Trying to decide between the 6.5 Creedmoor and .300 Win Mag cartridges? Here’s what you need to know about them.
While the .300 Winchester Magnum has a long history of use as an extremely hard hitting and effective hunting cartridge, the 6.5 Creedmoor is much newer to the hunting game. Both offer certain advantages to hunters, but there are some significant differences between the 6.5 Creedmoor vs 300 Win Mag cartridges you should be aware of.
Unfortunately, as is the case with many things involving the 6.5 Creedmoor, there’s a lot of misinformation and hype out there regarding the capabilities of these cartridges. Not surprisingly, it’s really easy to get confused when trying to understand their actual strengths and weaknesses.
What do the .300 Winchester Magnum and 6.5 Creedmoor have to offer hunters? Does the 6.5 Creedmoor really live up to the claim made by some that it’s basically the same as the .300 Win Mag, just with less recoil?
In this article, I’m going to do a detailed comparison of the 6.5 Creedmoor vs 300 Win Mag in an effort to answer the above questions and parse out the differences between those cartridges so you can make an informed decision on which one will work best for you.
Before we get started, I have two administrative notes:
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6.5 Creedmoor vs 300 Win Mag Podcast
History Of The 6.5 Creedmoor and .300 Winchester Magnum
The years following World War II were a true renaissance of civilian firearm and cartridge development in the United States. That time period saw a flood of new centerfire rifle cartridges like the .223 Remington, .243 Winchester, .280 Remington, and .308 Winchester.
That same general time period also saw the start of “Magnum Era” when Winchester introduced a line of new belted magnum cartridges that utilized a modified .375 H&H case. The .458 Winchester Magnum came along first in 1956 and was quickly followed by the .338 Winchester Magnum and the .264 Winchester Magnum during the next couple of years.
All of those cartridges utilized a .375 H&H Magnum case necked down (or up, in the case of the .458 Win Mag) and shortened from 2.85″ to 2.5″ long. The designers used those shortened cases so all three cartridges would fit in a standard length rifle action (same as the .30-06 Springfield) instead of the longer magnum length action required by the original .375 H&H cartridge.
Winchester offered those belted magnum cartridges in their legendary Model 70 rifle and marketed each one to a particular segment of the American hunting community: the .264 Win Mag to western hunters wanting a flatter shooting cartridge for longer range shots on thin-skinned game like pronghorn and mule deer (and potentially bigger game too), the .338 Win Mag to hunters pursuing really large and/or tough North American game like elk and moose, and the .458 Win Mag to hunters going afield after dangerous game like brown bear in Alaska or cape buffalo in Africa.
While those cartridges were all commercially successful, Winchester didn’t stop with the .264, .338, and .458 Win Mag cartridges though.
Remington sent shockwaves through the hunting and shooting worlds with the introduction of the 7mm Remington Magnum in 1962. That cartridge also used a shortened and necked down .375 H&H case and fired a 7mm/.284″ bullet. The new Remington cartridge was a massive commercial success and quickly began to take market share away from the .264 Winchester Magnum.
Winchester responded with the introduction of the .300 Winchester Magnum (also known as the .300 Win Mag or .300 WM) in 1963.
Built using a modified .338 Winchester Magnum case, the .300 Winchester Magnum basically duplicated the performance of the other fast .30 caliber cartridges of the day like the .308 Norma and .300 H&H Magnum. However, unlike those other .30 caliber magnums, the .300 Win Mag utilized a shorter case that fit in a standard length rifle action like the other new Winchester belted magnums as well as the 7mm Remington Magnum.
Offering a dramatic improvement in performance over the venerable .30-06 Springfield that also compared favorably to the 7mm Rem Mag in many areas, the .300 Win Mag was an almost instant commercial success for Winchester and remains one of the most popular big game hunting cartridges in North America to this day.
Now let’s fast forward a few decades.
In the early 2000s, Dave Emary of Hornady Manufacturing and Dennis DeMille of Creedmoor Sports saw an opportunity to build a new cartridge for high power rifle competition shooting. Specifically, they wanted to build an ideal long range shooting cartridge that was just as accurate as the .308 at long distance, but with less recoil, less wind drift, and a flatter trajectory.
They also wanted the cartridge to fit in a short action rifle.
By modifying a .30 Thompson Center (.30 TC) case to shoot .264″ bullets, they successfully built a cartridge optimized for use with 4350 class propellants with a relatively large case capacity that could also accommodate long, heavy, high ballistic coefficient (BC) bullets without intruding into the powder column.
Named the 6.5 Creedmoor (sometimes misspelled Creedmoore or Creedmore) in honor of the Creedmoor Matches and designed for use with a relatively fast 1:8″ rifling twist rate, Emary and DeMille were quite successful in their goal of building the ideal competition shooting cartridge with a relatively flat trajectory.
If you’d like to learn more about how the 6.5 Creedmoor compares to the .308 Winchester in more detail, read the article below:
A typical 6.5 Creedmoor load shoots a 140 grain bullet at about 2,700 fps (2,266 ft-lbs). So, the 6.5 Creedmoor does not have eye popping ballistics, but it is very accurate, has moderate recoil, and uses high BC bullets that retain energy and resist wind drift exceptionally well.
For those reasons, the cartridge has seen a great deal of success in the hands of competition shooters and recently made the jump into the mainstream hunting community. The cartridge has become extremely popular among hunters and shooters who appreciate the mild recoil and great extended range performance of the cartridge.
.300 Win Mag vs 6.5 Creedmoor: Cartridge Sizes
You can see differences between the 6.5 Creedmoor and the .300 Winchester Magnum in the photos below.
First, the .300 Winchester Magnum is physically much larger than the 6.5 Creedmoor.
The Winchester cartridge has a longer overall length and uses a longer case than the 6.5 Creedmoor. That said, the 6.5 Creedmoor is designed to fit in a short action rifle while the longer .300 Win Mag requires the use of a long or standard length action.
Bullet size is one of the other obvious differences between the 6.5 Creedmoor vs 300 Win Mag. Each cartridge uses different diameter bullets: .264″ for the Creedmoor and .308″ for the Win Mag.
There is also a significant difference in the most common bullet weights for each cartridge. The 6.5 Creedmoor most often utilizes bullet weights in the 95-160 grain range, with 120 grain, 129 grain, 140 grain, and 143 grain bullets being the most common. On the other hand, the 300 Win Mag commonly uses bullets in the 150-220 grain range with 150 grain, 165 grain, 180 grain, and 200 grain bullets being most common.
The .300 Win Mag also has a larger .532″ rim diameter while the 6.5 Creedmoor has a .473″ rim diameter.
At the same time, the 6.5 Creedmoor has a steeper 30 degree shoulder (the .300 Win Mag has a 25 degree shoulder).
Even so, the .300 Winchester Magnum has a much larger case capacity than the 6.5 Creedmoor since it’s so much longer and larger in diameter.
The .300 Winchester Magnum is also loaded to a higher pressure than the 6.5 Creedmoor (64,000psi vs 62,000psi).
Note: while the powder 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.
6.5 Creedmoor vs 300 Win Mag Ballistics
Not surprisingly, the differences in the external dimensions of the 6.5 Creedmoor and the .300 Winchester Magnum translate into some pretty significant differences in their ballistic performance. This is illustrated in the table below comparing Hornady Precision Hunter, Nosler Trophy Grade Partition, and Winchester Deer Season XP factory ammunition.
I chose those particular factory loads because they provide a good demonstration of the performance of each cartridge when using wide spectrum of different bullets. The Winchester loads use light for caliber bullets, the Nosler loads use heavy for caliber bullets, and the Hornady loads use heavy for caliber, exceptionally aerodynamic bullets for each cartridge.
Specifically, the 6.5 Creedmoor loads use a 125gr Extreme Point (.540 BC), a 140gr Partition (.490 BC) and a 143gr ELD-X (.625 BC). The .300 Win Mag loads use a 150gr Extreme Point (.392 BC), a 180gr Partition (.474 BC), and a 200gr ELD-X (.597BC).
Note that the bullets used by 6.5 Creedmoor in each load are more aerodynamic than those used by the .300 Winchester Magnum for the exact same load. More on this in a minute.
All six loads used a 200 yard zero.
As you can see, the .300 Winchester Magnum fires a larger caliber and heavier bullet at a significantly faster muzzle velocity than the 6.5 Creedmoor. Even though the bullets used by the 6.5 Creedmoor are generally more aerodynamic, that 100-410 fps advantage in muzzle velocity with bullets that are 20-40% heavier translates into a flatter trajectory with less bullet drop at longer range.
The .300 Win Mag also has a significant kinetic energy advantage over the 6.5 Creedmoor at all ranges. However, since the 6.5 Creedmoor uses more aerodynamic bullets with a higher ballistic coefficient, the gap in performance between the cartridges slightly decreases in size as range increases.
Specifically, the .300 Winchester Magnum has about 38-57% more muzzle energy than the 6.5 Creedmoor with these three particular loads. That turns into a 36-54% advantage in favor of .300 Win Mag at 500 yards, which isn’t much of a change from the difference in energy at the muzzle.
So, I think it’s fair to say that, while the Creedmoor does “catch up” a little bit at longer range, the .300 Win Mag hits significantly harder than the 6.5 Creedmoor at all reasonable hunting ranges.
The chart below compares how much a 10 mile per hour crosswind impacts those same 6.5 Creedmoor and .300 Winchester Magnum loads out to 500 yards.
As you can see, even though the bullets from the .300 Win Mag are heavier and going faster, the 6.5 Creedmoor uses much more aerodynamic bullets that also offer pretty good resistance to wind drift. Even so, the difference between the 6.5 Creedmoor and .300 Win Mag is still pretty small in this regard.
The Nosler Partition and Hornady ELD-X loads track each other almost exactly and the .300 Win Mag has a tiny advantage in each case. The .300 Win Mag Deer Season XP load drifts almost 3″ more than the 6.5 Creedmoor at 500 yards.
The differences are of course smaller at shorter range.
All things considered, it’s pretty much a wash or maybe a small edge in favor of the 6.5 Creedmoor as far as wind drift goes.
Now let’s talk about recoil.
The table below compares the recoil produced by the loads above using the Hornady ELD-X for each cartridge when fired from identical 7 pound rifles.
Felt recoil will vary from shooter to shooter and rifle to rifle, but free recoil energy is still a useful way to compare cartridges.
As you can see, the .300 Winchester Magnum has significantly more recoil than the 6.5 Creedmoor. In this case, the .300 Win Mag produces 150% more free recoil energy than the 6.5 Creedmoor.
That should not be surprising at all. After all, the 6.5 Creedmoor was designed specifically to be a mild recoiling and sweet shooting cartridge while the .300 Win Mag is a heavy hitting belted magnum.
Basically, the .300 Win Mag should be expected to hit harder on both ends, which is exactly the case.
This can be mitigated to a certain extent with the use of a suppressor, muzzle brake, or a good recoil pad. So the extra recoil of the .300 Win Mag isn’t necessarily a deal breaker for many people. It’s still worth considering though.
Don’t underestimate the impact that recoil has on the ability of a person to shoot accurately either. Some people do handle recoil better than others, but all other things being equal, they will absolutely shoot more accurately with a milder recoiling cartridge.
Additionally, there are a couple of other factors that are also worth discussing.
First, the .300 Win Mag uses larger diameter bullets than the 6.5 Creedmoor.
Specifically, the larger diameter .308″ bullets used by the .300 Winchester Magnum have about 36% more frontal surface area (also known as cross sectional area) than the 6.5 Creedmoor (.0745 vs .0547 square inches). All other things being equal, a bigger bullet will make a bigger hole, cause more tissue damage, and result in more blood loss.
Especially when combined with the fact that the .300 Win Mag carries more kinetic energy downrange than the 6.5 Creedmoor, those larger diameter bullets are certainly helpful when hunting big game.
On the other hand, as we covered earlier, those longer, heavy for caliber .264″ bullets have a higher ballistic coefficient than the most common bullets used in the .300 Winchester Magnum though.
The 6.5mm bore diameter is also in something of a sweet spot where it’s easier to manufacture very high BC bullets that aren’t especially heavy. Those aerodynamic projectiles don’t slow down as fast and are more resistant to wind drift.
They also have a relatively high 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.
150 grain, 180 grain, and 200 grain .308″ bullets have sectional densities of .226, .271, and .301 respectively. At the same time, 120 grain, 129 grain, 140 grain, and 143 grain .264″ bullets have sectional densities of .246, .264, .287, and .293.
There’s some overlap here, but with the exception of the absolute heaviest .300 Win Mag bullets, the 6.5 Creedmoor has a slight edge in sectional density. There’s not a darn thing wrong with the killing power or penetration capabilities of the .300 Win Mag, but this might help explain why the 6.5 Creedmoor tends to perform better on game than the modest ballistics of the cartridge on paper would suggest.
What about 6.5 Creedmoor vs .300 Win Mag accuracy?
The .300 Winchester Magnum is certainly capable of outstanding accuracy (often sub-MOA). However, the heavier recoil of the cartridge can make shot placement more challenging for certain people who are more recoil shy.
On the other hand, the 6.5 Creedmoor was specifically designed as a mild recoiling competition shooting cartridge. At the same time, since it utilizes .264″ bullets, there is a bigger selection of high BC and high SD match grade hunting bullets available for the cartridge.
That’s not to say that the .300 Win Mag isn’t accurate or that there aren’t a bunch of good quality bullets available for it. It’s just that the overall design of the 6.5 Creedmoor gives that cartridge an edge over the .300 Winchester Magnum in potential accuracy at extended range.
So where do we stand with each cartridge?
6.5 Creedmoor vs 300 Win Mag
The .300 Win Mag fires larger diameter and significantly heavier bullets at a higher velocity than the 6.5 Creedmoor. The .300 Win Mag has a flatter trajectory and has significantly more kinetic energy at typical hunting ranges, but the 6.5 Creedmoor has much less recoil.
All things considered, the two cartridges have vastly different strengths and are optimized for different uses. The .300 Win Mag has definite advantages in velocity, bullet weight, retained energy, and trajectory while the 6.5 Creedmoor has much less recoil and may have a tiny advantage in terms of wind drift.
So, what about the claim some people have made that the 6.5 Creedmoor is basically the same as the .300 Win Mag, just with less recoil?
I think it’s pretty clear that the .300 Win Mag is in an entirely different class from the 6.5 Creedmoor (to include recoil).
Similar to (but not quite as extreme as) the comparison of the .223 to the .308, the 6.5 Creedmoor and .300 Win Mag are vastly different cartridges.
The 6.5 Creedmoor is a short action cartridge designed to use very high BC bullets and produce minimal recoil. Those bullets also have a relatively high SD and tend to penetrate very well.
Those aforementioned strengths of the 6.5 Creedmoor all facilitate precise shot placement, which is extremely important when it comes to ethically taking game.
On the other hand, the .300 Win Mag has a definite, though not gigantic, advantage over the 6.5 Creedmoor in external ballistics at typical hunting ranges. While that’s certainly something to keep in mind, laser rangefinders and modern scopes with easily adjustable ballistic turrets (like the Leupold VX-5) make adjusting for bullet drop much simpler now than it was a few decades ago.
Instead, I think the killing power of the .300 Win Mag vs 6.5 Creedmoor is the biggest difference between them.
For one thing, the .300 Win Mag also carries a whole lot more energy downrange than the Creedmoor. The cartridge also uses significantly heavier bullets and has a big advantage when it comes to frontal surface area. Those traits give hunters a tiny bit more room for error in shot placement when compared to the 6.5 Creedmoor.
Add it all up and the .300 Win Mag just hits with a whole lot more “authority” than the 6.5 Creedmoor and the cartridge is renowned worldwide for being an extremely effective hunting round on all manner of game.
.300 Win Mag vs 6.5 Creedmoor Barrel Life
Both cartridges have reputations for being rough on barrels. Exactly how fast they’ll each wear out a barrel depends on a number of factors like the quality of the barrel, the exact ammunition used, etc.
However, the good news for hunters is that typical .300 Win Mag and 6.5 Creedmoor barrel life is most likely long enough to last for many, many years of hunting with no issues at all.
So, there is very little practical difference in 6.5 Creedmoor vs 300 Win Mag barrel life as far as most hunters are concerned.
.300 Win Mag vs 6.5 Creedmoor Ammo
The .300 Winchester Magnum and the 6.5 Creedmoor are both extremely popular centerfire rifle cartridges. Indeed, they’re usually among the top 10 most popular cartridges in the USA each year right now. As popular as the .300 Win Mag is, the 6.5 Creedmoor is probably a little more popular right now.
That said, they’re both widely used and ammo is easy to find for both. Availability also likely varies regionally though. For instance, .300 Win Mag ammo is probably more common in places like Alaska.
On the other hand, 6.5 Creedmoor ammo is typically noticeably cheaper than .300 Win Mag ammo.
The big ammunition manufacturers like Barnes, Berger, Browning, Federal Premium, Hornady, HSM Nosler, Remington, Sierra, Sig Sauer, Swift, and Winchester produce an incredible variety of .300 Winchester Magnum and 6.5 Creedmoor factory ammunition. In each case, there is normally a good selection of bullet types and weights for each cartridge suitable for big game hunting.
During normal times, it’s usually very easy to find ammo for both cartridges and almost any gun or sporting goods store will have a wide variety of .300 Winchester Magnum and 6.5 Creedmoor ammo in stock.
Ammo availability is also usually excellent online and the bigger retailers typically have a good selection of quality factory ammo for both cartridges as well.
If you’d like to learn more about some of the various hunting ammunition choices for the 6.5 Creedmoor and .300 Winchester Magnum cartridges, read these articles:
Handloaders will appreciate the fact that reloading components for both cartridges are also readily available and there’s an especially wide variety of bullet choices for each cartridge. So, you should not have any trouble working up a good custom load for either one if you like to handload.
Bullets like the Barnes LRX, TSX, TTSX, and TAC-X, the Berger VLD and Hybrid Hunter, the Hornady A-Max, ELD-X, GMX, InterBond, InterLock, SST, and V-Max, the Nosler AccuBond, Ballistic Tip, E-Tip, and Partition, the Sierra GameChanger and GameKing, the Swift Scirocco and A-Frame, (just to name a few) are options for if you want to reload the .300 Winchester Magnum and the 6.5 Creedmoor.
300 Win Mag vs 6.5 Creedmoor Rifles
In addition to the great selection of ammunition available in .300 Winchester Magnum and 6.5 Creedmoor, there are also many quality rifles manufactured in these cartridges.
Both cartridges are extremely common in bolt-action rifles. In fact, just about every really popular bolt-action hunting rifle in current production is available in both cartridges.
For instance, both the .300 Winchester Magnum and 6.5 Creedmoor are available in several different versions of the Remington Model 700 and Winchester Model 70. The same goes for the Browning X-Bolt, Browning AB3, Christensen Arms Mesa, Christensen Arms Ridgeline, Kimber Hunter, Mauser M18, Mossberg Patriot, Nosler M48, Remington Model 7, Ruger American, Ruger Hawkeye, Savage Axis, Savage 110, Tikka T3x, Weatherby Vanguard, and Winchester XPR.
Remember when I mentioned earlier that the 6.5 Creedmoor will fit in a short-action rifle while the .300 Win Mag requires the use of a long/standard length action rifle? Well, this means that rifles chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor have a shorter bolt than the exact same rifle chambered in .300 Win Mag.
Additionally, (this has nothing to do with a rifle having a short or a long-action), gun manufacturers tend to put longer barrels on rifles chambered in .300 Win Mag. So all things considered, rifles chambered in .300 Win Mag tend to be slightly longer, heavier, and more unwieldy than rifles chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor.
The Ruger Hawkeye Hunter illustrates these differences well.
When chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor, the rifle has a 22″ barrel, an overall length of 42″, and weighs 7.2 pounds. The same rifle chambered in .300 Winchester Magnum has a 24″ barrel, is 44.75″ long, and weighs 8.2 pounds.
The rifle chambered in .300 Winchester Magnum is almost 3″ longer and weighs nearly a pound more than the exact same model chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor.
Having a shorter and lighter rifle is more important on some hunts than on others. So, just keep that in mind.
6.5 Creedmoor vs 300 Win Mag: Which Is Right For You?
Do you primarily hunt medium sized game like whitetail deer, feral hogs, or black bear at ranges within 200 yards? Both are extremely effective deer hunting cartridges and will absolutely get the job done on medium sized game if you do your part. The 6.5 Creedmoor in particular is a great deer hunting cartridge. There’s nothing wrong with using the .300 Win Mag on deer inside of 200 yards, but it’s really more gun than you need for that sort of work though (and it’s rougher on both the shoulder and wallet).
If you’re going to be hunting in thick brush or in the tight confines of a deer stand, remember what I just mentioned about the size difference with 6.5 Creedmoor vs 300 Win Mag rifles. That extra couple of inches in overall length of a rifle can be a real headache to deal with when trying to quickly and quietly maneuver for a shot.
Are you looking for the cartridge better suited for long range hunting for game like mule deer or pronghorn in open country where you might need to take a shot at several hundred yards? Once again, they’ll both work really well in this role. The 6.5 Creedmoor is a good choice for this sort of hunting, but the .300 Win Mag carries a lot more energy out past 200 yards.
Do you want a hunting cartridge that’s well suited for caribou, moose, elk, eland, kudu, or red stag hunting? The 6.5 Creedmoor will get the job done in a pinch, but hunters need to be careful with their shot angles (broadside or slightly quartering shots are best) and should probably stick to shots under 250 yards on elk sized game.
The .300 Win Mag is hands down the better choice for hunting bigger game since it shoots significantly heavier and larger diameter bullets that carry more kinetic energy downrange. The result is that the .300 Winchester Magnum has a longer effective range and gives hunters more flexibility with shot angles on really big game when compared to the 6.5 Creedmoor.
Are you sensitive to recoil and in need of a serious low recoil cartridge? The 6.5 Creedmoor has significantly less recoil than the .300 Win Mag, especially in a lighter rifle. So, this cartridge is especially well suited to new, small framed, and or recoil shy hunters. Indeed, the 6.5 Creedmoor is extremely popular for children to use for deer hunting because it is so effective on deer and has such mild recoil.
Do you want the round that is best suited for target shooting out past 400 yards or so in a precision rifle? Both will work and have excellent reputations for precision shooting, but since we’re just punching paper or banging steel, I lean towards the 6.5 Creedmoor since it has such mild recoil and is specifically designed to use very high BC, match grade bullets.
The 6.5 Creedmoor and .300 Win Mag are both excellent rifle cartridges, albeit ones with very different strengths and weaknesses. Though the differences between them (6.5 Creedmoor vs 300 Win Mag) are significant in some respects, they’re both suitable for many hunting tasks. 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. Good luck!
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The Lyman 50th Edition (p183-184 and p260-262) and Hornady 10th Edition (p317-322 and p574-585) reloading manuals were used as references for the history of the cartridges. I obtained the data used to compare the trajectory of the cartridges from Hornady (here and here), Nosler (here and here), and Winchester (here and here). Data used to calculate recoil was obtained from the Hornady reloading manual. Case capacities were obtained from Chuck Hawks (here and here). Maximum pressure obtained from SAAMI (p23 & 30). I used ShootersCalculator.com to compare trajectory and recoil for the cartridges.