January 11, 2023
By Joseph von Benedikt
As the old saying goes, “The best coyote gun is the one you have in your hand when you see a coyote.” But for those of us who enjoy agonizing over rifle type, make, model, and just the right configuration of coyote cartridge, well, the world is our oyster.
Thanks to modern cartridge designs and to advancements in cutting-edge projectiles and fresh new loads for classic cartridges, hunters now have a better selection to pick from than ever before. Here are seven of the best cartridges, from proven classics to a few young upstarts that have a promising future in the hands of capable coyote hunters.
If you’re a fur collector, this cartridge is where it’s at. Introduced in 2004, it was created by necking the .222 Rem. Mag. case down to .20 caliber. Light 32-grain bullets exit the muzzle at a sizzling 4,225 fps. Heavier 40-grain projectiles head downrange at 3,900 fps. Either will turn a coyote’s lights out right now, but you do need to place your shots well, since there’s just not a lot of bullet weight to wreak havoc on marginal hits.
Fur damage is minimal—usually just a pinhole entrance wound. Maximum effective range is 350 to 400 yards. Be aware that wind does push around the .204’s light, little projectiles. On the plus side, recoil is nearly nonexistent, so follow-up shots can be made extremely fast as a result.
Pick a heavy-barreled bolt action if you hunt wide-open country or a lighter version if you like to walk and spot between calling sets. For thicker, brushy habitat, where shots are close and fast, or for use in extremely high populations, where multiple dogs are likely to come during a single set, opt for an AR-15, ideally fit with a suppressor.
.223 REMINGTON/5.56 NATO
Let’s call this what it is: the world’s most versatile varmint and predator cartridge, thanks to the vast spectrum of different loads available and to the fact that so many different rifles are chambered for it. And, of course, nearly everybody has one.
Introduced in 1962, the 5.56 NATO has been America’s fighting cartridge for longer than any other, including the grand old .30-06. It’s best for use on coyotes inside 400 yards, but with a really good bullet and load selection, it’s capable at even farther distances. My longest shot on a coyote was with a highly accurate ultralightweight 2A Armament AR-15 chambered in 5.56. Using Black Hills’s 77-grain TMK load, I nailed him at 549 yards.
Whether you prefer a bolt action or an AR, pick a rifle with a fast twist so you can shoot anything from light, traditional bullets up to the heavy, high-BC bullets. A 1:8 twist is ideal. If you want a light, fast bullet for fur-popping performance up close, Nosler’s 55-grain Ballistic Tip is legendary for coyotes. Another great choice is Hornady’s 53-grain V-Max in Superformance factory ammo. Both shoot at about 3,200 fps to 3,300 fps.
For longer-range capability, pick a polymer-tipped heavyweight such as the 77-grain Sierra TMK mentioned earlier or Hornady’s 73-grain ELD Match. You’ll get about 2,700 fps to 2,800 fps with these higher-BC bullets.
Engineered to give .22-250-like performance in AR-15 rifles, the 22 Nosler is sleek, efficient, and fast. Real-world velocity runs about 100 fps behind the .22-250 and a bit less than that in short-barreled ARs.
It’s a predator-hunter’s dream cartridge. Introduced in 2017, it’s spec’d with a modern, fast rifling twist of 1:8, so it handles the broad spectrum of bullets beautifully. Light, 50- and 55-grain projectiles exit at about 3,500 fps. Heavier 73- to 80-grain long-range bullets generate around 3,000 fps.
Put together a lightweight AR-15 with an 18-inch barrel and a compact suppressor and you’ve got one of the finest coyote rifles ever conceived. Nosler loads an excellent selection of ammo for this cartridge, even including a 50-grain monometal E-Tip bullet suitable for crossover use on deer.
If there’s a cartridge that deserves a Medal of Honor among this A-Team of coyote cartridges, it’s the .22-250. First wildcatted in 1937, it was smoking hard-to-hit prairie wolves a quarter-century before the .223 was even invented. Created by necking .250 Savage cases down to .22 caliber, the legendary “two-fifty” pushes 50-grain bullets at 3,945 fps. Build one with a fast rifling twist and you’ll achieve 3,150 fps with long, sleek, high-BC bullets of 73 to 80 grains.
This is really a bolt-action rifle proposition. A few ARs have been adapted to it, but it’s not well suited. Although its noticeably tapered case and relatively mild shoulder angle are outdated cartridge design elements, the .22-250 is inherently accurate, and its outstanding velocity gives predator hunters an extra edge in authority that sometimes makes all the difference.
Our oldest coyote cartridge on this list, the grand .220 Swift is the cartridge that defined and established the top-performance parameters that we still use today. Designed by Winchester and introduced in 1935, it pushes 40-grain bullets north of 4,200 fps—incredible velocity then and now. Midweight 50-grainers exit the muzzle at nearly 4,000 fps.
Having concluded that its extreme velocity killed like a lightning bolt, proponents of the .220 Swift did rather crazy things with the cartridge, such as hunting (and killing) Bengal tigers. The legendary P.O. Ackley suggested it was “the greatest one-shot killer on deer and similar game ever produced.”
On the other hand, notable hunters that had poor luck with the .220 Swift despised it. Among this group was Robert Ruark, who claimed he wouldn’t even use it on a woodchuck.
With vintage barrel steel and corrosive primers and propellants, the .220 Swift was a real barrel burner, too. However, modern steels and cartridge components have alleviated that—mostly. It’s still not a good choice for a hot afternoon of fast and furious shooting on a prairie dog town.
The cartridge case design is very outdated, with significant body taper, shallow shoulder angle, and a semi-rimmed case head. But it feeds like silk.
All this said, if you appreciate fine cigars and single-malt Scotch, wear a pocket watch, and figure that automobile design began deteriorating in the late 1960s, the .220 Swift is exactly your brand of coyote poison. Nothing, but nothing, is quite as classy.
Designated the “Advanced Rifle Cartridge,” the 6mm ARC makes a potent argument for being the best AR-15 cartridge ever designed. Introduced in 2020, it’s certainly the youngest cartridge on our list. Created by necking down the 6.5 Grendel to hold 6mm bullets, it pushes high-BC projectiles at useful velocities and is surprisingly capable on steel targets clear out to 1,000 yards.
For coyotes, it lacks the laser-flat trajectory of the faster cartridges listed here, but when paired with a good rangefinder, it’s entirely capable to 500 yards or so. And I can tell you it snuffs out the proverbial coyote candle with dramatic effect.
Match-type 105-grain bullets exit the muzzle at about 2,750 fps. Pick a 100- to 110-grain polymer-tipped bullet to maximize expansion and impart energy. Because such bullets have significantly better aerodynamics than most any other .22 centerfire projectile, the 6mm ARC offers surprising reach. I even know top-tier PRS competitive shooters using custom bolt-action rifles chambered in 6mm ARC.
Coyote competition hunters like cartridges with authority. Unlike fur collectors, who prize small entry holes and no exits, hunters that need to make the most of every opportunity prefer hard-hitting cartridges. Traditionally, the .243 Win. filled this category—and it’s still a good choice—but the 6mm Creedmoor is better.
Why? For the simple reason that it’s more capable at long range. With a fast twist rate of 1:8, the 6mm Creedmoor is ideal with highly aerodynamic bullets of 105 to 115 grains and pushes them to 3,000 fps or more—quite impressive speed for such bullets. In contrast, the .243, with its slower 1:10 twist rate, tops out at 100-grain bullets. Sure, it pushes 55- to 85-grainers fast, but so does the 6mm Creedmoor.
Candidly, it is hard on pelts. Not that it will cut a coyote in half, but generally, there will be an exit hole that is likely the size of a silver dollar. However, if you’re OK with that—and you want a cartridge that will absolutely wallop the stuffing out of big dogs—the 6mm Creedmoor is pure magic.
It’s also hands-down the best extreme-range coyote cartridge on this list. It’s extremely accurate, and bucks the wind well. Paired with something like Hornady’s 108-grain ELD Match at 3,000-plus fps, it will kill cleanly as far out as you can hit a coyote.
The Essentials Gear Box.
Our editors have hand-picked these essential pieces of gear to make you a more successful hunter when you hit the game trails this season.