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ALMOST NEW CARTRIDGE, BRAND NEW RIFLE

Springfield Armory 2020 Waypoint in 6.5mm PRC

Introduced in 2018, the 6.5mm PRC isn’t totally new, but it’s been making headlines and gaining a stellar reputation. Even in our Internet Age, it takes time for a cartridge to make a splash. Heck, it took the 6.5mm Creedmoor five years before it really took off and now it’s the hottest thing since sliced bread! The 6.5mm PRC (for folks like me who live in caves, that’s Precision Rifle Cartridge) seems to be catching on much faster.

As it should. The 6.5mm Creedmoor has paved the way, introducing a new generation to the benefits of the 6.5mm that have been present since the 1890s.  Long-for-caliber, heavy-for-caliber bullets, now combined with modern projectiles designed for maximum aerodynamics.

The 6.5mm Creedmoor was actually conceived as a long-range target cartridge, using 6.5mm aerodynamics to remain supersonic way out there, yet with minimal recoil. Hunters also appreciate accuracy, efficiency and light recoil, so the 6.5 Creedmoor has become an amazing across-the-board best-seller.

However, with a 140-grain bullet at about 2,700 feet per second (fps), the Creedmoor is not a powerful cartridge — excellent for deer, but marginal for elk-sized game. The 6.5mm PRC has been described as the Creedmoor’s big brother. Using the same bullet in a fatter case, it exceeds the Creedmoor by about ten percent in both muzzle velocity and energy.

That doesn’t sound like a huge increase (and probably isn’t). However, velocity and energy gains are generally incremental and rarely exponential, without a lot of additional pain from recoil. A ten percent increase is enough to extend practical range and, at least in my opinion, take the PRC into a slightly different class on game. Not everyone agrees but, again, I consider the Creedmoor marginal for game larger than deer. With more energy, I think the PRC is just fine for elk and larger African antelopes and, with more velocity, it projects more energy farther downrange.

There is a tradeoff in more recoil, but not all that much more. The 6.5 PRC is still very manageable and shootable. And, with its short, efficient case, is proving on-average very accurate. Available for just a couple of seasons (the 2020 season pandemically reduced), not a huge amount of hunting has been done with the 6.5mm PRC, but it has punched a lot of paper, rung a lot of steel and won a fair number of matches. Enough that it can already be declared a success.

This is a major accomplishment for any new cartridge because, after all, the general field is crowded with a whole bunch of great cartridges in several bullet diameters to choose from, many of them capable of performing much the same tasks. After decades of neglect, the field of 6.5mm cartridges is also getting full, with several options at various velocity levels. So, it’s significant that the 6.5mm PRC has achieved as much acceptance as it has in such a short time.

Will it become as popular as the Creedmoor? Probably not. The Creedmoor is a phenomenon, with a jump of several years and the PRC kicks harder and has more muzzle blast. However, it’s probably almost as good a target cartridge as the Creedmoor. I’m certain it’s a better long-range cartridge and I’m convinced it’s a better and more versatile hunting cartridge because of flatter trajectory and higher energy yield.

When new rifles are brought to market, in my experience, it has been most common for them to be introduced in the most popular cartridges. After all, the intent is to sell rifles, not ammunition. Depending on the rifle’s purpose and action length, obvious choices would include .308 Winchester, .30-06, .300 Winchester Magnum and, today, the 6.5mm Creedmoor. Throughout my (now long) career, I’ve seen few brand-new rifle introductions take a chance on new cartridges.

This is especially striking with Springfield Armory’s brand-new Model 2020 Waypoint. In the rifle world, Springfield Armory is probably best-known for their awesome M1A rifles (on the M14 action that only dinosaurs like me remember carrying) and for their Saint series on the AR15 action.

Love their rifles (and pistols), but Springfield Armory has not been a bolt-action company. The Model 2020 Waypoint is a bolt-action target and sporting rifle, introduced (duh, in 2020) in just four chamberings. Considering the initial M2020 is short-action only, two of the four are obvious, 6.5mm Creedmoor and .308 Winchester. The other two offerings are interesting; 6mm Creedmoor and 6.5mm PRC.

Initial chamberings in Springfield Armory’s M2020 Waypoint are, left to right: 6mm Creedmoor, 6.5mm Creedmoor, 6.5mm PRC and .308 Winchester. It depends on what one intends to do, but Boddington believes the 6.5mm PRC is easily the most versatile of the four.

The 6mm Creedmoor is simply the 1.9-inch 6.5mm (.264-inch bullet) Creedmoor case necked down to take a 6mm (.243-inch) bullet. Velocity, trajectory and power are similar to the .243 Winchester which, since its introduction in 1955, has been unassailable as the most popular 6mm and the standard crossover varmint/big-game cartridge.

However, with its shorter case, the 6mm Creedmoor is better-suited to the long, low drag bullets being developed with off-the-charts Ballistic Coefficients. I doubt it will approach the .243 in overall popularity, but in all ways it’s at least as good as the .243, which is not damning with faint praise.

The 6mm Creedmoor is finding favor with competitive shooters because of its light recoil and awesome performance with heavy bullets of 108 and 110 grains. I don’t have a 6mm Creedmoor rifle, but I have described it as the best 6mm cartridge and I think that’s accurate.

Springfield Armory’s M2020 Waypoint is also offered in 6.5mm PRC, which was the chambering of my test rifle. Again, it’s a departure for a brand-new rifle to be offered in relatively new cartridges, but the PRC seems a good fit.

MODEL 2020 WAYPOINT

The Springfield Armory folks were pretty smart in chambering to 6.5mm PRC. The cartridge is catching on fast, but so far, production rifles in that chambering are limited. So, the Waypoint in 6.5 PRC offers an over-the-counter option in a new, modern, and desirable chambering. More important, and regardless of which of the four Waypoint chamberings one chooses, the rifle is of modern configuration, incorporating features normally seen on custom or semi-custom rifles, at significantly higher cost.

The basis is a short-action Mauser-clone with dual-opposing locking lugs, with 90-degree bolt lift and helically fluted bolt body. The two-position safety is located behind the bolt handle root, the low-profile bolt release is on the left rear receiver ring. The detachable magazine has in-line feed, with three-shot capacity in 6.5mm CM.

Beyond the four initial chamberings, options are few but significant. The Waypoint is offered in either fluted stainless steel barrel or carbon fiber-wrapped barrel. The AG Composite stock is carbon fiber, again a choice of either three-way adjustable comb or solid comb, in both cases the style blending tactical and heavy sporting or varmint. Metal is Cerakote finished, stocks are hand-painted in choice of Ridgeline or Evergreen camo.

All Waypoints have removable SA Radial muzzle brake, five M-Lok sling mounting positions, Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad, Picatinny rail on the receiver for simple scope mounting and TriggerTech adjustable trigger, with the safety integral to the trigger mechanism.

The Waypoint is available with both fixed and adjustable comb. With adjustable comb, it takes just a few seconds to achieve a perfect cheek-weld, an increasingly important feature with the larger scopes popular today.

Out of the box, I thought the trigger was a bit heavy, but adjustment is perhaps the simplest I’ve ever seen. Just apply an Allen wrench ahead of the trigger itself and tighten or loosen as desired. The trigger is rated for adjustment between 2.5 and five pounds. I can’t speak to that, but with just a little cranking it quickly came from a little more than four pounds to a clean, crisp 2.75 pounds.

The carbon fiber barrel adds bulk but not weight. Likewise, the hybrid tactical/sporting stock is neither slim nor trim, but is not heavy. Overall weight without scope, 24-inch carbon fiber barrel and adjustable stock in 6.5mm PRC, is seven pounds, ten ounces.

In different chamberings (with 22-inch barrel) a few ounces can be shaved, but the Waypoint is not a super-lightweight. It is also not heavy, it’s a full-sized rifle that handles well and shoots straight.

I put a Zeiss Victory 3-12x50mm scope on it and initial groups were just fine. All M2020 Waypoint rifles are guaranteed for .75 MOA accuracy and this one easily met that criteria. I wasn’t set up to handload for the 6.5 PRC and the cartridge is new enough that a wide selection of factory loads doesn’t yet exist. So, working with what I had, groups were shot with Hornady Precision Hunter 143-grain ELD-X and 147-grain ELD Match.

I expected the Match loads to group a bit better, but with any given rifle you can’t predict exactly what load might produce the best results. In this rifle, the Match loads were fine, but the Precision Hunter ELD-X gave the best results. With both loads, initial groups at 100-yards ran about an inch. And 200-yard groups opened just a bit to about 1.5 inches, with definite preference to the 143-grain ELD-X. This was just fine with me. I wasn’t gonna shoot matches with the rifle, but I intended to hunt with it.

The rifle is impressive and very complete. Using the supplied Allen wrench, it took just a few seconds to adjust the comb to a perfect cheek-weld with the big Zeiss scope. One caveat, and the only complaint I can come up with. Once the comb is raised, the bolt can’t be removed without digging out the Allen wrench and lowering the comb so the bolt will clear. Priced from $1,699 to $2,399, the Waypoint is a lot of rifle for the money.    

A BIT MORE ON THE 6.5mm PRC

The 6.5mm PRC is based on the .300 RCM (Ruger Compact Magnum) case necked down or, if you prefer, the .375 Ruger case shortened to 2.030 inches and necked down. As such, the case is just a wee bit longer than the .308 Winchester’s 2.015-inch case. It will fit in a short bolt-action, and the Waypoint is a short-action rifle.

However, as low drag 6.5mm bullets get heavier and longer, many shooters are putting the 6.5mm PRC in standard (.30-06-length) actions, allowing the longest and heaviest 6.5mm bullets to be seated well out. This is not a problem for the Waypoint but, with low-drag bullets getting longer and long-range competition in mind, Hornady’s engineers designed the cartridge with .30-06-length actions in mind.

The Waypoint is the first 6.5mm PRC rifle I’ve been able to spend quality time with. I haven’t avoided the cartridge. I just hadn’t had (or made) time. Recoil is very mild for the performance level, this aided by adequate gun weight, a good recoil pad and an effective muzzle brake. It would have been nice to take the rifle to the field and shoot a dozen or so animals. But, in a North American fall hunting season that’s rarely possible…and certainly not in a pandemic autumn!

The Waypoint uses an in-line detachable magazine with “three plus one” capacity in 6.5mm PRC. Feeding was positive and smooth, and the magazine locks into position easily and securely.

In his younger days, the late Bob Penfold, pioneer South Pacific outfitter, used to do a lot of writing for Australian magazines. Unlike most of North America, Australia has major problems with feral animals, including goats, donkeys and water buffaloes as well as feral hogs. I’ll never forget what Bob once told me: “Mate, you American gunwriters take a new rifle, cartridge, or bullet, shoot a deer and call it field tested. Over here, we take a new rig out and shoot fifty animals. That’s field testing.”

I can’t argue, and ever since I’ve been careful about passing judgment based on very limited field experience. In point of fact, I wound up shooting exactly one whitetail deer with the Waypoint 6.5mm PRC! In my (and the cartridge’s) defense, the level of power and terminal performance offered by the 6.5mm PRC isn’t exactly unknown.

The 6.5mm Creedmoor, .260 Remington, and 6.5×55 Swedish Mauser are essentially identical in ballistics and performance on game, 140-grain bullet at roundabout 2,700 fps. Despite hype, legend and wild claims, what these cartridges will do (and what they might not do) has been known for a century.

Similarly, the 6.5mm PRC, the 6.5-.284 Norma and the .264 Winchester Magnum are essentially identical in ballistics and performance on game, 140-grain bullet at just under 3,000 fps. The .264 has been with us since 1958 and I’ve used one off and on since the mid-Sixties. So, although I regret lack of opportunity, I don’t think it was necessary to shoot a whole bunch of animals to know how a good 140-grain 6.5mm bullet at just under 3,000 fps performs on game.    

JUST ONE WHITETAIL

My buddy Zack Aultman’s place in southern Georgia is a pine plantation bisected by one of those wide, endless power line rights-of-way so typical of southern deer hunting. With the accuracy of the Waypoint rifle and the capability of the 6.5mm PRC, I thought I had a near-perfect setup for one of his power line stands, where shots can stretch way out there.

I probably did, but whitetail deer move when, where and as they wish. Anybody who can accurately predict shots at whitetails must be a whole lot smarter than me. The power line wasn’t especially active while I was there, so on about the third morning Zack put me in a stand overlooking an L-shaped clearing, planted in wheat just coming up green, dense pine forest on all sides.

The long leg to my front stretched fully 400 yards but was only 50 or 60-yards across. I had the reach, but if a buck was passing through, the obvious challenge would be to identify, judge, make a decision and take the shot before the deer moved out of the window and back into the forest.

As dawn came and went, some does fed out and a couple of bucks did exactly as expected, passing through at about 300 yards. I was paying attention and staying ready. I think I could have gotten shots, but they were young, easily recognized and I never picked up the rifle. The sun was long up and bright, frost almost melted and, in the arithmetic of whitetail hunting, chances were diminishing.

Movement to the left caught my eye. A buck stepped to the edge of cover across the short leg of the L and paused to thrash a cypress. Still in shadow, I couldn’t see him well enough to be sure, but he looked good, good enough that I slowly raised the Waypoint and got ready. A few seconds later he turned toward me, committed and trotted toward me along the far edge of the food plot.

Old enough, big enough, with unique bulbous acorns on both main beam tips. I let him come, and when he paused, I shot him on the center of the shoulder, the 143-grain ELD-X dropping him hard in his tracks. One shot at barely a hundred yards isn’t much testament to any rifle, cartridge, or bullet, but I have no concerns about the capability of the 6.5mm PRC.

And, although the Waypoint is an ideal long-range setup, I was pleased and impressed by how well it handled in a fast-breaking situation. As with all hunting, you take the shot you get!–Craig Boddington           

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