Predators are hunters themselves – wary, aggressive, and elusive. Shot opportunities often come quickly, making accurate placement, rapid acquisition, and terminal performance paramount. When we talk predators, we’re referencing often fast-moving targets like coyotes, wolves, and even feral hogs.
Many of these critters are too big and dangerous for traditional varmint rounds geared more for small game like prairie dogs or squirrels. Here are our top choices for rounds – both old school and more modern – that will put down predators and furbearing game.
Some say the .243 Winchester is too big for varmints, while others say it’s too small for deer. However, we say those folks are wrong on both counts. The venerable .243 Win takes lots of guff. Yet it has bagged way more than its share of critters, from long-range vermin to whitetails galore. Where it really stands strong, however, is in the hands of a predator hunter. There are racks full of both new and used .243 rifles. The majority are bolt-action rifles, but you can still find some semi-automatic, lever-action, single-shot, and pump guns out there.
Ammunition for the .243 Winchester abounds, with everything from high-end premium factory options to budget-priced rounds. Projectiles can be had as light as 55 grains on up to 110 grains, which are favored for heavier game. There are also plenty of options to minimize hide damage. Partner the light recoil with overall availability and round performance, and the .243 remains a big winner.
The love trail for the 6.5 Creedmoor rolls on – not because it’s the latest and greatest – but because it performs. You can get down-loaded rounds for smaller furbearers or stretch it out to the longest shots on the heaviest predators and even big game. With its array of bullets offering higher ballistic coefficients, the 6.5 Creedmoor will cut the wind and make longer shots than most trigger pullers even consider. The major downfall to the round as a predator choice is potential hide damage. The 6.5 Creedmoor is a fast-moving and often quickly opening projectile that can deep-six a quality fur with large and raggedy holes.
Like several others on this list, the 6.5 Creedmoor is one round that can make its living not only on predators but also excels on antelope, deer, and even larger game. There is a wide variety of factory ammunition. Rifles also abound from pretty much every manufacturer, with platforms ranging from bolt-action guns to modern sporting rifles and everything in between. The same rifles that excel for a long-range competition can also work wonders on far-ranging predators.
Calibers come and go. Some surge strong but fizzle later. Through it all, the .308 Winchester is always there plugging along and taking down just about every game animal from varmints to predators, deer, and elk. While the .308 Win may not be the sexy choice anymore, consider the plethora of available rifles in every action type. It also has some of most readily available ammunition of any chambering on this list. The knockdown power makes it one of the top-end performers for the options listed here, with a wide range of bullet weights and types that will deliver devastating terminal performance out as far as hunters can spot their prey.
Plus, the .308 Win is a great crossover round that is capable of deer and bigger game. It is more than capable of taking down varmints. Like the 6.5 Creedmoor, however, the .308 Win can be a little much for smaller predators, especially when tanning a quality hide is the end goal. With the popularity of AR-10 modern sporting rifles and hunting bolt actions, the .308 Win is already found in the gun safes of many shooters, making it a natural choice when predators call.
Those who avoid newfangled calibers like the 6.5 Creedmoor have plenty of choices in more old-school centerfire rounds that devastate predators and have done so for decades. Rounds like the .257 Roberts, .220 Swift, .222 Remington, or even supercharged .257 Weatherby Magnum are all classic choices. However, our best do-it-all choice is the underappreciated .25-06 Remington. Though ammunition options are much more limited than for others on this list, there are still ample factory options that will excel on predators.
Further, handloading the round is straightforward, and many .25-06 hunters choose to make their own rounds. Bolt actions are the norm, although there are single-shot rifles with heavy barrels that have claimed plenty of furbearers. Bullet weights from 75 to 117 grains are the norm for the .25-06 Rem. That’s more than enough to bag the heaviest predators. For what it’s worth, the low-recoiling, high-performance .25-06 Rem is underrated on antelope and deer-sized game as well.
When most folks think of predator guns, rifles are on the brain. But for practical short-range or mid-range power, it’s hard to beat the potential of a magnum-chambered 12-gauge shotgun. Partner pretty much any 12-gauge scattergun with loads like Hornady Heavy Magnum Coyote filled with nickel-plated shot or Winchester Varmint X Predator packed with lead shot, and predators should beware.
Besides, what hunters don’t already own a 12-gauge shotgun? Whether it’s a semi-automatic, pump, single-shot, or double-barrel shotgun, there are plenty of guns that have already cemented a place in the predator woods. When the coyotes come calling up close and personal, shots must happen fast. Shotguns are great for these intense situations.
Feathers will be ruffled, but I take the .22-250 Rem every time over the .223 Rem/5.56 NATO for hunting, especially for predators. Sure, the old NATO will get the job done, and the abundance of AR-style rifles and ammunition keep it relevant. The .22-250 Rem has greater powder capacity and can do more with heavier bullets and higher velocities. That all equals greater downrange performance over the .223.
However, when it comes to pure performance in this class, my toss-up is actually between the .22-250 Rem and the .224 Valkyrie. The abundance of old-school .22-250 Rem rifles have won our hearts. Add in the low recoil and lesser pelt damage than others on this list, and the round is a winner. The .22-250 Rem can shift gears from busting varmints like prairie dogs across the open plains of the West to culling pesky coyotes hundreds of yards away.
Sure, there’s not as wide of a rifle selection as you’d find in the .223 aisle. But ask any hunter who shoots the .22-250 Rem, and they’ll likely have a heartfelt bond with one accurate, reliable, predator-bagging rifle – and it won’t be for sale either.