Once, a deer rifle was a lever-action .30-30. So common were Winchester 94s and Marlin 336s in the whitetail woods that a bolt-action seemed an anomaly, somehow out of place. Those of the Red Plaid gave a respectful nod to converted 1903 Springfields; they’d pulled us through war.
Rifles for coyotes have never been so neatly profiled. Some hunters lump coyotes with foxes, as furbearers. To others, they’re vermin. In either case, they can be called, trapped and still-hunted as you might pursue deer. But varmint rifles haven’t evolved to serve coyote hunters hiking into the hills or running traplines. Varmint rifles have thick barrels and clubby stocks and commonly wear scopes big enough to beat rugs. They’re best suited to sniping woodchucks across Pennsylvania pastures, rockchucks on alfalfa’s hem in the West and prairie dogs. You don’t carry varmint rifles as much as you fire them.
Here, let’s dismiss racks and scabbards on dirt buggies and snowmobiles as a form of carry. You can pack howitzers on wheels and skids.
Carrying a rifle is, to me, walking with it. Wrapping your hand around the receiver should feel comfortable, natural. Ditto cradling the rifle or hanging it from a sling on your shoulder. Modest weight is an asset, and so is a slim, linear profile. Truly, I’ve no inbred dislike for the AR-15, but this rifle carries like a bundle of steel fence posts. It’s angular, with projections. The weight isn’t as centered as in a bolt-action. Getting an AR to point quickly from relaxed carry is an exercise in fumbling. Pick up a baseball bat; aim it as you might a rifle. It readily obeys, though it wasn’t designed to aim. Such simple items are lightning-quick compared to the AR — unless you tramp the hills with your rifle in door-kicking position.
Because the AR-15 has become hugely popular and nearly every major rifle maker sells one, it’s a highly developed firearm, much more accurate and reliable and easy to shoot well than were the first of Eugene Stoner’s M16s in the jungles of southeast Asia. “And it spits lots of bullets fast,” said a pal who once got a triple on coyotes with one. The AR-15 is still more convenient to fire than to carry. You might argue for the M4 carbine, but bolt rifles that are short are even more nimble in hand. And short makes little sense for long shots rewarding flat bullet arcs or, in my view, for any rifle triggered without ear protection. You want to give bullets a fast start. You want to keep the blast far from your face.
Rifles to carry for coyotes have a lot in common with rifles to carry for deer — one reason that for decades after “deer rifle” was common currency, “coyote rifle” never came up. Deer rifles killed coyotes
“Look there!” The rancher grabbed my arm. I’d been scribbling notes in the pickup, slave to my graduate studies in meadow vegetation. “Take the 6mm!” I didn’t catch on. My host seized the moment. Snatching the Ruger from the rack, he jacked a cartridge up the spout, piled out of the cab and steadied his aim on the hood. I followed the barrel’s line to spot the mousing coyote. It looked our way, alarmed too late. Crrrack! The coyote sprinted, then faltered and tumbled into the sage. “They got a calf here this spring,” said the rancher, climbing back in and sliding the scarred 77 into the rack. “Ya gotta be fast.” A gentle reminder that I had not been.
Years later, north of that Oregon valley, I slipped from the house on a winter morning to climb a hill with my .243. Hunkered by a rock that broke my outline, I warmed the call, then blew hard, squalling. In the still, milky dawn, the noise was almost profane. I toned it down and coaxed. Dead minutes crawled by. Ready to leave, I gave the ridge behind me the requisite last glance. A coyote stared back. Slowly I swiveled my Winchester, felt the sling’s tug on my arm, watched the reticle slow its dance. Recoil hid the coyote, but the bullet’s strike was audible.
The Ruger and the Winchester were ordinary bolt guns, roughly 7½ pounds without their scopes. I think the 6mm had a 3-9X, the .243 a 6X. Each, with mounts, would have added less than a pound. A full magazine would have brought either rifle to less than 9 pounds. These days, that’s a few ounces on the heavy side of average for a deer rifle. It’s not too heavy to carry into the rims for bucks or coyotes. And when you’ve a chance to fire, you’ll appreciate the extra ounces.
A few years ago I hunted in Wyoming with a rifle built by Greybull Precision. Its Remington 700 action was paired with a carbon fiber barrel, so it looked heavier than it was. Still, the Greybull stock and a 4.5-14×50 Leupold, brought the total weight to about 10 pounds. It sagged a bit on my shoulder. But on a windy morning, when we topped a rise and spied a coyote at 330 yards, I welcomed that rifle’s mass. In the sling, my arm still carried pulse from the climb. The breeze had freshened to nearly 15 mph. A lighter rifle would have leapt about. As it was, I managed to put a 105-grain .243 bullet on target, if not centered.
Not long before that, with a similar rifle in 6.5 Creedmoor, I’d sat against a bush while a pal put passion into his rabbit squeals. A coyote came cruising from afar and stopped at 200 yards. An easy poke, prone or with a rest. But from a sit in gusting breeze, the crosswire was frisky indeed! I fought the urge to jerk. The shot came as a surprise and dropped the coyote instantly. Again, a rather heavy rifle had reduced the amplitude and frequency of barrel bounce. The sight spent more time on target than off.
Cartridge choice affects options in rifles. I’ve killed more coyotes with deer-weight bullets than lighter missiles, in part because I’ve seen many coyotes while hunting deer. An ideal coyote round, to my mind, is smaller. The .223, for example. The .222 and .222 Magnum. The .221 Fireball.
The .204 Ruger. At distance the Swift and .22-250 have an edge. The 6mms and .25-06 fare better in wind, but they make more noise, bump rifles more violently and, excepting some bullet designs, wreak more damage on pelts. While most rifle manufacturers use the same receiver for the .223 as for derivatives of the .308 and 7×57, you’ll find some bolt-actions sized for trim .22s. One of many rifles I wish hadn’t sold was a lovely Sako Vixen in .222. CZ’s stable includes the 527 series, dedicated to the likes of the triple deuce and .223. This year Howa introduced a Mini Action 12 percent shorter than ordinary short (.308-length) Howas. It’s 3 ounces lighter, too, and is barreled for the .204 and .223. You’ll find it in Howa rifles from Legacy Sports.
Shopping for a coyote rifle to carry, I prowl new- and used-gun racks for 7- to 8-pound deer rifles bored for the 6mms, and for small-action .223s and .204s. I want consistent, icicle-crisp trigger break at 3 pounds (or adjustment that delivers same). The front swivel stud must be far enough forward for shooting with a sling (reverse forend tips can put that stud too far back). If you prefer a Harris bipod to a Brownells Latigo Sling, you’ll probably shoot as well, but you’ll pack more weight, and after long hikes, bipod steel will likely find your scapula.
Traipsing the hills after coyotes, you’ll carry a rifle for hours to earn a few seconds on the trigger. Many rifles can make an accurate shot. Comfortable carry might be the more important criterion!