The 6.5 Creedmoor has taken the hunting world by storm recently, but is it really a better cartridge than the .25-06 Remington and .270 Winchester cartridges? Here’s what you need to know about the 25-06 vs 6.5 Creedmoor vs 270 Winchester debate.
I think most shooters would agree that the 6.5 Creedmoor is a fantastic cartridge for competition shooting. While lots of hunters have readily adopted the 6.5 Creedmoor for hunting a wide variety of game, many other hunters remain skeptical of the suitability of the new cartridge for big game animals, particularly when it’s compared to the time tested .25-06 Remington and .270 Winchester cartridges. For that reason, the 25-06 vs 6.5 Creedmoor vs 270 Winchester debate has really picked up steam in recent years.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of misconceptions and misunderstandings regarding the capabilities of the three cartridges. With that in mind, it’s easy to see how many hunters get confused about the strengths and weaknesses of the .25-06 Remington, 6.5 Creedmoor, and .270 Winchester, particularly when discussing which is best for hunting particular animals under specific conditions.
In this article, I’m going to discuss the merits of the 25-06 vs 6.5 Creedmoor vs 270 Winchester and provide detailed information on the strengths and weaknesses of each cartridge so you can make an informed decision on which one is right for you.
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25-06 vs 6.5 Creedmoor vs 270: History
The .30-06 Springfield quickly caught on with hunters and shooters in the United States in the early years of the 20th Century. At the same time, wildcatters and gun designers started modifying the .30-06 for more specialized tasks almost as quickly as hunters started using the new cartridge. Some of these new cartridges based on a modified .30-06 Springfield case went by the wayside rather quickly, but others have stood the test of time and remain outstanding hunting cartridges.
Adolph Otto Niedner (better known as A.O. Niedner) created the .25 Niedner in 1920 by necking the .30-06 Springfield case down to use .257″ bullets. The .25 Niedner did offer a modest improvement in ballistics over the .30-06, but the new .25 caliber cartridge was far too overbore and was thus unable to reach its full potential with the powders available at the time.
For that reason, the .25 Niedner was pushed aside by other quarter bore cartridges like the .257 Roberts and the .250-3000 Savage that propelled .257″ bullets at a similar velocity, but used a much shorter case. The fact that the .25 Niedner was still a wildcat and that no mass produced rifles were available in the cartridge didn’t help either.
However, the introduction of slower burning powders like IMR-4350 and H-4831 after World War II changed the game completely and allowed handloaders to maximize performance of the .25 Niedner.
Designers at Remington knew a good thing when they saw it and the company standardized the cartridge as the .25-06 Remington in 1969. The company started manufacturing the Remington Model 700 rifle in .25-06 and rolled out two factory .25-06 loads that year: an 87 grain bullet at a blazing fast velocity of 3,500 feet per second (2,367 ft-lbs of energy) and a 120 grain load at 3,220 feet per second (2,763 ft-lbs of energy).
Deer and antelope hunters in particular loved the accuracy, high velocity, flat trajectory, modest recoil, and impressive terminal performance of the new cartridge on thin skinned game with heavier bullets. It also gained a great reputation as an outstanding varmint hunting round when using lighter bullets.
While it took nearly 50 years for the .25-06 to achieve widespread commercial success, that was not the case with the .270 Winchester cartridge. Created by necking down a .30-03 case (which the .30-06 is also descended from), the .270 Win first came on the scene just 5 years after the .25 Niedner, but the .270 had a few advantages the Niedner cartridge lacked which resulted in the .270 Winchester experiencing commercial success much sooner.
First, engineers at Winchester Repeating Arms designed the .270 and the company produced factory ammunition along with their Model 54 (and later Model 70) rifles chambered in the cartridge from the start. This helped give the .270 a lot of initial traction in the shooting and hunting communities that the .25 Niedner didn’t have. Jack O’Connor’s strong endorsement of the .270 Winchester certainly helped as well.
Additionally, since the .270 Winchester used a .30-06 case necked down to use .277″ bullets, it did not suffer from the overbore issues the .25 Niedner had with making the larger step down from .308″ to .257″ bullets. For this reason, the .270 Winchester performed much closer to its potential with the powders available in the 1920s than the .25 Niedner.
The original .270 Winchester load shot a 130 grain bullet at a velocity of 3,140 feet per second (2,846 ft-lbs of energy). This load had significant advantages over the .30-06 in terms of trajectory, velocity, and recoil. Not surprisingly, the .270 Winchester was also a big hit with hunters.
If you’d like to read an in-depth discussion on how the .270 Winchester stacks up to the .30-06 Springfield, the .280 Remington, the .280 Ackely Improved, and the 7mm Remington Magnum, read the articles below:
While both the .25-06 Remington and .270 Winchester are both great examples of sporting cartridges descended from the .30-06, the 6.5 Creedmoor is cut from a completely different cloth. Dave Emary and Dennis DeMille of Hornady Manufacturing developed the 6.5 Creedmoor (sometimes misspelled Creedmore) specifically for high power rifle competition shooting in 2007 by modifying a .30 Thompson Center (.30 TC) case to shoot .264″ bullets.
Named in honor of the Creedmoor Matches, the cartridge was designed from the start as a short action long range competition shooting cartridge and utilizes exceptionally aerodynamic .264″ (6.5mm) bullets for that reason. The cartridge also has a relatively large case capacity optimized for use with 4350 class propellants. The cartridge is specifically designed to accommodate long, heavy, high ballistic coefficient (BC) bullets in a short action magazine without intruding into the powder column.
To say that the 6.5 Creedmoor has been an enormous success would be an understatement. Though it does not have eye popping ballistics, the cartridge is very accurate and uses high BC bullets that retain energy and resist wind drift incredibly well. It has performed astoundingly well in the hands of competition shooters and has also made the jump into the mainstream hunting community in recent years with a lot of success.
25-06 vs 6.5 Creedmoor vs 270: Cartridge Sizes
You can see some of the similarities and differences between the .25-06 Remington, 6.5 Creedmoor, and .270 Winchester cartridges in the photo below.
The shared heritage of the .25-06 and .270 is evident and the two cartridges are identical up to the shoulder. While the .270 has a slightly longer case and overall length (2.54″ vs 2.49″ and 3.34″ vs 3.25″ respectively), they are close enough in size that both cartridges are used in standard/long-action rifles.
On the other hand, those two cartridges are substantially larger than the 6.5 Creedmoor, which was specifically designed for use in short-action rifles. The 6.5 Creedmoor also has a sharper shoulder angle and a slightly less tapered case than the other two cartridges.All three cartridges have the same rim diameter. The .25-06 and .270 have virtually the same case capacity and both hold quite a bit more powder than the 6.5 Creedmoor.
Note: while the case capacity figures listed below do give a good indication of the differences between the two cartridges, exact case capacities vary slightly according to the brand of brass used.
25-06 vs 270 vs 6.5 Creedmoor Ballistics
You might be surprised to see how the external ballistics of the three cartridges stack up next to each other.
The table below compares 100gr Barnes TTSX (.357 BC) and 110gr Hornady ELD-X (.465 BC) loads in .25-06 Remington, 120gr TTSX (.412 BC) and 143gr ELD-X (.625 BC) loads in 6.5 Creedmoor, and 130gr TTSX (.392 BC) and 145gr ELD-X (.536 BC) loads in .270 Winchester. This data is for Barnes and Hornady factory ammo using a 24 inch barrel and a 200 yard zero.
As you can see, the .25-06 Remington has the highest muzzle velocity and flattest trajectory of the three cartridges with the .25-06 110gr ELD-X hitting 2.6″ higher than the .270 ELD-X and 9.4″ higher than the 6.5 ELD-X at 500 yards. The .270 Winchester also has a flatter trajectory than the 6.5 by several inches with each load and carries more energy downrange than the other two cartridges.
That being said, both 6.5 Creedmoor loads utilize bullets with a noticeably higher ballistic coefficient than the other two cartridges. Both .25-06 Remington loads start out with slightly more kinetic energy than the 6.5 Creedmoor loads, but the ballistically superior 6.5 bullets pass the .25-06 bullets in the energy department between 100 and 200 yards. At the same time, while the .270 Winchester has more velocity and kinetic energy than the .6.5 Creedmoor out past 500 yards, the advantage possessed by the .270 narrows from 515 foot pounds of energy at the muzzle to just 189 foot pounds of energy at 500 yards.
The chart below compares how much a 10 mile per hour crosswind impacts the ELD-X loads (which is one of the highest BC hunting bullets currently available) for each cartridge out to 500 yards.
The superior ballistic coefficient of the 6.5 Creedmoor does help give it a slight edge over the two other cartridges in terms of wind drift, but not a gigantic one: the .25-06 Remington only drifts 2″ more and the .270 Winchester only has a minuscule .5″ more wind drift at 500 yards.
For all practical purposes, there isn’t a gigantic difference in the ballistics of the .25-06, 6.5 Creedmoor, or .270 at typical hunting ranges. Yes, the .270 does carry more energy downrange than the other two cartridges. Yes, the .25-06 does have the flattest trajectory of the bunch. Yes, the 6.5 Creedmoor is less susceptible to wind drift. However, all three cartridges are relatively flat shooting and hit hard enough for use on a variety of game out to several hundred yards.
External ballistics don’t tell the whole story though and there’s more to picking a hunting cartridge than kinetic energy, bullet drop, or wind drift at various ranges.
For instance, the .25-06 and .270 are relatively mild recoiling cartridges themselves, but the 6.5 Creedmoor also has a well deserved reputation for low recoil. For example, when fired from the exact same rifle (a Savage Axis in this case), the 143gr ELD-X 6.5 Creedmoor load has slightly less recoil than the 110gr ELD-X from the .25-06 and about 16% less recoil than the 145gr ELD-X load from the .270 Winchester.
Felt recoil will vary from shooter to shooter and rifle to rifle, but free recoil energy is still a useful way to compare cartridges.Though most shooters should be able to handle the recoil of all three cartridges, the 6.5 Creedmoor certainly has the edge in this respect. Don’t underestimate the impact that recoil has on the ability of a person to shoot accurately either. Regardless of how well a given person handles recoil, all other things being equal, they will absolutely shoot better with a milder recoil.
The 6.5 Creedmoor also has an advantage when it comes to bullet selection. Since it was originally built for competition shooting, the cartridge was specifically designed to use the longest and heaviest 6.5mm (.264″) bullets available. This is why most 6.5 Creedmoor rifles have a fast 1:8″ rifling twist rate. The cartridge typically uses bullet weights in the 95-160 grain range, with 120, 129, 140, and 143gr bullets being the most common.
As we covered earlier, those longer and heavier .264″ bullets have a higher ballistic coefficient than the popular bullets used by the .25-06 and .270. They also have a higher sectional density (SD).
Sectional density (SD) is a measure of the ratio of the diameter of a projectile to its mass. All other things equal, a heavier projectile of a given caliber will be longer and therefore have a higher sectional density and consequently penetrate deeper than projectiles with a lower mass and sectional density.
For instance, since most .25-06 rifles have a 1:10″ rifling twist, they won’t usually stabilize bullets heavier than 120 grains. By the same token, 150 gr bullets are the heaviest projectiles typically available in .270 Winchester.
A 120 grain .257″ bullet has a sectional density of .260 and a 150 grain .277″ bullet has a sectional density of .279. However, a 143gr .264″ bullet has a sectional density of .293, which compares favorably to the other bullets.
In short, the competition shooting roots and .264″ bullet diameter of the 6.5 Creedmoor have resulted in a really big selection of high BC and high SD match grade hunting bullets available for the cartridge. On the other hand, since the .25-06 and .270 have almost exclusively been used as hunting cartridges, the major bullet manufacturers have not invested nearly as much time developing heavy for caliber, high BC .257″ or .277″ bullets.
That’s not to say that the .25-06 Remington and .270 Winchester aren’t accurate cartridges or that they are only suitable for hunting small game at short range. Indeed, they’re both quite accurate in the right hands at typical hunting ranges and can be extremely effective on game up to and including elk and even moose. Regardless of whether you’re using a .25-06 Remington, a 6.5 Creedmoor, or a .270 Winchester, no pronghorn, deer, or elk will go far if you put a well constructed bullet into the vitals.
However, the low recoil and wide selection of high BC match grade hunting bullets for the 6.5 Creedmoor facilitate exceptional accuracy and help maximize the shooting abilities of the hunter using the cartridge to a greater degree than the .25-06 or .270. The high SD bullets used by the 6.5 Creedmoor also assist with penetration to help the cartridge “punch above its weight” in a manner similar to the 7x57mm or 9.3x62mm Mauser cartridges.
25-06 vs 6.5 Creedmoor vs 270: Ammunition Selection
The .25-06 Remington, 6.5 Creedmoor, and .270 Winchester are all relatively popular cartridges among hunters, but the .270 is by far the most widely used of the three. The 6.5 Creedmoor seems to be steadily growing in popularity, though it remains to be seen if it will ever be as popular as the .270, the .30-30 Winchester, or the .30-06 Springfield. The .25-06 probably doesn’t have as large of a fan base as the other two cartridges, but it does still have a pretty sizable and very dedicated following of hunters who absolutely love it.
With all that in mind, the big ammunition manufacturers like Barnes, Black Hills, Federal Premium, Hornady, Norma, Nosler, Remington, and Winchester all produce a number of high quality .25-06 Rem, 6.5 Creedmoor, and .270 Win factory ammunition suitable for hunting.
Most of the major bullet styles designed for big game hunting are available in those cartridges as well like the Barnes TTSX, the Berger VLD, the Hornady ELD-X, GMX, InterLock, and SST, the Nosler AccuBond, E-Tip, and Partition, the Remington Core Lokt, and the Winchester Power Point. The same goes for varmint hunting bullets like the Hornady V-Max.
Prices and availability vary from region to region, but ammunition for all three cartridges is widely available. The .270 Winchester is a little more common and a little less expensive than the other cartridges though.
Reloading components for all three cartridges are also widely available. Since the cartridges use the same diameter bullet as other popular cartridges like the .257 Roberts, .257 Weatherby, .260 Remington, 6.5 PRC, 6.5x47mm Lapua, .264 Win Mag, 270 WSM, .270 Weatherby, and 6.8 SPC, there are plenty of .257″, .264″, and .277″ bullets of various weights and styles to choose from.
If you’d like to learn more about some of the various hunting ammunition choices for the 6.5 Creedmoor, read this article:
25-06 vs 6.5 Creedmoor vs 270: Rifle Selection
Along with the plethora of ammunition choices available in these cartridges, there are lots of quality rifles manufactured in .25-06, 6.5 Creedmoor, and .270. Just like with ammunition though, .270 rifles are the most common and .25-06 rifles are the least common (though they are by no means rare).
With the exception of the AR-10 in 6.5 Creedmoor, bolt-action rifles make up the vast majority of rifle choices available in these three cartridges.
Among others, the Remington Model 700, Browning X-Bolt, Mossberg Patriot, Savage Avis, Weatherby Vanguard, and the Winchester Model 70 are all available in .25-06 Remington, 6.5 Creedmoor, and .270 Winchester. A few others like the Ruger American and the Weatherby Mark V are available in 6.5 Creedmoor and .270 Winchester, but not .25-06.
25-06 vs 6.5 Creedmoor vs 270: Which Is Right For You?
The .25-06 Remington, 6.5 Creedmoor and .270 Winchester are all flat shooting cartridges wonderfully suited for hunting thin skinned, small to medium sized animals like varmints, pronghorn, mule deer, whitetail deer, or fallow deer. The flat shooting characteristics of all three cartridges, but particularly the .25-06, make them great choices for hunting in open country.
While they really shine while hunting deer sized game, these cartridges are also suitable for bigger creatures under the right circumstances. With well constructed bullets and proper shot placement, they will do the trick when elk and even moose hunting at reasonable ranges. For instance, the 150gr Nosler Partition from a .270 Winchester below really did a number on a big kudu bull in South Africa.
After all, Scandanavian hunters have taken untold numbers of reindeer and moose with the 6.5x55mm Swedish (aka 6.5 Swede or 6.5 Swedish Mauser) over the years. That cartridge has ballistics very similar to the 6.5 Creedmoor and is a good example of what a properly placed high sectional density bullet will do on really big game animals.
That being said, all three cartridges are in a completely different league from heavy hitters like the 7mm Rem Mag and .300 Win Mag when it comes to hunting really big, tough, or dangerous game. This is especially true with the .25-06, which is really hampered by a lack of bullet choices heavier than 120 grains.
Do you primarily hunt medium sized game like feral hogs, black bear, or deer at ranges within 200 yards? All of the cartridges are more than capable of getting the job done if you do your part and there isn’t much of a difference between them ballistically inside of 300 yards. Go with the .270 Winchester if you want the cheapest or easiest to find ammo.
Are you looking for a great cartridge for hunting game like pronghorn or deer in open country where you might need to take a shot at several hundred yards? They’ll all work in this role as well, but the .25-06 Remington has the flattest trajectory of the three and carries enough energy out to 400-500 yards to cleanly take deer sized game without any issues.
Are you sensitive to recoil? Consider going with either the .25-06 or the 6.5 Creedmoor, both of which have very light recoil.
Do you want the cartridge best suited for target shooting out to 1,200 yards or so? Again, go with the 6.5 Creedmoor, which really stands head and shoulders above the other cartridges for longer range shooting.
Are you looking for a great cartridge for mountain goat, sheep, or tahr hunting where you need a heavy hitting cartridge with manageable recoil in a lightweight and easy to carry rifle? Go with the .270 Winchester. Jack O’Connor considered the .270 Winchester an ideal sheep cartridge famous and even though he did most of his mountain hunting many years ago, it’s still a great cartridge for bighorn sheep and mountain goat in North America as well as Himalayan Tahr and chamois hunting in New Zealand.
Do you want a cartridge well suited to hunt kudu, eland, moose, red stag, or elk with? Though they wouldn’t be my first choice for this task, the .25-06 Remington, 6.5 Creedmoor, and .270 Winchester will all work in a pinch. I’d lean towards the 6.5 Creedmoor with its higher sectional density bullets of the three though for a New Zealand or Africa hunting safari.
The .25-06 Remington, 6.5 Creedmoor and .270 Winchester are all great rifle cartridges and the purpose of this article isn’t to dog on any of them and it’s impossible to choose the “best” one from the group. On the contrary, they all have their own strengths and weaknesses and are suitable for a range of hunting tasks. Even so, the differences between them (.25-06 vs 6.5 Creedmoor vs 270 Winchester) aren’t as great as some people think and the animal will never know the difference if your shot is placed in the right spot.
Get a good hunting rifle chambered in the cartridge that you think fits your needs the best, learn to shoot it well, use quality bullets, and you’ll be all set for most hunting situations.
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For a more detailed discussion on the .270 Winchester and how it compares to the .308 Winchester or how the 6.5 Creedmoor stacks up to a few other popular hunting cartridges, read the articles below.
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Nosler provided the data used to compare the case capacity of the cartridges (here, here, and here). The Lyman 50th Edition (p175-176, 183-184, & 197-198), and Hornady 10th Edition (p276-280, 317-322, & 351-355) reloading manuals were also used as references for the history of the cartridges and provided data to compare their size and recoil. The data used to compare the trajectory of the cartridges was obtained from Barnes and Hornady (here, here, and here). I used the Hornady Ballistic calculator and Shooters Calculator to compare wind drift and recoil for the cartridges.