First Born: Darrell's 6.5x47 Lapua
Proof of Concept Rifle, an American First, Shows Winning Abilities.
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Lapua's new 6.5x47 cartridge has attracted much attention in recent months. But brass has only recently arrived in the States. Here we feature one of the first 6.5x47 rifles built in the USA, Darrell Jones' new "Forest". Darrell was a real pioneer, commissioning reamer and dies before he even had his hands on final-production brass. A month of testing in June 2006 demonstrated the cartridge can deliver impressive velocities with outstanding accuracy. Darrell tested a variety of powder and bullet combos before settling on Reloader 15 (RL15) and Sierra 120s at 3068 fps as his match load. With that combination, Darrell's new 6.5x47 took first place in its very first match. Yes, the 6.5x47 will shoot. Lapua has definitely delivered a competitive new option in the precision shooting game.
|On the Cutting Edge--Starting from Scratch
Darrell wanted to be one of the first to have a 6.5x47 benchrest rifle in the United States. That meant taking some chances--ordering tooling before the production brass had even arrived at Grafs.com for North American distribution. Darrell explained: "I kept this project on a strict timeline to be able to be one of the first to shoot this caliber in the USA. David Kiff (Pacific Tool & Gauge) made me a reamer for a 0.293" no-turn neck. Using the reamer, my smith, Karl Feldkamp of Kampfeld Custom, had the gun chambered and assembled before we even had brass. But I had a friend that visited Finland often. He managed to get some of the first lot of brass air-freighted to me. With that 'privately imported' brass, I was able to start shooting three weeks before Graf & Sons got their first shipment. I knew I'd need a sizing die, so I contacted Hornady's custom shop. Using some pre-production sample brass and Dave Kiff's print, Hornady built a custom 6.5x47 full-length sizing die with neck bushing (similar to a Redding "Type S" die), plus a seater die. Hornady did a great job and the dies were very reasonably priced. One thing--be sure to order the VLD seating stem for the seater. My seater had a standard stem. This was too short and the long bullets could touch the stem at the bullet tip. That threw concentricity out of whack. But with the right stem, run-out was very low."
Darrell's 6.5x47 features a BAT Machine RBLP action mated to a K&P 28", 8-twist barrel, chambered with a .293" no-turn neck by Karl Feldkamp, who also applied the "snakeskin" surface texture to the barrel.
Darrell says there is no need for a longer barrel: "I think 28" is plenty--it will easily get you to the speeds where the bullets shoot best". Darrell employs a Weaver T-36 scope, held in polished Kelbly aluminum rings. The handsome "Field & Stream" laminated stock is a Shehane Tracker II, fitted with a polished Bruno's trigger guard, and metal buttplate. The Jewell trigger is set at 1.5 ounces.
Loading for the 6.5x47--
QuickLOAD Starting Points
Testing began in earnest in mid-June 2006. Unfortunately, Darrell didn't have any reliable load data. The case was very similar to a 6XC in size and capacity, and that suggested Hodgdon H4350 would be a good choice. However, with a larger bore diameter, the pressure characteristics were actually quite different. Darrell contacted AccurateShooter.com, and this editor created a profile for the new cartridge in QuickLOAD. Running a simulation with a 63,000 psi max load, and 123gr Scenar bullets seated in the lands, QuickLOAD predicted that Varget, RL15, N550, Win 760 and Vectan SP11 would be good choices for the 6.5x47, running the 123s. Note--the bigger bore really DID make a difference--powders that are "too fast" for the 6XC, work fine in the 6.5x47. QuickLOAD predicted that 6.5x47 could run a faster-burning class of powers, and meet or beat the velocities produced by the 6XC. That prediction proved true.
Initial Testing--Great Velocities but Big Groups
In mid-June, Darrell started his first tests, trying a variety of 120-grainers from Lapua, Sierra, and Nosler. The groups were not very impressive, but shooting conditions were atrocious--windy and blustery. The good news was that Darrell was able to achieve very high speeds with the 120s, pushing them up to 3200 fps. It was clear, however, that the accuracy was much better under 3100 fps, and the ES and SD was high with most of the very hot loads. Darrell did have one excellent group with Nosler 120s, pushed by Vihtavuori N550 at a super-fast 3198 fps. Darrell may have found a second accuracy node up at that level; but hitting that "high node" was tough on the brass. (Darrell 'sacrificed' nearly 70 cases during the testing process, pushing them to the limit).
Darrell also tried some Berger 140s with N550. Somewhat surprisingly, he achieved 2900 fps pretty easily, and took them up as high as 3000 fps. But Darrell observed that the ES was high at 3000 fps with the 140s, and there were definite pressure signs. Darrell recommends keeping velocities under 2900 fps if you use the 6.5x47 with the 140s.
Darrell started out with N550 and H4350. The H4350 showed real promise with loads in the 2950-3000 fps range, producing some of the best groups initially. 42.0 and 41.5 grains of H4350 were very accurate, producing cloverleafs with both Scenar 123s and Sierra 120s. With the Scenars, H4350 also produced two 5-shot groups with single digit Extreme Spreads. However, the low ES/SD numbers were at modest 2955 fps and 2928 fps speeds (Click for TARGET). Darrell wanted more speed, but to push H4350 much higher, Darrell was running short on case capacity. Darrell wanted to see if could get more velocity while improving accuracy. So, with the suggested Varget and RL15 QuickLOAD recipes, Darrell moved on to the faster powders. That would prove to be a smart move, but Darrell says "After RL15, H4350 was the second-best choice in powders for this cartridge, among those I tested."
Dialing in the Tune--Reloader 15 Works Great
Using a suggested load of 39.0 grains of RL 15, things really started to come together. Darrell had observed that both the Nosler 120s and Sierra 120s seemed to shoot a little tighter than Lapua's Scenar 123s. We attribute this to the fact that the Scenars are about .0005" (half a thousandth) narrower in shank diameter than the American-made 120s. The Scenars did produce some good groups, but overall, the Noslers and Sierras shot tighter on average. [NOTE: The Scenars are great bullets--extremely consistent, but they seem to work best in barrels with a fairly tight bore diameter, such as those typically produced by PacNor.] Observing how much of a difference bullets made, this Editor contacted Bob Cauterucio. Bob said he had a 120-grainer with a very high BC, estimated at .585. Darrell was able to obtain some of the Cauterucio 120s from a Forum member. We had high hopes that with the custom bullets, Darrell's gun would really show its stuff. We weren't disappointed.
When Darrell then loaded the Cauterucio 120s and started shooting with RL15, the group sizes really started to shrink. Now Darrell was seeing five-shot groups in the low Twos and high Ones. Further testing revealed that about 39.0gr of RL15 shot well with all the bullets tested, including the Noslers and Sierras (i.e. the 120 SMKs, not the new 123gr Sierras, which haven't been tested yet). Darrell even tried this load with the lighter 107gr SMKs and it shot a tight 1/4" cloverleaf, clocking 3141 fps. (Darrell believes you could probably push the 107s to 3250+ without much difficulty).
A load of 39.3gr RL15 with the Cauterucio 120 produced a .17" group with four in one hole, at a velocity of 3068 fps. This was still with CCI 450 primers, and bullets seated about .015" into the lands. After a month of testing, using five different powders (H4350, Varget, RL15, N550, and H4831sc), Darrell concluded "this rifle really likes to run RL15 with bullets in the 3000-3060 range."
Darrell planned to load the Cauterucios behind 39.3gr RL15 for his first match, but in late testing he noticed a few unexplained flyers. Darrell first thought excess bullet lube might have caused the flyers (Bob Cauterucio ships his bullets with die lube still on the jackets). But now we know that Darrell had a loose rear scope mount during his final testing day before the match. But he wasn't aware of the scope problem at the time. So, just to be conservative, Darrell loaded with 120 SMKs for his first match.
|Pushing the Envelope
- the Higher Node -
Darrell knew he was doing ground-breaking work with this rifle, and he wanted to see just how fast he could really push the 120s. Some 6.5-284 shooters have speculated there is a "high accuracy node" at around 3150 fps. Could the little 6.5x47 case get the 120s into that range? The answer is yes, but the process is not healthy for the brass. With a super-stout 42.5gr load of Vihtavuori N550, Darrell pushed the Nosler 120s all the way up to 3198 fps. To his suprise, four went into one hole with one slightly out. ES and SD were 21 and 9, respectively. Darrell cautions that this kind of experiment is not healthy for the brass. Driving 120s this fast resulted in about a half-thousandth case-head growth. At 3050 fps, by contrast, there was no significant casehead growth.
|Reloading Tips and Lessons
It took a while for Darrell to develop a really good load. Out of the box, the brass showed more run-out than desireable. Even with a lot of QuickLOAD data, he wasn't sure just how much pressure the brass would take or how fast the bullets liked to run. It took some time to figure out the right seating depth and neck tension too. Darrell currently runs a .2915" neck (with bullet loaded), in a .293" chamber. He neck-sizes with a .290" Redding TiNitride bushing, flipped upside down (inverting it gives a little more tension Darrell's found). That gives about .0015" tension. He was seating .015" into the lands but he's recently backed that out to about .010". This, he says, seems to reduce the effort to open the bolt a little bit. His match load is 39.0-39.3 RL15 with 120gr bullets (Sierras or Cauterucios). Until recently all ammo was loaded with CCI 450 small magnum primers. He recently tested some CCI BR4s. Accuracy was about the same, but he lost about 35 fps velocity. So--right now it looks like the 450s are better if you want the most velocity. For case prep, Darrell did nothing other than weight-sort and chamfer the necks. He did not uniform the primer pockets, and did not ream the flashholes to a larger size (though he did run a 0.058" tool into the flash-holes to remove any burrs).
Brass Uniformity and Concentricity
Darrell says the concentricity of the Lapua brass, right out of the box, was "not so great"--about .003. But once the cases had been fire-formed and FL-sized, the run-out has been very low. The Hornady FL die works really well according to Darrell, and it produces very concentric ammo. Darrell was a bit surprised by weight variances (up to 1.4 grains) in the Lapua brass, so he does weight-sort the brass. He also suggests you should definitely check the case capacity of your brass. Darrell's first lot held 49.0 grains of water. The second batch of cases, obtained from Grafs.com held 47.0. That's a big difference.
|Competition--The 6.5x47 Lapua Wins Its First Match
Now with all the testing done, I was confident that "Forest" was ready for competition. Our scheduled 600-yard, 20-shot match was coming up on Sunday, July 16th. I had not shot in a few weeks, so I went to the range on the Saturday afternoon prior to the match. To my dismay, the gun was no longer shooting the Cauturucios consistently. The gun shot very tight for the most part, but I was getting some unexplained flyers. (I was thinking that might have been caused by bullet lube, but now I suspect a loose scope mount). I hurriedly went back home to change bullets but kept the same load. During my testing, I found that about 39.0 grains of RL15 shot all bullets well. My specific Match Load was 39.3 grains, chron'd at 3068 fps with the Cauterucios.
After arriving home, I discovered I did not have enough Sierra 120s for 10-minute unlimited sighters and a 20-shot match. Luckily, one of my shooting buddies (whom I would be competing against on Sunday) had an older box of the Sierra 120 MKs. I drove over to get those, then rushed home. I loaded some rounds with the older 120s, went to the range and re-sighted using the Sierras. The Sierras shot high and to the right (compared to the Cauterucios). The sun was setting and fortunately, with just a couple shots, I was able to get sighted-in well enough to be able to start the match the next morning.
Match day started out with light and variable winds. I was in the second relay so I had some time to kill. I had quite a few friends at the match (some from out of state) and we were gathered around the new gun, discussing the new caliber. Only one of my buddies had even heard of a 6.5x47. Fortunately, one of my friends was curious about my Mirage tube (a Sinclair product). As he inspected it, he noticed the scope moved slightly. He stated "Darrell you will never hit the target with that wobbly scope". Yikes--he was right--the rear scope base had become loose. I quickly slid the Kelbly rings off with scope attached and tightened both rings. I then slid the scope back on the scope rail and torqued the ring bases. That was a lucky fix. I had just a few minutes to spare before the match began.
After the first relay, the wind picked up slightly. So far, no competitor had shot a "clean" 200. Again I was up against some top shooters armed with good match rifles: 6.5 x 284s, 6BRs, and a 6 Dasher. My first sighter shot was exactly 9 o'clock in the 7 ring using a SR3 target. With two more shots I was in the X-Ring at 4 o'clock. Using a Weaver T-36, I decided not to make any more adjustments and start my record string.
During record fire, I tend to be very careful on setup after every shot so I was taking my time. By the end of the relay, everyone on the line was watching me shoot the very last shots of the match to determine the winner. (I was the last shooter to finish--right as time ran out). Patience paid off. The last shot was a '10" giving me a "perfect" 200 with 11 Xs, the only 200 shot that day. After reviewing the target, if I'd dialed just one click left and one click up, I'd have scored 16 Xs out of 20 shots. Still, I was very happy with the 200-11X. A win is a win, and when you can finish first with an untested cartridge, shooting a virgin rifle in its very first match, life is good.
I conclude that the new 6.5 x 47 Lapua can and will run with the big dogs at 600 yards. I believe it can deliver more velocity than most would have thought and with all the wildcat capabilities, we will see this new case in the winners' circle frequently in the future. -- Darrell Jones
Click to download 6.5x47 Lapua Cartridge Diagram as Adobe .PDF File.
|Thoughts on a New Caliber -- It Delivers on its Promise
I believe this case is near-perfect for the 100 to 130-grain 6.5mm bullets. It produced extremely tight groups with Sierra, Nosler, and Cauterucio 120s for me, and I expect it to perform just as well with the new bullets now being offered--Sierra 123, Berger 120, and Berger 130. Many will wildcat the 6.5x47, necking it down. But I like just the way it is. I think when you neck it down to .22 or 6mm, you may not gain much that is not already available with a 6BR Improved (Dasher or BRX). I've heard reports that a necked-down, 22-caliber version is blowing up Sierra 90-grainers in a 7-twist barrel.
The cartridge really works great as a 6.5 mm. It shoots the 107-125gr pills with extreme accuracy, and you can easily reach the best accuracy node. Even with the 140s, speeds are good--it gives up very little (if anything) to a 6.5-08 (Rem 260) with the 140s. Overall, I'm more than thrilled with the gun. I wanted to be one of the first to shoot this new caliber, and so far it has exceded my expectations. I believe, potentially, the 6.5x47 can be superior to a 6BR for the 600-yard game, because you can easily shoot high-BC bullets in the 3000-3070 fps range without stressing the brass. Once the brass was prepped and fire-formed, case run-out (measured on bullet ogive) was very low, .001" or less. The brass appears to be holding up very well when loading the 120s in their preferred velocity range (3000-3100 fps). And at those speeds, RL15 burns pretty clean and the ES/SD is very good. H4350 also shot very well, with very low ES/SD, but you'll probably max out at about 3000 fps with the 120s. If you want to push 'em harder, use a faster powder.-- Darrell Jones
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Topics: Lapua, 6.5x47, 6,5x47, 6.5-47, Finland, Darrell Jones, Heavy Gun, Light Gun, Nesika, Actions, K&P Barrels, Krieger Barrels, Shehane, Tracker, ST-1000, Tracker II, Tracker 2, Rutland Laminate, Laminated, 6.5mm, 6x47, brass, Sierra Bullets, SMK, Berger, Cauterucio, F-Class, 600 yards, 1K, IBS, NBRSA, 300m, 800m, Varmint, Varminting, Jewell trigger, Benchrest, BR, Bench Rest, Single-shot, competition, rifle accuracy, Alliant, Reloader 15, RL15, Vihtavuori N550, CCI BR4, CCI 450, CCI primers, Alliant, Berger, Dave Kiff, Pacific Tool & Gauge, JGS, Lathe, stocks, Weaver, Wilson Die.