Using Small Calibers For Predator Hunting

There's been a renewed interest in smaller, faster calibers, But, is less really better to hunt coyotes?
Using Small Calibers For Predator Hunting

From smartphones to SUVs, tiny seems to be popular. In recent years there’s been a renewed interest in smaller, faster calibers, too. The trend has carried through from big-game calibers on down to the predator market. But, is less really best?

There certainly are applications for smaller calibers and the market has shown that with sales of the .17 HMR, .17 Hornet, .22 WMR, .22 Hornet and even the .204 Ruger going through the roof in some instances. And have you tried to purchase .22LR ammunition lately? Good luck.

These calibers are fun to shoot due to their light recoil and in most cases they are very accurate. If you want to introduce your youngster or spouse to shooting you may want to consider these calibers. But after you get a new rig up and running do you really want to tackle predators with the diminutive calibers? As you consider the purchase of a new predator rifle this summer remember that all calibers aren’t created equal.

Most experts agree that it takes a minimum of 1,000 foot-pounds of energy (fpe) for a clean kill on deer-sized animals. Other information for predator-sized animals like coyotes varies from 200 to 300 foot-pounds of energy. I like to bump that up whenever possible. Why? Most data is obtained under ideal conditions. When was the last time you hunted when everything was ideal? Plus, you have to consider distance. Larger calibers with their larger cartridge space have room for more powder capable of delivering the required foot-pounds at any farther ranges. For most, that includes a range of 300 yards or less. With a good rest most of you can smack targets all day long at 200 yards. With some practice, 300 yards is very doable and 400 yards begins to stretch the comfort zone of many. Of course a handful of you have confidence out to 500 yards and beyond.

To deliver a predator bullet with the required foot-pounds of energy out to 300 yards or beyond you first need to research the foot-pounds of energy a caliber offers. You also need to study its trajectory performance beyond 100 yards. Borderline calibers should likely be shelved if they don’t meet the muster. If you don’t shelve them then you need to curtail your hunting when conditions exceed the performance a certain caliber is capable of handling.

As you consider a new purchase be sure to match the caliber to the critter. The best way to match calibers to the animal hunted is to refer to a rifle ballistic chart. You can find these charts online like those offered by Hornady and other ammunition manufacturers. In fact Hornady offers a full line of ballistic resources via their online portal.

If you’re still wondering about what your caliber is capable of take the .17 Hornet as an example. This zippy cartridge retains 294 fpe at 200 yards. The .22 Hornet has 192 fpe and the .22 WMR has only 70 fpe. Are these enough to take a coyote? It’s barely there for the .17 Hornet and not even close for the other two, unless you crawl up to 100 yards or less. For a gray fox, raccoon or marauding opossum they’ll work just fine, especially if it’s an in-your-face flashlight encounter.

As you research that new purchase be sure to match your new caliber with the animal it’s intended to hunt. Less may be best for smartphones, but not if you plan on tackling a big predator with a toothy attitude. Join the debate and add your comments below on whether you feel small calibers may be a bit too small for most predator hunting.


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