| Whenever I start a project on an unfamiliar cartridge, the first thing I
do is take a quick survey of all of the reloading manuals. That way I get
a quick take on the bullets and powders appropriate to the cartridge. In
other words, it allows me to hit the ground running when I start my load
development process. Additionally, the manual’s little written
introductions to the loading data is often quite useful as well as it
often will contain info on pitfalls to avoid with a cartridge.
Interestingly, the written introductions from all the manuals that I had
said essentially the same thing about the 6.5 TCU i.e. it’s a lousy
silhouette cartridge. Balderdash! When a cartridge can sling a 140 grain
bullet at over 2200 fps, there isn’t a legally set ram in the world that
can stand up to the punishment that it can dish out. The plain and simple
truth is that the 6.5 TCU is a natural for silhouette and should be
seriously considered by anyone just getting into the game or who has been
in awhile and would like to try something different.
O.K. So what does it offer? How about economy? How about ease in
reloading? How about accuracy? How about flexibility, and lastly, yes, how
Those who read my
article on the 6 TCU a couple of months ago know that I
was very impressed with its accuracy and its usefulness for half scale.
However, when it came to the full size animals, the cartridge’s capability
was being stretched to its absolute maximum limits. Therefore, it seemed
only natural for me to examine the next link in the chain to see if the
6.5 TCU would be better suited for full size and still have the necessary
accuracy for half scale.
This time around I thought I’d try a BullBerry barrel on my TC. BullBerry
is one of our long established barrel makers, having been around since
1980 and has been supporting IHMSA from the very beginning. It makes
barrels not only for the Contender but also for the Encore as well in any
length or diameter desired. Want a custom rifle built? No problem. Want
custom wood on your Contender, an Encore carbine, or maybe a custom rifle?
Again, no problem. BullBerry can provide any type or shape forend or stock
in any grade wood you like, including exhibition. The forend on the
evaluation barrel was a nicely figured piece of walnut - very, very nice.
See Bullberry Barrel
Works and the WoodSmiths At:
Smith of Bullberry is one of the finest barrel makers in the U.S. in
addition to being a strong supporter of the shooting sports.
Bullberry barrels are also slow turned. This feature is one of the primary
characteristics of BullBerry products that make them different from their
competitors. All barrel blanks from quality manufacturers are stress
relieved before they’re delivered to the gunsmith. This is mandatory for
the best accuracy. If a barrel hasn’t been stress relieved, it can twist
and kink microscopically as it heats up from being fired. Point of aim
will then shift, groups open, and accuracy in general then diminishes.
BullBerry is a firm believer that when a barrel blank is turned down on a
lathe to the desired contour, stress can be reintroduced into the barrel
by the combination of the metal removal process and heat that it
generates. Consequently, BullBerry will turn down their barrels at low
speeds with generous cooling to insure that the barrel doesn’t heat up and
pick up accuracy robbing stresses. High quality barrel blanks, match grade
chambers, and 11 degree crowns are also hallmarks of a BullBerry product.
This obviously works, as every BullBerry barrel I’ve owned has been a tack
driver. If you don’t agree that your barrel is accurate, just send it
back. BullBerry stands behind the accuracy of every barrel they make 100%.
As is the case with all true match chambers, this one was particularly
tight in the neck area - as it should be. Consequently, this required the
case necks to be turned and uniformed to avoid pressure jumps and to
insure the best accuracy.
If you’re looking for a barrel that can be used for both half scale and
the full size targets, twist is an important element to consider. For such
a dual application barrel, faster is always better. My recommendation is a
1:8 twist. The BullBerry evaluation barrel I worked with was a 1:9.5
twist. As a result, accuracy was generally better with lighter bullets
than with the jumbos. The big bullets could be made to work well, but
required more fiddling with the loads than the lighter bullets.
One natural question a reader might ask is “Why a evaluate a 6.5 TCU
rather than a 6.5 BR?” While the 6.5 BR is a fine cartridge, the
fundamental answer is cost. Shooting silhouettes is not inexpensive, and
unlike a lucky few, not all silhouette shooters can afford to throw
bushels of money at our sport. A check in one of the reloading catalogs
showed that five hundred Remington 223 cases cost $66. On the other hand,
five hundred 7 BR cases cost $170. Is the BR case $104 better than the 223
case? I don’t think so.
There are other considerations as well. The BR’s main advantage is that
it’s around 10-12% larger than the TCU case. Will that larger capacity
allow you to kill steel rams better than the TCU? Not really. The 6.5 TCU
will knock down the rams with excellent authority. The discussion then
becomes one of “how dead is dead?” or “How fast do the rams have to fall
in order to score the point?” On the negative side, there is then the
issue of increased recoil from the larger BR over the easier shooting TCU.
I’ve noticed that a fair number of 6.5 BR shooters use muzzle brakes on
their guns and that equals even more expense. I’ll take easy shooting over
unnecessary recoil any day.
However, don’t get me wrong here. I like the
BR case. I use the BR case, but I’m not kidding myself about the
“superiority” of the BR case over the TCU. Except for its clear velocity
advantage, which is probably not needed in most cases, the practical
differences in the field are minor at most, while the cost difference
between the two cases is enormous.
To further illustrate the point that you don’t have to spend a pile of
money to get good results, I really got down and dirty and used Winchester
range brass (discarded brass I literally picked up off the ground at my
local range) for this evaluation. Here, I simply cleaned the cases with
the Sinclair case spinner and Never Dull cleaner/polish, trimmed the case
mouths, and fired away. As the accuracy results show, these cases worked
just fine. Low cost is good. Free is even better.
Then there’s the issue of the theoretical advantage of
the design of the BR’s shorter, fatter, powder column which has seen
success in the rarefied world of benchrest shooting. However, this is
handgun silhouette, not benchrest. If a BR style case will allow a shooter
to produce a group a couple of thousandths of an inch smaller off the
bench than a TCU, the practical application of that capability is pretty
iffy in the nitty gritty real world of silhouette.
Like any TCU, case forming is simple. Simply run a lightly lubed 223 case
into the full length sizing die, and presto chango, you’ve got a 6.5 TCU
case. As usual, I went with my favorite brand of dies - Redding. The
Redding full length sizer die features a very long tapered button which
insures that the 223’s neck will be gently opened to the proper diameter
without splitting or other problems. Quality of the Redding dies is always
first class with no skimping on materials or processes. (A friend working
for one of their competitors even admitted to me once that his company
considered Redding dies to be the best in the business.)
Now all we have to do is fire form. There’s a myth that to fire form you
need special loads to do so. Ain’t so. Just use your regular load and
shoot away. Heck, I’ve seen lots of people fire form cases when shooting a
match and have shot 40’s with perfect accuracy.
Like all the TCU cartridges, the 6.5 is very flexible. What I mean by that
is that it works well with a wide variety of powders and bullets. For
powders, I used everything from Hodgdon’s 4198 at one end of the scale to
Alliant Reloader 15, Hodgdon 335, and Winchester 748 at the other end.
Bullet weights ran from 85 grains to 140’s.
The 85’s were a perfect choice for half scale. Blistering velocities over
2500 fps were possible and extraordinary accuracy was routine. This barrel
loved the 85’s. On the other hand, the jumbo 140’s with their high
ballistic coefficients provided all the knockdown you could wish for on
the full size targets. With a little tweeking, they could also provide
very impressive accuracy as well in spite of this barrel’s relatively slow
twist. The 120’s, which are the industry standard for 6.5mm bullets, had
the ideal combination of velocity and punch to work the ram targets just
fine. Superlative accuracy, and velocities of over 2200 fps were
It was the 100 grain Sierra that turned in the absolute best group
punching out a fantastic quarter inch cluster. Definitely too light for
the full size animals, it makes an excellent choice for half scale. Speeds
up into the 2400’s will also keep sight adjustments to a minimum. Just for
the fun of it you could try them for the big targets, but my guess is that
they’ll leave an animal standing now and then. Never hurts to take a
I also tried something different this time around -Lapua bullets. This was
the first time I used these and I have to admit that I was very impressed
with their quality and accuracy, especially the 123’s. The Europeans weigh
their bullets in grams rather than grains so I had to do a little math to
convert the weight to something I could relate to. These are certainly one
of the most beautifully designed bullets I’ve ever seen. Some how they
managed to successfully combine a Very Low Drag (VLD) shape with a good
amount of bearing surface to get both a high ballistic coefficient and
plenty of grip on the barrel’s lands - an impressive accomplishment. Most VLD designs have only a tiny portion of their body actually engaging the
lands and so while they’re relatively slick in the air, they’re sometimes
hard to stabilize. The Lapua’s are an exception.
These are premium hunting bullets and so are probably too expensive for
routine silhouette shooting. However for shoot offs they’re definitely an
option and when hunting you’ll never have to worry about the bullet not
going exactly where the gun is pointed.
All powders used in the evaluation yielded excellent groups. However,
Winchester’s 748, Alliant R-15, Accurate 2330, Hodgdon’s Varget, H4198,
and H322 all produced half inch groups. It was Varget that won the top
prize with the quarter inch group mentioned before. I hadn’t considered
using this powder until an acquaintance at the range mentioned that he had
really good luck with it in the 223. Consequently, I thought I’d try it.
I’m glad I did. In reality, I never found a “bad” powder. They all worked
well. Some just worked a little better than others.
In conclusion, a shooter would be hard pressed to choose a more balanced
cartridge for handgun silhouette, or a more accurate barrel to hang on
their TC. This 6.5 has the economy, flexibility, and immensely useful
performance of the TCU design, and the BullBerry barrel delivered
exceptional accuracy to bang down the steel no matter how big or small it
was - and you don’t have to spend big bucks to get it. Nice.
Good luck and good shooting,
Load Data & Results For The BullBerry