“Best” Bullet for Predator Hunting? (Part 1: Varmint Style Bullets)

Author: Michael T. Huff, CoyoteLight Pro Staff, is a professional outdoor writer, speaker, and licensed predator hunting guide.  He owns and operates Master Predator Hunting – Limited Liability Company, a retail supplier of premium predator hunting products. masterpredatorhunting.com
His first book is scheduled for publication in 2015.  He can be reached at: [email protected]
December 22th, 2014


What Style of Bullet Design is the “Best” for Predator Hunting?  (Part 1:  Varmint Style Bullets)

Wow…here is a topic that has the potential to get a guy in trouble.  When it comes to discussing the “best” calibers, bullets, callers, or gear, strong opinions run deep!  So, are you a Ford or Chevy guy?  Alright, enough avoiding the topic, let’s get to it!

When discussing recommended calibers and bullets in seminars, I always begin with a disclaimer.    Your opinion and my opinion are formed based on our own predator hunting experience.  Since we all have different experiences, it is natural everyone does not agree on the best bullet design for predator hunting.

In truth, I can’t tell you the best bullet design for your own individual predator hunting.  You will have to make that decision yourself.   However, I can provide information for you to consider that may help in your decision.   My perspective is formed from hundreds of hours of predator hunting every year, reading and studying research, and extensive time spent at the range and reloading bench.   Your mileage may vary.  My thoughts may change with additional rotations around the sun.

I feel predator hunters face two potential problems with bullets.  The first one we will discuss in this article.  It involves selecting a bullet that will minimize pelt damage, yet consistently and humanely kill furbearers.  Many predator hunters favor explosive varmint style bullets to reduce fur damage.  Common bullets in this classification include:  Hornady V-Max, Remington Disintegrator Varmint, Winchester Varmint X, Nosler Ballistic Tip Varmint, HSM Varmint Gold, Barnes Varmint Grenade.  This style of bullet is designed to explode completely within the target without producing an exit wound.

The varmint style bullet may initially seem to be the best design for predator hunting.  However, as the saying goes, there is more to the story..!  Rarely are things simple or straightforward in the world ballistics or actual bullet performance on animals.

So, here is my take on varmint style bullets for predator hunting.  If a hunter can consistently achieve very accurate shot placement, varmint bullets are a viable choice as a pelt friendly bullet.  Now for the rub.  The problem with varmint bullets occurs when they encounter heavy bone around the outside of the animal.  This often results in bullet splash, inadequate penetration, and unrecovered predators.

If you have the skill and shooting ability in real world, fast paced predator hunting to consistently hit the vitals and avoid heavy bone, this is your bullet!   Unfortunately, for many of us including myself, this can be difficult task because predators are constantly moving and are relatively small targets.  If you do your predator hunting at night, this task becomes even more challenging.

I am currently hunting with a varmint style bullet for coyote hunting.  The Eastern Coyotes in my region have a relatively large vital area behind the shoulder bone.  I feel confident in consistently placing my shot within this kill zone while avoiding the shoulder and other heavy bones.  My preferred caliber for coyote hunting is the .243 Win. loaded with factory 58 grain Hornady V-Max SuperPerformance ammunition.

When fox hunting, I personally choose not to shoot varmint style bullets.  Fox are very small targets, especially compared to the coyote or wolf.  Ethical shots on a fox require consistently hitting a baseball sized vital area behind the shoulder.   If I factor in the possibility of other factors such as wind and lighter bullets, I am not confident of my ability to place 95% of my shots into the small vital zone.

So, is the varmint style bullet the best for hunting predators?  I will leave that decision up to you.  However, I will leave you with some additional food for thought.  Allow me to share a real life “experience” I was able to observe and consider.

When the .17 Hornet began showing up in retail stores in 2012, I received a beautiful CZ consignment gun the following season and a several boxes of ammunition to review this new caliber.  Unfortunately, I was working on a writing project to develop fur friendly .223 Rem. rounds at the time and needed to kill all my predators with the .223 Rem. to gather adequate data for my research.  I contracted with a well-respected, seasoned, and calling champion to use the .17 Hornet with factory ammunition loaded with varmint style bullets.   He would shoot predators and record pelt damage data for me to evaluate.

After two weeks with the rifle, I was disappointed to get a call from my hunter telling me he would not finish the project because he did not recover four of the first five fox he shot.  He concluded the varmint style of bullets were causing inadequate penetration, bullet splash, and unrecovered predators.  Although I hand load for my .17 Fireball and shoot tight hollow point bullets, I purchased some commercial varmint style ammunition.   I experienced poorer performance from the varmint style bullets as well, although not to the same extent.

Coincidentally, two months later, I was guiding a law enforcement officer for a two day fox hunt.  Surprisingly, he showed up with a .17 Hornet using the exact same ammunition as my contracted hunter.  I was silently a bit worried about the potential for unrecovered fox, but out of respect for his choice of gear, I did not say anything.  In retrospect, I am glad I did not reveal my concern.  He went 9 for 9 on fox over our hunt.  Every fox except one was dropped on the spot with a single shot.  The varmint style bullet worked wonderfully for this man while my contracted hunter said he would never shoot such a bullet the rest of his life.

Moral of the story; I feel explosive varmint style bullets work well for predator hunters who can consistently place bullets in the kill zone without hitting heavy bone under the fast paced conditions involved in hunting predators.

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