Is there a cartridge in the US as hated and ignored as the 6.5mm Carcano? On the one hand, it’s understandable that the Carcano has a bad reputation.
First and foremost, the Carcano is known as the gun that killed JFK. Then there’s the fact that Italian rifles have never had a reputation for quality. Carcano rifles have a reputation for having stiff bolts, poor sights, and all around terrible ergonomics. Finally, there’s the fact that getting the rifles to shoot accurately, even with handloads, can be very difficult.
On the other hand, however, there’s the fact that the 6.5x52mm Carcano is still an effective hunting cartridge, one similar in power to the vaunted 6.5x54mm Mannlicher Schoenauer. And there’s the fact that Carcano rifles can still be acquired relatively cheaply, thanks to their poor reputation, far more cheaply than comparable rifles such as the Mausers, Mannlichers, and Lee-Enfields that are more popular with collectors and shooters. So is the Carcano worth it?
The 6.5 Carcano started its life as other 6.5mm cartridges did, in the 1890s, loaded with 160-grain round-nosed bullets. This is what gave the cartridge its reputation for ineffectiveness. Unlike other 6.5mm cartridges like the 6.5mm Swedish Mauser, the 6.5 Carcano never received a general issue spitzer bullet. That limited not only its terminal performance, but also its ballistic performance.
Accuracy is also often lacking in Carcano rifles due to the fact that it used .268”-diameter bullets, rather than the more common .264”-diameter bullets. Commercial ammunition and handloads using the smaller diameter bullets are apt to get gas blowby and poor accuracy.
Factory ammunition for the 6.5 Carcano is sporadically available, but like most rifle ammo today it will cost you. Expect to pay at least $1.50 a round or more, and up to $3 or more for premium hunting ammunition. Factory ammunition can push a 156-grain bullet to 2,430 feet per second, a 139-grain bullet to 2,526 feet per second, and a 123-grain bullet to 2,690 feet per second, for up to 2,050 foot-pounds of muzzle energy.
Handloading data is far more anemic, with data showing a 160-grain bullet traveling at 2,100 feet per second and a 140-grain bullet at 2,200 feet per second. That equates to about 1,600 foot-pounds of muzzle energy. That isn’t a lot from what should be a full-power rifle cartridge. Handloading accessories are available, however, although bullets will be scarce.
Hornady used to produce a 160-grain .268”-diameter bullet but has since discontinued it. Prvi Partizan manufactures some bullets in the correct diameter, but availability will be spotty. There is of course always the option to cast your own lead bullets.
Overall, is the 6.5mm Carcano a worthy survival cartridge? If you have a Carcano rifle already, and you’re prepared to handload, then it can certainly be effective. But there are definitely better alternatives out there.
An AR-15 in 6.5 Grendel will get you 95% of the performance of the Carcano in a more ergonomic package, with more readily available ammo and accessories. And an AR-308 in 6.5 Creedmoor will exceed the Carcano’s performance, again with more readily available accessories, more available ammunition, and better future support.
So if you have a Carcano rifle already, there’s no need to ditch it. But if you’re starting from scratch or adding another caliber to your survival armory, there are better options out there.