As hunters, we are always looking for the next thing that will give us a better advantage in the field. That could come in the form of gear, camouflage, scent control, and even different caliber guns and ammunition. In recent years, firearm and ammunition companies have really been on the forward trend, developing some fascinating new calibers. Some of these are still too early in their history to have become massively mainstream, but they are continuing to gain momentum and popularity amongst deer hunters. There is little doubt some are destined to become classics. Some of the developments in a few of these calibers may seem minuscule to their original form, but they are built and designed with very specific intentions. It turns out, some of these rounds are exactly what some hunters have been waiting for all their lives. You’ll understand more of what we mean by that as we look at five newer calibers that are rapidly gaining momentum with deer hunters today.
The 6.5 Creedmoor is probably the oldest caliber on this list and therefore the most popular today when it comes to newer hunting calibers. Hornady released the 6.5 Creedmoor in 2007 as a long-range target round but has since been developed into a very, very popular deer hunting round across the United States. The cartridge itself is based on a necked-down .30 Thompson Center. One of the reasons it is so popular is simply the speed. The muzzle velocity varies from 2,400 to 2,900 fps depending on the type of ammo.
The short action 6.5 Creedmoor comes in a variety of bullet weights that will seem a little on the low end to most hunters, but due to its design, the smaller grain bullets retain more of their knockdown power out to longer ranges. Popular rounds for hunting come in 130,140, and 143-grain varieties. These are the most popular with deer hunters who hunt anything from whitetails to mule deer to elk out west. The popularity of the 6.5 Creedmoor has grown largely due to its possible 1,200-yard effective range. Although it also has an excellent flatter trajectory at those longer ranges. Equally impressive is its ability to cut through the air and wind, and its low recoil. Mostly because of the recoil and accuracy aspects, 6.5 Creedmoor has become a popular caliber for younger hunters, women hunters, older hunters, and simply anyone who prefer a lighter recoil.
The 6.5 PRC, or 6.5 Precision Rifle Cartridge, is the bigger brother of the 6.5 Creedmoor. This is in essence, the magnum version of the 6.5 Creedmoor that provides a few more advantages over the original 6.5 Creedmoor. The 6.5 PRC originated in 2013 but was not fully rolled out by Hornady until 2018 due to ammunition shortages and focus on more popular rounds like the .223 and .308. The 6.5 PRC’s parent case is the .300 Ruger Compact Magnum. It surprises some shooters to learn it’s not based directly off the 6.5 Creedmoor itself. In any case, the thinking behind the ideology and ballistics is the same. The 6.5 PRC produces speeds about 200-250 fps faster than the 6.5 Creedmoor, which gives it an even flatter trajectory, more knockdown power, and less wind drift. If you start comparing ballistics, 6.5 PRC is nearly identical to the iconic .270 Winchester, with the upside being the PRC is short action, so it cycles faster than .270.
This has started to become a very popular caliber to be used by deer hunters who hunt at vastly greater distances. For those that were slightly skeptical of the smaller, lighter 6.5 Creedmoor’s effectiveness on deer, the 6.5 PRC will help overcome those reservations. Many ammunition manufacturers offer slightly heavier bullets up to 147 grains. On the upside, the 6.5 PRC has about 20% more muzzle energy and 23% more bullet energy at 500 yards than the 6.5 Creedmoor. One downside is that the hot rounds do shorten barrel life significantly and the recoil is heavier than Creedmoor. One could argue this round is a bit niche, but it’s slowly gaining more momentum as a highly effective hunting tool.
The .300 PRC, or .300 Precision Rifle Cartridge, was designed and released by Hornady in 2018 with the 6.5 PRC. It was designed to be used with heavy grain bullets that will deliver better performance and longer distance. In theory, it is supposed to perform like the 6.5 Creedmoor in a bigger caliber. This cartridge was built with the .375 Ruger in mind but was basically built from scratch for the specific purpose of a high-performance .30 caliber round that would outperform the .300 Win Mag. The overall length of the .300 PRC cartridge is 3.7 inches long and many come with heavy bullet weights of 212 and 225 grains respectively. At the same time, it still maintains blazing 2,800+ fps ballistics. This gives the .300 PRC a slightly flatter trajectory, more knockdown power, and less wind drift over the .300 Win Mag. The only downside is slightly more recoil.
The .300 PRC is geared towards hunters who hunt at much longer ranges and need the knockdown power for bigger animals. Many hunters buy this one because they also have elk and moose in mind. This gun may only be slightly better than the .300 Win Mag when it comes to performance, but for those hunters looking to get every little bit of advantage they can get, the .300 PRC is not a bad choice. Especially if you are in the market for a new .30 caliber firearm.
The .350 Legend is one of the new straight-walled rifle rounds that was introduced by Winchester at SHOT Show in 2019. The .350 Legend has quickly become popular for its versatility and its use as a rifle round in many Midwest states that have very specific parameters for the use of rifle cartridges. The .350 Legend is a completely new design but has the same rim diameter as a .223. It was designed to maximize performance in a smaller caliber while offering enough knockdown power to be used on bigger game like deer. This caliber can be found in different bullet weights varying from 125 to a heavy 280 grains. The recoil is comparable to a .243, making this round very popular with newer, younger shooters and in areas where the hunting range is a bit shorter. Before the .350 came along, many hunters in the Midwest were purchasing rifles chambered for .450 Bushmaster, which is a fine round but has a nasty kick. Many hunters have since made the switch to the .350 Legend simply because it is so much more pleasant to shoot and has a flatter trajectory.
One big upside to the .350 Legend is its versatility in the field. Because this caliber closely relates to the .223 Remington and 5.56 NATO, the .350 Legend is suitable for AR-15 platforms and will fit in most standard AR-15 magazines with no modifications needed. That will make some AR fans very happy. On an even bigger note, most states are allowing the .350 Legend to be used on public land, as it fits their straight-walled parameters and falls into their minimum classification for caliber size for ethical hunting. Ohio and Indiana are two states that specifically state the .350 Legend can be used on public land in their states. With an effective range of 250 yards, this caliber gave many hunters in states like Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio the ability to reach out and drop deer that were previously out of the range of shotguns and muzzleloaders.
If you are in the market for a new deer gun and want versatility, give these four new calibers a fighting chance. They were all developed for specific purposes and each one has different characteristics that might fit exactly what you need in your next deer hunting rifle. Whether you are a new shooter or an experienced hunter, there is a new caliber out there for everyone.
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