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A 6.5 PRC Story June 2021
Gerhard Schroeder  

Germany, Dec 2019, Frankonia store in Buchholz: I know I should not have done it. But there she was, standing in the rack amongst Tikka T3s, Sauer 101s, 404s and Blaser R8s. I fetched that Mauser M18, brought her to my shoulder, squeezed the trigger. Silently I admitted she felt a little better than my beloved Tikkas.

Back in Arizona I read up on that M18. Mostly all praises. Prices seemed around 700 bucks, so about a fat bill more than a T3. Anyway, I was more than pleased with my T3s. But an itch remained.

That itch became more inflamed the first time my email brought news from EuroOptic. Darn! They had a sale, offering those M18s from $399 to $459, depending on caliber. Hah! Advertisements have only one purpose, to take that last dollar out of our pockets. I resisted the temptation, deleted said email.

You know it would happen. A few weeks later EuroOptic sent another similar email. And so on. None of them did anything good to my itch. Can’t prove it via stopwatch, but each time it took me longer to find the Delete button. And receiving Covid dollars helped not at all. Did I mention that those emails kept coming?

Ballistic coefficients do matter. Not inside 200 yards so much. But we were in an open field, way south of town. You could drive all the way out to at least 800 yards to set up targets with comfort. ‘We’ were Rob, Ron and me. Rob’s big white steel plate hung at 600. In the middle a painted red 3” square. He clicks his high-end Leupold. “Try it!”, he invited.

I held the crosshairs a little into the wind, sent a Berger 168-grainer out of his trued 7mm Rem Mag. It struck within an inch of the red square. Dead deer, dead prairie rat, dead anything.

Fine, so I tried it with my Tikka in .308 and 150 grain Ballistic Tips – held much more into the wind. And the bullet missed the entire 24” white steel anyway. Elevation was good, according to Rob watching through his 30-power Docter binos. That’s a .617 versus .435 BC, plus a speed advantage of about 200 fps. By the numbers, and apparently in the field, hunters claim that a 7mm Mag with 168 grainers is a nice compromise between recoil, ballistic performance and killing power way out there, including big critters like elk. Just saying.

Enter Covid hype in 2020, and nobody is allowed to travel internationally. So much for my annual trip to Germany. That left dollars in reserve. Now add the lack of rain in Arizona. We were not allowed to target shoot in the desert. Practicing for longer distances was only possible if you could find a jackrabbit, if you know what I mean.

In early November our deer hunt opened. On day five I made that lucky shot at around 370 yds, with my .308 Win. and a 150 grain Ballistic Tip. Butchering time and carrying everything back to camp took hours. Time to ponder.

Know thyself! Fact is I would take such a shot again. Another thing: the previous 4 deer seasons, I had been lurking at some waterhole. OK, two, the same two. I knew every tree, every rock and stump there. Canyon watching was simply more entertaining, also more weather independent. Maybe not more productive, but more enjoyable. I’d do it the canyon way if the luck of the draw allowed. Longer shots would be more likely. To clarify, that’s for deer (and antelope – never give up hope). Not for elk, at least not intentionally. Carrying one of those back across a canyon is another order of magnitude.

What I now wanted – I mean needed - was roughly the ballistic performance of Rob’s 7 Mag, but with less power – meaning less recoil, and in a lighter rifle. Oh, one important detail. Canyon hunting gives you time to employ the rangefinder, to dial the scope. And before that, to get ready, to attach a suppressor once you’re on stand. I would poach a Sightron 4-20x50 scope already residing on my CZ 455 (later also sold the 455). And the Sig Sauer muffler is good for anything of .30 caliber or less. More cost avoidance. Caliber? It turns out that just within the last 3 years or so, Hornady had released another specialty cartridge.

Consequently, with Steve willing to unleash his smart phone for all kinds of requests, here are the questions I asked him on that deer hunt evening after dinner:

Is that Mauser M18 still for sale? In 6.5 PRC? Based on what I had read, the 6.5 Precision Rifle Cartridge is like the 6.5 Creedmoor on steroids – short, fat, accurate, easier on barrel wear than, say, a 6.5 Rem Mag or .264 WinMag, able to get 140-class bullets well into the 2900 fps range.

What other rifles is a 6.5 PRC offered in? How much are those? What barrel length, rifle weights? Etc, etc. Tikka did not offer the 6.5 PRC. Bottom line: we left camp the next morning — That same afternoon, after unloading the 4Runner, I visited the EuroOptic site and ordered a Mauser M18 in 6.5 PRC. With tax, shipping and transfer fee it wound up about half of what my ticket to Germany would have been. No more itch.

Now the new mission: ordering that rifle was the easy part. Reality was that I had nothing else for it, no dies, no brass, no powder, no hunting bullets, no ammo. Finally, the desert had opened for shooting. Darn right I was out there the next morning. On the way back, a visit to Bruno’s yielded – I did decide to go all out now – Wilson neck sizing and bullet seating dies, 2 pounds of IMR 8133 (all they had) and a box of Berger 140 grain Elite Hunter bullets to try.

Brass? “We had it last week, it sold out in an hour”. Oh oh! The next morning I was out shooting again – withdrawal symptoms from a full six months of “you may not” do not subside easily. Stopped at Sportsman’s on the way back. There, a strike of luck? No brass, but Hornady factory ammo, yes, in 6.5 PRC, even with their 143 ELD-X hunting load. But yikes, they were $49.99 for a box of 20. I had to get one, just to have something to shoot. After long minutes of wrestling with my inner schweinehund, I also picked up a second box, and walked away.

(Just FYI, after checking on 22s, I returned maybe five minutes later, and the third and last box of that PRC stuff was gone. And yes, as we all now know, the supply situation worsened such that these two boxes began to look more and more like a good deal).

I received the rifle a few days after ordering. Sure enough, she’s just as sweet as her sibling was a year ago in Germany. For me, compared to my Tikka T3, it is the shape and size of the pistol grip that I prefer on an M18. Before shooting, two things needed to happen: steel scope mount bases (she accepts those designed for a Remington 700 long action) and having the muzzle threaded 5/8-24.

While buddy Ron did the modification, it gave me time to hunt down more components. I was lucky to also obtain one box each of Nosler ABLR 129s and 142s and Berger 135 grain Classic Hunter bullets, along with 2 pounds of IMR 7977. When it became obvious that the component shortage was just beginning, I would, and did grab powder and bullets whenever I could, no matter the price. Rob also helped scrounging, eventually found ‘blemished’ Nosler brass. Compared to all my previous new rifles, learning, evaluating, shooting the M18 occurred sparingly and each time with a very specific objective.

Soon the first field trip happened. I came prepared to reload on location, in the back of my 4Runner, also to clean the bore frequently. The 6.5 PRC being designed for accuracy, I would do all shooting further, what turned out to be 213 yards, and always with suppressor attached.

But disappointment lurked. The factory ammo chambered a little hard, and 3 out of the first 4 shots did not extract! At least those 4 shots grouped into an inch. I reloaded them. Easier said than done. Because even my trusted plastic powder funnel of 40 years did not fit the 6.5 PRC ‘mouth’ until I hacksawed it a little shorter. Plus, the fired brass was a little too big for the Wilson seater die. My reloads also chambered hard, did not extract. After a total of 18 shots, I quit that session. On my way home I suspected the extractor as major offender.

Yes, it was plagued by some burr, would hang up in its ‘release’ position. I smothered it in grinding compound, and for over an hour, forced it back and forth in the little “T”-slot it rides in. I won! It quit hanging up, and chambering and extracting have been without problem ever since.

Ever better, the rifle showed potential. Both Bergers several times clustered 3 shots into a half inch, once even into .3”. Again, this is at 213 yds. Since I had them for my .260 Rem, Sierra 130 grain Game Changers got a one-time trial in the 6.5 PRC, with those 3 grouping into 0.6”.

0.9” at 213 yds –
135gr Bergers with H1000 fuel

Quickly in those early days I settled on the Berger 140 grain, fueled by 59 grains of IMR 8133, yielding 2980 fps. Be careful with data from the web. Some of that was way too ‘warm’ in my Mauser.

It disappointed that my Mauser did not like the Noslers near as much as the Bergers. And hopefully Hornady will catch up making their 143 ELD-X projectiles for us who reload.

Anyway, Rob and Merle helped by generating a chart for ‘clicking’ for distance for my loads with the Bergers, zeroed at 250 yds, scope 2 inches above barrel bore, 2200 ft elevation at our shooting location, etc, etc. The chart for the 140s was in 25 - yard increments, out to 800 yards.

On a rather calm morning Steve and I performed verification tests, he behind his spotting scope. First target was at 680 yards, a 10” diameter steel plate on a swinger arm. The chart called for 41 clicks. From a cold barrel the first shot HIT. So did the second, no more than 3 inches apart. Both were somewhat below the plate center. I gave one more click. Third shot hit slightly above plate center. Hmm! My accuracy fever climbed. Caution – this sort of thing can be addicting!!

Not in my initial plan at all, but now that plate at 850 yards beckoned, off the chart, however. Let’s see, 750 yds called for 50 clicks, 800 for 56. I extrapolated, dialed up to 65 clicks. Center hold – HIT! Since that plate was not freshly painted we could not tell where the hit was. One more shot – another hit. Sweet!

I could have happily stopped there, but decided to try the plate at 601 yds. That’s back down to 33 clicks. Yeah, hit that one also, and nicely in the middle, as if to ask “when will you believe?” I quit at that point. The most fun I’ve ever had with just 6 shots. And oh, how I wanted to keep pestering those plates. But you know, the severely limited resources at the time.

Weeks later a morning with variable winds gave the opportunity to compare this 6.5 PRC against my Tikka in 308 Win. Target was again the 10” plate at 680 yds. With Steve and David watching through their 10x binos, they said that a few times the .308 sending 168 grain Sierras came close, within inches. I was chasing the wind. No hit in ten shots. With the 6.5 PRC I had 2 hits out of 5 shots, the other 3 all within inches, meaning they could not say if the miss was left or right. Clear advantage for the 6.5 PRC.

Back to the M18 for a minute. With suppressor attached the beast is awkward to carry around. I would not choose that rig for a hunt in the woods. It’s for open country. My plan is to carry the rifle without suppressor, then install that once on location. Now, since I do hunt on my way there and back, I’ve already decided that a reduced, and therefore somewhat less noisy load will be in the chamber when I’m on the move. And of course even when on stand I need to be ready for a quick shot; hunting is hunting. My brief offhand trials, with suppressor attached, showed that I can hit a 12” steel plate at 220 yds, if I do my part right.

If you ask me, Hornady did its homework. The 6.5 PRC is indeed a Precision Rifle Cartridge. And for their “Volksgewehr” (people’s rifle), Mauser did it right with the affordable M18. The little extractor issue does not seem to be typical. At least I’ve not seen anyone else complain likewise on the web.

OK, I will not know to what extent the Sig Sauer suppressor contributed to this great accuracy, as I have no intentions to evaluate my M18 without it. On hunting rifles such cans tend to have positive effects. Later in March and April I did some testing using paper targets at 440 and 520 yds. Same positive results, mostly sub MOA, wind and all. But folks, that’s off the bench, as we tend to say. Don’t have one of those in the field. Hmm, let me ponder that.

Meanwhile, maybe the shortage in components isn’t all bad. Won’t let me burn out that fine barrel before drawing another deer tag.

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