Fur-Friendly Bullets

Not what you’re looking for? Find more articles on hunting predatory animals!

Not what you’re looking for? Find more articles on hunting gear!

Finding the perfect bullet for coyote hunting

We’re in the middle of a western Canadian winter and fur prices are looking good for spring’s fur auctions. Therefore, it’s appropriate to take a look at the issue of fur-friendly bullets as it applies to everyone’s favourite winter game animal – the coyote. To start, let’s define fur-friendly bullets as those that will cleanly and quickly kill a predator without doing excessive damage to that beautiful and potentially valuable hide.

On the surface, finding a fur-friendly bullet sounds like an easy proposition. All that’s needed is a bullet that penetrates a short distance into a predator and then “explodes” into a blizzard of fragments that turn a coyote’s insides to Jello. There is no exit wound, so all the fur handler needs to deal with is a tiny entrance hole. Performance like that means less work and more money and is the Holy Grail of the coyote hunter.

However, as you might expect, finding this particular Holy Grail isn’t simple. There are enough variables involved in putting a bullet into a coyote that we’re asking a lot of any bullet to give us what we define as perfect performance every time. To get a handle on why the perfect predator bullet is so elusive, let’s take a look at some of the variables involved.

The first problem we encounter is that coyotes aren’t homogenous. A bullet that hits a coyote in the chest has a much easier time of getting into the vitals than one that’s sent directly into a muscular and bony shoulder as the result of a broadside shot. This variation in physiology is why we sometimes see lightly constructed bullets “blow up” or “splash” on the shoulder. When it happens, the bullet usually kills quickly, but it’s not a pretty sight to a hide hunter, as some of the best part of the skin is ruined. That mess is caused because the bullet’s temporary cavity formed too quickly and too closely to the surface. As a result, the elastic limit of the hide near the entry point was exceeded. Slide that same bullet in at a relatively soft spot on the critter and the temporary cavity is created later and well inside the chest cavity, where it can be absorbed without tearing the hide.

Velocity is another factor that determines if a bullet performs the way we’d like it to. A close-range shot with a fragile bullet can make an external mess. However, a more distant shot, where the bullet has had a chance to slow down, can result in what we’d call perfect performance, even on a shoulder shot. A 50-grain, 223 Remington bullet will impact a 50-yard coyote at 3,200 feet per second, but at 300 yards it’s only moving at 2,100 feet per second. That 1,100 feet per second velocity difference will have an effect on how the bullet performs and if the temporary cavity it creates will damage the hide.

And while we’re talking about velocity, we should also look at rotational velocity. A bullet fired from a one-to-nine-inch-twist barrel spins considerably faster than one fired from a one-to-12-inch-twist barrel. That increase in rotation speed can also affect bullet performance. Generally speaking, the faster the bullet is spinning, the quicker and more violently it will come apart when it strikes an animal. This is a potential reason one hunter reports a bullet as being fur-friendly, while a second shooter regularly gets inadequate penetration. Not all rifle barrels have the same rate of twist and it can make a difference.

Of course, bullet construction is a major factor in terminal performance. As a rule, plastic-tipped bullets will expand the easiest, hollow points are next in line and soft points with an exposed lead tip bring up the rear. However, that’s just a general rule of thumb, as a bullet’s tip is only one of many factors that dictate its performance on game. It all means that the best way to determine a bullet’s fur-friendly nature is to shoot it out of your rifle, at live animals, at the distances you normally encounter. Do it enough and you’ll learn some interesting lessons.

The lessons I’ve learned include not to use fully jacketed bullets at all. Coyotes are tough animals and expansion is needed to anchor them effectively, making non-expanding bullets about the worst possible choice. Also, small calibres can work great on coyotes, but bullet selection is critical. In the 204 Ruger, I used to have good luck with 35-grain Berger bullets until I bought a new rifle, then performance became erratic. I never measured the twist rate of that first .204, but it may have been faster than my new rifle – fast enough to make those bullets work properly. In my new .204, I ended up switching to 39-grain Sierras, a much more fragile bullet, and have been getting good results as long as I stay away from the shoulder at ranges inside 100 yards.

In the 223 Remington, I’ve had great luck with the Nosler 60-grain Ballistic Tip, running it at a modest muzzle velocity of 2,900 feet per second. On the flip side, a spectacular failure occurred the winter I tried the Hornady 68-grain Match hollow point bullets in a 223 Remington. While they were splendidly accurate, they refused to open up reliably and often drilled through a coyote without expansion. The lesson learned that year was not to try and make a target bullet do something it wasn’t designed for.

Later in the season, when the coyotes are smarter and the shots are longer, I’ll often switch to a 243 Winchester. However, I stay away from the slugs that manufacturers label as varmint bullets, as those can be overly destructive. In the .243, I prefer bullets designed for deer, and accept the reality that I will have an exit hole. With a relatively sturdy deer bullet, like the Nosler 90-grain Ballistic Tip, the exit is usually a manageable size and easily sewn. Additionally, the longer, heavier bullets have a higher ballistic co-efficient, a desirable trait for those longer shots, which is why I’m carrying the .243 anyway.

I’ve been chasing coyotes and looking for the perfect fur bullet for a long time, but haven’t found it yet. It’s a Holy Grail that has so far eluded me, but it continues to be a lot of fun searching for it.

Join us on Facebook!

Do you like what you’re reading? Subscribe to Western Sportsman print edition today!

Find more articles on hunting gear!

Find more articles on hunting predatory animals!

This entry was posted in Gear, Hunting and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.