Guns & Loads for Long-Range Coyote Hunting
December 13, 2015
Predator hunters living in more open areas are in a unique position to enjoy coyote hunting at its best, testing their shooting abilities on targets that may be several hundred yards away.
With high numbers of coyotes in nearly every state and modern rifles capable of taking them down at 1,000 yards and more, hunters are limited only by time and opportunity.
Chances are that if you can see a coyote, you can kill it — if you have the proper combination of rifle, scope and ammunition.
Over the past 50 years or so coyote hunting has morphed into a category of its own, with new calibers, rifles and bullets designed to deliver minute-of-angle accuracy at remarkable distances compared to old-school calibers such as the .30-30, .303 British and even the venerable .30-06.
Most popular modern varmint calibers begin with a "2," i.e.: 220 Swift, .22-250, .270, .222, .243, .204, etc., with many variations. Small, fast, accurate and explosive on target, these and other so-called varmint calibers form the basis for a long-range varmint-shooting industry that is alive and growing rapidly.
Most modern firearms manufacturers build rifles specifically designed for small caliber, long-range shooting where acceptable minimums are one-inch groups at 100 yards. The finest custom rifles deliver this kind of accuracy at two or three times that distance, which is just the beginning for open-country coyote hunters, who strive for the Holy Grail of varminters everywhere: the 1,000-yard coyote.
Many shooters have achieved this goal, but not with your Granddad's deer rifle. Minimum requirements for such shooting include a well-engineered, finely-tuned rifle, a long-range or competition-style scope and ammunition that is as close to "hand-loaded" as modern factory specifications will allow.
In fact, some long-range enthusiasts load their own rounds, weighing powder charges by the individual grain and "batching" bullets and brass for maximum consistency.
Remington, Browning, Ruger, Winchester, Savage, Mossberg and many other companies manufacture varmint-type rifles with adjustable triggers, heavy barrels and Picatinny-type rails to accommodate specialized "tactical" scopes meant to deliver pin-point accuracy at extreme distances.
Ammunition manufacturers are on board as well, with Hornady, Nosler, Wolf, Federal and many others turning out match-grade ammo specifically for shooters who aren't satisfied with merely "acceptable" accuracy.
Deer hunters in some places are satisfied with 3-inch groups at 100 yards but coyote 'snipers' want the same level of accuracy at 600, 800 or 1,000 yards — and they are getting it.
Included in the mix are custom gun makers across the country that pay close attention to every detail of the shooter's craft and settle only for perfect — no "tolerances" allowed. Rifles built around proven actions (including barrel, trigger, bolt and receivers) may cost several thousand dollars without a scope, sling or bipod.
But these firearms are designed to put bullet after bullet into the same ragged hole at long range — and they do! For example, one such maker guaranteed one-hole accuracy at 200 yards with his custom rifle and ammunition. I spent an entire day at the range trying to prove him wrong and could not!
Most of the professional coyote hunters I know favor the .22-250 for shots out to 400 yards or so. Some are able to stretch that distance to 500 yards when conditions allow, but when it comes down to serious long-range shooting most opt for the .308, 7mm Magnum or similar calibers which have long-distance ballistics that are proven to meet the needs of the long-range coyote hunter.
Balancing accuracy with small-caliber bullet performance is the coyote shooter's challenge because range estimates must be made quickly and wind gusts may vary from zero to 40 mph at all points in between. Unlike prairie dogs, coyotes rarely hang around for spotter rounds or warning shots; you get one chance to seal the deal or there goes another newly-educated coyote.
For this reason time at the range is a must. Sighting in for 100 or 200 yards and then assuming, by studying ballistics charts, that one is able to hit any target at any range is a common mistake. Triggers, barrels, scopes and bullets only do what they are told to do.
The shooter ultimately decides where each bullet will go and nothing beats time spent on the bench for consistently accurate long-range shooting.
Hitting a target the size of a coyote at 500+ yards is not rocket science but comes pretty close. Judging distance, wind and bullet drop in the few seconds after a suspicious coyote appears requires experience along with consideration of an up-to-date ballistics chart. Practice makes perfect in the coyote hunting game!
Though any coyote hunter of experience will have a few amazing shots to tell about back at the ranch, the majority of tested shooters know their limits and keep their shots within the realm of their capabilities.
While anyone can, with practice, down the occasional coyote at 800 or even 1,000 yards, the more realistic approach is to continue calling and let the animal cut that distance in half, which presents what seems like a chip shot by comparison.
Every so often a coyote will stop, sit or even lay down at extreme range, creating a now-or-never situation that gives the shooter no other choice. By all means take the shot and all due bragging rights, but when conditions allow, wait for the animal to get closer and offer a more likely shot.
It goes without saying that sniping coyotes at multiple hundreds of yards requires a steady rest, either from the prone position or sitting using shooting sticks, a monopod or some other dependable anchor point.
Few Western hunters other than Jack O'Connor can truthfully say that they have connected repeatedly on offhand shots on coyotes beyond 200 yards, but unless you cut your teeth on running jack rabbits in the Sonoran desert, sit down and take a rest.
CLOSE-RANGE COYOTE HUNTING OPTIONS
One can expound at length about the many and varied long-range scenarios that an open country coyote hunter may face in a given winter, but there's a reason they call them "brush wolves."
Most of the coyotes called to the gun come from, travel to or appear at relatively close range in heavy cover or thick brush. It is easy to literally lose sight of short-range opportunities while glassing the distant hills for signs of an incoming coyote.
These predators are masters at using the cover and wind to sneak in close to what they perceive as an easy meal, and more than one experienced varminter has been fooled by a coyote that showed up at 20 yards instead of 200.
It is fun to watch a shooter equipped for long-range sniping try in vain to find his target in a 20X scope, especially when the animal is going away — fast — with no intention of stopping on the near horizon.
This is why most veteran callers carry a second firearm for close-range opportunities — usually a shotgun, handgun (where legal) or small-caliber rifle sighted in for 100 yards or less with a low-power scope sight.
Twelve- or 20-gauge shotguns in Full choke loaded with No. 4 shot or No. 3 buckshot are popular choices when coyotes suddenly appear at 50 yards or less. Many of today's so-called "turkey guns" are ideal for close-range coyote hunting because they feature Full or Extra-Full chokes and stout loads of non-toxic shot.
A 3-inch magnum load of hardened No. 5 shot will ruin any coyote that comes into range, and finishing shots are rarely needed.
Turkey loads hit with authority and leave no doubt as to the outcome. A 1-ounce load of tungsten, Heavi-Shot or copper-plated lead will pull the rug out from any coyote that hesitates within 50 yards of the shooter.
Excellent close-range rifle calibers include the venerable .22 Magnum, any of the new 17-caliber rimfires or centerfires, the .22 Hornet, .222 Remington and similar offerings.
This is the place for a well-equipped AR or "black" rifle fitted with a 4X to 6X scope, sling and adjustable butt stock.
Shooting opportunities in brushy cover are usually sudden, quick and decisive. A coyote that has snuck in close will waste no time in correcting his error, so a scope with a red (or green) dot reticle is the perfect choice.
Options for AR fans are abundant and readily available with manufacturers such as Remington, Colt, Armalite, Rock River Arms, Mossberg and Smith & Wesson producing some great products in .223, .308, .204 and other calibers. Most are fitted with Picatinny rails for scope and accessory mounting and all are more than accurate enough to do the job on coyotes out to 300 yards or so.
Younger, sharp-eyed hunters can do well using peep sights or no-magnification red-dot sights that are designed to perform well at close range in brush or tall grass. Most of the guides and professional hunters in the West prefer a long-range rifle for shots at coyotes beyond 50 yards and rely on a shotgun with heavy magnum loads for close-range shooting.
When a coyote hunter brings two guns you know he's been fooled at least one time too many!
Handgunners are a unique bunch that generally limit themselves to shots that are under 100 yards, although some are able to reach out much farther under ideal conditions.
Options range from bolt-action models such as the old Remington .221 Fireball or the Thompson-Center line of single-shot pistols, while many shooters opt for one of the many revolvers designed for varmint hunting such as Ruger, Colt, Smith & Wesson and others.
Custom handgun manufacturers also offer a wide range of calibers and options for coyote hunters who are intent on making long-range shots at fast-fleeing targets. Many of these are chambered for traditional rifle cartridges and do an excellent job on coyotes, bobcats and other predators out to 200 yards or so.
Don't expect to kill every coyote you encounter, but learn from your mistakes. Be assured that the coyote will do the same.