By Phil Massaro
Long-range shooting has certainly blossomed in the last decade or two, and with the growing popularity of the discipline, specialized gear has been developed to enhance the sport. In addition to the high-tech rifles, optics, and rangefinders, new cartridges have been engineered to deliver the optimum performance both for recreational target shooter and especially for those who actively participate in long-range shooting competition.
Hornady made an undeniable splash with the release of the 6.5 Creedmoor, a light-recoiling cartridge that can be housed in both bolt-action rifles and modern sporting rifles (MSRs), Before long, shooters were regularly hitting 1,000-yard targets and quickly pushed the envelope to nearly twice that number.
Hornady engineers weren’t content to sit on their laurels. In addition to the excellent hunting cartridges they’ve developed in recent years— think the .375 Ruger, .416 Ruger and the .300 and .338 Ruger Compact Magnums—they set out to design the ultimate cartridges for the competitive shooters, target shooters and hunters alike. The results: the Precision Rifle Cartridges. There are two, the 6.5 PRC and the .300 PRC, and each has a niche.
The 6.5 PRC builds on the impeccable reputation established by the 6.5 Creedmoor and the outstanding long-range performance wrought from its long, lean bullets with high ballistic-coefficient values. But Hornady didn’t use the Creemoor as the parent for the 6.5 PRC, instead using the .300 Ruger Compact Magnum. That cartridge shares a 0.532-inch case-head diameter with the popular .375 Holland & Holland case and is, therefore, an economical choice for housing it a short-action receiver.
The short, wide 6.5 PRC case has more capacity than the Creedmoor does, and the resulting muzzle velocity of the 6.5 PRC betters the Creedmoor by 200 to 250 fps in the factory loads, even more in handloaded ammunition. A short, squat powder column and a 30-degree shoulder also make for more consistent performance and a flatter trajectory than the Creedmoor offers. In fact, the 6.5 PRC shoots eight inches flatter at the 500-yard mark than the Creedmoor does.
That increase and velocity and flatter trajectory come at a price, however, and that’s an increase in recoil. Is it so severe as to be a nuisance? No, but a 147-grain 6.5mm bullet at 2,900 fps is on the hot side, and the barrel, especially the throat, can suffer from rapid shot strings at this velocity.
The 6.5 PRC is considered to be the “big brother” to the Creedmoor, and it fills that role well. For those seeking a target cartridge with the goods to ring steel out to a mile and double as a reliable hunting cartridge, the 6.5 PRC may just check all the boxes for you.
The .300 PRC is based on Hornady’s .375 Ruger – the father of the .300 Ruger Compact Magnum and, so, the grandfather of the 6.5 PRC. The .375 Ruger is a dangerous-game cartridge designed to mimic the performance of the .375 Holland & Holland but without the belt. Sharing the same 2.58-inch case length as the .375 Ruger, the .300 PRC also has its parent’s 30-degree shoulder (excellent for proper cartridge alignment, which equals better concentricity and potentially better accuracy) and a .532-inch case head. Driving a 225-grain .308-inch Hornady ELD (Extremely Low Drag) Match bullet to a muzzle velocity of 2,810 fps, the .300 PRC is a serious cartridge. It boasts a 500-yard trajectory within two inches of the 6.5 PRC’s, but delivers over 700 ft-lbs more energy at that distance. The .300 PRC betters the performance of the well-respected .300 Winchester Magnum and rivals the stats of the .300 Weatherby Magnum, but, again, without needing to use that belt of brass for headspacing.
Like the 6.5 PRC, the speed of the .300 PRC comes at the price of increased recoil. That’s just simple physics. There will always be a tradeoff when it comes to higher velocity.
How Do They Stack Up?
Having spent time behind the trigger of rifles chambered for either cartridge, I can attest to the excellent accuracy of both. Whether their performance levels are right for you will depend on your shooting situation and the distances over which you intend to shoot. The trajectories and wind deflection values of the PRC cartridges certainly garner attention, and the beltless cases are sound designs that overcome issues associated with belted cases, namely the case stretching just above the belt.
Are there pitfalls associated with the PRC cartridges? Well, as of this writing, factory ammunition for the .300 PRC is only available from Hornady, and though it is excellent stuff, it is costly. The 6.5 PRC seems to have gained a foothold in the shooting community, with ammunition produced by Hornady, Federal and Nosler. I feel this cartridge makes an excellent choice for the target shooter who also enjoys spending time in the deer woods or the elk mountains.
Are the PRC cartridges the best choice for a shooter just getting their feet wet in the long-range shooting game? It’s hard to ignore the fact that Hornady did such a good job with the 6.5 Creedmoor that it now represents the best value on the target market today (followed closely by the .308 Winchester). If your shooting distances don’t exceed 800 to 900 yards, the time-honored .308 Winchester is both readily available and extremely affordable. If the 1,000- to 1,500-yard range is your goal, the Creedmoor or even a .300 Winchester Magnum might fit the bill. But for the shooter who wants a definite advantage beyond 1,500 yards, the PRC cartridges will show their worth.
Looking at the Hornady Ballistic Calculator, you’ll see the 6.5 Creedmoor with a 143-grain ELD Match bullet maintain supersonic flight until 1,550 yards or so, while the 6.5 PRC stays supersonic until about 1,700 yards. While that advantage may seem minimal, it could make all the difference in the Precision Rifle Series competitions. The .300 PRC, designed to work with the heavier .30-caliber bullets, has a definite advantage there.
If you compare the 225-grain ELD Match load in the .300 PRC to the 200-grain .300 Winchester Magnum load, you’ll see the .300 Winchester goes subsonic around 1,575 yards— much like the Creedmoor—while the .300 PRC stays supersonic out to the 2,000-yard target. Both double as a perfect choice for all North American hunting.
Evaluate your shooting situation and be honest with yourself about your needs before making a choice. If you’re going to get serious about extreme long-range shooting, both should be on the list of possible choices. Just keep in mind that the PRC cartridges are job-specific tools, but not the only tools for the jobs at hand.
About the Author
Phil Massaro is a freelance author and editor-in-chief of Gun Digest Annual. He is happiest hunting the wildest places left on earth.