Why is .177 the only caliber for field target?
by B.B. Pelletier
This question was asked by CF-X guy, but I hear it all the time from new airgunners. Let's take a look at why the sport of field target is suited only to .177 caliber.
You CAN shoot other calibers!
Field target is governed by the American Airgun Field Target Association (AAFTA). You can read the rules on their website. There are no caliber restrictions, so .22 caliber is okay to use. I used to shoot next to a lady who used a Falcon ultra-lightweight rifle in .22 caliber, and she did very well. Beat me several times as I recall. However, just because you can use a .22, doesn't mean it can win. In fact, on most days, it can't.
Understanding a field target
A field target is a sillhouette of an animal (usually) with one or more kill zones, which are holes through the steel target. Behind each hole there is a trigger called a paddle. The paddle has to be hit for the target to fall. If the target face is hit, it pushes the target back and the trigger (paddle) holds it firmly in place. Unlike the sport of airgun silhouette, hitting the field target in any place except the kill zone does not get you a point. The target must fall to get a point.
This Gamo field target has a large kill zone typical of the easier targets on a course.
These airgun silhouettes can be hit anywhere for a score, as long as they are knocked off their stands. They are not field targets.
The subtle difference in field target
Unlike other shooting sports, where a hit close to the bull counts for something, in field target it often counts for NOTHING! Here's why. If the pellet happens to hit the side of the kill zone hole as it tries to pass through, it pushes the whole target back against the trigger - locking it in position even harder. At that moment, if a piece of the now-shattered pellet happens to hit the paddle, it may not have enough energy left to overcome the locked-up trigger of the target. This is called a split (meaning the pellet has split on the side of the kill zone) and it is the bane of every field target shooter.
The kill zone hole can be as small as one-quarter-inch in diameter. That is so close to the diameter of a pellet that it matters whether you shoot a small pellet or a large one. Remember, the trick is to get through the hole without touching the side. Just touching it doesn't matter, but if enough of your pellet touches that it transfers enough energy to the target to lock the paddle, the target won't fall and you will lose a point! A .177 pellet has a greater chance of getting through a small hole without touching the side than a larger pellet. Field target is a game of percentages, as well as a game of marksmanship.
A dime is 0.705" in diameter. The 3/8" hole is a lot smaller. Try to shoot through the hole without touching the side. That's field target!
Believe me, a 1/4" kill zone is hard to hit. Even a 3/8" hole is hard. When a target with a small kill zone is positioned at 17 yards (a TERRIBLE distance for a gun that's zeroed for 20 to 35 yards - can anyone tell me why?), it represents a challenge that takes a master marksman to overcome. I have seen SWAT team snipers fall apart on targets like these!
That is the reason .177 is the only caliber for field target. Every year, new shooters come out with their .20s and their .22s and, if they shoot the entire season, they become experts in why the .177 is the way to go.