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The 10 Best Coyote Cartridges

Written by Sam Jacobs Subject: Gun Rights

Coyotes have an expansive range, which means hunters use very diverse tactics. Some snipe them at long range across open fields. Others like to call them in and pick them off at close range.

That makes crowning the best coyote cartridge a nearly impossible task. There really is no "perfect" cartridge for hunting these wily canine predators.

However, some cartridges are better suited to the task than others. If you're searching for an effective dog-dropper, you've come to the right place.

We're going to show you the ins and outs of the most popular coyote cartridges in current production. All of the options on our list have proven their worth against what many consider a nuisance species.

What is the Best Cartridge for Coyote Hunting?

There are literally hundreds of cartridges that can be used to hunt coyotes. Here are just a few of the most popular options. They also happen to be our favorites.

.17 HMR



When it comes to dropping 'yotes, bigger isn't always better. The little .17 HMR (Hornady Magnum Rimfire) has been used by plenty of hunters to put small game in the stew pot. However, it also has plenty to offer coyote hunters.

One of the biggest reasons to downsize your caliber is to minimize pelt damage. Since coyotes aren't exactly excellent dinner fare, many hunters pursue them for furs. Coyote hides in good condition can be sold to fur buyers and turned into hats, stoles, and coats. Smaller loads, including the .17 HMR, are much more fur-friendly than larger big game loads that punch huge holes in coyote hides.

In addition to its pelt-friendly performance, .17 HMR is a flat-shooting, accurate rimfire coyote cartridge. It pushes those petite .17-caliber projectiles downrange with a respectable average muzzle velocity of around 2525 fps and delivers ballistics similar to some centerfire cartridges.

Despite its flat-shooting ballistics and respectable muzzle velocities, .17 HMR has plenty of limitations. It sheds energy with every inch it travels downrange, which means this is by no means a long-range varmint killer. However, if you enjoy calling song dogs into your lap, the .17 HMR certainly makes for an exciting hunt.

Be finicky with both your range and your shot placement and choose loads with polymer tipped bullets like the Hornady V-Max. Although most .17 HMR loads feature featherweight 17-grain projectiles, V-Max bullets are designed to violently fragment in soft tissue. Although the hide wound is usually minimal, V-Max bullets create a massive and devastating internal wound channel.

.17 Hornet

More and more serious predator hunters are opting for cartridges that shoot smaller pills. Smaller bullets equal less pelt damage, and it doesn't get much smaller than .17 inches.

While there are several capable .17-caliber coyote cartridges on the market, few offer the dog-dropping performance of the .17 Hornet.

Originally a wildcat cartridge, the .17 Hornet is one of the smallest centerfire rifle cartridges ever developed. But don't let its small size fool you. This tiny package produces faster speeds (up to 1400 fps faster) and more downrange energy than the rimfire .17 HMR. The .17 HMR can't keep up with the .17 Hornet, particularly at ranges beyond 200 yards.

The .17 Hornet has a satisfyingly flat trajectory and impressive kinetic energy that delivers plenty of sting on mid-range coyotes. However, this petite cartridge manages all that performance without destroying hides. Often the bullet will dump all its energy inside the animal without leaving an exit wound, which is a major perk for hunters pursuing pristine pelts.

Rifles chambered in .17 Hornet are some of the softest shooting varmint rifles you'll ever lay hands on, which makes high-volume coyote hunting far more enjoyable.

.204 Ruger

Although plenty of hunters consider .22 the best caliber for coyote hunting, smaller, lighter .20-caliber cartridges are ideal for fur collectors. These cartridges deliver pin-prick entrance holes that produce minimal pelt damage.

The .204 Ruger is the best of the best when it comes to.20-caliber cartridges. It is capable of sending featherweight 24-grain bullets downrange at blistering velocities (near 4400 fps). Even when capped with heavier 40-grain projectiles, the .204 Ruger produces muzzle velocities of 3800 fps or faster.

Thanks to those sizzling velocities, the .204 Ruger carries plenty of energy downrange, despite its slender, lightweight bullets. Choose a load with a heavier grain weight if you'll be knocking down big-bodied song dogs or if you need to stretch your shots beyond 300 yards.

The .204 Ruger's recoil is soft as a kitten. It barely kisses the shoulder which makes for fast, easy follow-up shots. Because the rifle hardly moves during the shot, you can easily stay with the target during and after the shot so you don't miss any of the show.

The .204 makes considerably less noise than most other centerfire coyote cartridges. Not only is this cartridge easy on the ears, but it also works in the hunter's favor when multiple dogs come running into the call.

There are plenty of high-quality bolt-action rifles available in .204 Ruger. However, if you opt for an AR-15 chambered for this .20, and pair it with a suppressor, the loudest sound you'll hear is the thud of the projectile as it strikes your target.

While those thin, .20-caliber bullets are easy on predator hides, they aren't capable of carving wide wound channels. You'll want to be extremely careful with your shot placement. Thankfully, the .204's soft recoil makes it easy to get a quick follow-up shot on a wounded dog.

.223 Remington/5.56 NATO

The .223 Remington is definitely the most popular and affordable option for predator hunting. If you want to do more than kill coyotes, the .223's versatility also makes it a smart option for bobcats and foxes.

.223/5.56 is also the most popular chambering for AR platform rifles. The AR-15 is often considered a tactical weapon. However, its lightweight, low-recoil, semi-automatic design allows for rapid, accurate follow-up shots on wounded 'yotes. The design also makes it easy to handle in the field. It's no wonder an AR-15 chambered in .223 Remington is the preferred weapon for a huge number of serious predator hunters.

Top your modern sporting rifle with a quality optic and load it with high-performance ammunition, and this cartridge is more than capable of dropping song dogs dead in their tracks out to at least 300 yards.

Another major advantage to using .223 Rem to hunt 'yotes is the wide range of specialized loads on the market. Every major manufacturer makes .223 ammo, often in dozens of variations. Use loads featuring lighter bullets to reduce pelt damage.

When it comes to both ammo and rifle availability, .223 Remington is king. You can easily find .223-chambered rifles in semi-automatic, bolt-action, single-shot, and even lever-action rifles.

.22-250 Remington

Like the .223 Remington, the .22-250 Rem is topped with a .22 caliber projectile. However, bullets fired from the .22-250 fly faster, with a flatter trajectory, and hit with more energy than anything fired from a .223 cartridge.

This versatile cartridge will drop 'yotes from close range to well beyond 300 yards. In fact, this cartridge does at 400 yards, what the popular .223 does at 300.

For comparison, Hornady's Varmint Express line features both .223 Remington and .22-250 Rem loads. The .223 load shoves a 55-grain bullet out the muzzle at a respectable velocity of 3240 fps. Meanwhile, the .22-250 load sends the same bullet zipping out the barrel 440 fps faster (3680 fps). That extra speed translates into a flatter trajectory and more kinetic energy.

The .22-250 varmint loads drop 5.5 inches less at 400 yards than the .223 Rem. That makes the .22-250 a more forgiving option for long-range coyote hunting, which is a major perk if you need to make follow-up shots on a running wounded dog.

.243 Winchester

The .243 Winchester has earned a reputation as a mild-recoiling hunting option for young hunters. Many of us had our first introduction to the sport from behind one of these rifles. However, the .243 isn't just for young deer hunters.

If you're looking for a do-everything cartridge capable of dropping big 'yotes and big whitetails, this is it. One of the most versatile rifle cartridges on the planet, the .243 Winchester easily crosses over from predators to big game hunting without even breaking a sweat.

The .243 shoots smaller grain bullets at impressive speeds with enough knockdown power to blow the fleas off a 'yote at 500 yards. If you want quick humane kills, you probably want a .243 Win pressed against your shoulder.

Ballistically, the .243 does everything the .223 and .22-250 do, only with a heavier bullet. That means it carries more kinetic energy further distances and it bucks the wind better than either of the .22-caliber rifle cartridges.

There are rifles chambered for this popular cartridge in every design under the sun, including semi-automatic modern sporting rifles. Every major commercial ammo manufacturer offers .243 ammo in most of its major hunting lines, including varmint-specific options that are capable as well as affordable.

6.5 Creedmoor

The 6.5 Creedmoor is one of the hottest cartridges on the market today. Everywhere you turn on the internet, some gun writer is singing the praises of this relative newcomer. There's a reason this cartridge is so popular. It has certainly earned its acclaim fair and square.

Although the 6.5 Creedmoor was originally designed specifically for long-range target shooting, it provides a balance of ballistics, power, and handling that makes it near perfect for hunting coyotes. If pancake-flat trajectories, excellent ballistic coefficients, and fairytale accuracy turn you on, the 6.5 Creedmoor should be your dream cartridge.

The 6.5 Creedmoor may not kill song dogs deader than any of the other rifle cartridges on this list. It will, however, make hitting them at extended ranges a heckuva lot easier.

Thanks to the 6.5 Creedmoor's extensive fan base, there is also an extensive selection of factory loads to choose from. Rifles chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor are available in everything from AR-10s to traditional lever-actions. However, bolt-action rifles offer the highest level of accuracy for hunters who like to pop coyotes across acres of open prairie or harvested cropland.

Continue reading about the best coyote cartridges here.

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