What would be your candidate for the title of “most popular non-American sporting rifle cartridge in use in Britain”? If asked that question, I am sure I would have to vote for 6.5×55 Swedish Mauser.
This round has a rather illustrious history, having started development by both Norway and Sweden during the 1890’s as their standard military round. Slight Swedish case dimension modifications for Mauser (up to World War I) and subsequently Carl Gustaf built rifles, led to the cartridge that many of us have come to appreciate in today’s sporting environments.
Nowadays all major European rifle manufacturers chamber for the sweet 6.5SM, while our friends across the Atlantic seem more intent on masochism in their ceaseless quest for the bigger bang! Do they realise what they are missing?
Many years ago a friend, on learning that I was about to try a 6.5×55, told me: “Once you’ve used one, you’ll never shoot anything else!” I had heard many stories about how smooth this round was, its inherent accuracy, and excellent knockdown energy. Further reading about it tended to confirm the advice I had been given. If I remember correctly, my initial shots were with factory loaded Norma 156-grain. That first squeeze of the trigger was a revelation: there I was punching out a bullet that Scandinavians would quite happily use to hunt moose, yet the recoil seemed more akin to that of my .222.
As a home-loader, I had a wonderful selection of bullets available to me: from 77-grainers to 160 – what versatility! I am more of a deer stalker than vermin shooter, so I have stayed away from the lighter end of the scale; but all my experimental rounds, from 100 to 160-grains, have given the excellent accuracy and low recoil for which 6.5×55 is legendary. After that it has just been a question of selecting the correct bullet for the deer species that you are stalking.
As a rule this cartridge prefers to run on slower burning powders. Given the diameter of the heavier bullets, their length tends to be fairly spectacular – hence the wonderful penetration characteristics much appreciated by those moose hunters. The only slight drawback here is for woodland stalkers: touch a twig or any debris ‘twixt muzzle and target, and you could be in for serious bullet stability problems.
Think of the number of different cartridges to hit the sporting market in just the last fifty years…… no, you haven’t thought of anywhere near enough! For one created over a hundred years ago to retain its popularity to such a high degree, I am sure you will accept that there has to be something rather special about it.
As a small postscript, I would like to quote from noted American author John Barsness. He writes in Nosler’s #4 reloading manual: “With its modest recoil and inherent accuracy, the 6.5 Scandinavian might be the perfect first rifle, or an all-around rifle for older shooters who’ve grown tired of magnum hype and recoil”. I think that for “older” I would substitute “wiser”!