Best Rifle Cartridges and Calibers for Hunting Coyote
There are hundreds of different rifle cartridges available to the coyote hunter today, and most of those cartridges are more than ample to take coyote.
The most popular coyote hunting cartridges are the .22-250 Remington and the .223 Remington. Coyotes are medium-size game and can be hunted with .17 caliber and larger projectiles, but hunters prefer lighter-weight cartridges up to 6.5mm to preserve the fur.
A good coyote gun will be accurate and shoot a cartridge that does not obliterate the pelts of the quarry. A true coyote-specific gun is likely going to be chambered in a small caliber though not necessarily. I have included options for those who know they will shoot close-in to the coyote and those who expect longer shots.
Also included are cartridges that can be found in various gun platforms, as well as cartridges that are versatile enough to take any other game and predator species besides coyote.
Before providing a list of the best cartridge choices I want to remind the reader that many factors go into cartridge selection upon any hunt. Expected shot distance, type of terrain, and your local laws all play key factors in selecting an appropriate cartridge for a coyote. Also, while there are so many adequate cartridges to choose from, many are simply overkill.
If pelt damage is of primary concern, you are going to want to focus on smaller caliber cartridges. You do not need a deer rifle to hunt coyote, though a deer rifle will certainly work for the “little wolf”.
Again, many cartridges will suffice, but this is a list of the best cartridges for coyote hunting. Not all cartridges can make this list, and not making this list in no way nullifies the validity of another cartridge choice. Some hunters will use the gun they have to the best of their ability. This list imagines a coyote-specific gun and cartridge choice.
|.204 Ruger||Small Centerfire|
|22 Hornet||Small Centerfire|
|20 Gauge Sabot Slug||Large|
The Rimfire Choices
The rimfire cartridges, though perhaps effective, should be considered best for clear shots at closer ranges.
The smallest projectile on this list, the .17HMR is based on the 22WMR (.22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire, more on this round later). Tiny projectiles at quality muzzle velocities are to be expected from this cartridge; and though small, the 17-grain weight bullet moves faster than 2600 fps (feet per second) at the muzzle.
The .17HMR’s speed and small profile allow the bullet to shoot straight and provide more confidence at the range though it may succumb to wind deflection. The lighter energy inherent in this small rimfire cartridge means that it is bests kept within 200 yards for coyote hunting.
The .17HMR is found in some truly excellent tack-driving bolt action rifles, though it can also be found in a single shot, lever action, and semi-automatic platforms.
22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire (WMR)
If a rimfire cartridge is your choice for coyote hunting, the 22WMR is hard to beat. Firing 40 grain .22 caliber bullets at 1900 fps, you get .22 Hornet results out of a rimfire cartridge. Like the .17HMR, target distance is a concern, but this can also be mitigated by the accuracy of the cartridge in modern rifle platforms. Still, the 22WMR is best considered for expected shots within 200 yards. The 22WMR is an older cartridge that can be found in bolt action, single shot, or lever-action rifles.
Best of the Little Centerfire Cartridges
The .204 Ruger can be loaded with a variety of bullets of various weights in grains, the largest of which can easily surpass 3000 feet per second at the muzzle. Use the 40 or 45 grain projectile; this is a little, but the fast bullet that will get the job done.
This cartridge is often found in bolt-action or single-shot rifles.
The 22 Hornet is an old cartridge and maintains velocity numbers indicative of its age at 2000 fps firing 55 grain bullets. Though slow and light, this bullet will still get the job done if the distance to your target is not too far or the habitat not too dense. The 22 Hornet is also found in bolt-action or single-shot rifles.
The Goldilocks Zone
If you were to decide to purchase a rifle devoted specifically to coyote hunting, the next four cartridges must be considered the best options in rifle chamberings. These next four cartridges are just right.
The .220 Swift is the fastest cartridge on this list, propelling 50 grain .22 caliber bullets at 4000 feet per second at the muzzle. This cartridge eclipses the .204 Ruger in speed and caliber, shoots flat, and punches above its .22 caliber weight class.
The .220 Swift was created before World War II, is an old cartridge that seemingly intimidated users of that bygone era.
The pressures generated by this cartridge caused some to fear fast barrel burnout and the .220 Swift waned in popularity for some time before modern technologies in both barrel construction and ammunition manufacturing, along with popular gun manufacturers chambering quality rifles for the round brought it somewhat back towards vogue.
You can still find ammunition for the .220 Swift as well as rifles in bolt-action and single-shot platforms.
The .223 Remington really hits the sweet spot shooting the same size bullets as the 22 hornet, only over 700 feet per second faster (2700 fps), firing the same 55 grain bullet.
Other, heavier projectiles can be used up to 80 grains. This extra size and speed allow the shooter to reach out further with more energy, and the round is found in most of the rifle platforms. Of course, this includes the AR platforms which give the hunter the advantage of faster follow-up shots, and more of them (where legal, of course).
The 22-250 Remington is the best of the .22 caliber coyote cartridges and may be the best of them all. The 22-250 fires the same 80 grain bullet as the.223 Remington, but approximately 300 fps faster than the .223 Remington (or about the difference between a .30-06 and the 300 Winchester Magnum).
This “mini-magnum” is found in a single shot, bolt action, and lever-action rifles.
Another .22 caliber cartridge, the 224 Valkyrie was designed to surpass the .223 Remington for longer range shots in AR-style platforms and it does that.
The Valkyrie is based on the 6.8 SPC case, and the shorter case allows for longer, sleeker bullets with higher ballistic coefficients than the bullets used in the .223 Remington. Still, the 80 grain projectiles are the best choices for the Valkyrie, achieving better than 300 feet per second over the .223 Remington.
Though designed to maximize AR-style rifles, the 224 Valkyrie can be found in bolt action platforms as well.
The .243 Winchester was derived from the .308 Winchester cartridge, necked down to fire a .24 caliber bullet.
More common in the deer woods, this cartridge fires similar weight bullets at comparable speeds of the next choice, the 250 Savage. Like the 250 Savage, the .243 Winchester may be considered too much gun for coyote hunting. A 100 grain .243 Winchester round reaches beyond 2600 fps.
The .243 Winchester can be found in bolt action, single shot, and lever-action rifles. If you want one rifle that can take whitetail deer, varmint, and predators, this is a strong choice.
If vintage lever guns are more your style, the 250 Savage is a dream cartridge for coyote.
Another older cartridge, but a real jump in bullet weight from the .22 caliber offerings. The 250 Savage shoots bullets as large as 117 grains with a velocity that was revolutionary at the time of introduction yet still holds up well in modern times. The best .25 caliber bullet choices for coyotes are in 100 or 110 grain, both projectiles easily reaching 2500 fps.
The 250 Savage has been used to take whitetail deer and elk, and the larger caliber bullet may represent too much pelt damage for the coyote hunter.
The 250 Savage can be found in single-shot, bolt-action rifle, or lever gun (Savage model 99). Due to ammunition constraints, this option may best be employed by hand-loaders who can utilize the smaller bullet offering available today.
What list of cartridges today would be complete without a 6.5? Likely the least popular of the 6.5’s, the Grendel is more than adequate to take coyote.
The 6.5 Grendel was designed to do what the .223 Remington does, only it fires a .26 caliber bullet rather than a .22. The 6.5 Grendel fires bullets up to 130 grain but the 100 or the 123 grain bullets are the best choices for coyote, both eclipsing 2300 fps. This flat shooting cartridge is found in AR-style and bolt action rifles.
Although the Grendel is the larges rifle caliber choice on this list, recoil is still minimal.
20 Gauge Sabot Slug
Some states do not allow hunting with centerfire rifles, while some states are just beginning to allow straight-walled rifle cartridges to be used on hunts.
If you live in a state with such restrictions, fear not. There are more than a few accurate 20-gauge shotguns with rifled barrels that can hit at 300 yards consistently. Federal Ammunition recently bought Remington’s ammo company and sabot shot should be more readily available in the future.
These 20-gauge shotguns are found in bolt action guns and designed to shoot the sabot shot through their rifled barrels. More than enough power and accuracy to dispatch coyote.
A Note on the 12 Gauge
Where I live (in southern New Jersey), most of the coyotes I have seen taken are done in with 12-gauge shotguns. This has more to do with state laws and the density of New Jersey brush than with hunter preference, which mostly make New Jersey a shotgun hunting state. I have seen coyotes taken within deer drives (legal in New Jersey) and while hunting over bait for deer (also legal in New Jersey) all with 12-gauge shotguns. For hunting moving prey, 12-gauge shotguns are second to none.
If you plan on getting coyote in close, the hand-me-down 12-gauge in your gun safe is a fine choice. At 50 yards and in, No. 4 buck is the shotshell of choice here, though I have seen coyote taken with double-ought buckshot more than any other shotshell.
Hunting coyotes comes with its own challenges, but killing coyotes is not too hard once you draw a bead on them. Many calibers or cartridges may be used effectively to harvest a coyote, and the hunter certainly has a variety of rifle options to choose from today.
Best Caliber for Hunting Coyotes
As far as caliber choice for coyote hunting, there are adequate .20 and .22 calibers though expected shot distance and habitat may require more bark from your rifle. The .24 and .25 calibers with lighter bullets are excellent choices for larger predators and varmint at longer ranges.
Though some single gun hunters have been known to hand-load 110 grain bullets into their .270 Winchester for coyotes, the 6.5 Grendel (.26 caliber) is effective on coyote-sized game beyond 300 yards. This is also not to exclude smaller calibers, as some hunters effectively choose .17 HMR as a coyote remedy.
Just as there are numerous cartridge choices adequate for coyote, you are likely to find numerous rifle platforms in the coyote woods. Some rely on the inherent accuracy of a bolt action rifle while others may lean toward a traditional lever-action rifle, due to familiarity or faster follow-up shots.
Speaking of faster follow-up shots, the AR platforms are chambered for many of the finest coyote cartridges and are legal in many states for hunting.
Any of the above cartridges are excellent choices for your next coyote hunt, just remember to consider distances and the habitat you intend to hunt within to make the optimum cartridge pick.