September 21, 2021
There’s little question that the 6.5mm bore size had an uphill struggle for acceptance in the caliber-conscious US of A. At least for sporting rifles, that is. Case in point: Despite the knowledgeable harping of experts in the area of ballistic coefficients and sectional density, it took a lot of years for the 6.5 to finally triumph commercially here.
Before the stunning success of the 6.5 Creedmoor (introduced in 2007), shooters and ammo manufacturers bore witness to the fact that the .264 Winchester Magnum (1959), 6.5 Remington Magnum (1966), and .260 Remington (1997) never really caught fire in terms of mass acceptance. At least not on the level of, say, the 7mm Remington Magnum.
To be fair, however, the 6.5 bore size enjoyed some success as a cult caliber, and the 6.5 Swede and 6.5 Mannlicher have had their share of discerning adherents, thanks to imported military-surplus rifles and the occasional imported sporter.
So, here’s the burning question. Can metric lightning strike twice? Well, if you go by the caliber translation, the omens are certainly positive. The new 6.8 Western just happens to be the bore size (read: 0.277 inch) of the great .270 Winchester (phenomenally popular since 1923), .270 Weatherby Magnum (1943), and the more recent .270 Winchester Short Magnum (2002). The .270 WSM surfed the short magnum wave started by the .300 WSM back in 2001. And, of course, the original .270 Winchester was the pet caliber of the late great Jack O’Connor.
And in a more modern military sense, there’s the 6.8 Remington SPC (2004), built off the elderly .30 Remington case and a (hopeful) AR alternative to the 5.56 NATO. It featured a 115-grain FMJ at a muzzle velocity of 2,575 fps.
The 6.8 SPC was a nifty idea with a lot of merit, but it is in no way in the ballistic class of the 6.8 Western: a purely sporting long-range proposition.
The parent case is the .270 WSM, but the 6.8 Western—although featuring the same 35-degree shoulder angle of the WSM—is 2.2mm shorter. This translates to long, heavy-for-caliber bullets with a correspondingly high ballistic coefficient (BC) at a high initial velocity. The longer bullets require a faster twist rate than the .270 WSM, which they get in both Winchester (1:8 twist) and Browning (1:7.5 twist) rifles.
A bit of history may help set things in proper ballistic perspective. Back in 1962 Remington set the shooting world on fire with the incredibly successful 7mm Remington Magnum. One of the original loadings was a 175-grain SP at a claimed 2,860 fps. We’re talking a 0.284-inch bullet here. The new 6.8 Western pushes the same weight bullet at pretty much the same launch speed from a short action.
So we’re talking same weight, along with the ballistic advantages of a smaller diameter as well. And remember, the parent case of the 7mm Remington Magnum had the .375 H&H as a parent case, so sheer efficiency is another factor in the 6.8 Western’s favor.
In terms of currently available rifles and ammunition, as of this writing, the 6.8 Western is pretty much a Browning/Winchester showcase. I suspect this will change as the considerable merits of the load become widely appreciated.
But as of now, Browning and Winchester ammo appear to have the situation well in hand. By any standard, the 6.8 Western puts up serious numbers. Browning has a single 175-grain Tipped GameKing offering at 2,835 fps (3,123 ft-lbs of muzzle energy). Winchester has a fairly impressive trio. First is a 165-grain AccuBond at 2,970 fps (3,226 ft-lbs). Then there’s a 170-grain Ballistic Silvertip at 2,920 fps (3,218 ft-lbs). Finally, there’s a 170-grain Match BTHP at 2,910 fps (3,196 ft-lbs).
To give you an idea of the long-range bona fides of the 6.8 Western’s 165-grain AccuBond offering, at 500 yards it’s still doing 2,251 fps and generating 1,856 ft-lbs of energy.
But let’s step back and take a look at the four bullet types that are currently delivering all those impressive numbers. At this writing, the current 6.8 Western projectile menu includes the following:
Tipped GameKing: The original boattailed GameKing has a legendary reputation for accuracy. The newer Tipped version should be an even better long-range proposition.
AccuBond: This bonded bullet was developed for penetration and weight retention. By all accounts, it succeeds admirably.
Ballistic Silvertip: Rapid expansion and long-range efficiency are hallmarks of this polymer-tipped projectile.
Match BTHP: A high BC has made this a “go-to” OTM choice for long-range competition.
Of course, it’s worth noting that with the exception of a few suppressor-ready and featherweight rifle models, the majority of what’s available in 6.8 Western rifles from Browning and Winchester feature 24- and 26-inch barrels—the longer length is going to give you pretty much everything the new round has to give.
Then there’s the question of kick. One of the selling points of the 6.8 Western is that it’s said to generate less felt recoil than any .300 Magnum, short or long. And since some of the rifles chambered to the new round are substantially hefty—for example, Browning’s X-Bolt Max weighs in at 8 pounds, 3 ounces—this is certainly a believable claim.
Handloaders, of course, have non-factory-loaded options to choose from in the 6.8/.277 projectile menu. One of the notable ones is Hornady’s 145-grain ELD-X (Extremely Low Drag). It’s a bit on the light side in comparison to loaded 6.8 Western ammo from Winchester/Browning, but some pretty speedy velocities should be possible at that weight.
Will the 6.8 Western make as big a splash as the 6.5 Creedmoor? Initial reports are enthusiastic, and by the next S.H.O.T. Show, we should have a clearer picture of things. Stay tuned.