Hairs rose on the back of my neck as the wailing squalled across the big valley. “Darcy is really getting into it,” I thought to myself as I lay in the snow. I tried not to move as I scanned the wide horizon. Suddenly two dots jogged over the crest and moved steadily in our direction. “We got two coming in at my 10 o'clock; might not be in sight for you yet,” I whispered and tried to keep the dogs in view. Hungry Saskatchewan coyotes can home-in on a varmint call better than my GPS operates with a full-load of satellites!
The 'yotes dropped out of sight in a draw and Darcy let go another death-squall, only not quite as loud this time. Without moving my head, I moved my eyeballs back and forth and scanned the area where I'd last seen movement. Suddenly a blast startled me so much that I half-rolled over to see what in the heck was going on. Darcy fired a second time and quickly reloaded—then he grinned and I knew we had two more dead coyotes to add to the morning's tally.
“They came in fast,” Darcy said. “I saw them leave the draw right below us, and I knew you couldn't see them so I dumped them. Too bad you didn't get any action, but it happened real quick.” Fortunately my ears didn't get blasted, and we had two more fine pelts to send to market.
My friend Darcy turns more coyotes into pelts than anyone I know. He's spent a lot of time in the field handling predation complaints for the government, as well as hunting and trapping for his own enjoyment. He's a professional in that coyotes provide a part of his income annually. He also operates a sporting goods shop, so he has access to the latest rifle/cartridge combo before most hunters. He enjoys trying different calibers and rigs so he can compare the “latest and greatest” to what has worked best for him to date.
A few years ago, I expanded Darcy's horizons when we spent a bunch of time shooting at long distances with tactical scopes. He picked up on the benefits of drop-charts, reading the wind and using field-rests effectively. He also learned the benefits of clicking elevation and windage so his point-of-aim and point-of-impact matched at whatever distance his target might be. After a few sessions on my range's steel plates, Darcy was talking distances he never considered shootable, and he could hardly wait for autumn and winter when the pelts primed-up.
As I see it, pelt quality is dictated by bullet placement and bullet performance. I've seen many fox and coyote pelts damaged by bullets for one main reason—too much gun. Hit a 12-pound fox with a 7mm Rem. Mag. bullet and you're going to do a lot of damage.
Smart pelt-hunters try to minimize loss by shooting bullets that expand and produce internal damage without too large of an exit hole or explode inside the chest cavity with no exit at all. Some hunters use full-metal jacket bullets in hope of making small entrance and exit holes. This is fine if the shot placement is good, particularly if you happen to take out the animal's nervous system. Unfortunately, coyotes are very tough animals and they'll run amazing distances if their circulatory or respiratory systems aren't damaged sufficiently. Solid bullets don't seem to impart the massive shock that frangible bullets carry, unless they tumble.
When my friends and I consider optimum bullets for predators, we usually consider minimal pelt damage, but some hunters merely want to put the animal down regardless of the damage. An example might be depredation culls or hunting in areas where pelts are simply not worth keeping. I've shot coyotes in South Texas that looked mangy and unkempt simply because they live in such hot conditions and run through cactus all day. Compare that to a 50-pound Midwestern coyote in full winter fur.
Before considering predator bullets, you first have to think about the cartridges that are sending them on their deadly missions. I like to keep things simple, so I classify centerfire cartridges as suitable for varmints/ predators or predators/big game. Varmint/predator cartridges are usually very fast, shooting light bullets ranging from the tiny .17 caliber to the deadly hollow-point boat-tails in a variety of calibers up to .24 or .25 sizes. Predator/big game cartridges span from .24 and .25 caliber up to .30 caliber when appropriate bullets are selected.
Let's look at the smaller varmint/predator cartridges first. Here, we have the wicked little .17s and .204s that essentially enable the shooter to see his bullet impact on the target. In my experience, these little bullets are effective on coyotes and fox out to 150 yards. Some shooters take the centerfire .17s and .204 longer, but the little bullets suffer from wind-drift and lack of killing power as the yardage increases much beyond this range.
Then we have the .22s and a large selection of bullets and cartridges. Performance ranges from the lowly .22 rimfire up to the barrel-burning .22-284. That's from 1,100 fps all the way to 4,100 fps or even faster. Bullets range from solid lead or copper, to belted bonded projectiles intended for killing larger animals. I draw the line for varmint/predator cartridges at .22 caliber because the next size up, the .243 Win., is intended for bigger critters.
Predator/big game cartridges include the popular .243 Win. and 6mm Rem. and proceed through the .257s. These cartridges are available with light, super-fast bullets that do a number on predators, as well as a wide variety of bullets suitable for big game. We could include other larger calibers in this category, too—that's what makes a hunter's life interesting. I've shot a lot of coyotes with .243 Win. rifles over the years, as well as with a 6mm Rem. and a fast-handling Winchester Model 70 Featherweight in .257 Roberts.
Projectiles For Predators
I asked Darcy what he feels is the best bullet for predator hunting, particularly for maintaining pelt quality. He qualified his answer with the type of shooting required. When calling in cover, where shots will be relatively close, he likes the lower-powered .17s or .204s because they frequently blow-up inside the animal's body. He doesn't like the smaller cartridges for longer shots because he's seen too many fox and coyotes disappear into the sage-brush after a chest hit.
Probably the best bullet for the larger .22 centerfires such as the .22-250 Rem. and even the .223 Rem. is the Sierra 55-grain Game King. Darcy likes this little bullet for its quick expansion and relatively small exit hole. He gets excellent accuracy and quick kills over a wide range of distances, too. When he's hunting spooky coyotes or big country he switches to his .22-243 or .22-284 and heavier 80-grain Sierra Match Kings.
Darcy mentioned something that I've also noted, that some of the plastic-tipped bullets cause a lot of fur loss. When fur isn't an issue, Nosler Ballistic Tips or Hornady V-Max bullets kill like lightning, but they also tend to rip hide and create large exits.
There is only one way to determine your favorite bullet for predator hunting, and that's to shoot a variety of possible choices and assess what works best for you. Your hunting style, habitat, barrel twist and other factors will help determine which bullet works best.