Modern Bullets and Powders in the 6.5x55mm Swede
Date: Jan 08 2021
Americans had remained pretty “meh” about 6.5mm cartridges until the fairly recent appearance of Hornady’s 6.5 Creedmoor. The 6.5 Remington Magnum fizzled in a finger snap; the .264 Winchester had its 15 minutes of fame but also eventually faded; and the excellent .260 Remington enjoys popularity only among a small group of niche shooters. The 6.5x50mm Arisaka, 6.5x52mm Carcano, 6.5x54mm Mannlicher-Schoenauer and 6.5x57mm Mauser have largely been ignored by U.S. shooters. The one exception to this spurning of foreign 6.5mm rounds remains the 6.5x55mm Swedish Mauser, or 6.5 Swede as most rifle-folk call it. The cartridge is renowned for mild recoil and inherent accuracy. It hasn’t garnered the attention of the 2008 Creedmoor, but it isn’t as forsaken as the overseas 6.5s already mentioned. At least ammunition sales have remained steady since affordable surplus military rifles began to arrive on U.S. shores in the 1950s.
In a modern rifle of recent manufacture, the Swede will do anything the be-all and end-all 6.5 Creedmoor will do, and then some, including handily stabilizing long-for-caliber bullets with very high ballistic coefficients (BC). The remarkable part of all this is that the Swede has been around since 1894, or going on 127 years! The Swede is understandably popular in Sweden and Norway, where the cartridge was the military service rifle until the early 1970s, in the same way the .30-06 Springfield rules in the U.S., Scandinavians routinely use the 6.5x55mm to tackle their native moose.
The real caveat here is choosing a modern rifle chambered in the resiliently popular cartridge – the Creedmoor opening the American psyche to the 6.5mm idea in a big way. A round that is 127 years old means there are plenty of antique rifles in circulation, namely M94, M96 and M38 Swedish Mauser and rarer Norwegian Krag-Jorgensen actions that were certainly not developed for “+P” powder charges. Chamber pressures in those early Swedish Mausers were higher than other 6.5 military cartridges of the day, maximum average pressure around 46,000 psi (which SAAMI adheres to in diffidence to surplus rifles), but still modest by modern standards. The loads developed here were tested in a super-stout CZ-USA Model 577 American Synthetic engineered to handle the hot stuff. These loads are not intended for older rifles (a well-made ’98 Mauser the possible exception).
CZ-USA’s 557 American Synthetic includes an ergonomic black synthetic stock with a high, flat comb intended for scope use (the rifle holds no iron sights) and a 13.75 inch length of pull. The stock includes a soft touch finish that provides a positive grip. The receiver includes integral 19mm dovetails, so it requires no scope base, but does ask for proprietary rings (available through CZ-USA, Warne and Tally). The cold hammer forged, sporter-weight barrel is 24 inches long and includes a 1:8 rifling twist while the trigger is fully adjustable and the hinged-plate magazine holds five rounds. Unlike some CZ safeties, this one is a push-to-fire style familiar to Americans. The rifle weighs 6.83 pounds out of the box and includes a very reasonable manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $792. In concert with the CZ’s Czech heritage, a Meopta Optika6 MeoPro 4.5-27x50 SFP scope was added, mounted in CZ rings ordered from the Czech Republic via the internet. The Optika6 includes positive exposed turrets with zero stop, side parallax focus and many welcomed long-range features.
The Swede is one of those versatile cartridges that will shoot anything from varmint bullets weighing 85-90 grains, up to big-game bullets as heavy as 160 grains (typically roundnose). I have no interest in pressing a 6.5mm cartridge into varmint-shooting duties, so I chose big-game and long-range bullets weighing from 120 to 156 grains. The entire theme here is modern, so bullets were chosen to reflect that, including monolithic lead-free, aggressive-expanding polymer-tipped and long-range match designs. Medium to slow-burning powders work best in the Swede, despite limited case capacity. In the interests of keeping everything, again, modern – I chose newer or “newish” propellants with clean-burning properties, some with copper-erasing agents. Some of the European powders have certainly been around awhile, but have undergone recent performance upgrades on par with Hodgdon’s Extreme Series developments.
Loads were assembled using Hornady Custom Grade full-length dies and new Hornady brass. CCI 200 Large Rifle Primers were used in all loads. Brass necks were uniformed and chamfered before loading began. The Swede includes a 2.16 inches maximum case length – trim-to length 2.155 inches.
Barnes’ 120-grain TTSX BT (Tipped Triple Shock X, Boat-tail) is a California-certified lead-free bullet with monolithic copper construction and blue polymer tip filling the hollow point void. Its long, boat-tail profile produces a G1 BC of .412, making it ideal for long-range deer or hogs. The pronounced pressure-relief grooves require generous chamfering for smooth seating, as they are prone to grabbing sharp neck edges. Winchester StaBALL 6.5 produced the best group with this bullet, five shots clustering inside .58 inch at 2,644 fps, with an impressive 7 fps extreme velocity spread. Vihtavuori N-560 produced its best group with a 52.5-grain compressed load at 2,975 fps, while N-160 produced a .68-inch group at an impressive 3,070 fps with a 50.5-grain compressed load.
The 123-grain SST from Hornady was engineered to dump drop-right-there energy on target via its red Super Shock Tip, held together via an InterLock cannelure/internal crimp and it includes a sleek boat-tail profile. With a G1 BC of .510, it shoots flat and effectively bucks wind. This would be my extended-range deer or pronghorn bullet of choice with this round. This bullet didn’t impress until the very last load, 43 grains of Norma URP producing a .72-inch group at 2,613 fps. A slighter larger .74-inch group at 2,498 fps resulted from 45 grains of Accurate A-4350.
Federal Premium’s 130-grain Terminal Ascent is a bonded, lead-core bullet with aerodynamic slipstream polymer tip. Lead is found only in the front half of the bullet, the rear section solid copper to check expansion. AccuChannel Groove Technology is said to improve accuracy and minimizes drag. These bullets include an exceptional .532 G1 BC, nickel-plating setting them apart at a glance. Unfortunately, the CZ just didn’t get along with them. Hodgdon’s H-4350 produced the best results, 1.00-, 1.03- and 1.11-inch groups at 2,763, 2,815 and 2,870 fps, respectively. StaBALL and Ramshot Hunter failed to impress with this bullet.
The sleek 136-grain Lapua Scenar-L, with solid .543 G1 BC, is the Scandinavian answer to the American MatchKing by Sierra Bullets. It offers a great balance of flat trajectory and long-range, wind-bucking abilities perfect for long-range target shooting. Vihtavuori N-165 turned in the best group with this bullet, .60-inch at a respectable 2,640 fps with 49 grains of powder, increasing that charge a grain opened the group to .89-inch. Hodgdon H-1000 (49 grains) and Ramshot Magnum (47 grains) each turned in a sub-MOA group – H-1000 pushing this bullet to 2,671 fps, Magnum to just 2,433 fps.
Hornady’s 153-grain A-Tip Match is made for extreme-range target shooting (we will no doubt soon hear reports of these bullets being used on big game, but the jury is still out). With a G1 BC of .704, they are the obvious choice for shooters obsessed with targets situated at 1,000 yards and well beyond. A sharp boat-tail juncture requires a generous chamfer to avoid cutting a copper ring during seating and upsetting the bullet’s highly-engineered profile. The best group with this bullet printed .61 inch, using 44 grains of Alliant Reloder 26 for a velocity of 2,426 fps, with groups opening to .80 inch with 45 grains (2,511 fps) and .93 inch with 46 grains (2,576 fps) – groups I could certainly live with given the added velocity. Accurate Magpro turned in a sub-MOA group with 45 grains of powder, but with a lackluster 2,303 fps velocity. IMR-4955, when paired with this particular bullet, was the only load that showed unimpressive extreme velocity spreads.
In fact, while shooting this test series, I was struck by the consistent numbers this 127-year-old cartridge coaxed out of the chronograph. Many loads showed extreme velocity spreads in the single digits to teens, with few exceeding 35 fps. That explains the cartridge’s reputation for inherent accuracy, though the five-shot groups assembled here did not do this rifle justice. This is a hunting rifle with a thin barrel, so it generally shot very good to decent three-shot groups, which were spoiled as the barrel warmed and impact points begin to open with subsequent shooting. In the hunting world, few scenarios include firing more than a couple successive shots, so it would have been fairer to test this rifle with three-shot groups.
As talented as the 6.5 Creedmoor no doubt is, if choosing a .264-caliber cartridge for big-game hunting or target shooting, I wouldn’t hesitate to purchase a Swede (or this rifle in particular), if for no other reason than to be different… Chambered in a robust, modern rifle the Swede provides a slight edge over the Creedmoor (holding 7 grains more water), without brutalizing the shooter like the newer magnum 6.5s. In fact, the CZ remained pleasant to shoot through most of the bullet selection, not dealing any conspicuous pushback until I reached the heaviest bullet.