Thursday, June 9, 2011

Coyote Medicine

Someone on a forum asked about the best firearm for use on coyotes. His requirements were simple. He lived on one hundred plus acres in a rural area, but he had neighbors within sight of his house. He was only interested in eliminating the coyotes that came near the house, an area of about seven acres. He was experienced with handguns but owned no long arms, either rifle or shotgun. He also stipulated that, since he did not reload ammunition, the initial cost of the long arm would be much less of a consideration than the subsequent cost of ammunition.

Here are the facts. The average male coyote, depending on the region, weighs approximately 35 pounds. The width of the body in the vicinity of the vital organs, not counting winter hair, might be six to eight inches. Coyotes are lean animals with less lung capacity and lighter structure than the hounds with which we chase them.

Seven acres is slightly less than 306,000 square feet. If you form it as a square, it is roughly 553 feet or 184 yards on a side. We are not talking about vast distances here. Our coyote hunter is limiting himself to shots of generally less than 100 yards. Though experienced with handguns, he is going to have to practice quite a bit to familiarize himself with a rifle or shotgun if he hopes to develop reasonable accuracy.

Given these facts, the people who responded to the question offered all kinds of solutions. Some were facetious, but some were serious about rounds such as the 30-06 or 7mm Remington Magnum. This was offered as a reasonable solution because coyotes are "tough" and "need a lot of killing". The 7mm magnum is a great long-range elk gun. An elk weighs 600 pounds. The weapon system that is appropriate for elk at 300 yards is hardly the same one needed for a 40 pound varmint at 40 yards. Certainly a 7mm will kill a coyote, but the muzzle blast and recoil of such a weapon can be detrimental to accuracy, especially for a beginner. And that's not even to consider the downrange threats to the neighbors or their reaction to very, very loud noises.

There are actually three or four excellent choices for defending the chihuahua, the cats and the chickens from coyotes in a populated but rural setting. The first is the shotgun. Let's consider the disadvantages of the shotgun. It has limited range, and the ammunition is bulky and relatively expensive. The advantages are that a beginner can learn to shoot one fairly quickly, the shotgun is very effective within its range, and it is quite versatile based on ammunition choices. A shotgun with a full or extra full choke and heavy shot, such as Remington Nitro Express #2's, will humanely kill a coyote out to 40 yards. The noise of a shotgun is not as penetrating as a center-fire rifle, and there is no danger of a stray bullet carrying over onto a neighbor's property.

Next I would suggest, especially for the non-reloader, the .22WMR. These rounds from a rifle with a barrel at least 22" in length do not generate excessive noise. The .22 magnum will quickly dispatch a coyote within 150 yards. There is some danger of a bullet going too far, but as long as the shooter is alert and mindful of direction and backstop and is not shooting at some ridiculous angle, there need be no threat to safety.

The .22 Hornet is a good choice. It has considerably higher velocity than the .22WMR with modest muzzle blast. It is a very effective coyote-stopper within 150 yards. If one is inclined to try reloading, the Hornet offers a great deal of versatility. Because it is a rimmed cartridge, I consider it easier to load and more forgiving than something like the .223.

Speaking of the .223, this is probably a good choice as well. It will take down a coyote quite effectively within 200 yards, has little recoil, and acceptable muzzle blast. Depending on the rifle in which it is chambered, the .223 can be very accurate, and it can be used for home defense in a semi-auto rifle like the Mini-14 or an AR clone. Again, handloading gives more versatility, but the commercial ammunition for this round is fairly cheap and makes reloading non-essential.

Finally, I offer the .22LR in a rifle like the Ruger 10/22 or possibly a Savage bolt-action. There are, of course, those who will claim that it is unethical to use the .22LR on coyotes. My experience contradicts this. In fact, I would suggest that it is far less humane to shoot a coyote with a big-game type bullet from a 7mm or a .300 magnum than with a .22LR. The reason is that a heavy, strongly constructed bullet will pass through the light frame of a coyote completely, many times without expanding. It is true that a person can get a lighter varmint-type bullet for the larger caliber weapons which will expand on a coyote. This is a reasonable solution for a person who hunts bigger game with the bigger round and wishes to hone his or her skill on a particular rifle by hunting predators and varmints.

For the person who is merely defending the homestead against predation, that is hardly an ideal solution.

The .22LR, however, is very good for a beginner in terms of noise and the absolute absence of recoil. It is the most economical round to use for practice and prefect for developing good accuracy habits. The disadvantage of the .22LR is range. Shots on larger varmints like coyotes are best limited to 50 yards. No one wants a wounded animal suffering and dying slowly - though that, of course, routinely happens in nature. The humane preference is death that is as painless and instantaneous as possible. If using a .22LR, one should choose a high-velocity round that will offer appropriate penetration, expansion and weight retention. I prefer CCI Velocitors, which shoot very well in my rifles. I am sure there are other good rounds, including the more explosive CCI Stinger and the Remington Yellowjacket hollowpoint or Viper solid. The limited range of the .22LR reduces the danger of stray bullets, but a shooter must still pay attention to direction, angle and obstacles for safety's sake.

All things considered, I would have suggested to our novice the .22WMR in a bolt-action CZ, Marlin, or Savage with a good-quality scope attached. This combination would offer a nice balance of range, effectiveness, safety, and economy.

The point is not so much about coyotes, but about thinking through the applicability for the job at hand. A person who can afford or desires only one or two firearms has to make more compromises. A person who knows, more or less specifically what he intends to do, can get the specific tool for the job. This applies to tools other than firearms. I have a post driver for steel posts. That is really all it can do and all it is good for, but it is far and away the best manual driver for steel posts one could have.

We are apt to look at our favorite tools which we use in our personal ways and think that these are the best tools for anyone. Another example would be the debate between people who prefer autoloading pistols like the 1911 and people who prefer revolvers. The fact is that if a gun is resting in your nightstand drawer or is stuck under your mattress ninety percent of the time, the best choice is a decent quality revolver in a substantial caliber. On the other hand, if you are carrying a firearm around in a dirty environment, getting it wet, dropping it, knocking against stuff, constantly loading and unloading it, a tough autoloader is probably a better choice. Do not let the preferences and prejudices of others inhibit or color your thinking and reasoning about your own situation.

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