The 6.5 Grendel is an attempt to increase the power and range of a regular AR-15 with the need for minimal modifications. The .223 caliber is great, but it’s not always enough. This led to the development of a few intermediate cartridges and the 6.5 Grendel is one of them.
But is it the right choice for you? What are its pros and cons? Check out all these details further in this article.
An Overview of the 6.5 Grendel
The 6.5 Grendel is actually a predecessor to the venerable 6.5 Creedmoor. It was unveiled at Blackwater Training Facility in North Carolina in 2003. Collectively designed by Bill Alexander (owner of Alexander Firearms), Arne Brennan (competitive shooter), and Janne Pohjoispää (a ballistic technician at Lapua).
The whole point of development was to design an intermediate cartridge that could suit standard STANAG AR-15 mags and surpass the power of the .223 cartridge. Since the AR-10 was already in existence, something smaller than the 7.62 but bigger than the .223 was to be developed.
The result was the 6.5 Grendel. A .220 Russian parent case which is thicker and shorter than the .223 Remington. This allowed the 6.5 Grendel to hold more powder and also the larger 0.264-inch bullet.
Factory-loaded ammunition has bullets ranging from 90 to 144 grains. With a muzzle velocity of approximately 2,600 fps with the heavy bullets. The 6.5 Grendel shoots relatively flat with a drop of about 53 inches at 500 yards (123 gr. bullet).
However, it retains more hitting power at that range when compared to the .223. In short, the 6.5 Grendel is a better cartridge than .223 only when ranges beyond 300 yards are concerned.
The 6.5 Grendel falls exactly between the .223 and the 7.62 NATO, with almost half the recoil when compared to the latter.
As far as adoption and popularity are concerned, the Serbian military is planning on adopting the 6.5 Grendel as its primary rifle cartridge. But apart from that, it is mostly a recreational caliber with limited applications and popularity on the civilian market.
Best Uses for the 6.5 Grendel
The 6.5 Grendel is a good hunting cartridge, especially when long-range and better hitting power are concerned. The .223 is a flat shooting cartridge and is great for varmints and small game like coyotes or prairie dogs.
But when bigger game like deer are in question, the .223 is not always enough. Plus, it is illegal to hunt deer with a .223 or AR-15 in many states. So in those cases, a 6.5 Grendel rifle is your next best option.
The most common barrel lengths used for this cartridge are 20 and 24 inches. Mostly with a twist rate of 1:9 inches. However, when using heavier bullets, the twist rate must be properly analyzed to get the most out of the round.
A 123 grain 6.5 Grendel bullet has almost 878 foot-pounds of energy left at 500 yards. With a drop of about 53 inches. The heaviest .223 bullet can hold only 330 pounds of energy at that range.
The reason I mentioned these numbers is to explain that the 6.5 Grendel is an amazing deer hunting cartridge at ranges under 400 yards. Since at least 1,000 foot-pounds of energy is mostly considered minimal for humanely harnessing a deer.
The 6.5 Grendel was purposely designed to be a short action cartridge. By short-action I mean short enough for feeding in AR-15 rifles. Unlike the 6.5 Creedmoor which is also a short action but comparable to an AR-10 in 308.
While there are bolt action rifles for the 6.5 Grendel, you can also find semi-auto rifles for this cartridge, allowing you to create a semi-auto rifle with low recoil and hard-hitting power.
The 6.5 Grendel is suitable for ranges up to 800 yards. But it is mostly capable of being a hunting or range cartridge.
A Few Drawbacks for the 6.5 Grendel
The first and foremost shortcoming I find in the 6.5 Grendel is its low popularity and limited function. I mean the 6.5 Grendel came out in 2003 and shortly after the 6.5 Creedmoor was introduced in the year 2007.
The 6.5 Grendel was designed to be an intermediate choice between the .223 and .308. But the introduction of the 6.5 Creedmoor changed the game. Since it has better ballistics.
So my point basically is that if you invest in a 6.5 Grendel rifle, you should use it a lot for hunting unless you’re going after big game and need a bigger caliber. This cartridge has quite limited uses and many alternatives to outrank.
Apart from these factors, the price of the 6.5 Grendel also makes it a slightly difficult cartridge to adapt. With ammo prices ranging from $2 to $3.75, it is no match for the .223 in terms of cost and also availability.
As most hunting is done within a range of 200 yards, there are multiple cheaper and already proven ammo options. The 6.5 Grendel has a good long-range trajectory, but the hitting power drops significantly beyond 400 yards to call it a good mountain hunting cartridge.
The 6.5 Grendel is also a viable competition cartridge and has seen some good use in matches. Especially for recoil-sensitive shooters.
As the availability of the 6.5 Grendel is already quite limited. The options for reloading equipment and components are also scarce. So please bear that in mind and ensure you have a reliable supply of ammo.
How to Take Advantage of the 6.5 Grendel
The 6.5 Grendel was designed to suit the AR-15 semi-auto platform. When you decide to be friends with the AR-15, a humongous expanse of accessories, upgrades, and aftermarket parts opens up. The same is the case with this cartridge.
First off, rather than spending money on a full rifle. I suggest you purchase a good 6.5 Grendel upper receiver. As they are easily compatible with standard AR-15 lowers and will save you a lot of time and money.
Alternatively, if you are a purist and want all your weapons fine-tuned to your taste. I suggest you check out individual components and build it up from scratch. However, I still don’t mean the lower receiver. Only the upper components.
The 6.5 Grendel works best in 20 and 24-inch barrel lengths, but there are many options out there to choose from. Plus, design varies so you should scour the market for your optimal 6.5 Grendel barrel. Additionally, you can check out our review of the best 6.5 Grendel bolts too.
Due to its compatibility with the .223 platform, the 6.5 Grendel rounds can be stacked in .223 mags. A 30 round .223 mag will hold around 26 of these rounds. However, this will cause feed problems every now and then due to the fatter size of the cartridge. I strongly recommend you buy dedicated 6.5 Grendel magazines for flawless feeding.
Since this cartridge is intended for medium to long-range shooting. Adding a good scope on your rifle is imperative. Looking at its ballistics, a 3-9x or 4-12x scope will work best for a 6.5 Grendel rifle.
Apart from all this, you may also want to look at the best 6.5 Grendel reloading supplies out there. That’s because of the high cost of ammo and unexpected ammo shortages on market shelves.
Further Reading on the 6.5 Grendel
The 6.5 Grendel is a powerful and very capable cartridge. But it is not very popular. Clearly because it has many alternatives that have been tested over time and cater to a large fanbase.
The introduction of the 6.5 Creedmoor was in my opinion a very big deterrent to the popularity of the 6.5 Grendel. Both these cartridges differ in many ways, but the latter is a more popular choice for competitions. You can also check out our detailed comparison of the 6.5 Grendel vs 6.5 Creedmoor for a better idea.
Both these are good long-range cartridges. One shows compatibility with the AR-15 while the other is more amicable towards the AR-10.
Another player in this debate will be the 6.8 SPC cartridge. A round developed in the same time period as the 6.5 Grendel. The 6.8 SPC has gained exceptional popularity in the U.S Military and is a prospective replacement for the 5.56 NATO as the primary ammo choice for the armed forces.
Also, check out our detailed comparison of the 6.5 Grendel vs the 6.8 SPC cartridge for a better understanding of the topic.
Additionally, you should also take a grasp of a good reloading guide for the 6.5 Grendel. IMHO, reloading is an art every firearm owner should learn. Especially when working with less popular ammo.
The 6.5 Grendel is a step-up alternative to the .223/5.56 cartridge. Loaded with more powder, a bigger bullet, and a longer effective range.
It requires only a swap of the bolt and barrel to convert a .223 AR-15 into a 6.5 Grendel AR. The ammo is a bit costly, but definitely worth its price when hunting game not fit for the .223.