a decision. This weapon with its adjustable comb, angled buttplate etc. could make for a serious long range hunting rifle with a much lighter barrel.. I had shot it enough to realize all the buttstock modifications, while heavy, really contributed to consistent prone shooting. This extra weight, I have found, could be a problem when clambering up ridges. I watched the winter Olympics, noting the two strapped slings the biathlon shooters use, and have found this type sling to be THE answer. It mounts the rifle perfectly in line with the spine, allowing both shoulders ½ the total weight and is very comfortable to carry this way. The rifle now weighs 14 pounds scoped, as opposed to 22 before. For decades I used this simple trick when using a single sling for transporting a rifle when hunting. I sewed a very large button onto the coat on my right shoulder. I slid the sling under the button and this held the rifle in place so I could use both hands for climbing up and down the rugged terrain I traversed.
So what caliber to choose? I already have a 6.5’s. What could be better ballistically, with a standard bolt face, and long action of this particular rifle? The Long Range Hunting website lead me down the” primrose path” to Richard Sherman “Elkaholic”,who had designed a while ago, the 6.5 Sherman. Essentially a .280 Ackley Improved, further improved by blowing the shoulder further forward , and then necking it down to 6.5 with a sufficiently long .300 neck. I realized there was a lot of capacity here, and reasoned that throat erosion was inevitable. But I also realized this rifle used for hunting would be using far less that any of my competition 6.5 x 284’s which I had to load very hot to even reach 3,000 fps. An extra 2- 300 feet per second seemed pretty incredible to me, coming from the Sherman case design.
In terms of accuracy I have never before owned a rifle with such a dramatic change after giving it a new barrel. The first three shot groups with this new barrel at 100 yards went into .262 and .354. After years of frustration, this rifle which formerly was decked out like a Ferrari, but performed like a Model “T”, now has the performance to match all its” bells and whistles.” The truly refined Remington action, and superb gunsmithing, well done by John Farner of Eagle Gunsmithing in Corrales, NM has created a weapon whose main limitation is me. Another advantage was obvious. These longer cases fed well out of the magazine.
Say what you will for all the advantages of the newer cartridges: they provide more consistent , lower SD’s in terms of shot-to-shot variation, they now come more consistent in weight, and are annealed better. But those great, sharp shoulders oftentimes cause problems with feeding. My first wildcat was a .257 Ackley Improved, the difference between the standard Roberts and Improved version at longer range was obvious. BUT, we really had to work to polish that feed ramp because the improved cartridges failed to feed as well as the old, standard Roberts cases did. Many of the newer cases feature very sharp shoulders, I have seen 60 degree shouldered cases, and in the case from a standard cartridge conversion some extra time and care in modifying the feeding mechanism is mandated for these “improved” cartridges.
That extra 6.5 Sherman cartridge in the magazine with a standard boltface means a little bit more to me than most seasoned hunters. I have a .35 Whelan Ackley improved in a Springfield actioned rifle. That means, ultimately, 5 cartridges in the magazine, one in the chamber. With its 250 grain bullets, you are sending out 1,500 grains of lethality before you have to reload! When hunting in the “green hell” of the Cascades mountains near the Pacific for Roosevelt Elk, I grew to appreciate twice having that much magazine capacity. I remember other hunters chuckling about who they KNEW was shooting after that sixth shot, when a smaller bull was making his way down the densely covered mountain, eventually piling up within sixty yards above a logging road.
So, with my past experience this is how I have ended up with this 6.5 Sherman rifle now meant for serious, long range hunting . I obtained the reamer from Rich and had it used not only to chamber the barrel but also to create a Wilson straight line seater. For seating properly these very long bullets perfectly parallel with the bore, a well-crafted straightline seater is simply better. This is money well spent!
I took Leupolds’ advice, made a modular “tall target” and shooting from 200 out to 800 yards on my range got exact drops at all distances, here at 6,466 feet altitude,. Leupold, noting the flattened trajectory provided me with the target vertical adjustment mechanism, interpolated my drop table and provided me with a custom cap that is designated for distances from 200 to 1,750 yards, utilizing the maximum adjustment. This amazed me with this load, at this altitude! The standard Leupold CDS turret is excellent for most hunting applications, but is limited to one vertical revolution. The Leupold target turret has three revolutions .
This large 6.5 Sherman case, combined with the Hornady ELDX 143 grain bullet should be easily superior to any other 6.5 combination I have ever hunted with. The testing results showed me to have an average velocity with the Hornady ELDX bullet to be 3,297 fps. Accuracy at 700 yards was three shots in 3 ¾”. The combination of a Limbsaver recoil pad and a JP muzzlebrake reduces muzzle jump much more than any other recoil reduction I have ever been exposed to. This combination of these two devices makes a 60.5 powder grain charge behind the 143 grain bullet seem as though I cannot even use the term recoil to describe it.
I used Nosler .280 AI brass and it seems to be working well, being perfectly formed after two firings with no losses. I agree RWS brass is tougher and should last longer. A recent sale of this RWS brass just about gave me cardiac arrest at its “per case” cost. I figured Re22 was just about the right powder for this case, but will be buying Re23 due to the fact this rifle will be used this year in 90+ degrees of heat when Antelope hunting in August and also 30 degrees or less in December when pursuing Couse deer near the Mexico border. I find RE23 to be a faster burning powder and reduced my loadings two grains. It still has the same point of impact at 800 yards, utilizing the Leupold scope cap designations for that distance.
In choosing RE23 for this sized case, I realize this choice would seem in violation of the simple concept of taking the reloading book, choosing the highest velocity powders and simply testing those. Most people never look closer and note that some very high velocities are reached with slightly faster burning powders. As long as the cartridge case is nearly full of powder, I suggest you look a little closer at your powder choices for a cartridge you are using. If you are jamming 14 extra grains of powder into a particular case and gaining 40 fps., what are you really gaining, except for: higher recoil, more muzzle blast, and decreased barrel and case life?
This was the drop table I developed with this cartridge and the Hornady 143 eldx bullet to 800 yards, using the same aimpoint bullseye, while adding onto the lower section of the target as I increased my distances.
- 200 yard zero totals
- 300 yard drop 7 3/8” 7 3/8”
- 400 yard drop 8 3/8” 15 ¾”
- 500 yard drop 16 ¼” 32
- 600 yard drop 21 ¾” 53 ¾”
- 700 yard drop 27 5/16” 81 1/16”
- 800 yard drop 39 7/8” 120 15/16”
Thus, I do believe that Mr. Sherman’s design bridges the gap between ’06 and magnum based cartridges. His newer designs notwithstanding, this cartridge is something I think should receive serious attention from any serious hunter faced with the sometimes long range situations that can develop in the west, combined with those treacherous winds that can blow bullets so far off course from where they were intended to go. The 6.5 Sherman makes sense in application. High , and also retained, velocity in terms of a high BC bullet that expands properly at all ranges, magazine capacity, easy feeding, reduced recoil, especially to some of the much larger cases, make the 6.5 Sherman a sensible, but sophisticated case for western hunting!
Gene Solyntjes has been an author since 1966 in the reloading , accurate shooting , cartridge collecting and antique firearms fields .Gene has set two worlds records at 600 yards and enjoys his 800 yard rifle range at 6,466 feet in the Rockies in northern New Mexico where he retired with Linda after seeing his last patient in Seattle 11 years ago.