WHAT SHOULD YOU TOP THAT AR-15 WITH?
Scope selection varies by region, usual range to target, time of day you’re afield.
a natural predator can be an exhilarating and rewarding experience. There’s nothing quite like hunting something that can be just as clever and canny as you are.
Coyotes fit this bill nicely. They’re smart, fast, tough creatures that also happen to be destructive to livestock and other game animals like pheasant and quail. All of this combines to make coyote hunts a popular and enjoyable pastime.
That is, if you can actually hit the sneaky suckers.
Coyotes are a challenging animal to hunt. They’re smarter than a lot of common game animals like whitetail and even turkeys, and they’re stealthy and cautious at all times.
If you’re looking to go after this wily creature, you better make sure that you and your gear are up to the task, or you’re sure to go home empty handed.
Today, we’re going to be talking about one of, if not the most important piece of gear for coyote hunting: your optic.
Coyotes are small, fast, and sometimes like to hunt in low light around dawn and dusk, so you’ll need all the help you can get if you want to down some song dogs this year. A good optic is a strong step in the right direction, while a poor one will definitely leave you hanging out to dry.
There are so many different high-end choices out there these days that choosing just one to mount on your rifle is somewhat of a daunting task. How do you pick one scope from the thousands that are out there?
Well, first you need to define your needs.
A 40x target scope and a 3-9x hunting scope can both be perfectly good scopes, but for dramatically different types of shooting. You will likely be hunting varmints from a distance, so you won’t have a need for a red-dot sight or a high-priced optic like a holographic EOTech sight.
For coyote and other varmint hunting, here’s what you need.
This is the most contentious, and also most subjective, part about choosing any scope, and that almost goes double for choosing a predator scope for coyote hunting.
The magnification you need is going to vary wildly based on your environment, your rifle, and even your personal skill level.
First, consider your environment. What’s the local geography like? The terrain? Are you in woodlands, covered swamps, or wide open plains?
If you’re somewhere in the Deep South, like I am, you might have to make a 300-yard shot, but most of your hunting is going to be under 150 yards or so. For this, a 3-9x is going to be just fine. You’ll want to stay away from closer range optics, like Aimpoint’s.
For those who hunt Great Plains country, you might have to make shots as far as 400 yards, sometimes even more. I’ve personally taken shots on coyotes as far as 800 yards, but that was with a rifle that I know very, very well. I personally wouldn’t feel comfortable reaching out much further than that and still being sure of an ethical kill on a coyote-sized target.
For those longer shots, magnification in the 14x to 20x range is more on par with what you’ll want to make sure you can not only spot something small like a coyote, but also land an accurate killshot.
I like a 4-14x variable optic, personally. It has a wide enough view on the low end to make those close-range shots where the coyote is just about in your lap, but also enough magnification to easily spot coyotes slinking through the grass at 300-plus yards.
Like I said before, coyotes rarely cooperate and come out to stand in the open during broad daylight, preferring to be more cautious during the day, and a little more active around dusk and dawn.
Why does that matter? Because if your scope doesn’t pull enough light to see the coyote, good luck even knowing it’s there. A good coyote scope will be able to pull in ample light to make those “20 minutes after sunset” shots, and may even have an illuminated reticle to make shots like that even easier.
Of course, if you live somewhere that allows night hunting, you’ll need something that can do an even better job in this area because you’ll be working from spotlights.
How do you get a scope with good light-gathering abilities? Mainly, get one with a large objective lens. The objective lens of a scope is the end that points towards your target. It’s typically measured in millimeters, and when you see that something is a 4-16×40 scope, it’s the last number in the listing that tells you the objective lens has a diameter of 40mm.
For a good low-light scope, you’ll also want something that has very clear, high-quality glass. Bargain-bin scopes at your local gun store need not apply.
Personally, I like a scope from a quality manufacturer like Vortex, U.S. Optics, Bushnell, Sightron, etc., and with at least a 40mm objective lens, but more preferably a 50 to 66mm objective lens.
There are fancy target reticles out there that will help you estimate distance, judge bullet drop automatically and correct for windage. Do you know how these reticles work? If so, great! Mil-dot and BDC scopes are wonderful for hitting targets at unknown ranges in variable scenarios.
Don’t know what a milliradian is and don’t want to learn? That’s OK too!
Most hunters will really be OK with a simple duplex reticle for coyote hunting. Learning your gun, using consistent ammo and learning your windage and elevation holds with a simple crosshair is going to be of more use to most hunters than learning how to use a MRAD, MOA or BDC reticle.
If you want to get a reticle that’s tuned to your particular hand-loaded bullet, or mil-dot reticle that you can use target shooting, go for it. Just don’t be fooled by the manufacturers (or other gun blogs) that say you need them for coyote hunting. Use what you’re comfortable with, and learn to use it extremely well. That’ll make you a much more effective varmint hunter, I promise.
For those of you who can walk 100 yards to a treestand and reliably call coyotes to you on any given day, you don’t need to worry about this section too terribly much.
For the rest of us mere mortals who have to schlep our rifles several miles, getting in and out of vehicles at different stands, a rugged scope that isn’t going to get scratched up, knocked around or lose zero is a must.
That’s why I recommend quality brands with a solid reputation, and a good warranty policy as well. There’s nothing worse than shouldering your rifle to take aim at that coyote in the distance and finding a big scratch on your scope lens, or worse, taking a shot and realizing your zero has shifted so badly you’re nowhere near the target.
CLARITY AND CONTRAST
This is another area where you get what you pay for and it definitely behooves the aspiring coyote hunter to spend a little more on quality glass. Coyotes have some great natural camouflage that makes them very difficult to spot in their usual habitats.
This means that you need a scope with good clarity that won’t wash colors out, which means good, high-quality glass, well-made, that’s multi-coated and fog-proof. These are features that you only get in more expensive scopes, but optics makers like Burris and Vortex are offering insanely good scopes with these features, at very affordable prices.
Whether you go after coyotes once a year, or you’re continually picking them off from your front porch to protect your livestock, there’s a scope out there that will help you get the job done.
With a sufficiently rugged optic like the ones mentioned in the sidebar, and the right magnification, your next coyote hunt should be a breeze.
Here’s a few scopes to check out for coyote hunting:
Editor’s note: Matthew Collins is an active contributor at GunBacker. He enjoys both competitive shooting and gunsmithing. When you don’t see him at the range, you can catch him on Instagram and other gun-related website
- Trijicon ACOG Rifle Scope
- Vortex Viper PST Gen II 2-10x32mm
- Nightforce Optics 5-20×56 SHV Riflescope
- Leupold – Mark AR™ Mod 1 Riflescopes
STORY BY MATT COLLINS ARTICLE AND PHOTOS COURTESY OF