7 Best Shotgun Shells for Coyote Hunting
I’ve killed more coyotes with my old 12-gauge than any other gun. Sure, my 223 will do, but there’s something to be said about the raw functionality and versatility of a shotgun. I’ve hunted mainly with my shotgun for everything since I was 14 years old. All you need is the right ammo.
Hornady Varmint Express 4 Buck
The overall best shotshells for coyote hunting are Hornady Varmint Express #4 Buckshot (order it online from MidwayUSA here). This one is my absolute favorite commercial load. It’s a very advanced and specialized load option specifically designed for taking coyotes with minimal fur damage.
There are a lot of reasons why I strongly recommend this ammo. Basically, it tends to work really well time and time again. It just doesn’t let me down. Here are the specifics about why I love it so much.
This is the best 2 3/4 inch option for 12-gauges. It really is. My shotgun is a 2 3/4 and over the past 10 years, I’ve noticed that most of the premium 12-gauge ammo is all 3-inch shotshells. If you have a 2 3/4- inch 12-gauge, there aren’t many other options out there other than a very basic buckshot.
Number 4 buckshot is my favorite shot size for coyotes because it has a good combination of inertia and pattern density. This load from Hornady contains 24 lead, 0.24 caliber pellets. They hold up well in the wind compared to smaller shot, and have enough weight to penetrate at some distance.
The shot starts out going 1,350 fps, which is a bit fast for a full-weigh load. The 24 pellets weigh 20.4 grains each. That’s just about 1 1/8 ounces of lead. It’s a pretty hot load for a 2 3/4-inch shell. The shot has a maximum “should not fail” distance of around 50 yards. Further, if the pattern stays tight
The most impressive point about this shot, and really all the options from Hornady, is its uniformly tight grouping. Hornady has a special wadding system called the Versatite wad. It’s a shot cup wad that stays with the shot longer to reduce the initial spreading.
The average spread of traditional loads is 30 inches at 20 yards, but I’ve seen this buckshot hold to a tight 10 inches at 20 yards. Now, on this ammo, the choke doesn’t really matter much. That’s because the shot cup does so well at holding the shot tightly together.
This ammo shoots similarly tight patterns with any choke. In fact, a very tight choke could cause the shot cup to spill the shot sooner, making a wider group. Hornady recommends an improved-cylinder choke for shells with their Versatite wad
Hornady Heavy Magnum Coyote BB
This is my second favorite load. This one is a bit more high-tech and specialized than the last one. It’s also a significantly smaller, harder, smoother pellet. And, it’s only available in a 3-inch shell.
The stated muzzle velocity is 1,300 fps. It sends a heavy load, 1 1/2 ounces of coyote killing shot downrange. The pellets are Nickle-pated lead. The nickel plating gives the shot more hardness and a much smoother surface.
Both of those help in penetration. The hardness helps the shot not to flatten out and slow down too quickly in an animal. The smoothness helps the shot to slide through the fur.
Because of the less slick surface of lead, it has a tendency to tangle in the fur, slowing it down before it starts to penetrate. This is very noticeable during cold seasons when the animals are in their thick winter coat. The nickel-plated shot helps you keep up killing power at further distances.
The BB is a bit small, at .17 caliber, and they only weigh about also 7 grains. But, this is still a killer load. it has 75 pellets to provide a very full pattern without any open spots. This load was specially developed alongside professional coyote hunters and it took over a year to get it “just right”.
It also uses Hornady’s Versatile wad which gives a tight initial group. Besides that, the nickel plating on the shot greatly reduces deformation in the barrel. The result is an even tighter group downrange. Hornady says this load is good to 50 yards, and I agree. I know of coyotes that have been dropped a bit farther with it.
Hornady Heavy Magnum Coyote 00 Buck
A lot like the previous load, but a much larger pellet. 00 buckshot is .33 caliber and weighs almost 54 grains. It’s a 12 pellet load going 1,300 fps. This one also has the Versatite wad and nickel-plated shot for tight groups.
The whole point of 00 buckshot is to retain more down-range energy. I’ve killed deer at 65 yards with 00 buckshot, so it’ll put a whooping on a coyote. The only issue with larger shot sizes is a less full pattern. This load has 12 pellets. If they are all inside a 36-inch target, you are likely to miss anything immediately vital on a coyote.
That’s why a lot of hunters are favoring the BB load. But, if it keeps a decently tight group for you, this has enough energy left to kill a coyote at 100 yards. I’m not saying you should take a 100-yard shot. I’m saying you can shoot as far as you have a good group. More on that in a few minutes.
The whole pattern density thing, the likeliness that a pellet hits something vital, is why more hunters are going to BB loads. even with a 40-inch pattern, you are still likely to get pellets in something vital, whether the head, neck, or lungs. It only takes one pellet in the head or lungs, but more is better.
Winchester Varmint X BB
Want a really good, kinda funky load that will leave you both satisfied and scratching your head? This one will do it. The Varmint X by Winchester is a reactionary offering to Hornady’s Heavy Magnum Coyote. It’s another 3-inch shell with 1 1/2 ounces of BB. But, the BB is a classic copper plated.
Nothing too strange there. The oddity is in the buffering system Winchester uses. Apparently, the shell is filled with a liquid plastic of some kind, right before being crimped shut. They call it a “polymer” to sound fancy.
Literally, you can cut the shell open and the shot comes out as one piece, all glued together. This polymer is a very brittle, crumbly material. The stress of going down the barrel causes it to break apart and crumble into dust. the sole purpose is to keep the BBs from deforming at all during takeoff.
it sounds funny and seems like it wouldn’t work. But, it works and it works well. By preventing any deformation, the shot flies more uniformly. That makes it shoot tighter groups. tighter groups mean a further effective range. The results seem to be equivalent to Hornady’s Versatite wad.
I wonder if the polymer filling just acts as a perfect buffer, or it actually holds the shot together a bit out of the barrel as it continues to break away. I’m not sure. This load is an easy 50-yard coyote option.
The results in the field are that it works and works well. I’ve seen some ridiculously tight groups at 65 yards with this stuff. All these tight groups beg the question, how well can you aim your shotgun? think about it. If your group is half-size, you now need to be twice as accurate to hit the target.
this is primarily why waterfowl and turkey hinters often have a double bead or add a rear fiberoptic pin to their vent rail. With two aiming points, you can use it almost like a pair of sights. Honestly, I’ve thought about getting iron sights put on my shotgun. I’ll probably keep on thinking for a while though.
HEVISHOT Dead Coyote T
Do you want to spend some serious money? This stuff is expensive, but it’s also the best stuff on the market. In a land of Honda Accords, this is a Cadillac. Honestly, I’ve never known anyone who actually bought this. It comes in boxes of ten, and I’ve seen it priced as high as $9 a shot.
The shot is solid tungsten. Tungsten is a fairly expensive metal. In the past decade, it seems to have nearly doubled in price too. It’s just very expensive to produce. This shot is reported to kill coyotes at 90 yards, just because it holds its energy so well.
The pellets are frangible to create extra damage and prevent over-penetration so you don’t get too many holes in the hide. It comes in 00 buck and T-shot in a 3-inch shell and just a T-shot for a 3 1/2- inch shell. The various options are all around a 1 1/2 ounce load going 1,350 fps.
HEVISHOT recommends you use their proprietary HEAVISHOT choke tube. It’s a very tight constriction that works well with this shot.
Federal Premium Vital-Shok 4 Buck
You want hard-hitting, you got it! This is a 2-ounce load of premium, copper-plated #4 buckshot. It’s marketed for deer hunting but works great on coyotes too. This Federal Premium load has 41 of the .24 caliber pellets to create a very full pattern compared to the normal count of about 25.
Because it’s a very heavy shot load, the velocity is lower, at 1,100 fps. It’s not the tightest grouping buckshot, but far better than the old-school stuff. It relies on the hardened shot and a lightweight buffer material to keep the pellets uniform and consistent in the shot pattern.
This is a fine shooting buckshot that also has a good functional distance of about-50 yards. Federal does this not through the tightest group, but by simply using more shot. A wider pattern that has more shot still works, and it gives the shooter a larger margin of error.
Now, unlike the faster loads higher up on this list, Federal Premium Vital-Shok 4 buck really cannot go past about 50 yards. It’s just too slow after that. The Hornady is good to 70 or 80 yards as long as the pattern holds out. I do know of some coyotes that have been rolled over at that distance with the faster buckshot.
for this buckshot, I’d probably use a Full or Improved Modified choke. With a 2 oz load, I’ve seen issues from trying to constrict it to an extra full or even tighter constriction. But, I’d try it out with all the choke tubes you have just to see what it does.
Remington Heavy Magnum 4 Buck
This is just classic, magnum buckshot. It’s a standard 3-inch load of #4 buckshot and it has a published velocity of 1225 fps. There’s nothing special about this. The buckshot is pure lead, and it’s cheaper than most of the other options out there. It does work within its practical limits.
Generally, this is 30-yard buckshot. The pattern generally opens up pretty quickly. The soft lead deforms, causing less uniformity and spacing out the shot in the pattern. The wad doesn’t do much to keep things together either.
This stuff usually likes a Full or improved Modified Choke. Particularly with soft lead buckshot, I’ve seen the groups open up due to deformation caused by over constriction. The pellets are forced through a skinnier muzzle, which bangs and dents the lead a lot more. The less perfectly round it is, the more it spreads.
The basic limit of this buckshot is often around 35 yards. It has enough energy to go farther, but the pattern just spreads a lot. You have to do some patterning work to really figure it out. Every shotgun will shoot it a bit differently.
Good Buckshot Works Reliably up to 50 Yards
Quality buckshot will easily kill a coyote at 50 yards. Even smaller T and BB shot have enough energy to do that. It’s a simple feat, as long as the pattern isn’t too open. Before you go hunting, you need to pattern your shotgun with your intended load and see how it shoots in your gun.
Here’s the patterning test I like to use. Using a paper plate or pie tin as a target, fire a load at 30-yards. You want to see a well-covered target without any open spots. There shouldn’t be a baseball size area without a pellet. If you do, you need to come back 5-yards and try again.
As long as you are getting a good pattern, repeat at 10-yard increments until you find where your pattern becomes too wide and sparse. That’s when you know your limits. When you get there, fire a few more rounds at new targets to be sure there is some consistency, and to get some practice.
The Most Econimical Option is an Old Standby
The Traditional shotgun load for coyotes is a 2 3/4-inch shell loaded with 27 pellets of soft lead #4 buckshot going 1,200 fps. That used to be the old standby. It worked well enough for hunters for longer than my grandpa has been around.
With this old load, 45 yards was considered a Hail Marry. Practical hunters limited its use to about 30 yards. Much further and you lose the assurity of a clean kill in many cases. The only way to try and beat that is to get a very tight Full Choke and hope it patterns well with.
My first Shot load for coyote hunting was cheap Remington #4 buckshot. That’s what the old-timers at the time recommended everywhere. It works, but it takes more time patterning to find the best choke and it is usually limited to a hard 40-yard max.
If you don’t have the assurity of a clean kill, don’t take the shot. That’s the ethics of hunting. And a secret of the pros is to not take a shot that isn’t perfect. Remember, good things come to those who wait. Wait for a good shot. That’s how to maintain the utmost success every time.