The Perfect Coyote Rifle
By Tim Titus
In his senior year of high school, my youngest son and hunting partner, Ben, needed a Senior Project. Ben is an avid predator hunter, long range shooter and gun nut so he chose to build a rifle for his project. He would be working under the tutelage of a local mentor. Ben is also both careful and artistic in his approach to his responsibilities so his mother and I blessed him in the endeavor. School rules and personal finances precluded him from building the rifle for himself so, never being one to miss an opportunity to add to my rifle collection, I funded the project for Ben and we began to plan the “Perfect” Coyote Rifle.
This project, like a work of art, is in the eye of the beholder. Our own tastes and experiences as well as our priorities and needs influence our decisions. My needs and tastes may differ from another hunter’s so defining those parameters may be in order.
The AR-15 could arguably be the perfect platform for a calling rifle. AR’s are very accurate. They provide rapid follow-up shots. And, they are quickly and easily modified for different applications. I ran a two or three year stint with AR-15’s and, while I still own some AR’s, I have gravitated back to bolt rifles for calling. I cut my teeth on bolt action rifles, and while the AR-15 is a very effective coyote rifle, it is a different beast than a bolt gun. The short stock, the vertical grip, the left side safety and the necessary reset in even the best aftermarket triggers all conspire to make me feel less at home with the AR-15 platform than with a good bolt rifle.
My primary calling rifle the last few years is a very accurate Savage Predator Hunter in .204 Ruger chambering. With 35 grain Berger bullets and a 2.5-8X Leupold scope onboard, it honestly leaves very little to be desired in a calling rifle. The medium heavy barrel balances well on sticks or a bipod yet it is very portable. The Accu-trigger, although not completely flawless, is a serviceable mechanism and is light enough at around one and three quarter pounds. The Mossy Oak Brush dip job is antireflective and blends extremely well with most of our desert foliage. My only minor complaint with the Savage is the safety. It is relatively flat and takes extra care to move it to the firing position, especially when wearing gloves. Nonetheless, if I had been forced to spend the rest of my life calling coyotes with this rifle, I would not feel very disadvantaged at all. But, as most gun nuts know, needs and wants are two different things when it comes to building new rifles!
My first inclination in selecting a cartridge was to stay with the tried and true .204 Ruger for the Perfect Coyote Rifle. As chambering for .204 was addressed, two issues became apparent. First was the question, “What was I going to do with my beloved Predator Hunter rifle if I had a full-on custom .204 with which to hunt?” My safe bulges because my rifles are like my kids, each with their own personalities, strengths, weaknesses and purposes in life. Who can sell their children? (Sick, I know!) Secondly, we enjoy hunting occasional coyote contests. If I had a niche to fill, it was with a more appropriate rifle for contests.
A rifle for contest hunting differs in few ways from a strict fur rifle. For contests, a cartridge with a little more punch to anchor coyotes at calling ranges and the ability to reach out further for coyotes that hang up is in order. Coyotes on the ground now is the objective. Most contests keep the coyotes, so the need for a perfect fur load is secondary to making sure the coyotes are very dead with minimal risk of losing them or wasting time tracking. With that in mind I still wanted a cartridge for which it would be possible to build fur friendly loads, since I anticipated using this rifle for my general winter coyote calling rig as well.
My long range varmint rifle is chambered in the .243 Ackley Improved cartridge. I’ve grown to like this round for its lack of case stretch and subsequent lack of case trimming. Bullets of sufficient weight and construction to anchor coyotes are readily available, yet fur friendly six millimeter bullets that will stay inside a coyote without exiting also exist. It is a good compromise between lethality and fur friendliness. A set of Redding Competition dies already sat on the shelf, making the decision easier.