Coyotes have an expansive range, which means hunters use very diverse tactics. Some snipe them at long range across open fields. Others like to call them in and pick them off at close range.
That makes crowning the best coyote cartridge a nearly impossible task. There really is no “perfect” cartridge for hunting these wily canine predators.
However, some cartridges are better suited to the task than others. If you’re searching for an effective dog-dropper, you’ve come to the right place.
We’re going to show you the ins and outs of the most popular coyote cartridges in current production. All of the options on our list have proven their worth against what many consider a nuisance species.
Although some shooters use the terms “caliber” and “cartridge” interchangeably, the words refer to vastly different things.
“Caliber” is literally the diameter of a projectile (or the barrel of a firearm that the projectile travels through), and is generally measured in fractions of an inch. The word “cartridge” refers to an entire unit of ammunition - bullet, casing, powder, and primer.
In this article, we’ll be discussing the best cartridge for coyote hunting.
What is the Best Cartridge for Coyote Hunting?
There are literally hundreds of cartridges that can be used to hunt coyotes. Here are just a few of the most popular options. They also happen to be our favorites.
When it comes to dropping ‘yotes, bigger isn’t always better. The little .17 HMR (Hornady Magnum Rimfire) has been used by plenty of hunters to put small game in the stew pot. However, it also has plenty to offer coyote hunters.
One of the biggest reasons to downsize your caliber is to minimize pelt damage. Since coyotes aren’t exactly excellent dinner fare, many hunters pursue them for furs. Coyote hides in good condition can be sold to fur buyers and turned into hats, stoles, and coats. Smaller loads, including the .17 HMR, are much more fur-friendly than larger big game loads that punch huge holes in coyote hides.
In addition to its pelt-friendly performance, .17 HMR is a flat-shooting, accurate rimfire coyote cartridge. It pushes those petite .17-caliber projectiles downrange with a respectable average muzzle velocity of around 2525 fps and delivers ballistics similar to some centerfire cartridges.
Despite its flat-shooting ballistics and respectable muzzle velocities, .17 HMR has plenty of limitations. It sheds energy with every inch it travels downrange, which means this is by no means a long-range varmint killer. However, if you enjoy calling song dogs into your lap, the .17 HMR certainly makes for an exciting hunt.
Be finicky with both your range and your shot placement and choose loads with polymer tipped bullets like the Hornady V-Max. Although most .17 HMR loads feature featherweight 17-grain projectiles, V-Max bullets are designed to violently fragment in soft tissue. Although the hide wound is usually minimal, V-Max bullets create a massive and devastating internal wound channel.
More and more serious predator hunters are opting for cartridges that shoot smaller pills. Smaller bullets equal less pelt damage, and it doesn’t get much smaller than .17 inches.
While there are several capable .17-caliber coyote cartridges on the market, few offer the dog-dropping performance of the .17 Hornet.
Originally a wildcat cartridge, the .17 Hornet is one of the smallest centerfire rifle cartridges ever developed. But don’t let its small size fool you. This tiny package produces faster speeds (up to 1400 fps faster) and more downrange energy than the rimfire .17 HMR. The .17 HMR can’t keep up with the .17 Hornet, particularly at ranges beyond 200 yards.
The .17 Hornet has a satisfyingly flat trajectory and impressive kinetic energy that delivers plenty of sting on mid-range coyotes. However, this petite cartridge manages all that performance without destroying hides. Often the bullet will dump all its energy inside the animal without leaving an exit wound, which is a major perk for hunters pursuing pristine pelts.
Rifles chambered in .17 Hornet are some of the softest shooting varmint rifles you’ll ever lay hands on, which makes high-volume coyote hunting far more enjoyable.
Although plenty of hunters consider .22 the best caliber for coyote hunting, smaller, lighter .20-caliber cartridges are ideal for fur collectors. These cartridges deliver pin-prick entrance holes that produce minimal pelt damage.
The .204 Ruger is the best of the best when it comes to.20-caliber cartridges. It is capable of sending featherweight 24-grain bullets downrange at blistering velocities (near 4400 fps). Even when capped with heavier 40-grain projectiles, the .204 Ruger produces muzzle velocities of 3800 fps or faster.
Thanks to those sizzling velocities, the .204 Ruger carries plenty of energy downrange, despite its slender, lightweight bullets. Choose a load with a heavier grain weight if you’ll be knocking down big-bodied song dogs or if you need to stretch your shots beyond 300 yards.
The .204 Ruger’s recoil is soft as a kitten. It barely kisses the shoulder which makes for fast, easy follow-up shots. Because the rifle hardly moves during the shot, you can easily stay with the target during and after the shot so you don’t miss any of the show.
The .204 makes considerably less noise than most other centerfire coyote cartridges. Not only is this cartridge easy on the ears, but it also works in the hunter’s favor when multiple dogs come running into the call.
There are plenty of high-quality bolt-action rifles available in .204 Ruger. However, if you opt for an AR-15 chambered for this .20, and pair it with a suppressor, the loudest sound you’ll hear is the thud of the projectile as it strikes your target.
While those thin, .20-caliber bullets are easy on predator hides, they aren’t capable of carving wide wound channels. You’ll want to be extremely careful with your shot placement. Thankfully, the .204’s soft recoil makes it easy to get a quick follow-up shot on a wounded dog.
.223 Remington/5.56 NATO
The .223 Remington is definitely the most popular and affordable option for predator hunting. If you want to do more than kill coyotes, the .223’s versatility also makes it a smart option for bobcats and foxes.
.223/5.56 is also the most popular chambering for AR platform rifles. The AR-15 is often considered a tactical weapon. However, its lightweight, low-recoil, semi-automatic design allows for rapid, accurate follow-up shots on wounded ‘yotes. The design also makes it easy to handle in the field. It’s no wonder an AR-15 chambered in .223 Remington is the preferred weapon for a huge number of serious predator hunters.
Top your modern sporting rifle with a quality optic and load it with high-performance ammunition, and this cartridge is more than capable of dropping song dogs dead in their tracks out to at least 300 yards.
Another major advantage to using .223 Rem to hunt ‘yotes is the wide range of specialized loads on the market. Every major manufacturer makes .223 ammo, often in dozens of variations. Use loads featuring lighter bullets to reduce pelt damage.
When it comes to both ammo and rifle availability, .223 Remington is king. You can easily find .223-chambered rifles in semi-automatic, bolt-action, single-shot, and even lever-action rifles.
Like the .223 Remington, the .22-250 Rem is topped with a .22 caliber projectile. However, bullets fired from the .22-250 fly faster, with a flatter trajectory, and hit with more energy than anything fired from a .223 cartridge.
This versatile cartridge will drop ‘yotes from close range to well beyond 300 yards. In fact, this cartridge does at 400 yards, what the popular .223 does at 300.
For comparison, Hornady’s Varmint Express line features both .223 Remington and .22-250 Rem loads. The .223 load shoves a 55-grain bullet out the muzzle at a respectable velocity of 3240 fps. Meanwhile, the .22-250 load sends the same bullet zipping out the barrel 440 fps faster (3680 fps). That extra speed translates into a flatter trajectory and more kinetic energy.
The .22-250 varmint loads drop 5.5 inches less at 400 yards than the .223 Rem. That makes the .22-250 a more forgiving option for long-range coyote hunting, which is a major perk if you need to make follow-up shots on a running wounded dog.
The .243 Winchester has earned a reputation as a mild-recoiling hunting option for young hunters. Many of us had our first introduction to the sport from behind one of these rifles. However, the .243 isn’t just for young deer hunters.
If you’re looking for a do-everything cartridge capable of dropping big ‘yotes and big whitetails, this is it. One of the most versatile rifle cartridges on the planet, the .243 Winchester easily crosses over from predators to big game hunting without even breaking a sweat.
The .243 shoots smaller grain bullets at impressive speeds with enough knockdown power to blow the fleas off a ‘yote at 500 yards. If you want quick humane kills, you probably want a .243 Win pressed against your shoulder.
Ballistically, the .243 does everything the .223 and .22-250 do, only with a heavier bullet. That means it carries more kinetic energy further distances and it bucks the wind better than either of the .22-caliber rifle cartridges.
There are rifles chambered for this popular cartridge in every design under the sun, including semi-automatic modern sporting rifles. Every major commercial ammo manufacturer offers .243 ammo in most of its major hunting lines, including varmint-specific options that are capable as well as affordable.
The 6.5 Creedmoor is one of the hottest cartridges on the market today. Everywhere you turn on the internet, some gun writer is singing the praises of this relative newcomer. There’s a reason this cartridge is so popular. It has certainly earned its acclaim fair and square.
Although the 6.5 Creedmoor was originally designed specifically for long-range target shooting, it provides a balance of ballistics, power, and handling that makes it near perfect for hunting coyotes. If pancake-flat trajectories, excellent ballistic coefficients, and fairytale accuracy turn you on, the 6.5 Creedmoor should be your dream cartridge.
The 6.5 Creedmoor may not kill song dogs deader than any of the other rifle cartridges on this list. It will, however, make hitting them at extended ranges a heckuva lot easier.
Thanks to the 6.5 Creedmoor’s extensive fan base, there is also an extensive selection of factory loads to choose from. Rifles chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor are available in everything from AR-10s to traditional lever-actions. However, bolt-action rifles offer the highest level of accuracy for hunters who like to pop coyotes across acres of open prairie or harvested cropland.
Although the 6.5 Grendel may not have the same superstar-level status as the 6.5 Creedmoor, it may have more to offer modern coyote hunters.
If you want to peg predators and drop whitetails with an AR-15, the 6.5 Grendel is capable of doing both. Although the 6.5 Grendel is arguably less accurate than its Creedmoor cousin, this cartridge is one of the most accurate cartridges available for the AR-15 platform. As an added perk, it throws a heavier bullet with a higher sectional density than the 6.5 Creedmoor, which means deeper penetration once it reaches your target.
6.5 Grendel performs well out of an SBR (it was engineered for short-barreled AR platform rifles), so if you want lightweight maneuverability from your coyote rifle, this is certainly one way to do it.
Both the 6.5 Creedmoor and the 6.5 Grendel are hard on pelts. However, if you value quick kills over flawless furs, both cartridges will clobber the heck out of nuisance coyotes.
Many hunters consider the popular .308 Winchester to be overkill for hunting coyotes. While the large, .30-caliber projectiles can do some serious hide damage, they deliver deadly results. Since pelt prices aren’t exactly making headlines these days, some coyote hunters prefer the dependable lethality of larger caliber cartridges, and you can buy 308 in bulk to save some money.
If you’re just trying to do farmers and game animals a favor by reducing the number of coyotes in the area, and you aren’t worried about selling fur, the .308 Winchester is a highly effective option. It easily pulls double duty for predators and big game. Plus, plenty of ‘passing ‘yotes have fallen victim to a deer hunter’s .308 bolt-action.
As one of the most popular hunting cartridges in current production, ammo is relatively affordable and readily available. There are also plenty of different rifles to choose from, including everything from semi-automatic MSRs like the AR-10 to more traditional walnut-stocked bolt action rifles.
If you want to curtail some of that pelt damage, look for loads with a controlled expansion bullet, like Hornady’s ELD-X.
The 12-gauge shotgun is really a do-it-all weapon. Not only is this the go-to gun for home defense, waterfowl, turkeys, and upland birds, but it is also a solid option for coyote hunting.
While you won’t be doing any long-range sniping with your Remington 870, a 12-gauge provides plenty of knockdown power for heavy-bodied ‘yotes inside of 40 yards. That means if you like to call them in hot or you’re hunting thick brush, a shotgun is a capable dog dropper, especially when it is loaded with a heavy payload of Number 4 or 00 buckshot.
Adding a red dot or reflex sight to your scattergun can help increase accuracy. Make sure you don’t over-choke your gun. Instead, stick to a modified choke tube if possible.
All of the cartridges on our list are popular among coyote hunters for one very good reason: they have proven their worth in the field.
Whether you’re a dedicated coyote hunter or you’re completely new to the sport, if you want a versatile all-around coyote rifle, you simply can’t go wrong with an AR-15 chambered in .223 Remington. The .223 and the AR platform work just as well on up-close ‘yotes as they do when you need to reach out and touch a dog with a long-distance shot.
The semi-auto performance of the AR-15 also means you won’t have to work a bolt-action to pull off multiple shots.
Plenty of coyote hunters agree that the best coyote caliber is the .22. While there may be other .22-caliber cartridges that shoot flatter and hit harder, the .223 Remington is a classic. Plus the ammo is cheap, easy to get your hands on, and comes in a wide variety of varmint-specific loads.