It’s a question as old as varmint hunting and dates back to the introduction of the .22 caliber rimfire cartridge in the mid-19th century.
Can a .22LR Kill a Coyote?
The short answer is that yes, you can kill a coyote with a .22 long rifle. In practice, more coyotes are killed with .22 long rifle cartridges than any other caliber. But that’s because trappers often carry a .22 pistol with them as they work their trap lines.
They use their .22 pistol for head shots on coyotes caught in traps or snares from just a few feet away.
When it comes to taking a coyote humanly with a .22 long rifle for a distance beyond a couple of yards, the jury is out on the effectiveness of the long rifle cartridge in taking down a coyote.
Many coyotes have been taken with a .22 long rifle on shots as far away as 75 yards, but many more have been maimed or wounded. With coyotes, most hunters are after the winter pelt of this indigenous American predator.
A coyote is a small animal, almost always weighing around 20 pounds. A few rare, exceptionally large coyotes can reach 30 pounds, but even at the heavy end of the scale, they present a small target.
They’re also incredibly intelligent animals, many consider them the smartest, most cunning of all native predators in the United States. There is a reason most Native American tribes referred to the coyote as “The Trickster” regarding their cunning with great reverence.
Can a .22 Hollow Point Kill a Coyote?
Hollowpoint ammunition gets mixed reviews in any caliber. In .22, hollow points get a little too much positive press. A hollow point is designed to expand on contact.
With a large caliber such as a .357 magnum or .45 ACP in handgun ammunition, or even custom loaded hollow-point rifle ammunition above .243 in size this principle is deadly, but with the limited energy of a .22, it can create more problems than it solves.
When a .22 strikes an animal, even a small animal like a coyote, it expands as designed, but it doesn’t penetrate deep enough to create a killing wound channel. The result is a flesh wound that may kill the animal eventually, but also allows it to escape and you’ll rarely be able to harvest the pelt even if you do find the coyote.
A hollowpoint .22 ruins the hide as well, often leaving a larger hole in the pelt than a standard solid point bullet would. Any holes in a hide lower the price you’ll get from a fur buyer.
If you try a head shot with a .22 hollow point, you’ll only get a kill shot at close range, which is less than 10 feet.
Unless the coyote is caught in a trap you’ll never hit this fast moving, quick animal at that range since it will be instantly in high gear, racing away from you in a zigzag pattern at up to 35 miles per hour.
Many trappers have found expanded hollow points under the skin of coyotes who were hit in the past. They’ve healed from the initial shot, but carry these painful reminders of their escape for the rest of their lives.
In other words, hollow points are a poor choice for effectively, and humanly killing a coyote.
Where To Shoot a Coyote With a .22?
Every animal taken with a gun has specific areas that are more effective in harvesting than others, a coyote is no exception.
Coyotes are one of the most difficult targets to hit among all North American mammals. They move fast, avoid open ground, have a quick running style with head bobs, quick left/right turns, and present a hard target to lock onto.
When discovered, coyotes avoid open ground, instead, they’ll follow hollow depressions, and even irrigation ditches as they evade you.
The heart, as with animals from rabbits to moose, is also the best place to shoot a coyote. A .22, even with its limited energy, can penetrate the heart of a coyote and drop it in its tracks if you’re closer than 75 yards.
A longer shot most likely won’t penetrate deep enough to kill the coyote, instead, it will escape, and likely survive since the small penetration of solid point .22 won’t create a wound large enough for the animal to bleed out.
The second-best area to shoot a coyote with a .22 is in the head. It’s a difficult shot with any caliber rifle since a coyote’s head is very small. The brain case on a coyote is only about 1.5 inches wide and about the same length, which presents a very small target.
If you’re hunting coyotes in the open range of the west where the wind howls constantly, the trajectory of a .22 bullet is adversely affected by the conditions.
In the Great Lakes or other heavily forested areas, the challenge is to get the bullet through the foliage to the coyote’s head. A small size bullet, like the .22 long rifle, is easily deflected by leaves and small twigs, a branch ends your short immediately.
Those that shoot coyotes in the lungs intentionally are not practicing humane hunting techniques. The .22 long rifle is small but will leave a hole in the lungs that will eventually lead to a painful death for the animal in a few days.
You’ll never find the animal since it will avoid you at all costs. You’ll lose the pelt in the process.
If you’re after simply eradicating coyotes and not harvesting the pelt, use a larger caliber rifle when you hunt them.
The .22 long rifle is a great choice for trappers since it is light, inexpensive, and very effective at extremely close range, at a distance, choose another platform.
More coyotes have probably been taken with .22 long rifles than any other caliber, but that’s because of the widespread availability of the .22. Kids through grandparents all have a .22 rifle in their closet or gun cabinet.
When they’re out in the wild they encounter coyotes and often take a shot. The same is true of deer, but it doesn’t mean it’s a humane method of hunting.
Leaving an animal wounded, and in pain is no excuse for packing a .22 when a .243, .25-06, or even the similar sized .204, with vastly greater energy in its centerfire cartridge is available.