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What to Look for in Ammo for Predator Hunting

The key to dropping coyotes quickly is a bullet with dramatic expansion at moderate and long ranges.

What to Look for in Ammo for Predator Hunting
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I shot the first coyote I ever called in. Tagged out during a deer hunt in Oklahoma, I was working a mouth call when three coyotes stormed me. I punched the front varmint through the center of the lungs with a 150-grain Winchester Power-Point fired from a .270 Winchester at about 70 yards. I didn’t see any reaction, and the coyote ran almost 100 yards before piling up.

One of the last coyotes I killed was in Wyoming. I smacked him mid-body with a 95-grain Hornady V-Max, fired from a 6.5 Creedmoor, at about 160 yards. He immediately face-planted into the snow. That’s the difference between a real predator bullet and a big-game bullet: In both instances the coyotes died, but the one shot with the V-Max died immediately.

The best bullets for killing predators quickly are made with thin copper or gilding-metal jackets and lead cores. Like all expanding bullets, predator bullets begin to deform on contact. However, unlike bullets designed for big game—which are engineered to prevent the jacket from separating from the core (or are monolithic), to control expansion and to retain weight for adequate penetration—good predator bullets sort of erupt. They deliver a wicked, system-shocking wound cavity that’s wide but comparably shallow. Terminal performance like this is driven by velocity; the faster the bullet is traveling, the more damage it will inflict.

There’s a variety of good predator bullets on the market. Hornady offers its V-Max bullets in calibers between .17 and .30, and they’re also loaded in the company’s Varmint Express line of ammunition. Sierra offers its BlitzKing bullets in .204, .224, .243 and .257 calibers. Nosler’s Ballistic Tip Varmint bullets are available for everything between .204 and .257 caliber as well. However, Nosler also offers Ballistic Tip Hunting bullets, and while they have the same caliber-coordinated colored tips, they will not deliver the explosive performance predator hunters desire.

I prefer polymer-tipped predator bullets because at distances where velocity drops off, the tip acts as an expansion initiator. Tipped bullets also tend to have higher ballistic coefficients to help reduce the effects of gravity and wind over a given range. However, other effective options exist.

While rapidly expanding bullets are best for coyotes, proper shot placement is also crucial. A well-placed shot with a fragile bullet drops coyotes quickly. (Photo by Richard Mann)

The Barnes Varmin-a-tor and Speer TNT bullets  are very explosive and lethal on predators, and a unique predator bullet is the Controlled Chaos from Lehigh Defense. This lead-free bullet essentially turns to shrapnel on impact, driving copper or brass particles through a predator in a very messy manner. I once shot a badger with a 115-grain Controlled Chaos out of a .300 AAC Blackout at about 75 yards. It immediately sorted out his bad attitude.

My primary predator rifle is chambered for a .257-caliber wildcat based on the 6.5 Creedmoor. I’ve used it to take a truckload of coyotes, all with Hornady’s 75-grain V-Max bullet running at about 3,500 fps. But guess what? I’ve taken coyotes with everything from a .22 WMR to a .308 Winchester. In truth, about any bullet will work if you place it properly, but it’s the fast-moving, explosively expanding bullets that will knock the yodels out of coyotes and drive their noses into the dirt. You might trash a few pelts along the way, but they’ll be easy to collect because the critters won’t run off after you shoot them.

Big-Game vs. Predator Bullets

Most big-game bullets are designed with features that help control expansion and retain weight to create wound channels that penetrate deeply into vital organs. Deep penetration is not necessary or even desired for predators, however, and projectiles built for coyotes and other varmints are instead designed to dramatically expand within the first several inches after impact.

Big-Game Bullet | Hornady InterLock

  • Grooves in the front section of the jacket assist initial expansion to a designated point.
  • Thicker jacket toward the middle ofthe bullet slows expansion to control frontal diameter and promote penetration.
  • Cannelure and InterLock ring near the rear of the bullet mechanically lock the core to the jacket to prevent separation, and retain weight and energy.

Predator Bullet | Hornady V-Max

  • Hard polymer tip is forced into the bullet nose upon impact to initiate expansion.
  • Hollow cavity permits the bullet tip’s shaft to forcefully enter the soft lead core for violent fragmentation.
  • Jacket remains thin along the bullet’s entire length to allow continued, rapid expansion for a wide wound channel with limited penetration.


What About Shotguns?

Although many hunters overlook them due to their limited range, shotguns can be effective for predators, too, especially when calling in thick brush. In some cases, shotguns work well even in the wide-open spaces of the West. I’ve seen coyotes cross nearly a mile of open ground and comewithin 20 yards of a call.

Shotguns are also pelt friendly. You might put several small holes in the hide, but you won’t get those blown-out, gaping tears that drop the price of furs.

While everything from slugs to birdshot can handle predators at close ranges, No. 4 buckshot offers the best balance of power, patterning and reach. A 23⁄4-inch No. 4 buck shotshell will hold about 24 pellets. That offers a much denser pattern at distance than a nine-pellet 00 buck load. At very close range even No. 4 or No. 5 birdshot will work. However, a No. 4 buck pellet is almost twice the diameter of a No. 4 birdshot pellet and more than six times heavier, so each one hits harder and penetrates deeper.

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