In this cartridge comparison, we are going to take a look at the 6.5 Creedmoor vs .243 Winchester. We are excited about this comparison as both of these cartridges show tremendous versatility in both the hunting and competitive shooting worlds and not a lot of information is out there taking a look at these two cartridges stacked up side by side.
A lot of arguments can be and are made for using both of these cartridges, and while you will find many giving high praise to the 6.5 CM, which is warranted, we still think the .243 Win has a lot going for it and we will get a better sense of the two cartridges through this article. Some might think of the as new vs. old school, but we don’t see it from that angle. To us, it’s two cartridges that both have the ability to do amazing things in the right hands.
There is quite a lot of overlap in the shooting applications of these cartridges, and it’s easy to get off track and start thinking about which cartridge is the all around best between the two. But like all of our cartridge comparisons, we are not here to eventually label one cartridge as king over the other. We simply want to look at the numbers and let them lead us to which cartridge is better suited for certain applications.
A Brief History
Some might not be very interested where these cartridges come from, but we think having a little background on the cartridges up for discussion helps you understand why they were introduced and their importance to hunters and competitive shooters alike. While short and abridged, there are countless
While still off the radar for a lot of sportsmen, the 6.5 Creedmoor has been on the scene for quite some time now. Albeit, not to the extent of some of the more popular hunting and range rounds, some of which have decades worth of use in the field. Still, it has been around long enough for us to begin to fully understand its capabilities and its limitations.
The 6.5 CM was introduced to the shooting world in 2008 and filled the void of other 6mm rounds that were needing extremely high pressures to get the long range performance wanted. The design of the 6.5 Creedmoor allowed for a long and slender bullet to be used in the casing without taking up room in the casing that could be reserved for more powder. More importantly, the streamlined bullet would not need as much force behind it to get it to behave accurately at long ranges. The precision shooter’s dream.
The 6.5 CM is rapidly becoming one of the favorite cartridges for long range competition shooting. Its popularity has not nearly taken off in the hunting world to the same extent as it has in the competitive shooting market, but we have seen a lot better hunting rounds come onto the market in the last few years, and hunters, who by trade defend their familial hunting round to the grave, are beginning to see the advantages the cartridge.
Unlike the 6.5 CM, the .243 Win has a much deeper history. Introduced to the shooting world in 1955, the .243 or “baby brother of the .308”, is a necked down version of the .308 Win. At the time, this cartridge offered a cartridge that filled a large niche in the hunting world.
What this cartridge offered was a long range hunting round that was able to take lighter bullets that were more suitable for target shooting and varmint hunting. While an excellent range and varmint round, it is also a known deer killer, though as we will see, these rounds are only suitable for much shorter ranges. Still, it shows you the versatility of the .243 Win.
The .243 was and still is a popular round in the United States, and its emergence into the shooting gave hunters a very versatile round that could be used in a variety of hunting situations. There is a range of bullet weight options for the .243 Win. These can range from 55 to 115gr, though most hunting cartridges top out at the 100gr weight.
The .243 Win also has a pretty distinguished record in the competition world. While newer cartridges now get a lot of the attention and discussion in the shooting world, the .243 is still present and is still being used by some of the top marksmen in the world and still winning competitions.
|6.5 CM||.243 Win|
|Parent Casing||.30 TC||.308 Win|
|Max Pressure (SAAMI)||62,000psi||60,000psi|
From these cartridge specs, we see some interesting similarities between the two. The 6.5 CM accepts a slightly larger caliber bullet than the .243 Win and has a slightly longer overall cartridge length. Both are also able to hold a similar amount of powder.
What is unique about the 6.5 CM is how shallow the bullet sets in the casing when compared to the .243. This is a big advantage for several reasons and is also why a lot of shooters who hand load their brass really like this cartridge. It frees up a lot of space in the casing for extra powder, that is usually just left free with most factory loads.
The 6.5 Creedmoor can take heavier bullets than the .243 Win. Still, both cartridges are not too far off in their dimensions. It will be interesting to see how these small differences influence their ballistic and other performance categories.
To do this, we have selected five rounds from each cartridge that encompass a range of bullet weights as well as popular factory loads for both hunting and range shooting. We do like to mention that this selection is only a small sample size for what is available on the market, but for clarity and length purposes, we have to narrow down to only ten selections which are listed below.
- 6.5 CM Hornady ELD Match 120gr
- 6.5 CM Hornady ELD Match 147gr
- 6.5 CM Nosler Match Grade Custom Bullet Tip 140gr
- 6.5 CM Winchester Expedition Big Game Long Range 142gr
- 6.5 CM Nosler Ballistic Tip 140gr
- .243 Winchester Super-X Power Point 100gr
- .243 Hornady Superformance Varmint V-Max 58gr
- .243 Remington Core-Lokt PSP 100gr
- .243 Federal Vital-Shok Nosler Ballistic Tip 95gr
- .243 Nosler Varmageddon FB Tipped 55gr
To be more thorough and to give everyone as much information as possible in an orderly and accessible manner, we have also compiled more rounds for each cartridge although we will not be graphing these rounds or discussing them in as much detail. We have calculated and compiled all the data for these rounds and will present the applicable numbers at the end of each section. This will help back up our claims that the small sample sizes we will look at in more detail are an accurate representation of the two cartridges and it just gives us some more talking points that might be interesting and educational.
Another brief topic we want to address before moving on is the data we are looking at. These are factory loads, and the performance data we are looking at comes from the manufacturer’s website and well trusted and accurate ballistic performance calculators. While this is fine for comparing specific rounds, it doesn’t mean that the numbers are set in stone.
Shooting these rounds from your personal platform might result in slightly slower velocities or different trajectories when compared to this data or another shooter. It’s a common occurrence, and unless you have access to all of the cartridges, firearms chambered for them, and the instruments to take measurements, computer generated data is the best source of comparison and will be consistent from round to round. What we are saying is that the differences in performance here will translate to differences in performance for you when using the same firearms.
While recoil is a category that does warrant inspection, we assume that like us, most hunters and marksmen with a deal of experience are more concerned with other areas of comparison. Still, recoil can be daunting for newcomers to the sport and might play a role in the decision-making process.
For this reason, we are going to spend a little time discussing it in the context of the 6.5 Creedmoor vs .243. Right off the bat, we will come and say that there are many more cartridges with much fiercer recoil than these two that we are comparing. Still, some might be interested in how these two stack up to one another.
We used a ballistics calculator to generate the recoil energy (ft.lbs) generated from firing each of the ten factory loads that we have chosen for comparison. Quite a few factors can influence the recoil such as bullet weight, the amount of powder, as well as the firearm weight. For comparison, we have kept the firearm weight constant for each round and have picked a conservative powder charge for each cartridge that remained constant.
We should also note that the recoil energy is different from the “felt recoil” or kick that you feel when firing. Though, the amount of recoil energy that is generated should translate roughly to the amount of felt recoil.
So, let’s take a look at the recoil energy generated from the ten factory loads (Graph 1).
To calculate this data, we used the provided muzzle velocity from each round, a 7lb rifle for all rounds, and an average powder charge that was provided by several common and reliable loading sources. We went a bit conservative with the powder charges since we are dealing with factory loads which tend to not be loaded to capacity.
From this graph, we see that the 6.5 CM rounds have anywhere from 3-9 more ft.lbs of energy than the .243 Win rounds. It’s pretty obvious that the 6.5 CM rounds generate more recoil, but we have to put it into perspective. The amount of recoil that the 6.5 CM rounds are generating are still relatively light compared to other hunting and long range rounds.
The .243 rounds generate considerably less recoil, which is expected for rounds using lighter bullets with similar powder loads. These rounds barely surpass the 10ft.lbs marks and is a characteristic that makes this cartridge one of the more popular for young sportsmen to cut their teeth on. And that feature of the .243 should not be looked at as something beneath a more experienced shooters skill level. Light recoil can be a huge advantage in a lot of situations as long as the other performance specs of the cartridge give you what is needed in those situations.
While the .243 rounds present less recoil, both it and the 6.5 CM can be easily handled by most shooters.
Let’s take a look at the average recoil numbers that we get when analyzing the expanded data set. The recoil energy generated for each round was gathered in the same manner as we described earlier.
|6.5mm Creedmoor||.243 Winchester|
With more data available, we still see the same general trend between these two cartridges remain the same. The averages increase slightly from the smaller data set, but we still see the 6.5mm Creedmoor generating a few more extra ft.lb of recoil energy than the .243 Win. Even so, both of these cartridges are considered a bit lighter in the recoil category when compared to other modern centerfire cartridges.
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For anyone looking to decide between two cartridges, the ballistics are going to be their main source of comparison. Regardless of whether you are choosing a cartridge for hunting purposes or competing on the shooting range, understanding how your cartridge behaves once shot is critical to successful shooting on a consistent basis.
In this section, we will take a look at several ballistic categories including the velocity, the ballistic coefficients, as well as the short and long range trajectory of the two cartridges we are comparing. These categories will help us determine which applications each cartridge is better suited for later on in the comparison.
The velocity is a key performance characteristic when it comes to comparing cartridges or just understanding your round of choice. Velocity is not a characteristic that sits apart from other categories; it actually has a major influence on just about all of them. It influences recoil, it influences trajectory, and it even influences stopping power of the bullet. Just by knowing the velocity of the bullet and how well it maintains its speeds along its flight path can tell you a lot about the terminal ballistics.
Velocity can even be associated with accuracy. If the bullet is stabilized well and has high velocities, it is less likely to be affected by environmental factors that often pull bullets off course. With that being said, you can have a hot round, with the wrong twist rate and a bad shot, and now the velocity doesn’t make a lick of difference. With that being said, it’s important not to just look at the velocity in a vacuum as we are doing for the sake of comparison.
It’s a concept you should always have in the back of your mind when comparing cartridges. You can have all the data in the world, but having a bad rifle pairing and an inexperienced shooter will negate all the performance characteristics in a heartbeat.
Let’s take a look at our ten selected rounds and see if anything stands out to us when we compare the velocities of these rounds (Graph 2).
We compiled this data from the manufacturer’s website. We are looking at the velocity (ft/s) from the muzzle out to 100 yards.
Right out of the muzzle, the .243 rounds show a significantly higher amount of velocity. Remember that the .243 rounds are using much lighter bullet weights than the 6.5 CM rounds but have very similar powder charges. You might have also noticed that the .243 rounds tend to bleed off velocity at a much higher rate than the 6.5 CM rounds.
At the 100 and 200 mark, we still see the .243 round showing higher overall velocities than the majority of the 6.5 Cm rounds, though the 120 gr Hornady Match 6.5 CM round matches the velocity of the three .243 rounds.
At the 300 and 400 yard mark, more of the 6.5 CM rounds begin to even out with the bleeding .243 Win rounds.
As we get out to the 500-yard mark, the two lightweight .243 rounds have bled off a tremendous amount of velocity and are now lower than three of the 6.5 CM rounds.
While there are high velocity and low-velocity rounds for each cartridge, both of them exhibit supersonic speeds out to 500 yards. The 6.5 CM rounds tend to maintain their velocity better than the .243 rounds, and by the 300-yard mark, the 6.5 CM tend to exhibit similar or even higher velocities than the much lighter .243 bullets. Below, you will also find the averages for supersonic ranges for both cartridges.
Let’s take a look at the velocity averages for both cartridges when using the larger data set.
Average Velocity (ft/s)
|Yards||6.5 CM||.243 Win|
The numbers are very similar to what we just saw between these rounds. From the muzzle out to 300 yards, we see that the .243 Win has, on average, higher velocity than the 6.5 Creedmoor rounds. From that marker, the 6.5 Creedmoor overtakes the .243 Win and carries higher velocities than the .243 that bleeds off velocity at a much higher rate.
It’s also important to note that the .243 does include several rounds that fall beneath the 60gr bullet weight which is significantly lighter than other .243 Win and 6.5 Creedmoor rounds. To make sure that the numbers were not being skewed too disproportionately, we calculated the average for the .243 Win rounds with the three sub-60gr rounds removed. The average at the muzzle with these rounds removed was 3,073fps and 1878fps at 500 yards. So while it did drop the average down, we would still come to the same conclusions regarding how these two cartridges compare from a standpoint of velocity.
Given the reputation of these two cartridges and their unquestionable propensity for gaining the trust of long range marksman, we felt that it was important for us to also look at the averages for how long rounds of both the .243 and the 6.5CM remain in supersonic flight, which you will find below.
Before I was ever introduced to long range shooting, this category was never in my mind when thinking about cartridges and rounds and their benefits or drawbacks. That’s because nearly all centerfire cartridges used within the confines of hunting are well above supersonic speeds. When you get to the extreme distance shots with targets sitting 700 to 1,000 yards away, how long the round remains supersonic becomes relevant.
This is because a bullet at supersonic speeds, and a barrel that stabilizes it properly, is going to be more stable and thus, easier to make shot adjustments and have a decent idea of where the bullet is going to end up. When a round falls below this threshold, the bullet’s stability decreases and it is much more prone to being influenced by environmental conditions which makes those pre-shot adjustments more complex. For myself and probably a lot of you, 1,000 yard shots, even with the advantage of a round remaining supersonic does not help our chances. I just do not have the seemingly unnatural talent that some of you might possess for these types of shots. But for those of you who do or believe you are well on your way to having, this data might be interesting.
Average Supersonic Limit (Yards)
|6.5mm Creedmoor||.243 Winchester|
Between these two cartridges, we see that the 6.5mm Creedmoor has a little over 300 extra yards of supersonic flight compared to the .243 Win whose average comes in a little under 1,000 yards.
There are several .243 Win rounds that break the 1,000 yard mark, but the 6.5CM has a clear advantage here with many rounds in the 1,200+ range with several in the 1,500 and 1,600 yard category.
The ballistic coefficient is usually two things in the minds of marksmen; it is a valuable number that is given a lot of thought, or it is unknown to the user and pushed aside. If you are one of the latter, you should reconsider the stock that you put into the ballistic coefficient of your rounds.
The ballistic coefficient is derived from an equation that includes input variables from specific cartridge specifications. The physics and math behind the ballistic coefficient and its implications, while interesting, is not something we are going to attempt to convey in this article, but we do urge you to check it out.
In the simplest explanation possible, the ballistic coefficient gives you an idea of how well a bullet is streamlined. The higher the BC, the better the bullet can cut through the wind, meaning it resists drag and wind drift much more efficiently than a bullet with a lower BC. SO, for long range shooting where wind might be more of a factor, a better ballistic coefficient is something you might be looking for. Even for hunting, where windy conditions are sometimes a factor, having a bullet with a high ballistic coefficient is going to aid in long range shots.
We gathered the BCs for all ten of the rounds used in this comparison and placed them in a bar graph (Graph 3).
It’s obvious here how these two cartridges stack up against each other. The 6.5 Creedmoor rounds exhibit significantly higher BCs than the .243 with all of them coming in over a BC of .486 with two of them at an incredible .697 and .719. The .243 rounds fall between .243 and .378.
And we are aware that we are only looking at five rounds for each cartridge. There are .243 rounds out there loaded with bullets with much better BCs than some of the rounds we are looking at here. Though the case, the 6.5 CM rounds are going to show better BCs than the .243 rounds.
This is a large enough difference between the two cartridge types to bring about changes in how these rounds would perform in the field. We will come back to this topic several times in the next few sections.
Let’s see if this gap between the two cartridges remains when we include more rounds to analyze.
Average Ballistic Coefficient
|6.5mm Creedmoor||.243 Winchester|
Like the smaller sample size, we see a pretty large gap between the averages of these two cartridges. While there is less than 2 tenths difference in BC, it is still a fair gap in the context of ballistic coefficients. If you take a look at the individual rounds, the gap between the two cartridges seems more distinctive. There are many 6.5 CM rounds that are well above the average number with several in the 0.6 and even 0.7 range. On the other hand, a .243 Win factory load with a BC above 0.4 tends to be the higher end of the range. There are certainly 0.243 Win rounds available with better BCs but they still seem to fall below their 6.5mm counterparts that are available.
What you also have to keep in mind when looking at these numbers is that not every round is designed with long range shooting in mind. In a lot of cases, a BC of 0.5 is not needed. Sure, it’s welcome to have but the round will get certain jobs done with no problem even if it has a 0.3 BC. We put these numbers side by side just to get a sense of any differences or similarities the two cartridges have, but at the end of the day, your choice is going to between individual rounds and based on what your shooting needs are.
As with any comparison of two cartridges, the trajectory of their flight path is always a hot topic. Maybe even more so when considering one of the more popular long distant, precision cartridges at the moment, the 6.5 Creedmoor. The performance of the .243 is nothing to scoff at, but its use in long distance shooting has fallen off with the advent of newer cartridges.
Even so, it’s important to look at how flat these two cartridges shoot in the field. While we will take a look at the long range trajectory, we will also take a look at the short range trajectory. The .243 is a much more popular hunting round, though more options for the 6.5 CM is giving it a chance in the hunting community as well. Because of this, we will also look at a shorter range trajectory covering distances more attuned to hunting small to medium sized game.
Short Range Trajectory
So, for the short range trajectory, we are looking at the bullet drop (inches) from the 50 yards out to 300 yards with the firearm zeroed in at 100 yards (Graph 4).
At the 200 yard mark, 100 yards past the zero setting, we do see some differences between the two cartridges. The much lighter .243 rounds are showing close to 2” less bullet drop, though all the rounds all fall within the -4.6 to -1.4 range. The heavier .243 bullets are much more similar to the 6.5 Creedmoor rounds at this range than the sub-60gr rounds. Shortly, we will look at how these two cartridges compare when we omit the lightweight .243 factory loads.
As the bullets move out to the 300-yard range, we still see the 55 and 58gr .243 bullets show a much flatter trajectory with less than 10” of bullet drop at this point. Besides these two rounds, we still see the other .243 Win rounds showing a flatter trajectory than the majority of the 6.5 CM rounds. The 6.5 Hornady Match rounds and the Winchester Big Game round performs quite well and clusters within a three-inch range with the other heavier .243 rounds. The Nosler 6.5 CM rounds show nearly two inches more bullet drop than the next steepest rounds. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the sub 60 grain .243 rounds should be your choice for long range shooting. While their trajectory looks promising, the light weight bullet can also be more susceptible to wind and other environmental factors when compared to a heavier round.
Let’s take a look at the short-range trajectory and see how the two compare with a larger set of rounds to analyze.
Average Bullet Drop (Inches) at Short Range
|Yards||6.5 CM||.243 Win|
As we just saw in the last graph, the .243 Win, on average, has a less pronounced drop when compared to the 6.5 Creedmoor though it is still fairly close. If you look at the individual rounds, you will also see that there are quite a few rounds from each cartridge that have some overlap in bullet drop. Mainly in the steeper dropping range of the .243 and the flatter range of the 6.5 Creedmoor.
We again also have to take into account the flat shooting .243 Win rounds with sub 60gr bullets. It might give a better account of how the rounds of these two cartridges that might be utilized for the same shooting applications compare. When the three sub 60gr rounds are omitted, the bullet drop for the .243 Win at 200 yards increases to 2.8 inches and increases to 26.1 inches at 400 yards. While it does bring the two averages a little closer, the overall trend that we see between the two remains the same.
Long Range Trajectory
For the long range trajectory we are still looking at the bullet drop of the rounds, but from 50 yards out to 700 (Graph 5).
While long range precision shooters might be looking for information at longer ranges, with factory loads, this range is about as much as you are going to get. For hunting, it well beyond the point where you should realistically, be taking shots at game.
While the two lightweight .243 varmint rounds from Hornady show the flattest trajectory of the entire group, remember we are only talking about trajectory at this point, which is only a fraction of what goes into making a round accurate. These two rounds also show the flattest trajectory throughout the 700-yard range, so for the remainder of the comparison, when we mention .243 rounds we are excluding these two.
At the 300 and 400 yard mark, all of the rounds, both 6.5 CM and .243 Win are clustered tightly together within a 3-4” window with no one cartridge showing a flatter trajectory than the other. As the bullets move out to the 500 mark, we begin to see a little more separation with maybe an extra inch of bullet drop for the .243 rounds compared to the 6.5 CM.
At 600 yards, we see three 6.5CM rounds, the two Hornady match and the Winchester Big Game, as well as the .243 Federal Nosler Ballistic Tip round, stick around the 70-inch drop range while the remaining rounds begin to drop much more rapidly. This same trend continues out to the 700-yard mark where the four rounds we just mentioned hang around the 110” drop mark while the rest fall below the 130” mark. Just to bring back for comparison, the two lightweight .243 rounds have bullet drops at the 700-yard mark of 93 and 94″.
What we see is that there are rounds for each cartridge that shows flatter trajectories than other rounds. While the averages might point towards the .243 having the flatter long range trajectory, we have to remember what we stated earlier, that this is simply the trajectory and not a look at overall accuracy of these rounds. While the lightweight .243 rounds might show flat trajectory, that weight and poor BC might not make them as functional at these ranges as a heavier .243 or .6.5 round with better BCs.
While some might look at the amount of drop with these rounds out past 400 yards and wonder how we could consider these long range cartridges, you have to remember that we are working with factory loads, which often cut back on the maximum amount of powder that is loaded. For hand loaders, the trajectory for both of these rounds can be stretched out much flatter than what is shown here.
Below, you will find the averages for the larger sample set.
Average Bullet Drop (Inches) at Long Range
|Yards||6.5 CM||.243 Win|
With the larger sample size, we see some interesting talking points come up. Like the graph above, we see that the averages for both cartridges are fairly tight out to 1,000 yards.
Up to 500 yards, the .243 Win rounds show a flatter trajectory than the 6.5 Creedmoor rounds and at 700 yards, the two have a near identical bullet drop. At 1,000 yards, the 6.5 Creedmoor shows a little over 50 inches less bullet drop than the .243 Win rounds, which is an important result to keep in mind when we begin to look at the applications of these two cartridges.
As with the short range trajectory, there is the issue of using such light rounds in the .243 Win data set. Though we didn’t see too much of a difference between the averages in that section, we will still provide some of the numbers here. With the sub 60gr rounds we see the .243 Win bullet drop at 300 yards increases to -6.7 inches, -20.2 inches at 400 yards, -41.4 inches at 500 yards, -120 inches at 70 yards, and -357 inches at 1,000 yards. So, leaving only the heavier rounds of the .243 Win, which are more similar to the 6.5 Creedmoor rounds and more apt to be used in the same shooting applications, we do see several inches difference occur in the averages.
While the general trends remain the same, such as the .243 Win having a flatter trajectory out to 500 yards though it is much tighter now. At the 700 and 1,000 yard marker, we see that the 6.5 Creedmoor is still a flatter cartridge and the distance between the two cartridges actually expands by a few inches.
While stopping power might not be high on the list of concerns for competitive shooters, it is invaluable to the hunter. The ability of your round to effectively kill your target quickly is a matter of great importance for several reasons. The biggest reason is that no hunter worth their salt wants to go after an animal and not have the ability to put them down and risking injury. They also want to put it down quickly, so a night is not spent tracking it in the dark and cold.
There is not really a single number that we can turn to when it comes to comparing the stopping power a cartridge brings along with. There are a few components that go into the stopping or knockdown power of a round such as bullet design, bullet penetration, and the energy or force that is carried by the bullet down range. We will take a look at the latter two components for this section. And what a lot of people often forget when it comes to stopping power is that shot placement might the most important component of all.
So we will refrain from the pointless arguments of which factor of stopping power is the best to look at to determine a rounds stopping power. Kinetic energy, sectional density, and bullet momentum are all critical and all should be discussed and taken together, along with actual use in the field, to determine how effective a round is for bringing down game.
While the 6.5 CM is not as popular a hunting round as we predict it will be in the next few years. Just in the last few years there have been a lot more hunting options for this cartridge come onto the market and we have selected a few of them for comparing to the .243 Win rounds.
The energy that is carried by the bullet is a large factor in the rounds stopping power. You might wonder how this could be used to compare cartridges if the energy is associated with the bullet. As we know, different cartridges can take different sized bullets and can hold different amounts of powder. F=(m)(a), basic physics. If the cartridge can be fitted with larger and heavier bullets and send them downrange at increased speeds (more powder) than they should carry extra force with them.
This energy is transferred to the target on impact and can cause massive damage to the surrounding tissues and organs. This transfer is also affected by how the bullet reacts on impact, such as expansion which also relies on velocity, but we will leave that topic for another time. The amount of energy that is needed to cleanly take down an animal is debatable and it also depends on the animal involved. Most consider 1,000ft.lb of force to be safe for dropping a deer cleanly and closer to 1,500ft.lb for elk, though less can take down both with a proper bullet and a well-placed shot that can expand and penetrate to the vital organs in the chest cavity. Still, when selecting a cartridge, you be mindful of what you are hunting and what type of bullet energies and ranges you should be looking out for.
Let’s take a look at our ten selections for this article. We are looking at the bullet energy (ft.lbs) and are monitoring it from the muzzle out to 500 yards (Graph 6).
From this data, it is clear that the 6.5 Cm rounds carry a much higher energy from the muzzle than the .243 rounds. This trend continues from the muzzle out to 500 yards with a clear cut advantage for the 6.5 CM rounds regarding bullet energy. You will also notice that the 6.5 CM rounds all carry over 1,000 ft.lb of energy throughout the entire 500 yards. All of the .243 rounds, on the other hand, fall below 1,000ft.lb of energy at the 400-yard mark.
Let’s take a look at how the kinetic energy associated with these two cartridges compare when we look at a wider field of rounds.
Average Bullet Kinetic Energy (ft.lbs)
|Yards||6.5 CM||.243 Win|
Like earlier, we still see that the 6.5 Creedmoor carries more kinetic energy from the muzzle out to 500 yards. We also see that this difference in kinetic energy also increases as the rounds move downrange. At the 300 yard mark, we see that the .243 Win rounds are close to the 1,000ft.lbs range while the average for the 6.5 Creedmoor is still above the 1,500ft.lbs mark. At 500 yards, the .243 Win has fallen well below 1,000ft.lbs while the 6.5 CM is still safely above the 1,000ft.lbs mark.
And as we hinted at the start of the section, while a lot of the 6.5 CM rounds might have good looking kinetic energy numbers, depending on what you have in mind, they may not be the best for some scenarios depending on the design of the bullet.
Penetration (Sectional Density)
Penetration is another component to a bullet’s stopping power. The bullet must be able to penetrate deep enough into the tissue to reach and disrupt vital organs. More penetration does not mean you have a bullet with more stopping power. You also have to think about the type of game you are hunting. A bull moose is going to require more penetration than a whitetail deer. Remember that penetration is only a small part of the overall stopping power equation, but an important one nonetheless.
There are several components that go into a bullet’s potential penetration characteristics including velocity, the caliber of the bullet, the weight of the bullet, and the bullet’s design. The caliber of the bullet, as well as its weight, can be used to determine a bullet’s sectional density (SD).
While tests such as ballistics gels provide an excellent model for penetration, taking into account bullet design, we do not have that option here, but we can use the SD.
The sectional density correlates with the amount of penetration a bullet will have on target and since we are not looking at bullet types and designs in this article is a good standard for comparison of the two cartridges and the rounds we have selected for each.
A higher sectional density means deeper penetration. As an example, let’s take two different bullets of the same design traveling at the same velocity. Both bullets weigh 100gr, but one has a diameter of .300” while the other has a diameter of .200”. The sectional density of the .200” round is going to be higher and it should penetrate deeper than the .300” round. This is because the energy driving the bullet is localized to a smaller area effectively pushing it further with less resistance than a larger diameter bullet would impose. That’s the simplest way of thinking about SD and penetration.
Of course, we are simply looking at one component of penetration. In real world applications, you most certainly have to take into account the design of the bullet as well as the velocities that are behind the bullet at the point of impact. With that in mind, we still think looking at the sectional densities in a vacuum is a viable way to compare the penetration of the two cartridges. In the long run, you most definitely have to take other factors into account.
We calculated the sectional densities of the ten rounds we have been using for comparison and compiled them here (Graph 7).
When we look at the SDs for the various rounds, we do see a trend towards the 6.5 CM cartridge rounds having higher SDs and subsequently, more potential penetration. This would be true even when not taking the lightweight .243 rounds that show very low sectional densities, though, for their purpose, they don’t need that much penetration.
We would expect this difference in SDs even though the 6.5CM has a slightly wider diameter than the .243 bullet. The extra weight of the bullets for the 6.5 CM cartridge helps elevate their sectional densities. Of course, there are heavier .243 rounds out there that would come with higher sectional densities, but when you adjust one specification when dealing with cartridges, you are always influencing other characteristics. This is one reason why handloading is popular for both long range precision shooters and hunters alike; you can load a bullet that gives you the exact performance specs you are looking for.
Let’s take a quick look at the section density averages of these two cartridges before we move on to momentum.
Average Sectional Density
|6.5mm Creedmoor||.243 Win|
We again see that the 6.5Cm has, on average, a slightly better potential for deeper penetration when looking at the sectional density of the cartridges, or rather their bullets, alone. Like we stated earlier, the 6.5 CM does have a slightly wider bullet diameter than the .243 Win but the heavier bullets of the 6.5 CM more than make up for this small difference.
The average sectional density for the .243 Win does come up slightly when we exclude the lightweight rounds to an average of 0.22, but the 6.5 CM average still exceeds the .243 Win.
The second means for looking at penetration through the use of this style of data is bullet momentum. While momentum is not the used solely to gauge penetration, its properties do give us an idea how one cartridge might penetrate when compared to another.
Momentum is defined as the ability of an object in motion to remain in motion. In the context of this article, how well does a bullet remain in flight when it runs into resistance such as hide or bone? We are not going to look at how much momentum is needed, as there are other factors involved to influence penetration, but we can still see how the two cartridges compare to one another.
We have calculated and graphed the momentum for all ten of our selected rounds from the muzzle out to 500 yards (Graph 8).
From this graph we see that all of the 6.5mm Creedmoor rounds have higher momentum numbers than the .243 Win rounds. We also see that the lightweight .243 Win rounds fall pretty far below the other three .243 Win rounds in momentum as well. We also see that rounds from both cartridges lose momentum as they move downrange at a pretty similar rate.
At the muzzle, the .243 Win rounds have an average bullet momentum of 41.5 while the 6.5mm Creedmoor have an average of 53.86. And these averages are excluding the lightweight .243 Win rounds. At the 100, 300, and 500 yard marker, the .243 Win rounds have an average bullet momentum of 38.2, 31.5, and 25.5 lb/ft.s. At those same markers, the 6.5mm Creedmoor has an average momentum of 50.8, 45, and 38.8lbs/ft.s
Before we move on to the final discussion points, let’s take a look at the average momentum numbers between these two cartridges.
Average Bullet Momentum (lb/ft.s)
|Yards||6.5 CM||.243 Win|
Momentum is calculated simply by multiplying the mass of the object by its velocity. Given what we know about the velocity and the mass of the bullets from these two cartridges, the edge in momentum going to the 6.5mm Creedmoor is not a surprise. Like the smaller sample size, the gap closes when you exclude the lightweight .243 Win rounds, but the overall trend between the two cartridges hold up.
The 6.5 CM for the past several years has been heralded as one of the most accurate rounds available and we have come across countless forums of users rising it high above the older .243 Win round, but does anything we have looked already point to this same conclusion?
If we look back at the comparison we made for the velocities; we saw that the .243 Win rounds showed average velocities that were higher than the 6.5 CM rounds at shorter yard markers. As the yardage increased, we saw the .243 rounds begin to lose quite a bit of velocity while the 6.5 CM rounds maintained their rate and eventually we had several 6.5 CM rounds with higher velocities than the .243 rounds at the 400 and 500-yard range. Regarding accuracy, you might have better success with the 6.5 rounds that maintained a better velocity at these ranges. But as the data showed, there were also 6.5 CM rounds that showed a pretty significant drop in velocity compared to some of the .243 rounds even out at further distances.
When it comes to extreme distance shooting, we saw that the 6.5CM, on average, remained in supersonic flight for longer distances than the .243 Win round. This adds to the BC, which we will bring up shortly, in a more stable bullet that is better resistant to environmental factors. There are .243 Win rounds that can remain supersonic up to and beyond 1,000 yards, but the pickings are fewer when compared to the 6.5mm Creedmoor.
If we bring in the ballistic coefficients, the 6.5CM rounds widen their advantage in accuracy. The increased BCs make the 6.5 Cm rounds much more resistant to wind drift and drag which is crucial for taking longer range shots.
If we take a look at the trajectories, we saw the .243 rounds have the slightest advantage over the 6.5 CM round at ranges less than 300 yards. And by slight, we are talking about an average of close to 1”. When we looked at the trajectories of these rounds at long range, we still saw some overlap between the two cartridges. The lightweight .243 varmint rounds showed the flattest trajectory all the way out to 700 yards, but if we take into account their weight and their low BCs, their accuracy would be even or less with the heavier .243 and 6.5 CM rounds. If we take those two rounds out of the equation, then we did see the match grade 6.5CM rounds give a flatter trajectory than the .243 and 6.5 CM hunting rounds. Though, this difference was only 5” from the best performing .243 round.
The recoil might play a role in accuracy, especially for younger or less experienced shooters, but for the majority, we don’t think the increased recoil energy generated by the 6.5 CM rounds are going to influence a single shot for most shooters. Especially with the highest amount of recoil energy being generated is less than 16ft.lbs.
In the end, it might just have to come down to you taking both to the range and seeing what you grow most comfortable and confident with. With very similar ballistic data between the two cartridges as a whole, it’s hard to pin down accuracy from data points. The 6.5 CM do generally have higher BCs and they have a lot more room to play around with the powder loads which might give them the advantage over the .243 rounds at long distances.
For hunting distances, say up to 300 yards, we don’t think there is a difference except for who is holding the gun. Though wind can play a big factor at this distance, both cartridges have rounds that experienced shooters can put in the breadbasket consistently.
Price & Availability
If you are making your decision based strictly on how easy it is going to be to find your ammunition of choice than the .243 Win is going to be your cartridge. While we don’t believe that’s the right way to go about making your choice, we can’t deny that the .243 Win is much more readily available than the 6.5 CM. You are also going to have a lot more options when it comes to specific rounds.
As far as price goes, it varies between rounds from cartridge to cartridge, as you can see below where we have listed some common retail prices for each round of ammunition we have been examining in this article. The average price for the 6.5CM cartridge is going to be a couple more dollars per box than the .243, but again, it really depends on the type of ammo you are looking for. In our opinion, it’s not enough of a difference to sway us on which way we would go. To us, it’s all about picking the cartridge that better fits your shooting needs.
|Ammunition||Price (20 Rounds)|
|6.5 CM Hornady ELD Match 120gr||$24.10|
|6.5 CM Hornady ELD Match 147gr||$25.99|
|6.5 CM Nosler Match Grade Custom Bullet Tip 140gr||$40.99|
|6.5 CM Winchester Expedition Big Game Long Range 142gr||$36.99|
|6.5 CM Nosler Ballistic Tip 140gr||$30.99|
|243 Winchester Super-X Power Point 100gr||$20.49|
|243 Hornady Superformance Varmint V-Max 58gr||$23.99|
|243 Remington Core-Lokt PSP 100gr||$17.99|
|243 Federal Vital-Shok Nosler Ballistic Tip 95gr||$29.79|
|243 Nosler Varmageddon FB Tipped 55gr||$29.52|
Now that we have compared the two cartridges in a variety of different performance categories, we can bring it all together and see if the data points towards one of these cartridges being better suited for certain applications. Or perhaps both a suitable or both are worthless. We have also included the average tables below for you to reference.
When it comes to precision shooting, especially at ranges out to 500+ yards, both of these rounds have the potential to be highly accurate. For factory loads, most of them are just not hot enough to get out to 1,000-yard targets effectively and consistently though we haven’t had all them on the range and it sounds like an interesting outing. Now, with some tinkering, both of them have the velocities as well as the trajectories to be viable rounds. When just looking at the trajectories, we saw that the .243 average at 700 yards was nearly identical to the 6.5mm Creedmoor.
Where the 6.5 CM gains an advantage is with its bullet. The increases BC of these bullets as well as how they sit in the casing allows them to quickly become hot and accurate rounds. For extreme long distance competitors, they are likely going to fancy the 6.5 CM over the .243. And that’s not a knock on the .243 at all. We saw the trajectories. In the right hands, the .243 could be used to do some amazing things. And of course, its performance in this category can be greatly improved with loading your own rounds, but as we have said before, it is not the topic of this comparison.
Besides the ballistic coefficients and the trajectories of these cartridges, we also saw that the 6.5CM had several hundred extra average yards of supersonic flight when compared to the .243 Win. And again, it might not be applicable given these are factory loads and might not give all the performance specs someone shooting 1,000 yard shots want, but still, the numbers are there.
In the hunting world, the .243 is well established for varmint hunting up to whitetail deer, within an acceptable range and this versatility, as well as its performance, has made it popular. It’s low recoil also makes it a great starting cartridge for young sportsman into the hunting world. And it’s still a great cartridge for any age hunter and has the ballistic performance and the ability to drop deer within 200 yards. Sometimes it’s nice to travel a little lighter in weight and recoil.
While the 6.5 CM was brought into existence for long range shooting in mind, more geared towards competition, there are several manufacturers now putting out hunting rounds for this cartridge and we think that the 6.5 CM will see a rapid rise in popularity in the hunting world. The biggest advantage it would have over the .243 in hunting is the increased stopping power of the round. With it, you can get a little more range on medium sized game than you would be able to with the .243.
Before we wrap up this comparison, we like to look back at the ten rounds that we graphed and pick a couple rounds from each cartridge that we like for certain shooting applications. We are not throwing our weight behind these selections for the best, we just happen to like them. There are plenty of rounds for each cartridge that can take care of business and if you have a favorite that is not one we picked, that’s okay. As long as you’re happy with it, we say do damage brother.
Top Hunting Round
For the .243, we are big advocates of the Federal Vital-Shok Nosler Ballistic Tip 95gr. The Nosler Ballistic Tip bullet is one of our favorites for deer sized game. This cartridge provides incredible trajectories with only 3” of bullet drop at 200 yards. More importantly, this round maintains the velocities to cause sufficient penetration and expansion and it carries more than enough stopping power out to 300 yards which is excellent for a .243 hunting round at this weight.
For the 6.5 CM, we would go with the Winchester Expedition Big Game Long Range 142gr round. It features tremendous ballistic properties that are highly similar to the match grade 6.5 CM ammunition and even surpassed them with its incredible .719 BC. The bullet energy with this round is also incredible with nearly 1,500ft.lb still associated with the bullet at 500 yards. This energy, with the velocity, and controlled expansion bullet gives you a big game round with extended range.
Top Target Round
Though we really like the flat trajectory of the lightweight varmint rounds for Hornady, the lightness and poor BC makes these rounds prone to getting pushed around by the wind, especially when getting out to the 500 and beyond range. For long range shooting with the 6.5 CM we recommend Hornady ELD Match 147gr. The incredible ballistic coefficient and trajectories make this one of the best factory loads for long range shooting. It maintains velocity incredibly well and is going to remain supersonic out to 1,000 yards. We also like the heavier bullet weight than the 120gr version of the round and think that the increased weight helps stabilize the bullet more in flight.
The 6.5 CM is considered by many to be the darling of the moment type cartridge, but all of the data that we have looked at points to it being a cartridge that is here to stay. But not to be cast to the side is the old, versatile, and still highly effective .243 Win cartridge.
Both of these rounds have the capacity to be highly effective in the field, and we hope that this article has pointed out the advantages for both cartridges and provides you unbiased information to make the best decision for yourself and your shooting needs.
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Huston is a hunting enthusiast who believes your success in the field is directly correlated to the amount of preparation at home. With a degree in Microbiology and several years of doctoral work manipulating bacterial genes, he attempts to merge the rational and unbiased thinking of scientific research with the passions of hunting and fishing. With two decades of chasing all manner of upland game, hooved mammals, strutting gobblers, and any small game that can fit in his Dutch oven, he hopes to offer new ideas and viewpoints on hunting and firearm concepts and traditions.