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The .20-250 an extreme predator rifle

by Dave Affleck

Bullet selection
The real story of my .20-250 project has been the quest to find the right bullet for my specific application.  You might want to pour yourself a cup of coffee and prepare to settle in for a bit here, this is going to be a long storyÖ


From L to R, 45 Hornady, 40 Vmax, 40 Ballistic Tip, 40 Berger, 38 Unmussig.

From the beginning, turning the .20-250 into the coyote hunting tool I wanted it to be, has been all about finding the right bullet.  The problem in a nutshell, is finding a bullet constructed to withstand the very high muzzle velocities the .20-250 is capable of.  A bullet that will give sufficient penetration on a coyote for clean kills, without simply blowing up on the surface.  The bullet also needs to be of light enough weight to allow reaching the high velocities required to achieve my medium range trajectory goals.  Not more than 40 gr., really, and a few gr. lighter would be even better.  The bullet should have a relatively sleek shape to go along with the light weight and high velocities too.  All that and a tough enough construction to avoid surface blowups at close range on a coyote when launched at 4300 fps.  Thatís a lot to ask of a single bullet!  And itís important to remember, that when I first started planning this rifle and even at the point that I had obtained an action to build on and ordered my barrel blank, there were precious few .20 caliber bullets available.  At that time, the Hornady 45 gr. was not yet even rumored.  Nosler and Sierra werenít selling .20 caliber bullets yet.  All there was on the factory side, were the two Hornadyís (32 and 40 Vmax), and the Bergers (primarily the 35 and 40 gr.).  I already had plenty of experience with the Hornady Vmax in my .20BR and felt pretty sure that they werenít going to work well on coyotes at .20-250 velocities.  But there were numerous small custom makers out there, some of whom I was already familiar with.  I was hopeful that one or more of them could make me a bullet to do the job.  And of course I had the belief that the major manufacturers were all going to be coming out with more .20 caliber bullets all the time Ė which has proven to be true.

SoÖ  Based on my previous experiences using the Vmax bullets in my .20BR, and having seen horrible surface splash and very poor killing performance, I decided to concentrate on the 40 Berger initially.  Even though it suffers a low B.C. compared to the Vmax, Ballistic Tip or Blitzking.  Much as I like the B.C. of the plastic tips and the help that B.C. provides in achieving my trajectory goals, I hoped the Berger would be less likely to display surface splash and poor penetration.  All the flat trajectory in the world is worthless if the bullets donít kill the coyotes cleanly.  I should point out right now, that even to this day I have not actually tried any of the plastic tips out of my .20-250 on coyotes.  I have shot a few coyotes with them out of my .20BR, with extremely poor results.  But Iíve heard from quite a few guys that the 40 gr. Vmax has been working good on coyotes in the .204 Ruger and even one or two guys reporting good results with the 40 Vmax out of .20-250 class cartridges.  So, maybe my prejudice is unfounded.  But, at any rate, based on my own first hand experience with them in the .20BR, I just didnít think it likely that they would work good in the .20-250 on coyotes.  So, I headed off to the range to work up a load for the 40 gr. Berger.  After just a little bit of load work at the range, I had a load for the 40 Berger using N550 that drills little bug holes at 4250 fps.

Next, I set out to kill some coyotes using the 40 gr. Berger at 4200+ fps to see how they would perform.  The first three coyotes I killed with the Bergers seemed to show some promise.

The first coyote was a large female (pictured below), shot broadside at 300 yards. Bullet hit perfectly right in the pocket, exit hole about 1.5Ē, bang flop.

So far, so good!

Second coyote was a 36 lb male, at 80 yards, facing me at an angle.  I hit him in the chest between center and the outside shoulder. He went down immediately, but flopped around quite a bit and even got back up and staggered a few steps before expiring.  Great big hole.  It was hard to even distinguish the entrance from the exit.  Not very good performance, but only the second coyote, soÖ

Third coyote was a 28 lb female, at 210 yards, broadside.  Hit too far back, in the guts. Football sized exit hole. She made a few spins before going down and flopped around a lot on the ground, but didnít go anywhere.  Poor shot placement, and the bullet did exit, so no real cause for too much concern.

Then a few weeks later, I got out for another morning of coyote callingÖ 

Warning!  Totally tasteless, graphic photos below!  I donít normally even take pictures like these, let alone publish them.  But, I was out there testing my rig for itís intended purpose Ė and these photos illustrate the performance Iím wasnít happy about better than any words can.

So, anywayÖ I was able to get out for a few hours by myself and make a few stands and do some more testing with the Berger 40 at about 4250 fps muzzle velocity.  Here is a photo of the results, carefully arranged to hide the gore:

Before going any further, I need to stress that I am NOT trying to be critical of the Berger bullets.  They are a great product.  These bullets are superbly accurate in my rifle.  They simply were not designed for the application I tried to use them in.  Itís not the fault of the bullet, or the bullet maker.  Itís my fault for using them in a way that they were never intended to be used or designed for. 

Now, on to the ugly photos, showing the ugly bullet performanceÖ

Below is the first coyote of the morning. A 39 lb male, 50 yards, broadside, hit just behind the shoulder.  What you are seeing is the entrance wound, there was no exit.  This is big time surface splash. He did some spins and staggered around for a few seconds before going down.  And even after going down, I could see him breathing for much longer than Iím comfortable with.  Remember, this was a perfectly placed shot, at 50 yards.  I consider this kind of bullet performance to be a failure and simply not acceptable.  A perfectly placed broadside shot at 50 yards should be a bang-flop, instantly dead coyote.  But again Ė donít blame Berger, itís not their fault I took their great bullets and pushed them to such high velocity, and then hoped that they would not expand and disrupt on impact.

Next photo is the second coyote of the morning.  A 37 lb male.  He was running towards me when the bullet hit him in the chest at 60 yards.  As you can see, ugly surface splash again, with a huge entrance wound and no real exit.  And again, spinning, staggering, flopping.  Another perfectly placed shot, another bullet failure.

Last one, the third coyote of the morning, a 31 lb male. Standing broadside at 90 yards, hit him perfect, low behind the shoulder.  Much to my dismay, after first doing the ugly spin, stagger and drop routine, this coyote got back up and made a sickly sprint 50 yards uphill before I shot him again in the back of the head to finish him off.  I guess you could call that mess an ďexitĒ wound, but certainly not the kind I want to see on a broadside perfectly placed shot.

So, after that last coyote, I was done with the 40 gr. BergerÖ  Called it a day and went home.  Again, I want to stress that the Berger is really a very good bullet.  But simply not designed or constructed for penetration of heavy tissue at the velocity Iím pushing it.  Looking back at the first day, the two coyotes I hit at 210 and 300 yards, where the bullet had scrubbed off some velocity, the bullet penetrated and performed well without surface splash.  It again appears to me that on closer shots, the velocity is just more than the bullet can take.

SoÖ I was left to look at other bullet options. I had a couple of heavier, 45 gr bullets to work with in the Hornady and a custom made bench rest bullet (which is no longer available).  I was optimistic that one or both would give better penetration and more reliable terminal performance.  But, by going to one of these heavier bullets, Iíd be losing some of the trajectory flatness that is a primary goal for the project.  Indeed, one of the 45ís at 4100 fps will be no flatter than my .17 Predator, probably not even as flat.  I was thinking that Iíd much rather find a sleek, tough 38 to 40 grain bullet that would perform better.  Not that Iíd consider the project a total failure if I ended up using one of the 45ís to good effect.  But without accomplishing my trajectory goal, I couldnít consider it a total success, either.  If, on the other hand, I could get my hands on a lighter, tougher bullet, one that would penetrate without surface splash even when pushed to velocities in the neighborhood of 4300 fps, all the goals for the project will have been reached and I would consider it a complete success.

I thought something like a sleek bonded core 37 gr. bullet would be the hot ticket.  But... I'm wasnít going to hold my breath hoping to ever actually see one.  And I  suspected that even if someone did make a bonded core .20 caliber bullet, it would be a stubby 45 gr. with a low B.C., intended for people that want to shoot deer and the like with their .204 Rugers.  I thought that my most realistic hope, for the short term, would be a bullet made on a tougher jacket than the Berger or the Vmax etc.  One of the small custom makers, using drawn down .224 J4 jackets, or perhaps even .224 Sierra jackets.   Of course, I might find that even a bullet made on those jackets wouldnít take the velocity.  But I sure wanted a chance to find out, one way or the other!

So, I turned to the greatest resource available for solving problems like this Ė the great groups of guys that frequent the forums at Go Go Varmint Go and at Jim Saubierís small caliber forum.  I received a lot of great input and many generous offers of bullets to try.  In fact, I still have several types of bullet that were sent to me, that I simply have not been able to try on coyotes yet.  Including some custom 40 gr. bullets made on .224 J4 jackets and some custom 38 gr. bullets.  All Iíve been able to get done so far is work up accurate loads on the range with them.  Terminal performance is still unknown.  Itís entirely possible that Iíve got a winner just sitting here waiting to be tested. 

In addition to actual bullets to try, I also got some good advice.  Amongst the good ideas offered, was that I should call Don Unmussig.  It was suggested that he would be able to make me any kind of .20 caliber bullet I wanted. 

So I put in a call to Mr. Unmussig.  Sure enough, he could make me just about anything I wanted!  I described what I was trying to do and we discussed the possibilities.  The upshot of that phone call was the Mr. Unmussig agreed to make me up a special batch of .20 caliber, 38 gr. bullets.  They were to have boat tails of about .060, have long and sleek 9 caliber ogives, a short one caliber bearing surface and the tightest meplat he could put on them.  And made on .224 jackets.  As we planned them, these bullets should come close to the high BC of the plastic tipped bullets like the 40 gr. Vmax or 39 gr. Blitzking, have the accuracy potential of the Bergers, but be constructed to give better penetration than any of them.  In other words, pretty much exactly what I had been wishing for.  Don said I should see them in about 3 weeks.  I was stoked! 

While waiting for the new Unmussig bullets to arrive, I did some quick load work and then field testing with the Hornady 45 gr. bullet.  Itís kind of a chunky bullet, with a lower B.C. than the lighter plastic tips or Bergers, but the construction appears to be of a somewhat heavier design.  And the heavier weight equates to lower velocity, which further helps reduce the likelihood of surface splash and enhances penetration.  I had to try several different powders before I found a load that gave me the accuracy I wanted and the velocity I was expecting.  But once the right powder was tried, I quickly had 3 shot groups hovering around ĹĒ and a muzzle velocity of 4050 fps.  Plenty good enough to hunt with!  This is the first coyote I killed with the 45 Hornady at about 4050 fps:

The shot was about 50 yards, with the coyote facing me (my favorite kind of shot). The bullet hit him where the neck joins the chest (my favorite place to hit them), well centered. He spun around a couple times before going down, but it was obvious that he wasn't going anywhere. The Hornady made an entrance hole that was larger than caliber, maybe about the size of a dime, but no exit.  I got two more coyotes with the Hornady 45 gr., both very similar shots, about 75 yards, facing frontal.  Both of them were clean, instant kills.  Again no exit, again larger than caliber entrance (about 1Ē).  Three coyotes simply isnít enough to form any solid conclusions.  The next three might display miserable failures.  But, the Berger 40 failed miserably on exactly these kinds of hits Ė every time.  Based on my very limited experience, I think the Hornady 45 at 4050 fps is probably a solid, reliable coyote killing combination.  ButÖ the heavier weight (low velocity), and poor BC of this bullet combine to defeat the original trajectory goals for my .20-250 project.  So, while I consider the Hornady 45 a good potential "Plan B", and I may end up going with it when all is said and done, it's still not quite exactly what I'm after. 

Next, my newly designed Unmussig 38 gr. bullets arrived.  They looked awesome.  Using the fine JBM calculator, I conservatively estimated the B.C. at .260.  After getting a well educated second opinion and observing drop on target, I feel pretty good that this estimate is realistic.  The first load I tried with the Unmussig 38 gr. bullet, clocked 4310 fps and grouped under 1/2" for five shots.  A velocity of 4300+, combined with the good B.C. of .260, and plenty accurate enough for the application, there was no need for further load work.  Time to take them hunting.  Yippee!

Here is the first of two coyotes killed with this bullet on the first day: 

This was a little gyp, shot facing me from about 120 yards.  The bullet hit her spot on the money, right where the neck joins the chest.  Classic bang-flop. Dead before she hit the ground.  And a simply ferocious meat report. Tiny little spot of blood for an entrance (couldn't actually find the hole), no exit.  This is text book perfect bullet performance, in my book.

My partner Tim shot the second coyote.  A good sized, mature male.  He hit it while it was running towards us, at about 50 yards.  Shot it in the face, between the nose and left eye.  Instant lights out and a nicely acrobatic tumble.  You might not think a head shot like that is a good one to judge bullet performance by, but I think it is actually a pretty good test.  I've seen many coyotes hit in the face like that, not expire immediately, requiring follow up shots, due to the bullet totally disrupting on non-vital bone mass of the skull outside the brain pan. This bullet appeared to hold together long enough to penetrate significant heavy tissue and bone before scrambling the coyotes brain.

Unfortunately, Iíve only been able to shoot just a few more coyotes with the 38 gr. Unmussig since that first day.  Only a half dozen total.  A series of circumstances, including but not limited to family issues, work responsibilities, my partner Timís longest missing streak with a rifle of his life and last but not least the end of the í06 Ė í07 fur season, all combined to end my field testing for the year before I could kill enough coyotes with the 38 Unmussig to form any solid conclusions.  Of the next three coyotes I killed with this bullet, two were broadside, at about 60 yards and 130 yards Ė one dropped in his tracks, the other ran dead on his feet for about 15 yards before piling up.  Both had small entrance wounds and substantial exit wounds, about 2Ē or 3Ē.  I MUCH prefer to see that, compared to large, shallow entrance wounds and no exit.  The last one, was hit while running away, raked through the hips.  That first shot entered a ham at and angle, made a large entrance wound, broke the femur and did not exit.  A follow up shot took out the lungs and broke the far shoulder on exit. 

So, anyway... Only a few coyotes so far with the 38 Unmussig.  Certainly, too early to start celebrating.  But, so far, so good!  They have the B.C., they have the velocity, they have the accuracy.  So far, they also appear to have the desired construction to penetrate before disrupting, without ugly surface splash.  Things were looking pretty good!

ButÖ 

Fast forward to the start of the 2007 Ė 2008 seasonÖ  I still have not had the chance to do any further field testing with the 38 gr. Unmussig.  But, a friend in California, Gary Naymola, had himself a nice .20-250 built over the summer and ordered some of the 38ís from Mr. Unmussig.  Gary has now shot I think in the neighborhood of about 15 coyotes with this bullet.  More than twice as many as I have.  Heís reporting that on close shots, heís seeing significant surface splash and coyotes are not always being anchored cleanly when well hit.  Folks, I have to admit, I AM prone to the use of foul language once in awhile.  I wonít type it out, but go ahead and assume that Iíve just laid out an exquisitely descriptive string of phrases illustrating my disappointmentÖ 

Gary is getting a bit more velocity out of his barrel than I am out of mine.  And I believe the average size of the coyotes heís killing is a bit smaller than the average size of the ones Iíve got with the 38ís.  Small differences, perhaps they arenít really anything at all.  But they could start to explain why his results differ from mine.  Then again, I might find that if I go out and kill another dozen coyotes with these bullets that I start to see the same results as Gary.  Regardless, it does appear at this point that the hopes I had pinned on this bullet might now be dashed.  Time and more field testing will tell. 

I got an email from Gary just this week, and heís been killing a few coyotes with the Nosler 40 gr. Ballistic Tip, at about 4300 fps.  Itís generally accepted that the solid base of the B-tip allows it greater penetration than itís Vmax and Blitzking plastic tipped cousins.  Gary says heís only shot a few coyotes with them so far, but so far so good!  Once again, I have to confess that I have not even tried the plastic tips, out of a preconceived prejudice that they wonít provide sufficient penetration.  But, once again, itís entirely possible that Iím just wrong about that.  One of these days, Iím going to have to break down and go kill a few coyotes with the plastic tips and my .20-250 and just see for myself. 

And so it goes, and the quest continuesÖ  Iíve been in recent contact with a bullet maker.  This bullet maker is currently getting tooled up to make some new .20 caliber bullets, and my optimism that the quest will end with a nearly perfect bullet for my application is at an all time high!  Way back, at the very beginning of my project, my ďdreamĒ bullet was a sleek, 38 gr., bonded core bullet.  But I felt that really was just a pipe dream, unlikely to ever actually happen.  Well, I was wrong.  Itís happening!  This bullet maker has plans for just such a bullet!  It is still in the stages of setting up tooling etc., so itís not going to happen immediately.  ButÖ  the maker has given me enough details on the bullets planned to be offered (more than one!), that Iím virtually positive that one or more of them is going to be just exactly what my .20-250, and all the other extra large capacity .20 caliber coyote thumpers out there need.  Iím now anxiously awaiting pre-production samples of several different types to test.  Check back around the first of the new year for an update.

< Previous  Next >

Why the .20-250?
Why is flat trajectory so important?
Choosing an action, trigger and stock
Choosing a barrel
The scope
The Riflesmith
Loading dies & forming cases
Load work
Bullet performance issues
Final thoughts


Rocky Mountain Varmint Hunter


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