Target Bullets For Predators And Varmints

Can a match-grade bullet level a coyote? They’re accurate, but will they expand adequately?

The development of polymer tipped bullets has been a tremendous addition to the ammunition choices of predator hunters. The increased ballistic coefficient of these streamlined bullets keeps trajectories flatter and increases striking velocity, which are two significant advantages.

Less known is the tendency of polymer tipped bullets to expand quicker than conventional hollow point or soft-point designs, which is another plus when trying to end the career of a distant predator or rodent.

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They work so well that most of my go-to bullets are now some kind of tipped projectile, including offerings from Hornady, Sierra and Nosler. However, I've always felt there was a hole in these manufacturer's bullet offerings, in that none of them made a .22 caliber bullet in the 68- to 69-grain range with a polymer tip. That changed at the 2015 SHOT show when Sierra announced their line of tipped MatchKing bullets would include a 69-grain offering.

I've used both Hornady and Sierra 68- or 69-grain hollow-point match bullets on coyotes in the past, and although accuracy has always been stellar with both brands, expansion was so erratic I quickly discontinued their use. Sierra's development of a tipped match bullet in this weight range tempted me to give target bullets another try on live critters.

Range tests on paper targets showed me these bullets will really shoot. In a .223 Rem. Model 700 with a 26-inch barrel, I settled on a load of 26 grains of Varget powder, netting a velocity of 3,100 fps. A seven-shot group of this load put all seven slugs in 0.36 inches at 100 yards. Yeah, they shoot just fine … but will they expand?

Last weekend I had the opportunity to find out when a friend and I headed out on a crow shoot. I threw the Remington in the truck in hopes that a target suitable for expansion testing would present itself, and it did—in the form of a coyote hunting for an easy meal in a cattle pasture. A shot at 60 yards, broadside through the shoulders, slammed the dog to the ground. The bullet exited, with about a 2-inch hole on the far side. Not bad.

Later in the day I had the opportunity to shoot a ground squirrel at 110 yards and the Sierra 69-grain Tipped MatchKing almost tore it in half. Obviously, expansion was dramatic—even on this smallest of rodents.

Those were the only two rifle chances I had during the day, but they were both successful, so things are looking good for this bullet. Sierra claims the bullet needs at least a 1:10 twist barrel or faster to stabilize, so all those 1:9 twist barrels out there should be just fine. And with a .375 ballistic coefficient, this bullet should retain velocity well and buck the wind.

As a rule, I've learned to stay away from target bullets for hunting purposes, but Sierra's 69-grain Tipped MatchKing could be one of those exceptional bullets that does two things well. It's too early to pass final judgement on it as a predator bullet just yet, but I'm certainly optimistic.

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