6.5 Grendel Ammo Review

by Joel Wise

March 11, 2022

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This cartridge is still being discovered and adored by shooters today despite the fact that it is almost twenty four years old.  Spawned from precision competition roots it has found wide acceptance as a viable hunting cartridge for North American game, been tested for and accepted by U.S. Military members and others around the world, and is a favorite among AR15 owners wanting to hit targets with precision at greater distances. 

The 6.5 Grendel functions efficiently out of the standard AR15 platform, pushes flat shooting 123 grain bullets at roughly 2550 feet per second, and has 60 percent less recoil than the legendary 7.62×39.  I often struggle to use the word “better” because it tends to be short sighted, but in this case with its popularity, wide acceptance, and proven results, I’m throwing it out there with confidence.  The 6.5 Grendel is better than the .308 and the 5.56 in just about every way!

6.5 Grendel Specs

  • Cartridge 6.5 Grendel Hornady Black
  • Bullet Diameter .264
  • Bullet Weight 123 gr
  • Muzzle Velocity 2580fps
  • Muzzle Energy 1818
  • Ballistic Coeff. .506 G1

History and Purpose 

The 6.5 Grendel was created by Arne Brennan, former head of Competition Shooting Sports Inc.  He designed it, and soon partnered with Bill Alexander of Alexander Arms who was a master gunsmith for the United Kingdom.  Bill had a history of developing proven custom AR15 rifles like his original work, the 50 Beowulf.

Brennan and Alexander wanted an efficient long range cartridge that would outperform the .308 gas guns currently being used by the U.S. Military at that time.  They knew it would be adopted as a long range competition cartridge as well.  What they discovered is a new round that had better long range capabilities and ballistics than the .308, and with about 60% less recoil out of the AR platform.  It also proved to be more reliable in terms of feeding.

Development began in 1998 with the idea to create a 6.5PPC cartridge for competition.  The 6mmPPC was already being used, but modern 6.5 bullets were becoming popular for long range applications with good success.  This was due to excellent ballistic coefficients, great velocity, and a flat trajectory.  It was first seen in the wild in 2003 at Blackwater where it was tested against the 7.62×39 round to see if it could potentially be adopted by the US Military.

What is it exactly? The parent case progression went like this, 7.62×39 to 220 Russian to 6PPC.  From the 6PPC cartridge, the 6.5 Grendel shoulder was shifted forward for more case capacity, and angles were tuned to feed reliably in the AR15 platform.  Approximate case capacity with a 123 grain bullet is 30 grains of powder, which will produce around 2500fps out of an 18 to 20 inch barreled AR15 platform.  Velocities similar to the .308 (2700fps?) are obtainable with bolt action rifles and 24 inch barrels.  This would also require a slightly lighter projectile.  

6.5 Grendel Review & Features – Our Take

Let me begin by looking at some uses for a 6.5 Grendel and whether or not it’s worth considering.

Grendel Pistol Joel

Home defense rifle/pistol – There is a crowd of folks that prefer ARs for home defense.  (I am not one of them, in case you were wondering.)  If driven properly, they are absolutely formidable in this role.  There are many arguments for and against that we will not go into here, but suffice it to say, the AR chambered in 6.5 Grendel with a short barrel could be a valid option for you.  They are versatile, can be accessorized, and the energy transfer is devastating. 

Bugout gun – Let me define “bugout” for you, because it seems to be an ever changing term.  I would define bugging out as grabbing whatever gear you need to leave your home and potentially never return. For this role, I think the 6.5 Grendel could be an excellent choice, as it works for everything from close quarters (with training), to designated marksman distances (mid-range), and even long range.  By “long range” I mean 1000 yards.  In this case the 6.5 Grendel stays supersonic past that distance.  The downside here, as so many keyboard commandos have pointed out, is the availability of ammunition.  If you’re smart, I suppose you will have stockpiled your bugout location with thousands of rounds for each of the calibers you intend to use, rendering that argument moot.

Hunting – In my opinion, the 6.5 Grendel is an absolute beast for most North American game inside of 600 yards.  I will not digress into a debate on hunting ethics so please don’t send me hate mail.  I merely intend to make an argument in terms of internal and external ballistics.  In the simplest of terms, does the round have enough energy to kill at those ranges, and what kind of wound channel does it create once it gets there?  Yes and significant are the quick answers.  

Just a second while I pull up a ballistic drop chart.  I’ll use the standard 123 grain Hornady A Max round as an example. I have personally used this round successfully on deer. Looking at the 600 yard numbers, I see a velocity of 1617fps with 714ft/lbs of energy.  In case you need a comparison to put that into context, that’s almost double the energy of a 45 ACP at point blank range.  Could you easily, quickly, and ethically kill a deer with a 45 ACP at point blank range?  Exactly!  If you feel like arguing on the ethics of different kill methods then I’m going to bring up archery, and you will lose.  Personal empirical evidence shows that quite a few deer and coyotes have been put down quickly with the 6.5 Grendel.  Stories abound about its effectiveness should you need to search out the proof. 

AR15 Rifle Competitions –  With the popularity of long range target shooting competition on the rise, competitors have sought out an efficient and re-loadable cartridge that shoots flat and has minimal recoil.  Many people have used heavy bullets (77 grain .223) in their ARs with some success, while others just choose to shoot a large frame AR in .308 or 6.5 Creedmoor.  The problem with the large frame options for competition is the recoil.  A shooter needs to be able to recover fast enough after the shot in order to spot impacts and misses.  The lighter the recoil, the better that can be accomplished.  The 6.5 Grendel fills this gap nicely. 

6.5 Grendel Pros and Cons

  • Many build configurations due to the cartridge being made for the AR15 platform.
  • The 6.5 Grendel is a flat shooting, light recoiling round. 
  • Magazine capacity is limited to ten rounds for most 6.5 Grendel rifles. 
  • Companies are not manufacturing it at the same rate compared to other cartridges,

6.5 Grendel Ballistics – Results & Accuracy

From short barrels –  My 6.5 Grendel pistol, shown here, runs at about 2200fps out of a 12 inch barrel.  I use the standard 123 grain Hornady Black factory ammunition in this gun with decent success.

From long barrels – The longest of my Grendel rifles pictured here, has a 20 inch barrel on it.  This rifle pushes that same 123 grain Hornady Black ammo at approximately 2550fps.  The tan Alexander Arms rifle pictured here runs at about 2500fps with an 18 inch barrel.

The accuracy – No matter the configuration or barrel length, my 6.5 Grendel rifles and pistol are what we call “sub MOA” guns. This means they will consistently shoot better than 1 inch groups at 100 yards pretty much all the time.  I have included a couple of pictures of groups shot from the tan Alexander Arms rifle at 100 and 300 yards.  As you can see in the photos, it shoots quite well at those ranges and beyond.

6.5 Grendel Gun Options

With Alexander Arms being the original, there are many AR manufacturers offering their builds in the 6.5 Grendel cartridge these days.  It’s a well known design obviously.  There’s really nothing much more to say about it.  You know it, I know it, we all agree that the AR15 is “America’s Rifle.”

Bolt Action – In my research, I only found a couple of companies still making a bolt action rifle chambered in 6.5 Grendel.  CZ was making several models up until 2021 when they discontinued the cartridge from their line-up altogether.  Currently you can find bolt action 6.5 Grendels from Howa in their mini action line, and from Ruger in their American Rifle – Ranch model.  There are plenty of gunsmiths out there willing to spin up a barrel and make you a custom rig based off of this cartridge as well. 

Final Thoughts

I feel that the 6.5 Grendel is an excellent choice for deer, hog, and varmint hunting.  I think it’s the best thing going right now for AR15 long range competitions. (Though the 6ARC is promising) It’s America’s Rifle but with improved ballistics and lighter recoil, what’s not to like?

Best 6.5 Grendel Ammo

I personally think the best ammo for the 6.5 Grendel platform is the Hornady Black 123 Grain Match.  It’s basically the exact same ammo that was originally tested by Alexander Arms when they created the cartridge.

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About Joel Wise

Joel Wise has a law enforcement background which later turned into security consultant for non-profit organizations. He spent the better part of a decade as a firearms instructor. Currently, he is a writer, videographer, and competitor in the precision rifle industry. He owns the Precision Rifle Network.

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