Predator hunters tend to talk about coyotes as if they are all created equal. They are not. Predators vary tremendously in a number of characteristics that impact (pun intended) the terminal performance of bullets. Body size varies not only by sex and age but also by longitude. Bergman’s Rule states that a species’ size in cooler climates tend to be larger than specimens in warmer climates. Coyotes in the Arizona desert weigh significantly less on average than coyotes from the Alberta plains. Therefore, all things being otherwise equal (and they rarely are) a big, northern coyote can absorb more bullet without an exit and will also take more energy to kill cleanly than a smaller desert coyote from the Southwest.
Varmint performance gives clues to pelt performance. A 300 yard rockchuck, a .204 35 gr Berger—no exit.
The second factor affecting terminal performance on predators is the thickness of the pelage. Again, hair coat varies not only by climate but by time of year. Testing a marginal load on early fall coyotes may lead to disappointment once the pelts prime in the middle of winter. Fat layers may also change the expected performance of fur loads. And, lastly, the characteristics of the species also affects bullet performance. The hair coat and hide of the bobcat is not as tough as that of coyotes for instance.
Fox are a rarity in this area. And, all bets are off on these small predators. A shotgun may be the only sure medicine for a nice fox pelt and a quick kill.
Virtually all fur load testing has been done on Oregon desert coyotes and bobcats. Adult males range from 28 to 35 pounds. Females run about four pounds less. Occasionally individuals will weigh somewhat more but usually not significantly. Most of our predator hunting takes place while furs are prime. Any load recommendations should be weighed with these parameters in mind. One size doesn’t fit all when discussing fur loads. Broad generalizations concerning terminal performance on fur may be well intended but they don’t necessarily result in accurate conclusions. The local characteristics and species being hunted must also be factored.
So, what are the options for fur loads? The shotgun is probably the best if ranges are short but stories of 70 yard shotgun coyotes may cause predator hunters to overestimate the capabilities of their weapon even with the latest heavy metal shot and the greatest choke tubes. Pattern your shotgun and keep your expectations reasonable. Skinning coyotes with pellets under their hides from earlier encounters with hunters says that some hunters are overreaching their shotgun’s capabilities.
As a rifle shooter at heart, this article focuses primarily on rifle loads for fur. This is the realm that becomes fascinating to the student of terminal ballistics. The information here has largely been developed on live targets. Gelatin blocks and wet newspapers are not this author’s gig. A student of terminal performance can also legitimately garner some bullet performance insight from use on other species but actual performance on furbearers needs to be done before a hunter settles on The Load.
Twenty Cal bullets by increasing penetration. 32 BK, 39 BK, 40 V-max, 40 NOS BT, 35 Brgr, 40 Brgr.
Occasionally, posts appear on forums from well meaning individuals espousing the virtues of a given bullet or load based on the two coyotes they have taken with said bullet and load. A couple of coyotes can give an indication of a load’s usefulness on fur but it is only that—an indication. A small sample of predator kills will not touch the variety of velocities, angles, shot placements, etc that will determine the consistent performance on fur. Only day in and day out use on many animals in many different circumstances will determine if the chosen fur load will perform in a repeatable way in your area on your animals.
The primary consideration for bullets intended for fur is the bullet construction; specifically, how fragile they are. Although many use the term “explosive”, no readily available bullets actually explode. They fragment.
Long range predator loads may be best served with a heavily constructed bullet that can be placed through the rib cage. The heavier, high ballistic coefficient bullets required for this game generally don’t lend themselves to fragmentation without exit. The exception to this may be the Hornady A-max bullets which tend to be fairly fragile for their weight. For calling distances, let’s say 250 yards and less, our objective is to match the construction of the bullet to the impact velocity so the bullet penetrates to the vitals then fragments without exiting. As a general rule, the faster the impact velocity, the tougher the bullet construction required.
Bullets of any given caliber, make and style tend to be less fragile as the weight increases. A 50 grain .224 V-max bullet will tend to fragment easier than a 60 grain .224 V-max for instance. So, a low velocity round shooting the 50 grain V-max bullet may perform similarly to a high velocity load shooting the 60 grain V-max.
After using the Speer 52 grain HP in my .22-250, the quest for a fur load continued with various 52 and 53 grain match bullets. Results were very similar…a lot of fist size exits, especially on broadside shots. I took a short run with 40 grain Varmint Match bullets in my .22-250’s and found that splashes (fragmentation on the surface without penetration) seemed to be the name of the game on short range shoulder shots. This resulted in large entrance wounds without penetration to the vitals so they were quickly abandoned.