What Caliber To Use for Coyote Hunting [Rifle & Scopes]

what is the best caliber for coyote hunting?

In the United States, coyotes are considered a “varmint,” meaning they’re a pest for local communities, preying on livestock and pets. For this reason, coyote hunting is legal in most states, and there’s often not a closed season. So, as long as you have a valid hunting license, you can hunt and kill coyotes anywhere at any time. 

That said, the equipment you use makes a difference. While you don’t need specialized hunting gear as you would for larger creatures, coyotes are agile and cautious predators, so you need to make a kill shot immediately. 

With that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of the best coyote cartridges for hunting. Whether you’re a newbie or a seasoned hunter, this list should help you get started. 

What are the Best Calibers for Coyote Hunting?

As a rule, high-velocity bullets in the 35 to 80-grain range are suitable for hunting varmints like coyotes. Because these critters are spry and nimble, you don’t need a massive rifle to take one down. In fact, many experienced hunters can take down this predator with a 22-caliber rifle. 

That said, some calibers are more successful than others, so here’s a breakdown of all the different bullet options you can use to bag your first (or hundredth) coyote. 

.17 Hornet

If you’re looking for the smallest hunting cartridges to take down coyotes, the 17 Hornet is about as small as you can get. However, despite its size, it can shoot up to 2,000 feet-per-second (FPS) at 300 yards, making it accurate and deadly. 

But, because of the small grain bullet, you need to be careful as a coyote hunter. Wind and other environmental factors can throw off your initial shot, so you may have to take follow-up shots, which are hard to land when your prey is running away. 

So, even though the 17 Hornet is accurate up to 300 yards, we recommend sticking within 150 to be safe.

.17 HMR

coyote in the wild with crosshair on it

Sometimes, a coyote hunt is designed to get rid of pests. Other times, you may want to keep the fur for personal use or trading. So, if you want to minimize the pelt damage, a smaller grain bullet like the 17 HMR can work pretty well. 

Although we’re talking about coyote cartridges, the 17 HMR works for most small varmints like foxes, rabbits, and the like. Plus, if you’re after pelts in each case, you can get the best results while dropping your prey immediately. 

.223 Remington/5.56 NATO

If you’re planning to do some serious hunting, you can’t do much better than the 223 Remington. This caliber is reliable and easy to use in different guns, so it’s versatile. 

In fact, champion coyote hunters swear by the 223 Remington, so you can’t argue with the results. Also, because you can load this cartridge into a semi-automatic rifle, you can take down a whole family in a single trip. 

The 223 Remington is accurate up close and from at least 300 yards or more away, so you can target your prey with ease. 

.243 Winchester

Typically, coyote hunters aren’t necessarily trying to bag these varmints and nothing else. In many cases, they may be looking for other prey (i.e., deer) and find some varmints along the way. 

That’s why the 243 Winchester makes for an excellent hunting cartridge because it can easily shoot at close range or from far away. Also, you can switch from large to small-grain bullets to allow you to hunt deer and coyotes in the same session. (1)

.22-250 Remington

While most of these hunting cartridges work well for other game like bobcats and foxes, the 22-250 Remington is almost exclusively used for hunting predators. So, this is one of the best coyote cartridges around thanks to its long-range capabilities, abundance, and ease of use.

That said, you can use the 22-250 Remington cartridge for other purposes too, so don’t assume it only works for these animals.

various bullet sizes

.204 Ruger

Although the 204 Ruger looks like a small cartridge, it’s accurate up to 300 yards easily, and it creates a mini explosion upon impact thanks to its thin casing. 

This cartridge works in both semi-automatic and bolt action rifles, and it’s perfectly designed for all kinds of varmints and predators. Overall, this is a relatively small grain bullet that can do some serious damage. 

6.5 Creedmoor

One of the challenges of hunting this predator is getting close enough to take an accurate shot. Fortunately, something like the 6.5 Creedmoor cartridge allows you to get the drop on your target from over 400 yards out

This coyote cartridge gives the 223 Remington a run for its money, especially in the hands of a seasoned hunter. As a long-range bullet with a high FPS rating, you can expect a straight trajectory, meaning you won’t have to adjust your sightline. 

In fact, when using a V-max bullet with the 6.5 Creedmoor, you can get an accurate range of up to 600 yards, making this one of the best coyote cartridges for long-range hunting. 

6.5 Grendel

If you’re looking for something similar to the 6.5 Creedmoor but with a bit of extra heft, the 6.5 Grendel is an excellent choice. This bullet works for AR-15 hunting, so it’s tons of fun to shoot and delivers a knockout punch at relatively short ranges. Although this bullet doesn’t offer the same level of flat shooting as other caliber options, it’s still reliable. 

Once you’re done with your coyotes, you can take on other big game like deer and still get the same level of lethality and precision. 

.300 Blackout

While the 6.5 Creedmoor works well for long-distance hunting, the 300 Blackout is ideal for close-range flat shooting. This coyote cartridge works well in a semi-automatic rifle like the AR-15, and you can swap between different grain bullets pretty easily. 

Overall, the Blackout is accurate between 100 and 200 yards, but the closer you are to your target, the better. 

.308 Winchester

308 Winchester being loaded into a magazine

If you’re not worried about pelt damage, larger bullets like the 308 Winchester can work well for most situations. Many coyote hunters prefer something a bit more refined, but the 308 is so satisfying to watch in action. Plus, even if you have to take a few follow-up shots, you can likely get a kill just by winging your prey. 

12-Gauge Shotgun

When it comes to varmint hunting, nothing beats a reliable 12-gauge by your side. Because you don’t have to be as accurate as you do with bolt action rifles, the shotgun works perfectly for up-close kills, even as close as 50 yards. For example, you can flush out a coyote from the brush and take it down with a single volley of buckshot. 

Coyote Hunting Tips

Knowing the best cartridges is just one aspect of becoming a coyote hunter. You must also know how to stalk and kill your prey, so here are some top tips on how to be successful in the field. 

Know Your Prey

Learning as much about coyotes as possible will help you understand where to find them and how to hunt them. Coyotes are pack animals, but they’re far less organized than wolves, and they’re more like scavengers, not hunters. 

These critters can breed quickly and they’re highly adaptable. A coyote can eat virtually anything, which is why the species is found all throughout North America. (2)

Additionally, coyotes breed in the winter and leave their den in the spring, so you should plan accordingly depending on the time of year you start your hunt. These scavengers also tend to have higher populations in areas where prey animals are plentiful, such as deer, elk, and rabbits. 

coyote with wet fir and ears pointed up

Have a Goal in Mind

As we mentioned, sometimes you may find yourself hunting coyotes on a whim because you happen to come across some while you’re on the trail. 

However, it’s best to go searching for these animals throughout the year instead of waiting to discover them by accident. Because coyote populations are growing, they’re killing more wild game each year. 

There are a few reasons to hunt these critters, including: 

Pelt Trading

Smaller cartridges, even something like a 22-caliber rifle, can minimize the damage to the coyote pelt. If you want to skin and sell these furs, you need smaller bullets that don’t explode on impact. 

Winter is also the best time to hunt this predator because its coat is thicker and warmer. 

Population Control

If you’re just trying to remove as many predators as possible from an area, you should use cartridges that can do extra damage without sacrificing range or accuracy. 

Whether you’re hunting from 100 yards or 600 yards or more, higher caliber bullets can do the trick. Population hunters try to kill as many coyotes as possible to keep their numbers down year after year. 

Wildlife Protection

Once you start noticing more signs of predators in an area, it’s time to take aggressive action. 

So, you may need to lay traps and go out hunting more often. In this case, the cartridge size isn’t as important as protecting wild game. But choosing multiple grain sizes may be wise, so you can adapt on the fly. 

Pick the Right Time of Day

Choosing the best coyote cartridge doesn’t matter if you pick the wrong time of day to go hunting. Coyotes rest during the day, so they’re most active in the morning and evening. Night hunting is also a possibility if you have the right rifle scope and cartridges to make short work of any predator you find. 

Think Like a Predator

Coyotes are naturally cautious animals, meaning they use their superior reflexes and senses to avoid danger. You can mitigate this problem by choosing high-velocity bullets that can travel thousands of feet-per-second (FPS). The faster the bullet, the easier it is to get the drop on a coyote. 

Also, patience is crucial since movement makes noise; these creatures can sense your presence long before they see a muzzle. Realistically, you should be able to take a shot quickly and accurately since you may only have one chance with each kill. 

Know Where to Set Up

If you’re in an area with lots of prey animals, you should go where they will congregate the most. This way, you can use the prey as bait and wait for your predator to arrive. 

Also, if you live on or near a farm with cows and other livestock, you can set up your hide in a remote section. Just make sure you have good visibility and you’re not too far away from the animals. 

Following that thought, setting up in a baited area works well because you can plan accordingly, including how many yards away you’ll be, what grain to use, and the types of rifles that will work best. Ideally, you should bring multiple cartridge sizes, just in case your target is closer or further away than you expected.

The Best Scope for Predator and Varmint Hunting

Apart from the caliber, choosing the right scope for predator and varmint hunting is very important. Make sure to check out our full article on the subject.

The Best Thermal Scopes for Coyote Hunting

As most of you know, thermal scopes have exploded in popularity and have become the gold standard for coyote hunting. Go to this article to see our discussion of the best on the market.

FAQs

What is the Best Caliber for Coyote Hunting?

Overall, the best caliber for coyote hunting that many yote hunters choose is mid-range caliber bullets, which offers accuracy and power, like the 223 Remington. The cartridge is versatile and works in both an AR-15 and bolt action rifles. Also, it’s precise up close or far away, with a range of 300 yards or higher.

That said, the calibers you choose can depend on several factors. For example, a 55-grain bullet may work well for killing larger targets, but a 40-grain bullet is better for less pelt damage. So, if you’re trying to skin the predator, you should choose something small with a high FPS rating.

Is a 17 Caliber Good for Coyote Hunting?

A 17-caliber bullet should work well for hunting coyotes if you’re good at picking your shots and hunting in clear conditions. We recommend using a bolt action rifle so you can get better handling and deliver a kill shot more easily. 

What is the Best Caliber for Varmint Hunting?

Technically, the 223 Remington is the best caliber for all kinds of varmint hunting, including foxes, coyotes, and more. However, the purpose of your hunt also matters. For example, if you want to preserve the pelt, you want something smaller like the 17 Hornet or HMR. Conversely, if you’re hunting coyotes with impunity, a larger cartridge like a 12-gauge shotgun can do the trick.

Finally, consider whether the cartridges can use a V-Max bullet, which is ideal for varmint hunting. If so, you can get a better kill between 200 yards and 400 yards without changing anything else.

References

  1. Outdoor Life, Best Deer Hunting Calibers of 2022, retrieved from https://www.outdoorlife.com/gear/best-deer-hunting-calibers/
  1. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Coyote, retrieved from https://wdfw.wa.gov/species-habitats/species/canis-latrans#desc-range

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