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IHMSA News Feature Article
Published in The IHMSA News, the Official Publication of The International Handgun Metallic Silhouette Association
Published monthly except November/December - January/February
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BullBerry 6.5 TCU
  By Todd Spotti Load Data & Test Results
     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 about power?

     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.

The Barrel
     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: Note: Fred 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.

The Cartridge
     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.

Case Forming
     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.)

See The Entire Redding Reloading line including SAECO Moulds at:

     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 commonplace.

     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 chance though.

     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, Todd

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Load Data & Results For The BullBerry Tests Below

Warning: All technical data mentioned, especially handloading, reflect the limited experience of individuals using specific tools, products, equipment and components under specific conditions and circumstances not necessarily reported in the article and over which IHMSA, The Los Angeles Silhouette Club (LASC), this web site or the author has no control. The above has no control over the condition of your firearms or your methods, components, tools, techniques or circumstances and disclaims all and any responsibility for any person using any data mentioned. Always consult recognized reloading manuals.

Loads used in testing the BullBerry 6.5 TCU

15" 1:9.5" twist barrel

Best grouping load with each bullet in red

< All Groups Fired At 100 Yards scoped from bench >

 27.0 W748 140 Speer Win 2210 10 .55 !
 26.0 R-15 140 Speer Rem BR 2103 6 1.1”
 25.0 Varget 140 Speer Win 2098 6 .77
 24.0 H4895 140 Speer Win 2126 16 1.17
 24.8 A2460 140 Speer Win 2198 24 1.76
 24.0 A2330 140 Speer Win 2083 16 1.88
 24.0 A2330 139 Lapua Win 2130 15 .95
 23.0 H322 120 Nosler CCI BR 2148 36 7.1
 23.5 H322 120 Nosler CCI BR 2187 11 .96
 24.0 H322 120 Nosler CCI BR 2225 20 .80
 24.0 A2330 120 Speer Rem BR 2088 33 1.2
 23.4 H322 120 Sierra Win 2156 16 .74
 24 H322 120 Sierra Win 2204 14 .77
 26.8 W748 120 Sierra Win 2252 53 1.5
 24.8 A2460 120 Sierra Win 2194 19 .79
 24.5 A2330 120 Speer Win 2144 19 .61 !
 25.8 H335 120 Sierra Rem BR 2258 18 1.17
 27.0 W748 120 Speer Win 2236 11 .75
 25.5 Varget 120 Speer Rem BR 2100 26 .98
 24.4 V133 120 Sierra Rem BR 2309 7 1.0
 26.0 R-15 120 Speer Rem BR 2147 38 .71
 25.0 R-15 123 Lapua Rem BR 2103 23 .52 !
 27.0 W748 123 Lapua Win 2293 19 .71
 25.1 A2330 123 Lapua Rem BR 2243 25 .55 !
 26.4 Varget 100 Sierra Rem BR 2261 16 .255 !!!!!
 23.4 H322 100 Sierra Rem BR 2170 19 .78
 22.5 H4198 100 Sierra Win 2467 22 1.0
 24.0 H322 100 Sierra Win 2268 28 1.25
 26.5 H322 100 Sierra Rem BR 2342 23 1.1
 27.0 A2460 100 Sierra Rem BR 2451 17 .51 !
 25.8 R-15 100 Sierra Rem BR 2177 34 .58 !
 25.1  R-15 100 Sierra Rem BR 2135 20 .80
 25.8 Varget 100 Nosler CCI BR 2239 31 1.1
 26.2 Varget 100 Nosler CCI BR 2304 24 .73
 23.5 H4198 85 Sierra Win 2521 5 .57 !
 26.0 H322 85 Sierra Win 2411 6 .59 !
 27.0 H322 85 Sierra Win 2513 10 .53 !
 25.0 N133 85 Sierra Rem BR 2424 10 .79
 24.3 R-15 85 Sierra Rem BR 2030 17 .52!
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