When I first began my outdoor writing career close to ten years ago, I remember being nervous and feeling intimidated while on my first writer hunt. We were in Oklahoma for an early February, 3-day coyote hunt. We all decided to shoot our guns on the first afternoon before hunting. As a country boy from southern Missouri, I had spent most of my life hunting with the same three to four rifles used for deer and coyote hunting. When a couple of veteran writers opened their gun cases on the range that day, I found myself in awe. They came with three to four different calibers, some in rifle form and others in AR platforms, all with top-of-the-line optics to complete their setup. I will be honest; I felt ashamed to get out my .243 that I had deer hunted with a few months before arriving to hunt coyotes for three days. Nonetheless, I spent the next few days learning why these guys had brought many different calibers for one hunt.
In the several years after that 3-day hunt in Oklahoma, I have been blessed to learn about different calibers’ capabilities while field testing, reviewing, and, more importantly, hunting predators. Yes, you can shoot coyotes with any kind of caliber. However, I now approach predator hunting like that of a seasoned golfer. A golfer has a bag full of clubs made of different sizes, angles, and other specific designs for certain situations. The same goes for predator hunting. There are different types of calibers, sizes, and models for a reason. They are all tailored to animals, terrain, and elements of where you are hunting. Thus being the reason those guys showed up on our hunt many years ago with a bag full of clubs.
To narrow down the best caliber for predator hunting, one must observe the animal being hunted, what terrain will be hunted, and why that animal is being hunted. Below are five of the best calibers for predator hunting and why they must be used.
Best All-Around Caliber - .223
One of the most popular and all-around calibers for predator hunting is the .223 Remington. It is arguably the most used caliber for predators such bobcats, foxes, and primarily coyotes. Whether on an AR platform or in a traditional hunting rifle, the .223 is often found for hunters looking for an all-around caliber that can effectively take down any predator from a smaller bodied fox to a 40-pound coyote. The .223 Remington is an accurate caliber that can be used from 50 yards out to 300 yards and still be on target. Hunters also like the .223 because most of the rifles are lightweight, making them easy to pack along while hunting, the pelt damage is relatively reasonable, and the availability of ammunition is higher than any other caliber.
Save The Fur - 17 HMR
The main reason to adjust calibers for hunting predators is to preserve the furs when pursuing prime fur. Furs can then be sold to a fur buyer or used for personal use, such as tanning the furs for display or making clothing such as hats, scarves, or coats. When minimal pelt damage is the goal, hunters should use a smaller caliber like the .17 HMR.
Even though the .17 HMR is not recognized as much as the .223, it is still one of the best calibers for predator hunters to use when wanting a bullet that doesn't destroy pelts. With one of the most undersized bullets among predator hunters' favorite calibers, the shooter can expect a flat shooting bullet that can reach a high velocity of up to 2500 fps or more.
The .17 HMR is better for smaller-bodied predators, such as foxes or bobcats than bigger calibers with more knockdown power. The smaller sized .17HMR is more than enough when hunting these smaller predators. Yet, don't be fooled; it can still take down larger predators such as coyotes.
Go The Distance - 6.5 Creedmoor
The 6.5 Creedmoor may not be the most famous predator-hunting caliber of all time. However, there is no question it is the most talked about caliber in the past decade. The popularity for predator hunters is due to the Creedmoor’s ability to keep its velocity at longer distances while still having adequate knockdown power.
I have used the 6.5 Creedmoor while deer hunting for the past few years. Each year after the season has ended, I adjust my crosshairs to a smaller grain, such as the 95-grain Varmint Express bullets from Hornady. After adjusting to a smaller grain bullet, I feel it gives the .223 an intense competition as one of the best all-around calibers available, especially for the coyote hunter.
When hunting large open areas as in the western states where the chances of seeing a coyote from several hundred yards away is a possibility, the best caliber will be the 6.5 Creedmoor.
Coyote Specific - .22-250
One of my most used calibers for coyote hunting is the .22-250 Remington. In the Midwest, where I spend the most time hunting, bobcat season and fox season end on the last day of January. When the only legal predator left to hunt is the coyote, I almost strictly use the .22-250 on every hunt. I spend the late spring and summer months hunting coyotes and then continue in October and throughout the fall until the smaller predator season re-opens.
The .22-250 is one of the most popular predator calibers because of its flat shooting abilities and accuracy. Like the .223, the .22-250 is easier to find ammunition for and commonly found amongst reloaders seeking out their specific loads. Even though the .22-250 works excellent on foxes and bobcats, too, it is known for taking down coyotes from close range to several hundred yards away.
Honorable Mention - .243
I can’t list the best predator hunting calibers without mentioning the .243 Winchester. As I mentioned earlier, in my earlier years of hunting, I used the .243 for deer hunting and hunting coyotes. That is what the .243 is known for; the versatility of this caliber makes it the perfect crossover caliber from deer to predators. The .243 can shoot smaller grain bullets at fast speeds, and it has excellent knockdown power even out at longer distances. If looking for an excellent caliber to shoot coyotes anywhere in the country, the .243 is a great choice.
Hunters must remember that no one caliber is the best for hunting predators. However, if you are looking to fine-tune your skills and become a better predator hunter, it is vital to treat your caliber of choice like that of a set of golf clubs. Use the best one for your specific hunting situation and intentions. When you make the best choice for your location and needs, you will encounter a boost in confidence and success.