Varmint Callers Association
The first varmint hunting site on the net! The California Varmint Callers maintains this webpage for the benefit of all varmint and predator hunters.
Choose a flat shooting cartridge.
Much of the conversation of varmint hunters has to do with the merits of various cartridges. There are many different factors you can use in judging a cartridge. The criteria used here to judge the effectiveness of a varmint caliber is it's ability to stop the animal in it's tracks - especially when you make a marginal hit. You don't want the animal to move one inch from the spot where it was hit. This may be unrealistic in a practical sense but we need some goal to shoot for (pun intended). It is entirely possible to make kills with most any rifle at extreme range but just how effective is your bullet at that range? Consider what would happen if you hit a coyote in the hindquarters with a .22 long rifle at 700 Yds. Would the animal be stopped in its tracks? Or would it run off to die a lingering death? It may even survive. How about hitting a ground squirrel at the same range with the same caliber? Granted, this is an extreme example, but I think it helps illustrate the point. The problem of cartridge effectiveness comes in when we consider the bullet's performance and the size of the animal at short, medium and long range.
Use a highly frangible bullet at high velocity on coyotes at close range
and, believe it or not, they can get up and run off. I've seen it, done it
and heard about it plenty of times. Especially with the .17's and .22's.
Sure, the animal will soon be dead but it has run off and suffered with a
surface wound. Use the same load at longer range with a marginal hit and
the animal could go down and stay down at the spot where you hit it. Now
consider the performance of a stronger or more heavily constructed bullet
at high velocity. Lets say you are using a match bullet going at 3800 Fps
and shooting at close range, say 50 Yds or so. You'll drop em' every time
- even with a marginal hit like, say, just in front of the hindquarters.
Now try that same load at long range and the bullet will perform like a FMJ
and simply pass through doing little damage. Unless you have made a vital
hit, the coyote will run. A smaller animal like a ground squirrel will probably
go down regardless. Remember, we are after clean, humane, instant one shot
kills on coyote sized animals.
What we need is a bullet that will perform at a wide range of velocities. There are probably hundreds of varmint type bullets available in a bunch of different calibers so it is up to you to chose a bullet that will perform to your expectations. If I were after prairie dogs I might choose a flat shooter like the swift and use an SX or ballistic tip of light weight and then crank up the speed ( be careful here - depending on rifle twist rate and velocity, your bullets could blow up shortly after leaving the barrel ). But this may not be an ideal combination for coyote sized animals at short range - the bullet is too explosive and may not penetrate the vitals. That's why they will sometimes get up and run off. Generally, as your bullet weight increases this scenario becomes less likely. When going after coyotes, I use a .22-250 with Sierra's 55 Gr. SBT (spitzer boat tail - #1365 ) at around 3600 Fps. It performs reliably at close range and out to about 300 Yds. It has proven unreliable at greater ranges. I could increase the velocity of this round but then accuracy would fall off and it could become less reliable at close range. Most of my shooting is done at between 50 and 300 Yds and I have arrived at what I believe to be an effective combination of bullet selection and speed.
The next picture shows the other coyote of the pair. He was hit in the neck broadside at about 100 Yds with the same Sierra 55 grain SBT. He dropped in his tracks - no exit wound, no flinch, no quiver, no nothing. With the right bullet choice, the .22-250 does not rip the hide or backside and definatly out performs the .17 at long range or when bone is involved.
Generally, when going after coyotes or the larger varmints, the performance
of the .22's can and will become erratic beyond 300 Yds. From personal experience
in making and seeing shots on coyotes at ranges beyond 300Yds with a .22-250,
I can say with certainty that you will have fewer "stop them in their tracks"
shots. Your shots need to be "right on" or, more often than not, coyotes
hit at extreme range will run off to die a lingering death (most self respecting
hunters cringe at the thought of this - myself included) If the hit is marginal,
you may very well have difficulty locating the wounded or dead animal. At
ranges of 300Yds or less, and with proper bullet selection the .22-250 kills
like the wrath of God - rarely does an animal move far from the spot where
it was hit.
We need to select bullets for the job we want it to do and then select a
cartridge that can develop the speed we need to make the bullet perform.
If you keep most of your shots within 300 Yds, any of the high velocity .22's
such as the 22-250 or 220 Swift would be a good choice. Note that 300 Yds
was chosen as a cutoff point based simply on experience. Your circumstances
may indicate slightly more or less effective range than what is recommended
here. The performance degredation of a bullet drops off at a rate similar
to the rate at which it slows down so you shouldn't expect to have instant
killing power at long ranges. When hunting the larger varmints, the .17's
.222's and 223's are often used by those seeking to minimize pelt damage
as they are less prone to leave large exit wounds when shooting at normal
The bigger varmint calibers (.243 - .25, etc.) hold their velocity, and hence
their effectiveness, better at long range than most of the .22's. Again,
actual experience in the field has borne this out. If you do a lot of long
range shooting or just prefer a harder hitting cartridge then you would be
better served by the high velocity .243's or .25's such as the 243 Winchester
or 25-06 Remington. You will not have many quality pelts when shooting these
calibers though, as they are well known for leaving large exit wounds. But
then if you are not after pelts it doesn't really matter. Within our
organization, the .243 Win. is by far the most popular caliber followed by
the .22-250 and then the .223. Of course there's your sprinkling of .25-06's
and wildcats also.
The larger, big game calibres will do the job but less effectively than the higher velocity .22's, .243's, or .25's. The larger bullets tend to hold together too well and this shows up in the field. You will get your animal but not before it has run some distance from where it was hit. I can recall one instance where a friend shooting a .300 Win Mag. with a 220 Gr. bullet made a well placed shot on a coyote only to have it run a couple of hundred yards before expiring. We almost didn't find the animal. With a less than perfect shot, the big game calibres will not have the stop them in their tracks performance of the traditional varmint calibres. If you are going to use big game calibers, you should use the lighter bullets and push them fast. Faster than 3000 FPS is recommended. Doing this presents of its own unique set of problems. Generally, the lighter bullets in a given caliber are harder to get to shoot accurately. For varmints, bullet speed is what does the job.
Choose a good quality scope.
The choice of scopes are as varied as are the types of varmint hunts. If you are set up on a table next to a good prairie dog field, then a high magnification scope may be the ticket. Many people prefer the variable scopes with an adjustable objective for this kind of varmint shooting. The 6.5 - 20X Leopold seems to be a popular choice for this. For most other types of varmint hunting the adjustable objective scopes with magnifications higher than about 12X aren't recommended. The adjustable objective is designed to eliminate parallax when target shooting and works against the varmint hunter who encounters his target at any given range. You probably will not have the time necessary to bring your scope into focus before you take the shot. Scopes with a nonadjustable objective are guaranteed to be in focus when a coyote finally responds to your calls. I've seen those new to the sport of varmint calling attempting to use high magnification adjustable objective scopes and then chuckled when they couldn't find the fast moving animal in their scope. If they did manage to get the animal in their scope, it was usually so badly out of focus they couldn't tell where their shot would go. Stick to scopes with nonadjustable objectives and a magnification of around 12X or less and you will have few problems. Many experienced varmint callers are using any of the quality 3 X 9's or 3 X 12's with the larger 50mm nonadjustable objectives and duplex cross hairs. These scopes give a focused view out to as far as you care to shoot. The large objective gives a nice, bright sight picture. Rumor has it that you can adjust a scope with an AO for an intermediate range such as 150 Yds. You then crank the power down to, say, 6X thus giving you a depth of field sufficient for most hunting situations. I have not attempted doing this so the reader is left to his own devices on this one. Also, make sure the cross hairs aren't too big. Some scope manufactures make their cross hairs so fat that they completely obliterate the longer range targets.
Adjust your sights for the target vital zone.
When sighting your rifle for varmint hunting it helps to keep the target
vital zone to within 3 inches or less. In other words, choose a sight adjustment
that keeps the bullet from rising no more than 1.5 inches above the line
of sight and then aim for center of mass when hunting. A one inch vital zone
may be better if you have an flat shooting cartridge or you are going after
the smaller varmints. But keep in mind that this may limit your "no-hold-over"
range to less than 200 Yds with some of the standard cartridges. Reference
to the ballistics data is recommended in order to determine the maximum point
blank range for your cartridge (maximum point blank range is defined as that
range where the bullet rises and falls through the line of sight by the amount
of the target vital zone you have adjusted into your sights. No holdover
is required to hit the target and, as in the above example, the bullet will
impact +/- 1.5 inches from the line of sight out to the maximum point blank
range). As a general rule of thumb for the long shots, you should keep the
cross hairs "on the fur". Unless you are very familiar with your cartridge
and very good at estimating range, don't raise your cross hairs above the
animals back. Use these techniques and you'll rarely miss a shot.
The requirement for accuracy.
Don't underestimate the importance of an accurate varmint rifle. You can
have the most powerful rifle made but if you can't hit what your aiming at
it will be useless. The "varmint rifle" should be capable of better-than-average
accuracy. If you're a big game hunter, 3" groups at a 100 Yds is probably
adequate. Varmint hunt with a 3"-grouping rifle and you're in for a big
disappointment. Varmint hunting by definition consists of going after
significantly smaller targets and this requires a rifle capable of delivering
accuracy beyond what the big game hunter considers adequate. The level of
accuracy required for the competent varmint rifle can best be answered with
the following statement : "You should have all of the accuracy you can get".
Glenn Newick has authored a book considered to be one of the the premier
sources for information on rifle accuracy and
link will provide you with one possible source for where to get it..
Having an accurate rifle does not guarantee success in the field. We need to think about delivering the shot to the target and all the factors that go into it. Are you shooting from a stable platform? Are you shooting offhand? How steady is your hold on the rifle? Is there any wind? At what range is your target? Is your rifle flat shooting? All of these variables will have an affect on how well you can place your shots and all of them will add up to be different given your particular set of circumstances. It helps if we are conscious of these factors and then take steps to minimize those we have some control over. An accurate rifle eliminates or reduces one source of error and allows us to concentrate on the other factors working against us. Another added benefit of an accurate rifle is the sense of confidence the hunter has in his rifle. We tend to shoot better when we have confidence in the ability of the rifle to put the bullet exactly where we are aiming.
Have a stable shooting platform.
This can be one of the most beneficial factors in accurate shooting. You should take advantage of whatever is available to provide a solid and steady hold to your rifle. Resting your rifle against a rock or tree can help steady the rifle and improve your shooting. If you're shooting from a table or a stand, make sure it is solid and steady. Get yourself a rifle or stock with a flat fore-end as this feature will help to eliminate rifle cant or roll. Most varmint rifles made today will already have the proper flat fore-ended stock. But if you have an older model rifle with the rounded fore-end then you should seriously consider upgrading to a modern synthetic stock. I can't stress the importance of this enough as I have seen and experienced significant improvement in shot placement when people have switched to a stock with a flat fore-end.
Consider the hold on your rifle.
You should have three axes of stability. The flat fore-end on your stock will reduce or eliminate the side to side wobble but we also need to think about keeping the rifle steady in windage and elevation. If you shoot from a table then using sandbags is a good bet. If you're shooting from a stand then a rear sandbag may not be an option and in this case we need to think of ways to keep the rear of the rifle steady. If possible, lean up against something to help steady the rifle in windage. For elevation, it helps to shoot from a kneeling rather than standing position. In short, use any trick you can think of to get your rifle as steady as possible and then practice doing this until it becomes second nature. On a slightly different note - if you are a heavy shotgun shooter, you should make an extra effort to think about trigger control. I have seen a number of shotgun shooters who, being new to the sport of varmint calling, had a great deal of difficulty in placing their shots accurately. I have encountered this myself. After a full weekend of dove shooting, I developed a subconscious flinch and couldn't hit the broad side of a barn. It took a session at the range to reestablish what had been an excellent level of trigger control. What may be the proper shotgun technique of "snatching" or "popping" the trigger has to be unlearned when shooting your rifle.