Your AR-15 is a ton of fun at close range. Punching holes in cardboard, demolishing milk jugs, pure semi-automatic joy as fast as you can take aim and pull the trigger. But you get no respect from the precision bolt-action rifle shooter at the range who says, “you can’t hunt with that thing anyway,” or “you can’t hit a barn door at 700 yards.” He throws you a smug look before settling in behind the wood stock of his prized bolt-action. When he fires, there’s a pause of silence, then “ping” as you hear the steel ring from THAT gong. The one you’ve never even tried to hit with your AR-15. The one that’s 1,000 yards away. But what if your AR-15 could make that shot? What if it was capable of a one-shot takedown of game animals all the way up to the biggest mule deer in North America? What if your AR-15 could shoot in semi-automatic with sub-MOA accuracy to 1,000 yards and beyond? Today, you can do all of that. That precision bolt-action shooter is going to be annoyed when you’re ringing that 1,000-yard gong with your AR-15 three times faster than he can. But how is it possible?
6.5 Grendel – a Hunting Cartridge that Surprises Everyone
In 2004, the Alexander Arms 6.5 Grendel came to market. Developed by putting a 6.5mm bullet into a necked down 7.62×39 casing, the 6.5 Grendel was designed for hunters to use on deer-sized animals out to 300-400 yards, beyond the effective range of any .223 Remington hunting ammo. The 6.5mm round’s effectiveness for hunting was quickly overshadowed by Grendel’s surprising accuracy. Excellent sub-MOA groups are easily obtainable. That’s groups of less than 1-inch at 100 yards. With the right barrel length and bullet combination, 6.5 Grendel is capable of supersonic flight past 1,200 yards
.224 Valkyrie Takes Flight
224 Valkyrie is a new caliber, specifically designed to make the most of the AR-15 platform’s limitations and deliver long-range performance. Federal Premium Ammunition released the .224 Valkyrie in 2017, derived from a 6.8 SPC casing necked down to accept .224 caliber bullets. Valkyrie utilizes a smaller, lighter bullet than 6.5 Grendel, and its shape takes advantage of everything learned about bullet design in the 14 years since Grendel was released. Federal developed a new round that is twice as aerodynamically efficient as the 5.56 NATO round. The .224 Valkyrie boasts supersonic flight beyond 1,300 yards with less wind drift and drop than comparable rounds at the 1,000-yard milestone.
Let the Battle Begin!
The Primary Arms Battle Series takes you through side-by-side comparisons to help you choose which round is best for you. As we compare the two, we have chosen several categories that will assist you on your buying decision.
Head to Head Ballistics
Bullets lose all chance of accuracy when they slow from supersonic to subsonic speed. The 6.5 Grendel and the .224 Valkyrie were designed to turn your modern sporting rifle into a long range precision AR-15. They each take a very different approach. The Grendel uses a heavier, longer, and fatter bullet measuring .264” in diameter that maintains supersonic flight past 1,200 yards. The Valkyrie uses a .224” diameter bullet that is longer and heavier than the .223 and stays supersonic past 1,300 yards.
Reading ballistics data isn’t for everyone, so we will keep it short and simple. If you want more, check out these full write-ups. Our discussion on the ballistics of the two rounds starts with their Ballistic Coefficient (BC). In layman’s terms, BC is a number that measures a bullet’s aerodynamics; for comparison purposes bigger numbers are better. Beyond ballistic coefficient data, wind drift, bullet drop, and terminal energy are all important factors in determining which is the better round.
Federal Premium Ammunition produced a study comparing different calibers of their Gold Medal ammunition.
Long-range ballistics are the Valkyrie’s wheelhouse. With similar ballistic coefficient to 6.5 Grendel and outperforming it on wind drift and bullet drop, .224 Valkyrie takes a slight edge here. It’s easy to see, however, that both calibers leave even the best .223 Remington match grade bullets lagging. While the .224 Valkyrie appears to be more accurate based upon the ballistics chart, the success is countered by the heavier 6.5 Grendel’s delivery of nearly 40% more ft-lbs. of energy at that distance. Which caliber is best for you will be determined by your use and ultimate requirements.
Winner: .224 Valkyrie
THE DEER HUNTER
If you want to hunt larger animals like whitetail deer or hogs, 6.5 Grendel is for you. Make no mistake, the 6.5mm round packs a wallop. At 300 yards it has more than double the kinetic energy of a .30-30 cartridge, and almost 4x the energy of a 75 grain .223 Remington hunting load. Because the bullet weighs so much more, Grendel doesn’t rely on velocity for its terminal effect on animals, so you don’t lose much effectiveness by choosing a 16” or 18” barrel. Grendel makes for a lightweight, handy hunting rifle that can be carried all day long and fired standing or from a supported position. Valkyrie runs into a problem Grendel doesn’t have: many states have laws banning hunting medium to large game with .22 caliber cartridges of any kind, with no exceptions. So be sure you know your state’s laws before making a purchase if you’re looking to hunt.
Winner: 6.5 Grendel
Almost all .224 Valkyrie barrels are 22-24” long to maximize velocity. Due to its smaller bore, and shooting a lighter bullet, 224 Valkyrie rifles exhibit much less recoil than 6.5 Grendel—up to half as much, depending on the loading. It’s no wonder that prairie dog hunters are anxious to try Valkyrie cartridges. 6.5 Grendel responds to the challenge by demonstrating its flexibility, with dedicated varmint loads available. Federal’s example features a 90 grain boat-tail hollow point bullet screaming out of the barrel at 2,700 fps muzzle velocity. 6.5 Grendel is right at home when hunting small pigs or coyotes.
THE 1000 YARD GONG
What if you aren’t hunting and you just want precision performance from your long range AR 15 caliber? Both 224 Valkyrie and 6.5 Grendel will get you there. Many shooters regularly take the Grendel to 1,000 successfully. However, 224 Valkyrie exhibits less bullet drop and wind drift than 6.5mm Grendel, recoils less, and doesn’t cost more to set up or to shoot. It may not have much kinetic energy to spare at 1,000 yards, but Valkyrie flies better than any other cartridge developed for the AR-15.
Winner: .224 Valkyrie
Parts Availability, Conversions and Complications
With a 14-year head start on the market, there are more offerings of Grendel parts across a wider range of prices and configurations; .224 Valkyrie parts have a lot of catching up to do. At a minimum, both the Grendel and Valkyrie require a different bolt, barrel, and magazine when compared to a standard 5.56 NATO AR-15. Most enthusiasts choose to buy or assemble a dedicated complete upper in one caliber for easy interchangeability with their favorite AR-15 lower.
The magazine styles differ slightly, but both include shallow reinforcing ribs and modified followers. Grendel shooters benefit from years of magazine design refinement—6.5 Grendel mags are reliable, durable, and affordable. Valkyrie uses 6.8 SPC magazines which vary widely in price and quality.
Safety Note: Choosing 6.5 Grendel comes with an added complication. There are “Type I” and “Type II” bolt/barrel specifications out there, and you CAN NOT mix and match parts for each of them without risk of damage and/or injury. Type II is by far the most popular configuration but pay attention to what you are buying! A Type I bolt won’t chamber rounds in a Type II barrel at all. Even worse, a Type II bolt mated to a Type I barrel will create excessive headspace and result in a rifle that is dangerous to fire.
Winner: 6.5 Grendel
FEEDING THE BEAST
When it comes to match grade ammunition, the brand new .224 Valkyrie is not measurably more expensive than 6.5 Grendel. Match grade ammo prices for either caliber are pretty comparable to .308 Winchester. The bottom line is that quality match-grade ammo is more expensive than mil-spec or surplus 5.56 NATO, no matter which path you take. Expect to pay somewhere between $1.15 and $1.25 per shot for the good stuff. Range grade and plinking ammunition exists for both calibers at about fifty cents per round.
TWO PATHS TO PERFECTION
Well, would you like a larger, heavier bullet that will thump a little? Or a smaller, faster bullet that will buck the wind and drop less? That’s a bit of an over-simplification, but it is accurate. Here’s what it comes down to: Those who prefer a proven system, want to hunt medium to large game, or demand a short, handy rifle will love 6.5 Grendel. Shooters who like to shoot at long range targets, enjoy varmint hunting with a low recoiling rifle, and plan to shoot exclusively from supported positions should give .224 Valkyrie serious consideration. Let your own priorities determine your final decision and we’ll see you out on the range.
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