At this point, I purchased my first rifle in the .204 Ruger cartridge. It was a lovely Cooper M21 Varminter. The objective was to call my own shots on rockchucks but not long after the purchase, reports of fur performance with 35 grain Berger bullets began to surface. Such a nice piece of walnut was nerve racking to carry in the field but when a bobcat might be encountered, the .204 got the nod. (Ever notice how many coyotes show up when you start targeting ‘cats?) The 35 grain Berger in the .204 proved perfect for our desert coyotes. Bang-flop performance and almost no fur damage. I felt I had reached Fur Load Nirvana. This load has served well as the primary calling cartridge for the last few years. Eventually all the .22-250 rifles in the safe were replaced with .204’s but that move would have been slowed or possibly abandoned if the quest for fur loads had gone more quickly.
Fur damage—the last thing you want when a bobcat arrives.
A post on another forum by a well known and well traveled predator hunter, Byron South, suggested the Hornady 60 grain V-max in the .223 REM cartridge. My son was still shooting a .22-250 so we loaded a moderate 60 grain V-max load in his rifle and after years of large exits, we suddenly started seeing good fur performance in the .22-250. The sample of coyotes shot with this bullet has not been definitive but it was the first acceptable results we had seen. No splashes and no exits except one coyote hit high in the back. The indications were that this would be an excellent fur load in this cartridge. Had this bullet surfaced before the .204 craze hit, the .22-250 may have stayed the number one calling cartridge in the stable.
However, load development didn’t end there either. Reading some reports of .243 performance with the 58 grain V-max, my son began trying some of these bullets in his .243AI long range rig. Finding a load that shot to a similar POI as his 105 grain A-max load allowed him to carry one rifle for calling and the occasional “drive-by” or hung up coyote. The performance of this bullet on fur has been encouraging. However, as was stated earlier in the article, terminal performance on other game can give some indication of relative performance on fur. This load will literally tear a jack rabbit in half at close range. It is devastating and similar to a 32 grain V-max from a .204 leading to the conclusion that it may splash given enough quartering-on shoulder shots at calling ranges. There is a box of 65 grain V-maxes on the loading bench that need some fur time. They may be a better choice at .243 Ackley Improved velocities.
And, so goes the quest….
The .204 Ruger cartridge has received some bad press concerning coyotes running off after being solidly hit. It’s this author’s contention that much of this has been the result of using the light, 32 grain poly-tipped bullets in this round. Berger bullets hold together much better than the Hornady V-max and Sierra Blitz King bullets. This has again been confirmed on varmint species. In this small caliber, use of more stoutly constructed bullets or limiting your shots to broadside opportunities is critical. The more fragile bullets have killed and can kill coyotes but there are better tools for the job.
Similarly, the various .17 centerfires make excellent fur cartridges with good bullets like the 30 grain Kindler Golds in the .17 Remington or even the Hornady 25 grain HP in the .17 Fireball. But, coyotes deserve to be taken with bullets of adequate construction to allow consistent, clean kills with these small calibers. Remember, the hotter the cartridge, the tougher the bullet needs to be constructed. Seventeen and twenty caliber cartridges with extremely fragile bullets designed for use on varmints need to be limited to perfect shots when used on predators. Avoid larger bones and heavier muscle mass.
In the popular “varmint” calibers, a list of increasingly tougher bullet construction would look something like this (most fragile to toughest): Hornady V-max, Sierra BlitzKing, Hornady A-max, Nosler Ballistic Tip, Berger Varmint Match, the various match bullets from Berger and other major manufacturers, then bullets designed for big game such as the Remington CoreLokt on up to the Barnes TSX’s. The objective becomes matching the bullet construction to the impact velocity. Splashes indicate the need for a tougher bullet (either a heavier bullet of the same style or another bullet of stronger construction) or a lower velocity. Exits indicate the need for more fragile bullets or higher velocity (within safe limits, of course) or both. So, let’s say your trusty .22-250 starts to give indications of splashing with your 55 grain V-max load. The next logical step is to either switch to the 60 grain V-max or possibly the 55 grain Nosler Ballistic Tip. Again, adjust bullet construction to the results you see in the field.
Hitting a balance between not exiting on broadside shots and not splashing on shoulder shots is the key. When your fur load can do that the bulk of the time, you are on the right track.
Some circumstances negate proper fur performance. Raking shots, whether to the side of the animal, high or low, will likely result in Johnson & Johnson’s stock going up. (Dental floss is a popular hide sewing thread.) Increasing ranges and the resultant lower impact velocities may cause more exits because there is not enough remaining energy to cause the bullet to fragment. Hitting grass or weeds prior to contact with the animal may cause premature expansion. And, occasionally, bad luck just happens as was the case one morning calling coyotes.
A few minutes into a stand I had a large male coyote running straight at me. I was shooting my .22-250 and I thought to myself that this was the perfect shot for this load. As I touched the trigger, I hit the coyote center mass but instead of the perfect end-on performance I expected, the shot exited downward and just opened the coyote up. As I approached the big coyote, I realized he had a whole jack rabbit in his stomach. Two things jumped out at me. First, this coyote was not hungry. He was coming to the prey distress sounds in a territorial defense mode. Secondly, the full stomach of this coyote had totally changed the expected performance of the bullet. Somehow, either by deflection or by the shear mass of the full belly, it had caused the bullet to exit the abdomen in a big way. If your perfect fur load has never let you down, just keep shooting—it will eventually.
Terminal bullet performance on fur is part art and part science. The tendencies of bullet construction as it relates to velocity and fragmentation of the bullet can help the fur taker to maximize the performance of his rifle on predators once an understanding of the principles is reached. Only through ongoing use on an increasing number of animals under your conditions can you draw meaningful conclusions as to quick kills and minimal pelt damage. So, leave the computer, load some ammo and do some field testing. After all, the in-field research is the most enjoyable part of this quest and knitting mittens isn’t all it’s cracked up to be anyway!
Good luck and good hunting.
Tim Titus has been calling coyotes for 35 years. He lives in the coyote rich country of Southeast Oregon where he and his son spend their winters calling predators and their springs and early summers shooting varmints. Tim owns and operates No Off Season, an on-line predator and varmint hunting store and guiding business. You can check it out at No-Off-Season.com.
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