The Ideal Coyote Rifle

Old school meets new school when shopping for the be-all and end-all predator gun.

The Ideal Coyote Rifle

The “best coyote rifle” debate rages on much as it did when I got started back in the 1970s. And some of the rifles and cartridges from that era are still in the running. But what is the best today? Only you, dear coyote hunter, can answer that to your satisfaction. But perhaps this old coyote skinner can provide some useful shopping hints. 

First, define why you’re targeting coyotes — to control numbers or harvest fur? If it’s the former, you have a wider selection. If it’s the latter, you must compromise somewhat to minimize fur damage. That compromise begins with caliber but continues into muzzle velocity, bullet weight and bullet construction. 

The animal damage control rifle, on the other hand, can take full advantage of whatever you need to shoot farther and deflect the least in crosswinds, a big deal in most coyote country. Most dedicated coyote hunters seem to consider a .25-06 Rem., perhaps a .257 Weatherby Mag., as top end cartridges for this game, but more than a few extend to the 7mm magnums and even .300 magnums. Why? Let us count the ways.

Going with Muscle

First, they might have a 7mm or .300 magnum that shoots like a house afire and delivers a trajectory they know in their sleep. If it works for deer and you’re not keeping coyote pelts, why not? A smaller argument is the “fudge” or forgiveness factor. Hit a bit off perfect, and the larger bullet with more energy is more likely to incapacitate El Coyote. 

I’m not convinced of this latter argument. With my Ruger M77 .270 Win. I once targeted a coyote trotting below the rocky ledge I sat on in the Black Hills. The 130-grain cup-core bullet caught it between spine and top shoulder with some 2,700 foot-pounds of energy. On impact, that wild dog squirted forward as if in hot pursuit of a road runner and I thought I’d missed. But after a 20- to 25-yard dash, El Coyote rolled dead. The bullet had exited between its legs, taking all of its heart and most of its lungs with it. 

During another deer hunt I called a coyote across a flat wheat field, addressing it from about 50 yards with a 180-grain bullet launched by a Browning A-Bolt in .300 Win. Mag. Despite a solid behind-the-shoulder hit, that coyote spun and dashed nearly 60 yards before piling up. Big bullets and big power do not necessarily mean dead right there. 

Another demerit to the big guns could be recoil. Some shooters are never bothered by recoil. Others think a .243 Win. is pretty brutal. You figure this one out for yourself, but a typical 8-pound .300 Win. Mag. pushing a 150-grain slug will jar you with about 31 foot-pounds of recoil. A .22-250 Rem. nudging a 55-grain projectile about 3,600 fps in the same weight rifle will bump you with about 6 foot-pounds of recoil energy. Which do you guess you’ll shoot more accurately? 

If you roll with a larger caliber, consider controlled expansion bullets. They usually damage less fur. Fur prices suck this year, but who knows — you might shoot a huge dog coyote with a spectacular coat and decide to mount it. 

Kinder, Gentler Cartridges

Back in the lighter caliber realm, the fast .25-calibers already mentioned do hammer coyotes pretty well, but they don’t necessarily win the drop and drift competitions against all comers. The problem with both is their relatively slow twist rates, generally 1:10 for the .25-06 Rem., 1:9 for the .257 Weatherby Mag. About the best compromise between drop and drift in the .25-06 are 110- and 115-grain boat tail spire points such as the Hornady ELD-X 110-grain rated G1 B.C. of .465, the 110-gr. Sierra Tipped GameKing rated B.C. of .447. Let’s run a ballistic table on a 110-grain .257 bullet launched at 3,250 fps from a 24-inch barrel compared to a 75-grain .224 bullet (B.C. .467) shot from a .22 Creedmoor at 3,400 fps. Zero both so peak trajectory doesn’t exceed 2.5 inches and the .22 Creedmoor shoots flatter at all distances and deflects a bit less in the wind. This is significant because wind resistance has been the .25-06 selling point since at least 1969. It might have been valid then, but in light of .22-caliber advancements during the past 20 years or so, not so much. 

Now, it remains true that the heavier bullet from the .25-06 retains more energy at all distances, but that is of little concern when addressing coyotes. The 814 foot pounds remaining in the 75-grain .224 bullet at 600 yards is more than adequate to terminate the largest coyote. 

One can play similar scenarios with the various .24-calibers or step down to the .20s and .17s and determine what seems the ideal fur/pelt round, but much of this will hinge on the bullet itself. What I’ve discovered over the decades is that a light, fast, highly frangible bullet is most likely to enter, break up and remain within the carcass, minimizing pelt damage. This usually requires a center hit. Strike near the “edges” and all that explosive energy is likely to tear large holes. 

The Long and Short of It

In determining potential muzzle velocity, barrel length becomes a factor. Twenty-four-inch tubes or longer maximize MV, but at the expense of convenience. Negotiating trucks, gun cases and even brushy woods becomes problematic with long-barreled rifles, nearly ridiculous with the increasingly popular silencers. These silly looking cans on the front of a barrel dramatize that old saying “pretty is as pretty does.” The 30 decibel blast reduction sounds lovelier than the fat can looks homely. The real issue with a suppressor is its length. Most run 6 to 8 inches, although some, such as the Silencer Central Banish Backcountry, are as short as 5.5 inches. But even those that short suggest a shorter barrel to start. 

We are seeing the effect of silencers on factory rifles already. Many if not most of the new models are being offered with barrels 20 to as short as 16 inches. The end result with a suppressor screwed on is still pretty long, but the convenience of shooting quickly and often without fear of blowing one’s hearing into the lowest frequency ranges is worth the length IF you are prepared to accommodate the velocity loss. Most cartridges will suffer 25 fps to 70 fps  velocity loss per inch of barrel, 30 fps being a fair average for calculating. So, if your 24-inch barrel delivers 3,400 fps, lopping it to 18 inches would drop MV to 3,220 fps. Can you settle for that? 

Obviously, lower MV will increase drop and drift. You can fairly easily compensate for drop with a laser rangefinder matched to your drop tables and a reticle or dialing turret to correct for it. Wind deflection is a bigger issue. Fortunately, it isn’t as radically affected by velocity loss as is drop. Compare the .22 Creedmoor ballistic chart at 3,200 fps against one at the 3,400 fps and you’ll notice that at 300 yards the wind deflection is less than .5-inch worse. Drop is similar; about .5-inch more at the short barrel’s velocity. The differences become more pronounced as range increases until, at 600 yards, the short barrel’s drop is 6 inches and its deflection is just 2 inches more. 

That kind of ballistic data suggests to me that I upgrade my coyote rifles to short barreled with suppressors, and that suggests one more deciding factor: It’s a lot easier and more cost effective to change/upgrade barrels on an AR rifle than a traditional bolt action. This could, and maybe should, be a deciding factor in your selection process. As a dyed-in-wool traditionalist, I’m not likely to make that change because I already have the bolt-action battery I need for a wide variety of big-game applications as well as predator applications. Having vast experience with the .22-250 AI, which is a near-ballistic clone to the .22 Creedmoor, I’m confident I could build a bolt action in .22 Creedmoor with an 18-inch barrel, add a Banish Backcountry, and be ideally armed to take any coyote out to 600 yards. Beyond that my old eyes probably couldn’t see one anyway. 


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