I once knew a rancher in Waco who told me he’d killed hundreds of coyotes with the pump-action .22 Long Rifle that lived on the front rack of his ATV. He didn’t know how old the rifle was and I didn’t catch the make, but I believed him. The guy seemed like he’d killed a coyote or two.
The .22 LR doesn’t make our top-five coyote cartridge list, but the rancher’s success shows that, much like when hunting antelope, you don’t need anything that blows the doors off. Coyotes are considered “varmints,” which are usually targeted successfully with high-velocity bullets in the 35- to 80-grain range.
That’s a good starting point if you’re looking for a coyote cartridge. But you should also consider the terrain of your hunt and the likely distance of your shot. Coyotes have been killed with rimfire cartridges, 12-gauge shotguns, and pretty much everything in between. They’re wily animals (or so I’ve heard), and you never know where they’ll show up.
Many consider the .223 Remington to be one of the best all-around coyote-hunting cartridges. That includes reigning champs of the World Coyote Calling Contest, Kimberly Bangerter and her father, Layne Bangerter. They told me they used a 53-grain .223 Remington (along with a 12-gauge shotgun) to bag 13 coyotes over the contest’s two days. Layne was a government trapper and USDA wildlife biologist, so he knows his stuff when it comes to yotes.
Effective up close and out to about 400 yards, the .223 Rem. offers a flat trajectory and sufficient power in a wide array of cheap, accessible loads. These 53-grain Varmint & Predator cartridges from Federal, for example, leave the barrel at a whopping 3,400 feet-per-second and only drop nine inches at 300 yards. Plus, the V-Max bullet is a proven winner and offers reliable but quick expansion on the smaller critters.
The .223 Rem. is also the most common chambering in several semi-automatic rifle platforms, which can’t be said for all the other cartridges on this list. If you’re looking to do some pest control and take out multiple yotes on a single trip, the .223 Rem. is the way to go.
Our Pick: 53-Grain Varmint & Predator
Velocity: 3,400 fps
Drop at 300 Yards: 9.2 inches
Approximate Max Effective Range: 500 yards
There’s a reason I picked the .22-250 Remington over the .223 Rem. and the .220 Swift in their respective Caliber Battles. The .22-250 is lighting-fast but produces a recoil impulse comparable to the .223. It fires a 35- to 65-grain bullet between 3,600 and 4,200 fps, which allows it to drop less than the .223 Rem. (about 8 inches) at 300 yards. The only downside compared to the .223 Rem. is cost and availability. You’ll spend more for the .22-250, it’s harder to find, and there isn’t a wide array of firearms available. While there are a few boutique gun makers producing semi-auto rifles chambered in the .22-250, you’re more-or-less limited to bolt-action varieties.
Our Pick: 55-Grain Nosler Ballistic Tip
Velocity: 3,670 fps
Drop at 300 Yards: 7.7 inches
Approximate Max Effective Range: 550 yards
You don’t need a 6.5mm bullet to take down a coyote, but it sure doesn’t hurt (doesn’t hurt you, that is). A standard 120- or 140-grain bullet will do the job, but ammo makers also offer lighter loads specifically designed for yotes.
This Federal Varmint & Predator option, for example, uses a 95-grain Hornady V-Max bullet designed to be devastating on coyotes even at long distance. The bullet leaves the muzzle at 3,300 fps and is still traveling above 2,000 fps past 500 yards. The V-Max bullet can reliably expand at 1,600 fps, which means the maximum range on a coyote is over 600 yards.
Our Pick: 95-Grain Varmint & Predator
Velocity: 3,300 fps
Drop at 300 Yards: 9.2 inches
Approximate Max Effective Range: 600+ yards
Like the .223 Rem., the .300 Blackout has the advantage of being frequently chambered in semi-automatic rifles in AR-type platforms. In fact, changing calibers from .223 to .300 Blackout in an AR-15 is a simple matter of changing the barrel.
The Blackout isn’t recommended for long-range work, but it shines within 100 yards due to its versatility. It can fire a 120-grain bullet 2,100 fps or a subsonic, 220-grain bullet 1,000 fps. The former can reach out and take down a coyote past 100 yards while the latter is ideal for use with a suppressor. You’re less likely to scare off the rest of the pack with a subsonic, suppressed projectile, but a quick-expanding hunting bullet has more than enough energy to ethically dispatch a coyote during an up-close-and-personal hunt.
Our Pick: 120-Grain Power-Shok Copper
Velocity: 2,100 fps
Drop at 200 Yards: 9.4 inches
Approximate Max Effective Range: 200 yards
A 6.5mm or .30-caliber bullet is fine for pest control, but if you’re looking to harvest hides, you want to use a teeny, tiny bullet. In that case, the .17 Hornet would be a great choice. The 20-grain bullet leaves the barrel at 3,610 fps and is still traveling faster than 2,000 fps at 300 yards. Trajectory also aligns with the other cartridges on this list with a 10-inch drop at that distance.
Of course, a smaller bullet requires greater attention to shot placement. The lightweight bullet is highly impacted by wind and produces energies three times less than other common coyote cartridges. For this reason, even though the bullet maintains a high velocity and flat trajectory out to 300-yards, shots should generally be kept within the 150-yard range.
Our Pick: 20-Grain Varmint & Predator
Velocity: 3,610 fps
Drop at 300 Yards: 10.1 inches
Approximate Max Effective Range: 150 yards
Other cartridges could have been easily added to this list. The .243 Winchester is a classic coyote round, and a 12-gauge shotgun loaded with buckshot is excellent for close-range work (the Bangerters recommend these three-inch 00 buckshot shells from Federal). Less common rounds like the .204 Ruger and the .222 Remington would also get the job done, as would larger rounds like the .308 Winchester.
Coyotes aren’t large animals. They aren’t difficult to bring down and don’t require a large or super-special cartridge. But they are wily (or so I’ve heard), so as with most hunts, your success depends more on your ability to find, stalk, or call coyotes than on your rifle.