My father owns a beautiful Sauer Model 80 in 8x68S. This is one of the aforementioned heavier rifles that is pleasant to shoot. Its main use is driven hunts and stand hunting for wild boars. But a lot of red deer in Scotland and other game have fallen to it. With a 200-grain Nosler Partition, this is a winning combination. I have not hunted with it extensively myself, but have used it and seen it work often enough to know what this cartridge can do. It’s small enough for everyday hunting and big enough for everything short of pachyderms.
Flat Trajectory: 6.5x68mm
Do you know a 6.5mm cartridge with low recoil and superb accuracy that took the shooting world by storm? And do you remember the high-speed 6.5mm cartridges that were developed to combine the aerodynamic bullets with more speed? Of course we’re talking 6.5mm Creedmoor, 6.5mm PRC, and the .26 Nosler, right? Well, those qualify, but I’m thinking of a hot 6.5 you might not know — the 6.5x68mm.
Swedes and Norwegians developed a very useful cartridge, the 6.5×55 Swedish, all the way back in the 1890s. It took a while for German gunsmiths to pair that bullet diameter with a voluminous case to ramp up speed for even flatter trajectory, but they did it in the 1930s. The 6.5×68 was designed and released simultaneously with the 8x68S RWS. The big 8mm was a heavy hitter. The narrower 6.5 was a serious mountain cartridge. Although it doesn’t carry “magnum” in its title, the 6.5×68 sure carries it in its performance.
Like all 6.5mm cartridges, this German design (there is a bunch of other german developments like the 6.5×50 REB, the 6.5×64 REB, the 6.5x57mm, and the 6.5x57R, the 6.5×65 RWS among others) is not ideal for truly large big game species, but excels on goats, sheep, and chamois. The flat trajectory combined with wind-bucking bullets helps hunters reach distant game in open country. It’s used mostly for chamois and red deer by Austrians and Germans in the European alps. And it could serve our North American friends well on hunts for mountain goats, sheep, and mountain muley, even open-country whitetails and, of course, pronghorns.
What I said about the smaller number of factory loads for the 8mm sister is even more true for this cartridge. In Germany, there are currently just two RWS loads available from RWS/RUAG Ammotec and the third one from a smaller manufacturer called SAX Munition. Again, the handloaders among us can work a lot more with this fine cartridge. The highest quality bullets in a wide variety of weights and designs are available, so there is a sensible choice for every hunting scenario.
One thing to consider is the era in which this cartridge was designed. In the 1930s no one realized the superior long-range performance of heavy, high B.C. bullets. That is reflected in the 6.5×68’s twist rates of 250-280mm (1:9.8 inch to 1:11 inch.) To stabilize popular, high B.C. bullets one has to build or buy a rig with a faster twist. For practical hunting purposes, the 6- to 8.2-gram (93- to 127-grain) bullets of the two RWS loads and the 6 gram SAX load work just fine out to 400-500 yards.
Felt recoil, moderated somewhat by the long barrels usually found on 6.5×68 rifles, is pleasantly low, as it is with most 6.5mm cartridges. With any cartridge, I find that longer barrels give more of a dull bang than a sharp crack. Regardless of the serious velocity of the bullets, this is true in this instance, too. The 6.5×68 kicks more than a Swede or a 6.5 Creedmoor, but most shooters should have no problem shooting 6.5×68 rifles accurately.
Talking of serious velocities, let’s have a look at the two RWS loads. The lighter, lead-free 6 gram (93 grains) Evolution Green load leaves the muzzle at 3,640 fps for just over 2,720 ft-lbs of energy. Looking at the heavier 8.2 gram (127 grains) KS- (Kegelspitz-) bullet, it zips through the air at 3,110 fps for almost 2,730 ft-lbs. Both hit hard enough for intended game at ranges out to 400 yards. As I said above, heavier bullets can extend the ethical range even further. Regardless of the weight, no load is especially easy on barrels. A fast series of shots is not a good idea if the barrel is supposed to last more than 1,000 shots.
I would now like to compare this speedy German 6.5 to the 264 Winchester Magnum. The Winchester Magnum gets little love nowadays but would be far more popular if the 7mm Remington Magnum had not been invented. The 264 Win. Mag. throws 100-grain bullets 3,500 fps for 2,735 ft-lbs of energy. It pushes 125-grain bullets at 3,180 fps for 2,806 ft-lbs of energy. Sound familiar? To produce these velocities, both cartridges need long barrels, preferably 26-inch. One advantage of the 264 Winchester is the faster twist rate of 1:9 inches. Shops are not particularly overflowing with 264 Win. Mag. ammo, so handloading is a reality for most fans of it. Then again, I favor the beltless German case over the belted 264 Win Mag.
Another fitting comparison is the 26 Nosler, which is even a tad more overbore but plays in the same league. Others like the 6.5-300 Weatherby and the 6.5-284 Norma also romp around in the 6.5mm magnum class. All of them do about the same, the 6.5x68mm just did it earlier than most.
Not uncommon for German rifle cartridges, there is a rimmed 6.5x68mm version with lower maximum pressure for reliable use in break-action guns. Called the 6.5x68R, that cartridge has all but vanished into the history books of rifle cartridges. There are no factory loads available right now, but I assume there is a market for break-action single shots in this caliber as lightweight mountain rifles. Maybe someday we’ll witness a renaissance. At least I like the idea.
What to make out of the two sisters
If you like to be a little different and show up in camp with a rifle in either of these two German sisters, rest assured you’ll have a nice point to start a conversation. More importantly, you’ll be shooting proven winners more than capable of keeping pace with today’s more modern developments in each caliber. Both cartridges are somewhat obscure in the US and Canada but can be very useful for the right sort of hunting. They have been around for a long time, reliably delivering venison to the table. I’m betting they’ll continue doing so in the future.