I had gotten into a solid prone position, in the pale sun of an eastern Oregon summer morning, and got the wind call from the spotter. It was almost everything I had on the reticle, and still, the shot blew off the leeward side of the target. I could see the impact, as the 3 ½ second time of flight gave me an opportunity to deal with the recoil and get back on target. In spite of the desert winds gusting over 18 mph, some of us were making contact with the plate, at 1,760 yards – one full mile – with a 6.5 Creedmoor.
If by now you haven’t heard some gun writer singing the praises of the 6.5 Creedmoor, and extolling its long-range capability, you’re either living off the grid (and therefore not reading this) or rifles just don’t excite you. The Creedmoor actually just floated around for a few years after its release before the meteoric rise to stardom, competing with several other 6.5mm cartridges, some with over a century of field experience. The .260 Remington had a bit of a following, and still makes a good cartridge, and the 6.5×55 Swede is most definitely an excellent design. I am a huge fan of the 6.5-284 Norma – for both the target range as well as the hunting fields- and there are many who appreciate the old .264 Winchester Magnum. I would attribute the popularity of the Creedmoor to a combination of the ability to hold the longest 6.5mm bullets – with the sleek ogives –within the confines of the short-action magazine (the .260 Remington, with a case that is just a bit longer, has trouble with some of the longer bullets) and the fact that it represents a wonderful blend of downrange performance and lack of recoil.
Nonetheless, the guys at Hornady developed the 6.5 Creedmoor, and in spite of a lukewarm reception, the cartridge caught on among long-range shooters. Partly due to marketing, and partly due to excellent field performance, the Creedmoor has shown the world that it makes connecting with 1,000-yard targets much easier than it was when everyone was shooting the .308 Winchester. The twist rate of the 6.5mm rifles gives them the ability to stabilize bullets of high Ballistic Coefficient, which is a huge part of the formula. Velocity, while certainly an important factor, doesn’t matter as much as B.C. does, as it is the retained energy and form of the bullet which will make the difference downrange.
It used to be that hitting a target routinely at 1,000 yards was something shooters only read about; here in the Northeast any shot over 250 yards was considered impossibly long when I was growing up, and 1,000 seemed like a fairy tale. Western shooters may be more familiar with shooting at long distances – primarily due to the open spaces and opportunity to shoot the longer distances – but thirty-five years ago the opportunity to shoot at four figures didn’t exist where I live. No matter, the long-range lifestyle is here to stay, and while some people still become pale over the concept of shooting 1,000 yards, others look at it like a chip-shot and don’t get serious until much further. It was while at the Leupold Optics Academy in eastern Oregon that we got to take the Creedmoor out to the one-mile mark, and the results had me thinking about just what this cartridge is and what it can be when loaded with certain bullets in certain environmental conditions.
At the Leupold event, we were using Ruger Precision Rifles in 6.5 Creedmoor, topped with Leupold Mark 5 7-35×56 scopes, shooting the new Hornady 135-grain A-Tip bullets, handloaded to a muzzle velocity of 2,770 fps (at least in my rifle). While the goal was to test the gear – and I will happily report that the Leupold Mark 5 series of scopes is absolutely amazing – it was the new Hornady bullet and the way it flew that impressed me most. The A-Tip is Hornady’s newest design, and as Hornady puts it: “It is… Rocket Science.”
Using an aluminum tip in lieu of the multitude of polymer tips on the market, the Hornady A-Tip is designed for long-range performance from the ground up. Hornady has refined the design of their AMP jacket for the A-Tip, and that aluminum tip not only provides a more consistent shape, but it also is longer and changes the center of gravity, helping to maintain in-flight stability. These bullets are available in component form only. When you buy a box of 100 Hornady A-Tip bullets, they come sequentially packaged as they come off the press, they are so fresh the lubricant isn’t even cleaned off the bullets, and a cleaning rag is provided to do so.
Hornady balances the bearing surface, ogive, and boat tail dimensions to the caliber and weight of each bullet. They are available in 6mm at 110 grains, in 6.5mm at 135 and 153 grains, and in .30 caliber at 230 and 250 grains and that 135-grain 6.5mm bullet goes together with the Creedmoor case just perfectly. Hornady does list the G1 and G7 Ballistic Coefficient for these bullets, but one of the other focal points of this school was using the Hornady 4DOF, or 4 Degrees of Freedom, ballistic calculator.
The gist of the 4DOF program is that it uses an axial form factor of a particular bullet, adjusted by muzzle velocity and atmospheric conditions, to give a better representation and projection of the trajectory curve. While the Ballistic Coefficient is a decent measure of a bullet’s ability to slip through the atmosphere, it is a generalization at best, representing an average of both velocities and atmospheric conditions. Sierra has long given varying B.C. values for their bullets, based on the velocity. Hornady has taken the idea much further, and instead of relying on a static B.C. value, has used verified Doppler radar data to project a trajectory curve, and tweaked their program to give a very accurate result. (If you have a smartphone the Hornady 4DOF program is available for free in your app store and is an excellent ballistic calculator)
Back to the one-mile idea, I was looking at the data on the Hornady 4DOF program we arrived at, including the environmental data for the shooting range. One mile equates to 1,760 yards, and in order to have the best results, you’ll want your bullet to remain supersonic, having a velocity of roughly 1,125 fps or more. Once a bullet drops below that velocity, it enters what is known as the transonic window, and it isn’t difficult for your bullet to come out of stabile flight. The Creedmoor case – based on the relatively unknown and certainly unloved .30 T/C – doesn’t have a whole bunch of case capacity, but it has enough for most of the long-range scenarios a shooter will encounter.
With that muzzle velocity of 2,770 fps, my rifle would maintain supersonic flight at a mile with the 135-grain Hornady A-Tip, but only in the right set of environmental conditions. At 73 degrees Fahrenheit, in low humidity, at an elevation of just over 2,000 feet above sea level, my bullet goes subsonic 100 yards shy of the one-mile mark. Change that elevation to 5,000 feet, and it’ll stay supersonic until 100 yards past the one-mile mark. Bump up the humidity and/or air temperature and the cartridge becomes even better. Quite obviously, a bigger case like the 6.5-284 Norma or the 6.5 PRC will attain higher muzzle velocities, keeping that 135-grain A-Tip supersonic to nearly 1,900 yards, but the Creedmoor is much easier on the shoulder and the rifle as well.
Throughout the course of the week, we took that 135-grain A-Tip to task by participating in some shooter/spotter drills where we would change up targets according to the instructor’s choice. The spotter would receive the target information, range the target, give the shooter the elevation adjustment as calculated on the Hornady 4DOF program, and make the wind call. The shooter would dial for elevation, and hold on the Leupold reticle for wind, and the results of the endeavor made me quite confident in the performance of the A-Tip, at ranges out to 1,500 yards (we had to use a special range configuration to get one mile), in spite of the constant windy conditions. When the wind would stay consistent, we saw very impressive groups on the steel – I put three within a two-inch circle at 575 yards – and with confident wind calls we were center-punching the small plates out to 1,000, and making solid hits to 1,500. Hornady has a wonderful design with the A-Tip, and I’m looking forward to trying the remainder of the product line.
If I had to pick a bullet to deal with the transonic window, I’d be hard-pressed to choose a better design than Hornady’s A-Tip; there are certainly many good designs on the market, but this bullet engenders a lot of confidence. In the 135-grain weight, it complements the Creedmoor case very well, and I look forward to the opportunity to send them toward one-mile steel again; perhaps the wind will be kind and calm down next time.
If shooting one-mile targets (or longer) is a serious goal for you, I feel you may need to look to a faster cartridge for the best results under a variety of environmental conditions, as the Creedmoor will struggle at times. If you spend most of your time at higher elevations in warm air, you’ll fair well. I must say that in spite of the Hornady A-Tip bullet going transonic, it handled the rough air very well. I did struggle in that gusting Oregon wind and didn’t disturb the fancy paint job on the target, though some did – including GA’s own True Pearce. The Leupold Mark 5 – in spite of the 35mm main tube – did run out of elevation before one mile, so we were forced to use the holdover on the reticle to make it happen. Should you want to take your Creedmoor to a mile, I’d definitely recommend a 20-MOA base to help your cause; it’ll save you a lot of struggling along the way, no matter how big your riflescope.
Learn more about the Hornady A-Tip HERE
Learn more about the Leupold Mark 5 HERE