To those who study ammunition developments, it’s amazing how things tend to come full circle after a time. In recent years 6.5mm cartridges have become incredibly popular, as their high sectional density, superior ballistics, and moderate recoil make them superior to other options. But over 100 years ago those benefits were already known.
In fact, the late 19th century saw the development and adoption of numerous 6.5mm cartridges, such as the 6.5×55 Swede, 6.5x53R Mannlicher, and 6.5×52 Carcano. And even Japan got into the game, with the adoption of the 6.5x50mm Arisaka.
The 6.5 Arisaka cartridge was adopted along with the Type 30 Arisaka rifle in 1897, replacing the 8x52mm round used in the Murata rifles. The 6.5 Arisaka took advantage of the adoption of smokeless powder to offer superior long-range ballistics.
Like many European countries, the Japanese originally loaded the 6.5 Arisaka with a 160-grain round-nosed bullet. They quickly adopted a 139-grain spitzer bullet around the same time that European countries adopted spitzers. This bullet reached 2,500 feet per second of muzzle velocity, for about 1,900 foot-pounds of muzzle energy.
Compared to the larger .30-caliber and 8mm cartridges used by the US, Russia, Germany, France, and other countries, this performance seems anemic. But the lack of muzzle energy was made up for by the fact that the superior ballistic performance of the 6.5mm bullets would retain energy at range.
Still, Japan was determined to adopt a more powerful caliber, which eventually resulted in the adoption of the 7.7x58mm Arisaka. But the 6.5 Arisaka remained in Japanese service through the end of World War II.
The 6.5 Arisaka also saw service with other militaries, such as Finland, Great Britain, and Austria-Hungary. And various other non-state militaries used them too, such as Chinese warlords, Russian Whites, and Lawrence of Arabia’s Arab armies.
Despite being an obsolete round, ammunition for the 6.5 Arisaka is still available, but expect to pay for it. Currently available ammunition costs about $2.50 per round. Brass is available from Prvi Partizan and Norma, but expect to pay at least 80 cents per case.
Online reloading data for the 6.5 Arisaka is anemic, topping out at about 2,100 feet per second for 160-grain bullets and 2,400 feet per second for 140-grain bullets, with muzzle energies not much higher than those for the 6.5 Grendel. Pressures for those reloading data top out at about 38,000 PSI, meaning that there’s still quite a bit of room to run. Data from Hornady runs hotter, pushing the 140-grain bullets to 2,600 feet per second, and the 160-grain bullets to 2,400 feet per second, for around 2,100 foot-pounds of muzzle energy.
The Type 38 Arisaka rifles were reputed to be among the world’s strongest in resisting pressure, so careful handloaders should be able to improve upon the performance of factory ammunition. As such, the 6.5 Arisaka should be capable of taking game that any other 6.5mm rifle cartridge should be able to, given the right choice of bullet. That means that any game in North America should be fair game.
Is the 6.5 Arisaka a good survival cartridge though? If you have one, you’re probably already set up to reload, so hopefully you’ve socked away a good supply of brass, bullets, and powder. But if you’re looking for a rifle to rely on in a survival scenario, including one in which you may be on the move, there are probably better cartridge options out there.