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What’s the Best Cartridge for Coyote Hunting?

by Joseph von Benedikt   |  December 23rd, 2013 44

Most hunters will agree the best round for shooting a coyote is the one you have when you spot Wile E.

Cartoon jokes aside, what cartridge would you choose for a dedicated predator-hunting rifle?

Most fast varmint-type cartridges work just fine, but there are a few that excel. Though weeding just one out of the pack and dubbing it the very best is risky business, that’s what we’re here to do. I recently conducted an informal poll among a bunch of buddies passionate about predator hunting, and came up with a list of contenders. But first, let’s look at the attributes that make for a top-performer.

Coyotes aren’t a very big target. Even a large, mature western male will weigh only about 45 pounds—though the rare northern male has been known to top 70 pounds. Their vitals range from about the size of a large apple on a small coyote, to the size of a large grapefruit on a big one. Throw cold, wind, snow, distance and jumpy nerves (both yours and the coyotes) into the scenario, and you’ve got a difficult target under less-than-optimal circumstances. A good predator rifle will shoot under 1 MOA, while the best ones shoot groups of ½ MOA under ideal conditions.

Flat Trajectory
Often hunters don’t have time to range a coyote—it’s a “take it now or loose the shot” opportunity. To minimize errors in range estimation, a good coyote round offers blazing velocities—which in turn provide flat, forgiving trajectories. Knowledgeable coyote men choose cartridges that push bullets at 3,400 feet per second or faster—sometimes much faster.

Projectile Performance
Optimum coyote cartridges are available with projectiles designed to expand violently on impact. The best projectiles for song dogs make a tiny entrance hole and then fragment into particles, dumping all the available energy into the coyote for an immediate, humane kill and minimizing pelt damage from full penetration. The best cartridges for this task are those of .20 and .17 caliber. Larger diameter projectiles often blow a big hole out the far side of an animal and cause significant pelt damage. However, this can be minimized through careful projectile selection—and it’s worth mentioning that in states with hefty bounties, most hunters couldn’t care less about pelt damage. They’d rather put a coyote down with authority, even if doing so results in two bullet holes. Coyote contest teams tend to like bigger, more aggressive calibers as well; in their case a canine lost to minimal bullet energy may equate to a lost tournament.

Low Recoil
Fast follow-up shots can be important. Sometimes, you miss your first attempt, and other times you’ll have a pair come in—if you’re really lucky—you’ll get a crack at the second coyote after dropping the first. Cartridges that don’t jar you to your heels with recoil offer advantages. With the best, you can stay in your scope through recoil and spot your own impacts. Any round that fits and functions through an AR-15 rifle has an advantage here; it’s the only semi-auto that provides adequate accuracy, and it certainly offers fast repeat shots.

The Contenders
My informal study indicated that four quite different cartridges hold the loyalty of the bulk of coyote hunters. In order of size, they are:

Pick One
Logically, any of the four will serve you very well in the coyote hunting arena. Boiling it down, I personally waffle between the .204 Ruger—for it’s light recoil, pelt-friendly nature, and compatibility with AR-15 rifles—and the .22-250, for it’s forgiving, flat trajectory and impact authority.

Okay, okay. I know; I must declare a winner. By the slightest of margins, I’ll go with the .22-250. No cartridge is more proven on predators. Few hit harder downrange with as little punishment on the shooters’ end. None are more forgiving—the laser-flat trajectory and decent wind-bucking ability help hunters connect at unknown ranges and in buffeting winds.

I’m not saying it’s the best for everyone—and we’d love to hear your arguments for other cartridges in the comments section below. What I will say is this: Nobody choosing a .22-250 as his or her primary coyote gun will ever be disappointed.

  • jime

    Lovell 2 r

  • kds

    Has he tried the new .17WSM?

  • Kioga

    Had some really good shots with the HMR17.

    • Louie T

      And they are still running, and running, and running ! ! !

      • Kioga

        Yes they were, but now they’re not ! Don’t need a 300 Win.Mag. and we do it all the time !

        • Louie T

          Makes it tough to collect your prize money dont it !

          • Kioga

            Sorry no Prize money, culling the packs !

  • Brad1000s

    What’s the Best Cartridge for Coyote Hunting? 22-250 Remington what a shocker!!! R.I.P 222 Rem. 220 Swift and 6mm Rem.



  • J Bowen

    I use a Marlin XS-7 in a 243 with a Muzzle Brake shooting a 60 grain Hollow Point it works amazing in my opinion and less recoil than a 22WMR

    • bill

      less recoil than a 22wmr hmm okay !!!

  • howler1968

    222 mag

  • jerryf


  • jerryf

    I reload SWIFT!

  • dave

    220 swift has even better ballistics. Just sayin.

  • cfcguns

    17 Hornet, 22 Hornet, 222 Rem., 220 Swift, and 243 Win. all can get the job done. There may be a “most popular” but I don’t think there is a pefect cartridge. If I could only have one, the 243 would be my pick. Most versatile of the lot thanks to a huge number of 6mm bullets available.

  • Ed

    257 Roberts the best all around for me.

    • Donnie Smith

      Finely a guy with some since. Why have a different gun for different game. When you shoot the same gun all the time, you will get to know it and will get deadly great with it.

      • bub

        Problem is shooting a 100gr round at a coyote will destroy the pelt and a 80gr or less round doesnt kill a deer very quickly…. I dont want to re-sight a gun every time I change rounds

        • Donnie Smith

          Do you go deer hunting and coyote hunting at the same time? When you hand load I shoot the same 100 grain bullet. For coyotes I just turn down the amount of powder on the load.Still does the trick. Same gun same bullet, ones just a little bit slower.

  • dbhunter

    rems 50 grain 22-250 bullet ,not much pelt damage

  • Will Branson

    Winchester lists its Model 70 coyote in the 300 WSM caliber. I didn’t know that was a varmint round, lol.

    • Ryan D.

      Its really more of a long range gun. The 70 Coyote Light is a Long Range Mountain gun.

  • JPWREL .

    Unless you are a rancher losing stock to coyotes I see NO reason to kill these animals who largely subsist on vermin. It is just killing for the sake of killing like trophy hunting. Here in rural AZ they keep the packrat and rabbit population at bay.

    • ScottM

      Coyote hunting is largely employed by the department of wildlife resources and bounties of about $40-60 are placed on each coyote in many states. It is mostly done to control the deer population as coyotes also kill small deer and small cattle. This is the reason coyote hunting is popular.

      • wendy

        and i lose all my outside cats that i have to keep mice down and my chickens!!!!!!!!!

    • Irv

      They have no natural competition left in Iowa so they are over populated which leads to spread of canine diseases which effects domestic dog populations as well. Mange, heart worm, ect. The population was kept at bay historically by competition for food and territory from bears and mountain lions whose population have effectively been irradicated in this state. They are so overpopulated they often resort to raiding garbage bins in suburban areas for scraps. Nobody wants a 60 lb coyote roaming around their garbage waiting for a chance to eat their wifes yorkshire terrior.

      • Irv

        Luckily my rotwieler makes them think twice about coming in my yard after her little Yorky brother.

    • predators nightmare

      Come to indiana an let your pet loose. Then post your comment.

  • m444ss

    I’m not disputing the author’s contention that the .22-250 is the best round for coyote. I’m also not disputing the notion that .243 bullets are likely to do more damage to the pelt.
    However, I’ve shot many, many hundreds of rounds from my .243 – with strings of up to 40 rounds in the time it took to reload and reset some targets. I’ve never thought of recoil as a concern.

  • Joe Graf

    The pelts used to be worth something, but around here, what happened? I used to use my TT33 7.62×25. If there ever was a pistol made strictly for Coyote hunting, it was & is the Tokarev. The 7.62×25 puts down coyotes better than the .44 mag puts down deer.

  • gkprice

    I REALLY get a kick out of the comment about not shooting coyotes ! “bunny huggers unite” !! I’ve killed many a song dog with the .243 ADN .243 AI with 58 vmax at around 3800 fps, tell me what is wrong with this combo ??

    • jbholt


  • Donnie Smith

    Ed and I love the 257 Roberts. You have a great choice of bullets and powder to get the job done on coyotes and and a caliber that is the best for deer and most any other game. All in one rifle. Nothing like a favorite rifle to hunt with.

  • Cletus

    “take it now or loose the shot” A “professional” writer who doesn’t know the difference between “lose” and “loose.” Good article besides that.

  • Ryan D.

    Why not use 50-60 grain for .243? It shoots flatter faster with less pelt damage.

  • Ben

    .243 win in the model 70 featherweight is my choice for coyotes. 70 grain nosler ballistic tips backed by 43 grains of H414. Lays em out first round every time.

  • steve

    the 22-250 rem. isn’t the most popular round among serious coyote hunters for no reason……more important than the argument between chambering is the actual bullet itself. i read a lot of interesting comments by people who have obviously never skinned many shot coyotes. the author is recommending a sound choice here for your average guy who is interested in coyote hunting. the swift is awesome…..duh…….but your average guy has less choices where the 220 is concerned. i have shot many coyotes with a 22-250 at closer ranges where i wished i had a 223 , there is a compromise here. use the fragmenting bullet and you are gonna have bad bad bad exits at close range……..use the heavier jackets and you will be sewing ALL the time. my experience weighs towards the fragmenting varmint bullets because at longer distances there is a good chance that none, or very little of the bullet will exit, meaning 1 , .22 cal hole. note that my experience is with saskatchewan coyotes, not southern isa coyotes……totally different animal physically. it really depends on your scenario also. lets say that you are always stand hunting at a dead pile for example…..go hard with your 17 hmr . for the freelance, multi-scenario coyote guy…..the more powerful, flatter shooting rounds get my nod and that pretty much means a 22-250 or a 204 to the average guy walking into a modern gun shop to buy a factory rifle.

    • Lance Hughson


  • Peter

    Hello. I agree that the 22-250 is an amazing cartridge. I found the perfect bullet: the 40gr. Nosler Ballistic Tip. I fine-tuned my loads to sub-MOA accuracy. There is just a pin-hole sized entrance wound and the bullet never leaves. I have never lost an animal and in fact, they all drop dead. I even shot a jack rabbit with the same pelt-saving results. I even dropped a raven at around 500 yards with one shot (I paced it out). You cannot lose with this bullet. Although I did not chronograph it, but I imagine that it was zipping along around 4000fps.

    I have recently purchased a Savage B-mag in the new rim-fire .17WSM. Winchester is the only manufacturer for this new round so far and they are boasting 3000fps with the 20gr. bullet. So far the accuracy seems pretty good. I have not used it on any critters yet (coyote season isn’t for another couple of months), but I am dying to try it out. So far I am not impressed with the gun. The 8rd rotary magazine is flawed. The first round never feeds. It does not raise up as it should, but if I skip the first slot, there are no issues. Second, the bolt has a tremendous spring tension. It is by no means smooth, so don’t count on any quick or quiet follow up shots. I had to buy the tallest rings in order to minimize my hand from hitting the scope (another design flaw). If wearing gloves then it really becomes an issue. The real advantages, however, is that the ammo is relatively cheap ($16.00/50), there is virtually no recoil, it is quieter than the centre-fires and the gun is super sleek and light. The barrel is very thin and I have heard other guys complain of the bad accuracy. Since it is very thin it stands to reason that it will heat up fast, therefore throwing off accuracy. I only shot three shot groups while allowing the barrel to cool down and that seems to work well.

    The biggest drawback so far is that, like most rim-fire cartridges, the ammo is hard to come by. I have to call an entire list of ammo suppliers every day in order to locate any ammo, but it does show up occasionally.

    I hope this is useful to everyone. Thanks for allowing me to contribute and good hunting!

    • Arm Chair

      “if I skip the first slot, there are no issues.” That works for many. Just leave the gun in the safe and stay home; skip the first shot.

  • wendy

    i am looking for a gun to use to shooting coyotes we have cats that we are losing and chickens too and i am worried about my dog!!!! i am not a animail killer but sick of my critters being killed!!!!!!

  • Greg Klebanoff

    It really depends on where you’re hunting. Personally I prefer the .223 with 40 gran V-Max bullets over anything. Factory loads clock over 3,600 fps out of my Rock River Coyote Rifle’s 20 inch barrel, and hand loads can be pushed a little faster without sacrificing accuracy. I’ve never had a hard time anchoring even the biggest yotes with that load either.

    No question the .22-250 gives you an extra hundred or so yards of effective range. For hunting in high plains of Wyoming, Nebraska, or South Dakota where 400 plus yard shots aren’t uncommon, perhaps I’d pick it or the .204 Ruger. But I hunt in Arkansas and shots over 300 yards are almost nonexistent. Besides, ammo for these rounds is a lot more expensive and their ultra high velocities are hard on barrels. For 90% of hunters the .223 is the best coyote round. Hands down.

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