By Jon R. Sundra
Although 6.5s have been dominating long-range shooting, hunters still think of the .260 Rem as a kid’s cartridge.
I’ve read a number of articles in which the author, believing a particular rifle or cartridge deserves to be more popular than it is, uses Rodney Dangerfield’s line about getting no respect. It’s far from original, but it is appropriate.
If Rodney had been a deer hunter, he may well have chosen the .260 Rem, for, like him, it gets no respect. Even Remington, which currently lists 28 different models of centerfire rifles, offers only one, the Model Seven CDL, in .260. Kimber is the only other domestic rifle maker that offers it, and among the imports, Sako and Tikka. Pretty sad.
The .260 was rolled out in 1997, making it a fairly recent introduction. There is nothing esoteric about the .260. Its ultimate forebear is the .308 Win, which was introduced in 1952 and adopted two years later by NATO military forces as the 7.62x61.
You would think the chronology would be the other way around, as it was for the .223 Rem first seeing the light of day as the U.S. military’s 5.56x41 before being adopted by Remington as a commercial varmint round. It was the same for the .45-70, .30-40 Krag and the .30-06. All first appeared as a martial cartridge before being offered for sporting use.
In 1955, three years after the .308’s commercial introduction, Winchester necked down its case to 6mm and up to .358. This resulted in the .243 Win and .358 Win. Now there were three in the family, but it didn’t end there.
In 1980, it was Remington’s turn to use the .308 case as the basis for one of its own, putting its headstamp on the 7mm-08. Again, this cartridge was derived by simply necking down the .308 case to .28 caliber with no other changes.
Then, in 1997, Remington tapped the .308 case again to sire the .260 Rem. Federal got into the game nine years later with its .338 Federal. Now there were six in the family, all having the same headspace dimension, case taper, body length and shoulder angle. No other cartridge case I know of has sired so many commercial calibers by simply necking it up and down.
Until fairly recently, the 6.5mm caliber (.264) was not overly popular on these shores because, like the 7mm (.284), metric designations meant a foreign caliber to Joe Average, and he was more than content with “our” .30 caliber. Among the several 6.5s adopted by foreign countries, the 6.5x55 Swedish is perhaps the best known and most popular here, and deservedly so, for it is an excellent cartridge. Until recently, what limited popularity it enjoyed here was the result of the availability of surplus Swedish Mausers. And it is for that reason SAAMI specs hold the pressures down to around 47,000 psi in factory ammunition, which translates to 200 fps slower than the same weight bullet out of a .260 Rem (2,550 fps. vs. 2,750).
The first serious attempt to introduce the 6.5mm as an American caliber (not counting the .256 Newton of 1913, which is another story), was Winchester’s announcement in 1958 of its .264 Magnum. That was just about the time I was really getting into guns big time.
There were not a lot of vertical gun magazines around then, but the few there were generated a lot of excitement around the .264. Here was a cartridge that easily outperformed the iconic .270 Win by launching a 140-grain bullet at 3,200 fps and delivered 37 percent more energy at 500 yards than the .270’s 130-grain bullet.
What fascinated the shooting public even more was the .264’s 100-grain load, which clocked a smokin’ 3,700 fps. It was designed as a highly frangible varmint/predator round, but a lot of velocity-happy hunters used it for deer and antelope, often with poor results, which were widely publicized.
The .264 Win may have generated a lot of interest, but its popularity was short-lived. Just four years later in 1962, Remington introduced its 7mm Magnum, and that turned out to be the death knell for the .264. The 7 Mag could do everything the .264 could do, plus it could deliver a 175-grain bullet, which made it a better choice for game like elk and the larger African antelopes. It was simply more versatile.
I’m not sure why, after witnessing the waning popularity of the .264 Win, Remington in 1966 decided to come out with their own version of a .26 caliber in the form of the 6.5 Rem Magnum. Bad move. After just four short years of offering the chambering in the Models 600 and 660 Magnum carbines, production was discontinued.
So why three decades later did Remington decide to have another go with a 6.5, especially one that couldn’t match the performance of either the .264 Win or 6.5 Rem magnums? Well, a lot happened in those 30 years to change consumer thinking about the 6.5 caliber, but it’s been primarily with competitive shooters, not hunters.
Shooting match-type 138-, 140- or 142-grain VLD bullets like those of Lapua, Berger and Sierra, respectively, all of which have ballistic coefficients of around .60, the .260 Rem can actually match the 1,000-yard performance of the .300 Win Mag loaded with the 190-grain Sierra MatchKing bullet. And it does it with less wind deflection, a tad less drop and less than half the recoil. And compared to the standard .308 Win 175-grain military match load, the .260 trounces it by arriving at the 1,000-yard mark with about 35 percent less wind deflection, about 10 inches less drop, and some 350 fps more velocity!
While the .260 Rem and similar cartridges like the 6.5-284 Norma, 6.5x47 Lapua, 6.5 Grendel and Hornady’s new 6.5 Creedmore have come to dominate long-range competitive shooting, with hunters it’s been a different story. And that's a shame, because the .260 is well-suited to hunting medium game like deer, antelope, caribou, sheep, goat — anything short of elk and the big bears, really.
Let’s take a look at this fifth member of the .308 Win family of cartridges and see what it has to offer. Seeing as how the .260 is a Remington-developed cartridge, they offer it in four flavors, one in 120 grain and the three 140s. One of those is in Remington’s Managed Recoil line, so there’s really just three full-power loads. The 120 is an AccuTip boattail at 2,890 fps. The 140s are a Core-Lokt soft point and a Core- Lokt Ultra Bonded, both at 2,750 fps. Because the latter has a slightly higher ballistic coefficient than the soft point (.457 versus .435), we’ll use the exterior ballistics for it in the table below.
When we compare the above figures with the highly capable 7mm-08, we find that its 120-grain Remington factory load arrives at 400 yards traveling at 1,990 fps packing 1,060 foot-pounds of energy. The 140-grain AccuTip arrives with 2,145 fps and 1,430 foot pounds.
If we use the often-cited but arbitrary rule that says a bullet should deliver a minimum of 1,200 foot-pounds of energy to be lethal on deer-sized game, then the .260 is indeed a 400-yard cartridge.
Keep in mind, too that the venerable .30-30 Win delivers 1,350 foot-pounds at 100 yards. And few would argue that it hasn’t been the most successful deer cartridge in history.
As for recoil, the .260 nudges the shoulder with 12.3 foot-pounds of energy with the 120-grain load in an 8-pound rifle, and 14.1 foot-pounds with the 140. To give that some perspective, a .30-06 kicks with 22 foot-pounds of energy. That’s about 60 percent more recoil. The bottom line: Anyone can shoot a .260 well.
If indeed the .260 lacks respect among hunters, I think a lot of it is because it somehow got a reputation as a caliber for women, novices and the recoil-shy. That’s unfortunate because the even lighter-kicking .243, for example, was never saddled with that kind of image, even though it is less capable ballistically.
With all the interest being shown the 6.5 by competitive shooters, I wanted to reacquaint myself with the caliber and the Remington version specifically, for it’s the most popular and available in a broader choice of production rifles. Having been given an assignment to review an H-S Precision rifle, I figured I could kill two birds with one stone. Besides, the company just happened to have a .260 Rem in inventory in their Pro Hunter Lightweight version, one of five models of sporter-weight hunting rifles they offer. H-S makes some really neat rifles and is the only semi-production gun maker I know that manufacturers every component, from their 10x cut-rifled stainless steel barrels and actions to the trigger, bottom metal units and their Pro-Series fiberglass stocks hand-laid around an aluminum bedding block. H-S developed the latter for the U.S. Army’s M24 sniper rifle, and then incorporated that feature into their consumer stocks. The company guarantees 1/2-MOA accuracy in all rifles .30 caliber and under when using select handloads, so I figured it would be a great test vehicle for the .260 Rem. That guarantee covers all models, even the Pro Hunter Lightweight test gun, which weighed 6 pounds, 5 ounces, but it came with Leupold steel bases already installed. They weigh 2 ounces, so the rifle alone weighed 6 pounds, 3 ounces.
The test gun was actually a lighter version of the H-S Sporter Lightweight in 7mm WSM I used to take a very nice Siberian ibex in Kyrgyzstan two years ago. The only difference is that Sporter has a heavier contour 24-inch barrel.
The Pro-Series 2000 action borrows heavily from the Model 700 Remington in that it is based on a tubular receiver with a separate washer-type recoil lug sandwiched between a step on the barrel shank and the receiver ring. And like the 700, the bolt head is comprised of twin-opposed locking lugs, a 360 degree recessed face and plunger-type ejection. At the rear of the bolt, however, we find that the bolt shroud houses a Model 70 Winchester-type, three-position safety. Like everything else, the trigger unit is of H-S design, for which patents are pending.It is user-adjustable down to 2 pounds. The magazine, like all other components, is stainless steel and detachable, but recently a blind magazine model was added. The entire barreled action is black Teflon coated.
To check out the test rifle, I mounted a new Swarovski Z3 3-9x36 scope in Leupold rings and bases. This 1-inch scope with non-magnifying reticle weighs just 11.5 ounces — unbelievably light for a Euro scope — and the Leupold rings weigh 3 ounces. Range-ready, the package was just over 7 pounds. At the time of testing, the only ammo I had on hand was the 140-grain Core-Lokt load. Ammo was so scarce that even the Remington folks were able to come up with only four boxes of, wouldn’t you know it, 140-grain Core-Lokts.
Since this is not a gun review, let me just say that shooting the ProHunter Lightweight was a pleasant experience. The bolt glide was extremely smooth, and there was virtually no lateral play or binding, even when cycled from the shoulder. The LimbSaver buttpad soaked up what moderate recoil there was, and accuracy was outstanding, despite the rather slender 22-inch fluted barrel that measured .555 inch at the muzzle. How outstanding? Well, after getting the Swarovski zeroed in and firing six three-shot groups and discarding the worst, I had a five-group average of .95 inch.
I don’t think I’d use or recommend the .260 Rem for elk, but for deer-size game, east or west, stand hunting or long range, this cartridge delivers. It has all the performance and accuracy needed out to ranges most of us shouldn’t be shooting, and it gets it done with recoil levels even once-a-year shooters can handle. Truly, this is a cartridge that deserves more respect than it gets.
Read More Articles by Jon R. Sundra:
• CZ’s Little Mauser: The M1 American is the most attractive rifle in CZ's 527 line of bolt-action sporters.
• Can You Buy Shooting Skill?: There’s no substitute for practice, but some gear items can improve accuracy.
• Nosler Custom Model 48: This step down from the Custom Limited Edition is a semi-production gun offered in 10 chamberings.
This article was published in the November 2009 edition of Buckmasters GunHunter Magazine. Subscribe today to have GunHunter delivered to your home.