Though not very common in the United States, the 6.5×55 Swedish cartridge has long been popular amongst European hunters. Since its inception in the late 19th century, the 6.5 Swedish has been known as a flat shooting caliber with relatively light recoil and superior sectional density. Though not particularly impressive when compared to modern high-velocity short magnum cartridges, the benefits of the round quickly become apparent once you’ve had the opportunity to shoot it.
The light recoil of the 6.5 makes it very popular amongst younger shooters and some female shooters who favor light rounds. It’s also supremely accurate and flat shooting. 6.5×55 120 grain deer cartridges loaded to higher modern pressures have a rise of only around 5 inches when fired at a range of 300 yards. This makes it very easy for a hunter to get “minute of deer” accuracy out of the round at a wide range of distances.
Designed in 1891, the 6.5×55 Swedish first saw action when it was produced in 1894 for the M94 Swedish Mauser. Its use continued through modern firearm development where it was utilized by the Swedish AG/42B semiautomatic rifle along with numerous machine guns such as the Kg/1940 Light machine gun, the Schwarzlose, and more common models like the Browning BAR and FN MAG.
The reason for the bullet’s sectional density is patently obvious when looking at the cartridge. The long bullet sticks conspicuously far out of the case neck. This long “freight train” style .264 caliber bullet boasts impressive penetration and a superior ballistic coefficient in spire point and polymer tipped versions. By way of example, 140 grain 6.5mm bullets are longer than larger and heavier .30 caliber 180 grain bullets. While the caliber of the bullet is relatively small compared to a .30-06, the elongated bullet design demonstrates impressive energy and penetration in 125-160 grain weights when taking game at ranges in excess of 300 yards. Though many in the United States dismiss the capability of the round for taking large game, it’s reputation amongst Finnish and Norwegian moose hunters speaks well to the effectiveness of the cartridge.
One of the only drawbacks to the 6.5×55 cartridge is no fault of the round: early model Mausers were not strong enough to take full advantage of the pressure capability of the cartridge. For this reason, the factory specifications for the load are significantly lower than the design is capable of. Later models such as the widely available M96 Swedish Mauser and almost all modern rifles are perfectly capable of handling the higher pressures. For hand-loaders, this means that it is possible to safely load the cartridge to higher pressures. In fact, a few modern loading manuals have different load specs depending on whether the round will be fired in an older Mauser or newer modern rifle, though most take care to only list the older lower pressure loads. With 48 grains of IMR 7828, a 130 grain bullet can be safely propelled to a velocity exceeding 2,900 FPS.
Despite the light weight of many 6.5mm bullets, this cartridge seems to perform better with slower burning powders. As always, when developing a load start out at half the powder weight and work your way up while checking for signs of overpressure.
The 6.5x55mm Swedish cartridge has been around for well over 100 years and continues to enjoy enormous popularity both in Europe and more recently in the United States. Given the performance of the round, it’s not hard to see why. Light recoil, flat shooting, great accuracy, and a wide range of loads make it attractive to target shooters and hunters alike.