By Guy J. Sagi
A 6.5 mm diameter bullet offers the kind of ballistic coefficient that often translates to tighter groups on target than other small arms projectiles. Both the 6.5 Creedmoor and 6.5 Grendel harness that sleek aerodynamic profile and, as a result, rifles in both chamberings are increasingly common at the firing line.
The Creedmoor version gets the bulk of attention right now, although many enthusiasts are discovering the Grendel is better suited to their shooting pursuits. The cartridges may share the same projectile width, but they are far from identical in performance and even size.
6.5 Creedmoor VS 6.5 Grendel: Shapely Differences
Experienced enthusiasts understand this, but for new owners it is important to understand that 6.5 Creedmoor cartridges and 6.5 Grendel ammo are not interchangeable. They will not run in the same gun without modification and that task is not something readily tackled by the average enthusiast.
There is not much reason to worry about using the wrong ammo, though. Physical differences between all cartridges make it virtually impossible for a firearm to chamber incorrect ammunition and touch off the round. That fact is one of the most technical layers of safety in shooting sports. Case dimensions are specific, tailored in size and angles to expand precisely against their respective chamber walls, which in turn manage pressure properly without fatigue.
The approach is a sound and historic one that became official back in 1926. That’s when the Federal Government tasked the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute (SAAMI) with establishing, publishing and maintaining industry safety standards. The organization ensures cartridge shapes and sizes are dissimilar, an approach that prevents ammo from chambering and firing in the wrong gun.
Bullet diameter is the same in the 6.5 Creedmoor and 6.5 Grendel, but the case size and shape are different. That also means downrange performance and recoil are not the same. An abbreviated look at the SAAMI specs illustrates how one affects the other.
6.5 Grendel Spec Dimensions
SAAMI specs dictate the 6.5 Grendel cartridge can have an overall length (including bullet) of anywhere between 2.135 and 2.260 inches. The 6.5 Creedmoor’s figures come in at 2.700 and 2.825, which makes it more than a half-inch longer.
6.5 Creedmoor Spec Dimensions
The Creedmoor case is also wider in diameter than the Grendel version. The former can hold, roughly, a maximum of 52.5 grains of water. The latter comes in at 35. That means the 6.5 Creedmoor can hold a lot more propellant than the 6.5 Grendel.
Water as a measure of volume allows better side-by-side comparisons in case capacity. Reporting the figures in propellant weight would introduce variables, like powder density and texture. It takes 437.5 grains of any material to weigh one ounce if you’re wondering.
Is Bigger Really Better?
With its longer length and larger case, the Creedmoor can generate higher muzzle velocities and launch longer, heavier bullets. The only drawback is that doing so generates more recoil, although even relatively new enthusiasts find it a pleasure to shoot.
The physics behind that fact is Sir Isaac Newton’s “every action has an equal and opposite reaction.” We can precisely calculate recoil generated with each shot if we know bullet weight and velocity at which it leaves the barrel. It is straightforward, but that energy is reduced by several factors by the time it reaches a shooter’s shoulder.
Bolt Action VS Semi-Automatic
Bolt or bolt carrier groups cycling back and forth in semi-automatic guns consume some of that recoil before it reaches the buttstock. The weight of the gun plays a role, too, because it takes more energy to overcome the inertia of a heavier object “at rest” than a light one.
Then there are muzzle devices—like brakes that vent gas in strategic directions—recoil pads and even position of the shooter that come into play. As a result, experts rely on the term “perceived recoil” to describe what they feel reaches the shoulder.
Just because the 6.5 Creedmoor ammunition generates more energy than the 6.5 Grendel does not mean it is uncomfortable to shoot. Find the right rifle, one that fits and it’s surprising how pleasant range sessions are. You can, however, expect more muzzle rise out of the bigger cartridge, a drawback if a fast follow-up shot is required.
Different Ideas For Different Guns
The designers of both cartridges had the same goal in mind—tack-driving accuracy at distance—but they were looking for that performance from different firearm platforms. The growing popularity of AR-15s in competitive shooting drove the development of the 6.5 Grendel in 2003. It was the need for added precision from bolt-action rifles that led to the 2007 appearance of the 6.5 Creedmoor.
Manufacturers understand the improved ballistic coefficient available in 6.5 mm-diameter bullets and are eager to provide that advantage to enthusiasts. There are bolt-actions chambered in 6.5 Grendel and modern sporting rifles that digest 6.5 Creedmoor produced today.
Ammunition Performance Compared
The shared platforms do not put the cartridges on equal footing, however—a fact dictated by their dissimilar dimensions. Ballistics published by American Eagle ammunition illustrate the difference.
American Eagle’s 120-grain, open-tip match bullet delivered from the 6.5 Creedmoor leaves the barrel at 2,900 fps, where it generates 2,241 ft.-lbs of energy. The same bullet from the 6.5 Grendel launches at 2,610 fps and has a muzzle energy of 1,815 ft.-lbs.
The extra propellant in the larger 6.5 Creedmoor case sends the projectile out faster by 290 fps and generates more knockdown power—a critical consideration for hunting. But taking big game at point-blank range is rare, so a closer look at distance is in order.
Creedmoor vs. Grendel: Downrange Ballistics
At 300 yards the Creedmoor has slowed to 2,270 fps and is carrying 1,373 ft. lbs. of energy. The Grendel’s figures are 2,019 and 1,086, respectively, and the difference in velocity has closed to 251. It gets even closer when the 110-grain bullets reach 500 yards, where the speed gap is only 222 fps.
The higher speed also minimizes the amount of time wind can alter point of impact. Again at 500 yards, a 10-mph wind pushes the 6.5 Creedmoor 21.5 inches and the Grendel 25.4. In either case that’s impressive performance and reflection of the ballistic coefficient.
As for actual trajectory, with a 100-yard zero the Creedmoor-launched bullet drops 12.4 inches below the crosshair at 300 yards. The Grendel comes in at 16.3.
Precision Accuracy: 6.5 Creedmoor on Top?
The apples-to-apples comparison gives Creedmoor the edge in trajectory. There’s a whole lot more to the story, though.
Both are great for long-distance competition, but the flat-shooting performance also makes them suitable for big-game hunting, where rifle weight is often a consideration. The Creedmoor can run in a short action, an endearing quality that helps reduce the average amount of heft. But the Grendel is shorter yet. Pick the right rifle in that chambering and it shaves even more weight off those long stalks.
Price and Recoil: Advantage 6.5 Grendel?
Prices vary by availability and the bullet in each load, but the cost of 6.5 Grendel cartridges is usually easier on the pocketbook. Rather than provide precise figures here, you can look at what is currently available here, and then compare to our 6.5 Creedmoor offerings. The difference adds up quickly for high-volume shooters and competitors.
Odds are also good 6.5 Grendel will run fine in someone’s current AR-15 magazines. Double-check regulations before using them for hunting, though, because some states limit magazine capacity. That’s likely one less item to put on a shopping list.
Then there’s recoil. Both cartridges are tame in comparison to many other centerfires, but smaller-framed and new shooters might be most comfortable practicing behind the Grendel.
Best Choice For Hunting?
A bigger consideration, though, is the intended primary use of the firearm and cartridge. Both 6.5 Creedmoor VS 6.5 Grendel cartridges see great success in long-distance shooting matches. But if big game at medium-to long-distance is part of the plan, the lighter 6.5 Grendel bullet weights could limit the effective range. There’s no denying shot placement is critical. But downrange energy is a primary consideration when filling tags in a humane manner.
The 6.5 Creedmoor offers cartridges with significantly heavier bullets. One hundred and forty-grain versions are common in soft points, full metal jackets, and boattail hollow points. Federal makes a Whitetail load in that weight designed to upset (expand) on impact. Hornady offers a 129-grain InterLock load with the same virtue.
Things are different with the Grendel version of 6.5 mm. The selection of expanding hunting loads is not nearly as plentiful. Even then, they are usually significantly lighter, limiting most shots to distances closer than appropriate for the Creedmoor.
If varmint and predator hunting is your primary passion, the Grendel’s reduced recoil and limited muzzle rise make it ideal for fast follow-ups.
6.5 Creedmoor VS 6.5 Grendel: Which One?
The 6.5 Creedmoor VS 6.5 Grendel both take advantage of a ballistic coefficient that promotes match-winning accuracy, at long-distance. They also cross the lines into effective hunting in a manner many cartridges can never accomplish.
As for which one’s best, the answer is a familiar one in firearm lore. Select the right tool for the job, practice with it, and you won’t be disappointed with the results.