There we sat, up high along the edge of red-tinted West Texas rimrock. This was the last setup of the morning and it was looking like a bust. Coyote calling expert Wyman Meinzer called down into the rocky, cedar-filled canyon for a solid 10 minutes. The one coyote we’d seen had winded us from several hundred yards out, popped out at the edge of an opening and immediately disappeared.
“A few more minutes,” Meinzer said to me before he started blowing a coyote challenge call. “Then lunch.”
My thoughts were drifting—mostly to lunch—when Meinzer grabbed my forearm. A good-sized male coyote stood maybe 65 yards away, between a rock and some cedar, looking up in our direction. I steadied my rifle on shooting sticks, aimed for center chest and squeezed off a shot. The coyote crumbled into a heap, kicked a couple of times and went still.
That was my third ’yote of the morning, all taken with the new .17 Winchester Super Magnum rimfire round. Truthfully, I’d been hesitant to use the little rimfire for coyote hunting. But I came away from the experience convinced that, at proper ranges and with good shot placement, the .17 Win. Super Mag. is a fine coyote round.
Winchester introduced the new rimfire cartridge earlier this year. It’s a .17 caliber polymer-tipped spitfire that launches out of the barrel at 3,000 feet per second with a 20-grain bullet (2,600 fps in the 25-grain variety). The new round surpasses both the .17 HMR and .22 WMR in downrange velocity, energy and trajectory, giving a hunter darn near centerfire performance at rimfire prices. While a 20-round box of .223 Rem. can run anywhere up to $20 or more, a 50-round box of the .17 Win. Super Mag. will cost $15-$20, depending on the retailer.
The Seventeen Vs. Songdogs
I got to the Spike Box Ranch in Benjamin, Texas, in late February of this year for a coyote and hog hunt sponsored by Winchester Ammunition. At the range my first day, I familiarized myself with the .17 Win. Super Mag. and my rifle for the coyote hunts—a single-shot Winchester Model 1885 with a falling-block action and a 24-inch barrel. The rifle was topped with a Nikon Prostaff 4-12X40mm scope.
The round was accurate and fun to shoot, with relatively little noise and no recoil. I soon grouped shots within an inch at 150 yards, no problem. But as we left for our hunt 48 hours later, I worried about taking coyotes with the diminutive round. Crows, ground squirrels, prairie dogs and other small varmints? Not a problem. But even with a 3,000 fps launch point, I wondered if the .17 cal. bullet would have enough terminal velocity to drop a 20-pound or better coyote.
The answer? Yes … with this caveat: I think the range would need to be 100 yards or less. You might be able to add another 20 or so yards using the 25-grain bullet, but I’d have to try that out to make sure.
Still, at 100 yards or less, eight coyotes shot in the vitals that day—by myself and four other hunters—dropped right in their tracks. Two other ’yotes ran 30 or 40 yards before dying. From the in-field autopsies we performed, it was clear the .17 cal. bullet deposited all of its energy into the coyotes.
Now, if you pulled a shot and hit a coyote in its mid-section, would it crumple up and die? Not likely. To be fair, I’ve seen coyotes hit in their mid-section by .22-250s and .223s that kept moving, too, even with gaping wounds. But I suspect coyotes so wounded by the .17 Win. Super Mag. would go much farther and suffer longer.
Rethinking Shot Rationale
Someone will probably point out that, if you hit any animal in just the right spot, almost any round will do the job. True enough. My problem with that statement: It’s often used to suggest that proper bullet placement isn’t likely, so we should “use a lot more gun (to paraphrase the famous big game hunter and writer Robert Ruark) to make sure we bring down an animal.”
Yet, when did it become so acceptable to assume you’re not going to have correct bullet placement? Put another way, with the precision of today’s rifles and the high-quality optics available, why can’t you put a shot into a coyote’s vitals at 100 yards or less?
The .17 Win. Super Mag. is a fun, handy, all-around varminter round that can reach out and take a prairie dog at 200 yards or a coyote at half that distance or less. And at 40 cents or less per round? I’m sold. I can’t wait to see the new rifles that will soon be introduced in this caliber—a good selection of bolt-actions and semiautos that will really show what a hunter can do with the .17 Win. Super Mag. It should be fun.