Dialing in on Long-Range Coyotes

Looking to stretch the distance next time you're hunting coyotes? Here are a few pointers to consider.

Dialing in on Long-Range Coyotes

Gina Smith at Fur Quest Outdoors on her .243 Ackley Improved in big country hunting long-range dogs. Older cartridges and newer bullets can turn the tables on long shots with ease.

It was late in the fur-taking season when the two hunters lay side-by-side in the deep powdery snow, their rifles set dead-on a standing coyote that was along a fence line some 800 yards downrange. While the shooter on the left called out the range, the shooter on the right was already dialing his turret for the correct elevation for the shot. In less than a few seconds, both hunters, working as a team, called out the count, and at three, both rifles hissed a muffled report simultaneously. After a few seconds, the sound of a “thud” came rolling back as clear as a bell across the draw and out onto the snow-covered landscape occupied by the shooters.

The coyote had taken two bullets. One had been delivered from a custom-built .22 Creedmoor, which was a still wet-behind-the-ears wildcat. The second projectile had been delivered by a Ruger Precision chassis that chambered the old standard, the .243 Win. round, but in a well-dressed handloaded design. My job on this day was observer, cameraman and wordsmith, hoping to make this hunt come to life on the pages of a gun copy magazine.

I friend of mine recently stated something that was about as eloquent as can be designed by the English language regarding the current state of affairs in the firearms and ammunition field. The premise of his words: Any old school cartridge, taken to task by measuring that load’s performance and then building a load using current components, would return off-the-chart performance data. Today’s advances in propellants and bullets with super-effective ballistics coefficients drive a projectile faster and farther than any other time in history. In effect, we have just about, if not hit, the maximum level of performance with smokeless propellants and fixed ammunition projectiles. 


All Bets are Off

When Hornady came out with the .300 PRC this past year, all bets were off in terms of where we are heading regarding long-range ballistics. Current testing of this new cartridge and the equally new Ruger Precision rifle seems to indicate that we are again taking a massive step forward in making even a basic .30 caliber rifle hold bullet impact at 2,000 yards. Handloaded, the new .30 Cal .308 and 230-grain A-Tip aluminum point (0.823 G1 BC) bullet is nothing but off the charts. As I write these lines, our overwatch people are doing the Lord’s work in the sandbox with this new round, and as such, are having some good luck hunting bad guys.

With this improvement in downrange performance in mind, predator and general varmint hunters have been finding that they are able to reach out and stretch a bullet’s ballistic lifeline like never before. I remember a time when I worked for three seasons with a Ruger M-77 heavy target rifle chambered in .22-250 Rem., as I tried to gain entrance into The Varmint Hunters Association 500-yard club by way of a one-shot clean kill on a prairie rat. Today 500 yards is nothing but a good second zero or a place to warm up an accurate predator control rifle. 

While every shooter out there has their preference as to what the best rifle/cartridge combination to take into the field is, truth be known, almost any of the newer calibers and a pile of old school cartridges can, and will do the job just fine when based on modern ballistics and components. About the only requirement in this new age of long-range shooting is that the selected round carry enough propellent, and is capable of carrying a bullet with the BC of a modern projectile. That is to say, a low drag projectile with a high BC and a controlled expansion design. Yes, expansion makes a difference regardless of what some folks seem to be saying about bullet performance nowadays. 

In terms of long range, this is not exactly anything new. I was shooting a coyote via my .25-06 Remington BDL set in a custom target stock 15 years ago. As a part of this review, I have included a detailed list of what I think is workable in the long-range song dog department. It is not every cartridge by a long shot — no pun intended — but the reader can fill in around these selected rounds with anything they would like to haul into the field. 

For example, take the old school but world-class .30-06 case and load an ELD 178-grain BTHP Match, and a 0.538 G1 BC running at 2,700 fps by Hornady. At my altitude of 3,000 feet above sea level, I can ring steel to 1,400 yards with ease. Get into mountain song dog or rock chuck country, and your good to go for as far as you can hit one. Why the '06 as an example you're asking? Let’s just say I have not forgotten the benchmark of modern cartridges, the .30-06 Springfield, that is a part of our American shooting sports roots. 

Ruger Precision 6.5 Creedmoor set up for long-range work on dogs.
Ruger Precision 6.5 Creedmoor set up for long-range work on dogs.

Bring on the New

Now, if the old “06” can do the deed, what about all the hot new cartridges being marketed today? The answer is as obvious as the nose on your face. Most, if not all, of them can do the deal with the right bullet and correct powder charge behind them. In effect, there are almost no “bad” cartridges today, knowing the limitations of them is the key to success. In other words, don’t dry gulch creek-bottom coyotes from above at a ¼-mile with a .22 Hornet, or even the .223 Rem. for that matter. Believe me, the 6.5 Creedmoor or .25 Nosler will do much better. 

If the question as to even why we have all the new loads filing the ammunition counters shelves? Here's the deal. If we had not been into extensive development of new cartridge well back into the 1930s, we would all still be shooting the .30-40 Krag today. As shooters, we live in the greatest country in the world in terms of both firearms and load development — five years in Australia hunting everything with a .30-06, 7.62X39 ( Russian short) and a .22-250 Rem. taught me a great deal about what a rifle can and can not do downrange. For the most part, you can do a great deal with very little at hand. Just ask any Australian in the down under country that makes use of about five different cartridges if even that many. 

All that stated, be advised that new cartridges like again the very fresh Hornady .300 PRC can be regarding as mind-blowing in terms of downrange performance standards. And I am now pushing for 1,500-yard coyote accuracy shots on paper by using the wide-open South Dakota BadLands as a test range. At some point, this fall that practice shooting and range card building for varied loads ( DOPE). will be turned loose toward fur and warm targets.

Practice until perfect. In every case, the shooters I have hunted with practice long-range shots, shoot a great deal and, in most cases, shoot national long-range competition events regularly. Previous work I have done here at Predator Xtreme has illustrated shooters such as those in Fur Quest Outdoors that tend to take on plenty of range time and travel to major league long-range events as well. 

If you don’t shoot at a range with extended distance capability, start the search for one now. There is absolutely no substitute for hands-on real-time training when it comes to hitting a target ½- to ¾-miles away. Even the shots inside 800 yards are a real test of a riflemen’s skill level when the target has pointed ears, green eyes and is about to leave the program at top speed. 

Even here in South Dakota, my home base, the introduction of new ranges has tripled in the past seven or eight years. Why? Long-range interest. The clubs that can offer shooting from 600 to 1,000 yards plus are doing well, as I don’t see any closures so far out there in the small towns, or our open range country. 

The shooting sports have indicated one of the top end events going forth in shooting today is mastering the long-range rifle. Tack that on to a good old coyote hunt, and you’re in for some excellent times, believe me. As a transition when that big game season opens and your once in a lifetime mule deer steps out of the draw at 400 yards trust me, everything in terms of training will have paid off in spades. One of my partners, Jim Smith, a well-known guide and hunter at Fur Quest in our local area, has indicated that he cooks off thousands of rounds a year between coyote hunting, practice and shooting events. The guy shoots in his sleep. I know that feeling for a fact because so do I. 

The author with a Black Hills coyote taken by way of Savage 6.5 Creedmoor while using high ground over long dry wash below. (Kill shot 397 ranged yards.)
The author with a Black Hills coyote taken by way of Savage 6.5 Creedmoor while using high ground over long dry wash below. (Kill shot 397 ranged yards.)

Long-Range Locations

Without question, the hot spots regarding long-range coyote hunting are located in the American West. Some great locations are the Nebraska Sand Hills in the area of Broken Bow, Nebraska. These hills tend to roll just enough to hide a hunter as he takes a look from a ridge when spot-and-stalk or still-hunting. I shot with a local cowboy on a Remington event some years ago in the hills, and he had located a very massive dead sow hog that the coyotes had found. We crested a sharp ridgeline on our bellies. Like the hunt illustrated at the onset of this review, we counted to three as my partner, and he took the left side, and I took the right. When we got done shooting by way of .22-250 Remington’s, at about 300 yards, we had rolled up three of the five stone dead. 

Northern Nevada is another hot spot for freelance hunting song dogs. I took the longest shot of my life with the .223 Rem., and to be sure, invested more luck than brains as I rolled a running dog up at plus 400 on one of those events. As they say, some days it is better to be lucky than good. Northern Nevada is high altitude desert, and some places you can see for miles and others you need to scout out a draw or old river bed then set up and wait out your targets. 

Irrespective of your approach to the long-range coyote hunting game, you can be sure that it will involve a real effort at taking command of the “stretch” distance shooting required of the hunter.

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