What's the Best Cartridge for Coyote Hunting?

What's the Best Cartridge for Coyote Hunting?

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.



Accuracy

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.

Recommended for You

Optics

Review: Crimson Trace CTL-3420 4-20X 50mm

Joel J. Hutchcroft - April 29, 2019

Crimson Trace enters the riflescope business with the Crimson Trace CTL-3420 4-20X 50mm.

How-To

Accuracy: It's All Relative

Terry Wieland - May 09, 2019

Like situational ethics, standards of accuracy vary according to circumstances.

Ammo

Get the Most Out of the .30-06

Joseph von Benedikt - April 01, 2019

Cutting-edge projectiles provide unprecedented performance in the venerable old workhorse, the...

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Pinging Steel At Over A Mile Away

Big bore semiauto or a lever gun? We look at the futuristic .450 Bushmaster and how it compares to the tried and true .45-70. ISS Prop House gives us the rundown on the guns used in Enemy at the Gate. We ping steel with a .300 WinMag at over a mile.

Hornady 6MM Creedmoor

Tom Beckstrand and Neal Emery of Hornady highlight the 6MM Creedmoor ammo.

All About .300 Blackout

The .300 Blackout is here to stay, and we take some time to look at new technology surrounding this cartridge. Next, we pit subsonic rivals against each other before stretching the legs of this CQB round out to 600 yards from a short 9-inch barrel.

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories

How-To

Accuracy: It's All Relative

Terry Wieland - May 09, 2019

Like situational ethics, standards of accuracy vary according to circumstances.

How-To

The Key to Shooting Far: Improving Ballistics

Rick Jamison - April 17, 2019

Improved ballistic coefficients lead to greater performance downrange without upping blast and...

Rifles

Review: Daniel Defense Delta 5

Joel J. Hutchcroft - May 31, 2019

Daniel Defense has blazed a new trail with its first-ever bolt-action rifle.

See More Stories

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

×