Top 5 Predator Cartridges

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posted on March 4, 2022
Top 5 Predator Cartriges Lead

I was getting ready for work that morning, when the wife grabbed my attention with one curt word: coyote. It was late November, and our New York deer and bear season was well underway, so I grabbed the rifle and a pair of cartridges; slipping around the corner of the house I saw the bushy tail slip into some thick brush. Making that kissing sound that predators find irresistible, the coyote came back out into the corner of the yard, and became instantly familiar with a 250-grain Woodleigh Weldcore delivered from my .318 Westley Richards. I firmly believe that a good coyote is a dead coyote, but will be the first to admit that I was grossly over-gunned for that situation. And now that our big-game seasons have wrapped up, my mind turns to hunting the furbearing predators, and the gear best suited to that purpose.

While bears of all species are most assuredly furbearing predators, as are wolves and mountain lions, for the purposes of this article I’ll leave them off the menu, focusing on foxes, bobcats, coyotes and the like. Here are my top five choices for hunting the furbearers.

22-250 Remington Ammunition

1. .22-250 Remington
For a blend of striking power, fantastic accuracy and universal application, it’s hard to argue with the .22-250 Remington. Driving a 55-grain bullet to a muzzle velocity between 3650 and 3680 fps in most factory loads, the .22-250 will dump a coyote, bobcat or fox in its tracks with pinpoint accuracy. I find that a .22-250 can get awfully hot when used for a prairie dog shoot, but for predator hunting it is just about perfect. It’s based on the .250-3000 Savage necked down to hold .224”-caliber bullets, and was legitimized by Remington in 1965. The cartridge is renowned for its accuracy, but if I had to find any drawback it would be the twist rate, which is usually 1:12” at best, sometimes 1:14”, which usually prohibits the use of bullets heavier than 55 or 60 grains. If you are hunting for fur, look to the highly frangible bullets like the Nosler Ballistic Tip Varmint, Hornady V-Max or Sierra BlitzKing, in as light a weight as will fly accurately and not be blown around too bad on windy days, in order to keep the bullet inside the animal and prevent excess pelt damage. Full metal jacketed bullets aren’t a bad idea either. I’ve used a Ruger Model 77 MKII in .22-250 for over two decades, and it’s never let me down.

223 Remington Ammunition

2. .223 Remington
If I had to choose the most flexible and versatile cartridge for hunting fur, it’d be the .223 Remington, for its availability foremost, but for the range of projectiles that can be used. While running about 400 fps slower than the .22-250 Remington, many of the modern rifles chambered for the .223 have a twist rate of 1:8” or 1:9”, revised from the earlier 1:12”. This allows heavier, longer bullets of a higher ballistic coefficient to be used, and that makes a difference when that bobcat is out there across a windy field. There are lots of good factory loads with heavier bullets, like the Federal 62-grain Trophy Bonded Tip load, the 73-grain Federal Gold Medal Matchload with the Berger Target bullet or the Hornady Frontier load featuring the 68-grain BTHP Match bullet, which will retain energy and resist wind deflection. For those on a tight budget, there are many affordable factory loads featuring the popular 55-grain FMJ, which will neatly dispatch any furbearer at any sane hunting distance.

243 Winchester Ammunition

3. .243 Winchester
When Winchester necked down its .308 Winchester case to hold 6mm bullets in 1955, it introduced what would become one of the most successful dual-purpose cartridges. The 90- and 100-grain bullets would handle deer- and antelope-sized game, while the lighter bullets would neatly dispatch varmints. The .243 Winchester remains among the top choices for a dual-purpose cartridge and for the hunter whose list of primary game species includes whitetail deer and coyotes, it’s hard to beat it. Looking at the lighter predator bullets—those which are frangible enough not to exit and tear a huge hole in the pelt—there are plenty of choices; the Hornady Superformance 58-grain V-Max load at 3925 fps, the Nosler Varmageddon 55-grain load at 3800 fps and the Federal 55-grain Nosler Ballistic Tip Varmint at 3850 fps are three which come quickly to mind. You'll give up a bit in the ballistic coefficient department when using these lighter bullets, but if that concerns you, you’ve always got the option to go to the heavier deer bullets and anchor those distant predators.

204 Ruger Ammunition

4. .204 Ruger
Hornady and Ruger collaborated to release the .204 Ruger in 2004, and it has gone on to become a sound choice for varmints and predators alike. Based on the .222 Remington Magnum necked down to hold bullets of nominal diameter, the .204 Ruger has enough bullet weight to handle even the largest Eastern coyote. Offering two bullet weights in the factory-loaded ammunition—a 32-grain bullet and a 40-grain bullet—the .204 Ruger can be wonderfully accurate, very easy on the shoulder and devastating on furbearers. This is no dual-purpose cartridge; the .204 Ruger was designed specifically for predators and varmints. While lighter than the .22-caliber centerfires, and with considerably more bullet weight than any of the .17-caliber cartridges, the .204 Ruger can easily break the 4000 fps mark, and will flatten foxes, coyotes and bobcats alike. I like the 32-grain Hornady V-Max load at 4225 fps and the Federal 40-grain Nosler Ballistic Tip Varmint load at 3650 fps; either will get the job done.

22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire Ammunition

5. .22 WMR
Hunting predators doesn’t always require a centerfire cartridge; many of us hunt in woods and forests where shots are restricted to inside of 100 yards by the vegetation, and a 200-yard shot is an absolute rarity. The good old .22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire has the horsepower to take the predators, and there are some good bullet choices available which are well suited for that job. CCI’s V-Max load sends that 30-grain Hornady bullet at a muzzle velocity of 2200 fps, and that bullet will sort out coyotes, badgers, gray and red foxes, and more. For those who are either forced to use lead-free ammunition by law, or simply choose to use lead free ammo, Winchester offers their Varmint LF load, featuring the Hornady 25-grain NTX bullet, comprised of a copper jacket and a non-lead core which is legal in those areas where lead is prohibited. This Winchester load has a muzzle velocity of 2100 fps and that bullet will penetrate properly, even on larger predators. Should you prefer a heavier bullet, Federal offers a 50-grain jacketed hollowpoint in its ‘blue box’ line, and at 1530 fps it is a great close range choice. If a rimfire rifle appeals to you, look to the classic .22 Magnum.

Want to read more from Philip Massaro? Check out the following articles:
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