Lead free 6.5mm
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- Last updated: 25/08/2022
Now is the time to adjust your reloads to accommodate the ever-looming lead ban and to substitute your pet loads with a lead-free option. It baulks a bit to say the least, especially when you have probably spent many an evening tinkering with your reloads to perfect the ultimate accurate load with a lead-cored bullet! That’s life, so let’s see what’s available as a substitute for some of the more common 6.5 mm bullet weights. Supply and demand at the present are sketchy for a lot of the traditional brands of lead-free bullets, with new orders being snapped up instantly by eager shooters, me included.
Here are some of the bullets I could muster and the reloads that worked for me. I used a really lovely Schultz and Larsen Victory Thumbhole rifle in 6.5mm Creedmoor and it’s one of my all-time favourite rifles. The quality of manufacture is superb as is the adjustable synthetic thumbhole stock, plus the cut rifled barrels that S&L produce always shoot exceptionally well.
This bullet has a monolithic construction and sleek ballistic design to provide a hard-hitting and thus deep penetrating lead-free bullet. Hornady uses a mono metal copper alloy that has been proven to shoot cleaner, foul less and to deliver consistent and even pressure curves. The tough alloy material routinely retains 95% or more of its original weight and expands up to 1.5x its original diameter. The projectile features cannelures, which I am not keen on, but they do reduce the bearing surface and thus potential fouling. The ballistic coefficient for the GMX 125-grain is 0.295 and the bullet is 1.4045” long. The GMX is being superseded by the new CX.
These are nice-looking and performing bullets and are fast becoming my go-to lead-free 6.5mm projectile. The LRX (Long Range Expander) is a superb, sleek and therefore highly aerodynamic bullet with a BC of 0.468. It weighs 127-grains, needs a 1:8” rifling twist or faster to stabilise, has a sectional density of 0.260 and measures 1.402” in length.
The projectile shows a polymer tip to help rapidly increase the bullet’s diameter for maximum energy transfer. As with all Barnes bullets, you achieve a blend of deep penetration, superior down range performance, good accuracy and high weight retention.
Fox Classic Hunter bullets were designed for game shooting from the start and as such share a good blend of terminal ballistics. Fox emphasises that they cause less carcase damage or waste compared to normal lead bullets. They originate from Slovakia but provide effective performance on all of the UK’s deer species.
The importer, Edinburgh Rifles, also makes cartridges loaded with these bullets, which are used on many estates and forestry in the country. Their 100% weight retention also ensures - like other lead-free projectiles - that the bullet exits the game, leaving no part of the projectile in the carcass.
I had the Fox 6.5mm 100-grain bullets on test, which have a BC of 0.300 and length of 1.1475”. The recommended twist rate is 1:8” and they are slightly shorter than the others, so they should stabilise better. They have a distinctive black polymer tip and two very wide grooves on the bearing surface to relieve fouling and pressure.
Edinburgh Rifles also import the South African, Peregrine Monolithics, which are premium non-lead bullets. These are very obviously made on a lathe, where the precise CNC process individually turns every bullet so that Peregrine can control the dimensions. They are designed to expand below 1600 fps as well as be able to sustain 4000 fps velocities too.
I had the VLR4 Plains Game G7 Profile with a BC of 0.491. They measure 1.3720” in length and are designed as an expanding hunting bullet. They are constructed of solid copper, with a brass plunger at the tip. Peregrine avoid excessive fouling in the bore - common to non-lead bullets - as the VLR4 rides on driving bands around the bullet’s body, so less copper contacts the rifling. Therefore, you have good, consistent velocities, lower heat and reduced back pressure. Peregrine states that they are optimised for use with faster burning powders and rifles with shorter barrels.
Norwegian Performance Bullets are made in Hornindal, Norway and are imported by Highland Outdoors. Again, they are a CNC-produced bullet, allowing some complex profiling to be achieved, with the benefit of ensuring perfect concentricity for increased accuracy potential. Furthermore, each bullet is individually inspected and measured for consistency!
The bullets are made from electrolyte copper, which is new to me. They are basically solid but with a hollow-point design to facilitate the reliable expansion of the bullet on impact, plus near 100% weight retention. They are designed to expand reliably at impact velocities of between 2297 fps and 2624 fps. Above these figures and the nose section petals will fragment and this means energy is transferred inside the animal’s body cavity, creating trauma in the lungs and heart area, whilst the main projectile continues to penetrate.
The 121-grain bullets are 1.3835” long and require a 1:8.5” minimum twist rate to stabilise. Plus, they possess a hollow point with five well-defined driving bands. No BC values are stated.
All primers were Federal Match and as always, I used the Quickload Ballistics program to initiate a starter load that was safe for each bullet. I then shot them over the chronograph for actual ballistics.
I stuck to powders that have worked for me in the past, although I would have included Viht N555, but had very little left. There were no issues with actual loading, although I did find it easier to seat the bullets once cases had all been expanded to calibre using the expander mandrel tool. With some bullets having many relieving grooves, this aided the smooth passage on the neck edge.
I would also recommend starting at least 15% below your normal powder weight for the same lead-cored bullet, as monolithic projectiles are much harder. Pressures will increase if you swap like for like, lead for non-lead in the same weight. Add to this the fact that lead-free bullets are longer and seating depths and powder capacities have to be re-calibrated per load. In fact, you might as well start from scratch.
You will also notice that OAL was very crucial in the tests and even small variations, as well as differing ogive profiles for lighter or heavier weight bullets, made a difference to the accuracy and results. Lead-free bullets seem to be more prone to this and some of these types of bullets often fair better being seater further in the case, but this just exasperates the previous problems mentioned above.
The best accuracy went to the Barnes LRX 127-grain bullet. No surprises there. I used a load of 43.0-grains of RL17 powder (2792 fps | 2199 ft/lbs) and put three shots in 0.57”. Secondly best for accuracy were the NPB bullets, which produced 0.725” groups at 100 yards with 44.0-grains of Norma N204 powder (2787 fps | 2069 ft/ lbs). The Fox 100-grain bullets shot nice 0.64” groups with a low load of 39.0-grains of TAC powder (2852 fps | 1807 ft/lbs).
What you will notice from the results is that accuracy really varied with 0.5-grain changes in powder weight, but there was always a sweet spot where the individual bullets shot well. By comparison, this S&L rifle usually shoots sub 0.5” all day long with normal lead-cored bullets. Just saying!
Alan Rhone - Schultz and Larsen www.greatdanerifles.com
Raytrade Ltd – Barnes www.raytradeuk.co.uk
Edgar Brothers - Hornady www.edgarbrothers.com/shooting-sports
Edinburgh Rifles - Fox and Peregrine www.new.ersg.com
Highland Outdoors - NPB www.highlandoutdoors.co.uk
JMS Sporting – Quickload www.quickload.co.uk