Picking an airgun caliber

by B.B. Pelletier

There are a lot of ways to approach this topic. I’ll try one I haven’t done before. I’m talking about the four common smallbore calibers – .177, .20, .22 and .25.

What is .177 caliber good for?
For starters, .177 caliber is the official caliber for world-cup and Olympic target competition. No other caliber is legal. I also explained why .177 is the only competitive caliber for field target, though any caliber can be used. Seventeen-caliber pellets are the least expensive, so if you plan to do a lot of general shooting and plinking, this is the caliber to get. Some airguns don’t give you a choice. The Umarex action pistols (Walther, Beretta,
Colt, Desert Eagle and S&W, for example, come only in .177. Crosman’s 1077 rifle, a 12-shot repeater, is also a .177 exclusive.

Is a BB the same as a .177?
No. Even though some manufacturers label their BB guns as .177 caliber (or 4.5mm), that is incorrect. A steel BB is 0.171″ to 0.173″ in diameter, so it is smaller than a .177 pellet. There are some guns designed to shoot both BBs and .177 pellets, but they are not very accurate with either one because of the compromise. Usually, the lead pellets are more accurate in these guns.

What is .20 caliber good for?
Twenty caliber, or five milimeter, as it is also known, is considered a compromise caliber between .177 and .22. It is really closer to .22 in performance, but the smaller size of the .20 offers no other advantage. In some airguns, because the .20 caliber pellets are lighter, they go faster; but .177 pellets go even faster in the same guns, so this is not an advantage. The Crosman Premier pellet, which weighs the same in either .20 or .22, is more efficient in .20 caliber by a small but measurable amount because it is longer and narrower than the same pellet in .22. Crosman pulled the plug on this pellet some time back. Rhough it is supposed to be in production again, they are very difficult to find.

What is .22 caliber good for?
Twenty-two is the best hunting caliber. Not only are the pellets heavier, they are also fatter, and that combination gives them better knockdown power. Powerful rifles like the Condor and the new AR6 give great performance in the field. The Condor also has a power adjustment wheel, so it can be instantly changed into a quiet plinking rifle.

What is .25 caliber good for?
Twenty-five caliber has never enjoyed the success of .22, though it sells because some shooters want the biggest they can get. The big .22s have the same power as the big .25s, plus the .25 caliber pellets are more expensive, so you really have to want this caliber to get it.

That’s my look at picking a caliber. Let me hear your thoughts.

49 thoughts on “Picking an airgun caliber

  1. Hi B.B.,

    I think you are dead on. For the majority of airgun shooters, .177 and .22 are the main choices, as .20 and .25 are not commonly availible. This is both a gun and an ammo perspective. Looking at .177 and .22, .177 will be the choice of plinkers and target shooters and .22 will be the choice of hunters.

    Of course, that doesn’t mean you cannot plink or target shoot with the .22 nor hunt with the .177. I’ve done both. .22 will target shoot/plink well.

    I’d encourage hunters to target shoot and plink with their .22′s – any time practicing with the gun will make you a better shot and that makes you a better hunter.

    You can hunt smaller game with .177, but you’ve got to be closer in and more careful with shot placement.

    I was going to say that to hunt with .177, you needed a fairly high power .177. But, after some thought, shot placement has a power all its own. All the power in the world doesn’t equate to a clean, humane kill if the shot placement stinks. Yet, as long as the shot placement is good, you can cleanly kill with a lower powered .177.


  2. kd5byb,

    You are absolutly right about the importance of shot placement. Ivory hunter Karamojo Bell killed more than 1,000 elephants with a .275 Rigby (common name – 7×57 Mauser).

    B.B.


  3. I’d add one comment about the distance of the shooting you enjoy.

    .22 also carries far more accuratly and with more punch in shooting past 75 yds.



  4. hey B.B. its the scope stop guy from yesterday. i own a Gamo 220 and with my previous scope, a light BSA 4×32, my scope stop never slipped. however now i have mounted a heavy leapers scope and the stop slips back with each shot. since there are no pin slots on the rail of the 220, is it at all possible to keep my scope from sliding?

    thanks, ScopeStop Guy


  5. ScopeStop Guy,

    If the dovetails don’t go to the back of the mainspring tube, you MIGHT get a good dovetail base to lock up at the extreme rear of the dovetails, where the cutting tool left the work. Sometimes that works.

    It’s harder to say than to do. Just slide the rear mount back until it (hopefully) stops. Then tighten it at that place.

    It works on the Tomahawk. I hope it will work for you.

    B.B.


  6. B.B.
    I am a novice airgunner and have an rws diana made in germany that i purchased used with a bushnell sportview 3x9x32 scope it is very accurate and shoots most pellets well my guestion is that u say the crossman premier pellet is not being produced anymore i found some at a local walmart in a tin container are these the same pellet thank you for a great article..


  7. BB,

    Wich pellets would be the best for the weihrauch hw97k in .22?

    I read that the hw97k pyramidair sells does 17 FP out of the box.So wich pellet would be the best in each of this area:

    1-Accuracy
    2-Hunting(accuracy too)
    3-the most cheapest accurate pellet
    for plinking
    5-POWER (most foot pounds)

    Thanks

    CF-X guy


  8. BB

    As a backyard/basement plinker my preference is the heavier thwack and smack of 22. Also, with older eyes and larger hands 22s are both easier to load and see.

    Ray Ck

    BTW Was the IZH62 ever sold in the US?


  9. BB,
    that was dead on. I have hunted with 17 caliber pellet rifles and it is mostly bullet placement not velocity. I think that 22 is the best out of the 4 cals myself.
    Good article BB.

    sav300


  10. DO YOU KNOW WHEN PYRAMID WILL GET THAT LAST ORDER FROM WEBLEY AND SCOTT? I’VE HAD A TOMAHAWK ON ORDER SINCE 3/21/06. I’VE SHOT ALOT OF PIGEONS AND STARLINGS WITH
    .177, 5MM AND .22 CAL PELLETS, ALL FROM POWERFUL SPRINGERS. I FIND NO
    DIFERENCE IN KILLING POWER WHEN THE SHOTS ARE PLACED CORRECT.


  11. DS,

    Really sorry about the delay. The shipment was held up in the UK. It’s on the ship now (confirmed this morning). We should be getting it in 3 weeks in our warehouse.

    Thank you
    PyramydAir



  12. BB,

    Wich pellets would be the best for the weihrauch hw97k in .22?

    I read that the hw97k pyramidair sells does 17 FP out of the box.So wich pellet would be the best in each of this area:

    1-Accuracy
    2-Hunting(accuracy too)
    3-the most cheapest accurate pellet
    for plinking

    Thanks

    CF-X guy


  13. B.B.
    I don’t know if this is the right venue to ask this question, so if it isn’t I apologize.

    I have very little experience with airguns other than when I was a kid and had one similar to a Crosman 664. A multi pump bb/pellet combo.

    I recently bought a house and was wanting something to get rid of pests under the porch and in the barn. I have a .22 rimfire, but I want something that isn’t that powerful.

    My question is wether anyone makes a multi shot, single pump, fairly accurate gun with enough power to eliminate pests for around $150 or less.

    I live in Michigan so I am not sure what all I have to do to order a .22 caliber pellet gun, but I would appreciate a recommendation. I prefer a scope and my longest shot would probably be about 30 yards.

    Thanks in advance.

    I really enjoy your blog too.
    Lynn


  14. Lynn,

    A muti-shot single stroke has never been made. If you really meant a spring piston gun, and not a single stroke pneumatic, then there are a few repeaters, but they do not hold a candle to the single shots.

    However, in Michigan there is a law prohibiting the purchase of airguns in calibers larger than .18.

    I don’t know the wording of this law but I do know that most reputable dealers will not ship .22 caliber airguns to Michigan.

    B.B.


  15. BB,

    The instructions just say to add rmoil to the quest 800. It does not say anything about cleaning it. Would cleaning it with the beeman zip kit be harmful?
    Do I follow the instructions given to me by the kit or do I seek for more wisdom? What should i get to clean the rifle?

    Would a Leapers 3-9x32mm Range Estimating A.O. Full Size Scope be good to add to the rifle? Should a buy scope mounts and not use the ones that came with previous scope came with?

    Cesar



  16. Cesar,

    Follow the instructions.

    Airguns don’t need cleaning except under certain circumstances, like leading. Do a search of this bloig to read past posts about cleaning airguns.

    I can recommend Leapers scopes for all applications. The model is up to the buyer. The rings have to fit the gun with that scope, so make sure they do when you buy them.

    B.B.


  17. B.B.
    Thanks for the reply.

    What I want is something that doesn’t take a lot of messing around to shoot. Back in the day my brother had a Crosman M16 style bb/pellet combo. It was fun to shoot because it was a single pump pnuematic bolt action repeater with bbs. It only had about 450 fps with bbs though which I now know isn’t enough power to do what I want.

    After reading a lot, I am leaning torward the 22SG. It looks like a pretty good deal for what I want to do. I called around this morning and I can buy it locally.

    What kind of groups could I expect out of a 22SG assuming that I do my part?

    Thanks again,
    Lynn


  18. “There are some guns designed to shoot both BBs and .177 pellets, but they are not very accurate with either one because of the compromise. Usually, the lead pellets are more accurate in these guns.”
    is this because there is no rifling? i know from your drozd post that bbs damage rifling, so it would make sense to me that combos would be smoothbore, and so less accurate than a rifled barrel


  19. I have a Remington AM77 that has a rifled steel barrel anonymous.

    Lynn

    Call around and try to find yourself a BENJAMIN 392. Yes, it is about 20 bucks more then the daisy 22SG, but i bet even bb will tell you that this rifle is worth more then that. The manufacturer claims groups of .5 inchs at 33 feet. BB laid them down .5 inchs at 60 feet. it also can push pellets out 100 FPS more then the 22sg. The bad thing about it is you wont be able to mount a scope without a Crosman B272 4-Piece Intermount 3/8″ Dove Tail addon. These pieces are from pyramid air.
    You can probably add on a Daisy 3x7x20 Air Rifle Scope for another 23.50, but we will see what BB has to say about that.

    The 22SG has gotten alot of great reviews. http://www.reviewcentre.com has 10+ good reviews on owners of the 22SG.

    DOKWATSON siad,”I replaced the 4X32 scope with a 3-12X40 with an AO, and after about 1500+ rounds through it I can get dime sized holes at 20 yards, and can hit paintballs 40 yards out, this is with daisy .22 flatheads.”

    A paintball is not very big.

    You probably wont get these results. Not all airguns are the same. Even if they are the same brand and model. Thats the sad part.

    If you can buy it locally and they have a good return policy I suggest you give it a shot. :)

    Im no airgun expert though. BB is :)


  20. BB,

    I know this is old but I never understood something.You say that the hw97k doent have a true beartrap safety.And that it could slip and slice your digits.How does the safety in the hw97k works?
    I know it blocks the trigger but I mean the whole sistem.Thanks.

    CF-X guy


  21. Lynn,

    You got a lot of answers to your question. The 22SG can hit a .68-caliber paintball at 20 yards every time if you do your part.

    The Benjamin is a better gun, not only for the power but also for the wood and metal construction.

    B.B.


  22. BB/pellet gun guy,

    No, the combo guns ARE rifled. They use a polygonal bore shape rather than lands and grooves to grab the bullet. H&K uses the same thing in their firearms and it works well for them because they have a dedicated bore size for bullets of one specific caliber..

    When shooting a BB, the almost-round bore doesn’t wear like the tops of rifling would – hence it works for both BBs and pellets – though not as good as a dedicated bore.

    B.B.


  23. BB,

    I know this is old but I never understood something.You say that the hw97k doent have a true beartrap safety.And that it could slip and slice your digits.How does the safety in the hw97k works?
    I know it blocks the trigger but I mean the whole sistem.Thanks.


  24. HW97,

    The safety and the anti-beartrap mechanism are two different things. The anti-beartrap prevents the trigger from being pulled when the sliding chamber is not all the way forward. The safety only blocks the trigger blade. The gun can fire independantly of either device if the sear slips.

    Remove the 97′s action from the stock and look at the sliding bar that connects the cocking lever to the trigger. That’s the anti-beartrap. You can see it doesn’t prevent the sliding chamber from moving in the same way that the ratchet mechanisms on the Diana 48 and the TX200, do.

    B.B.


  25. Empirical evidence shows me that for larger varmints like feral chickens, a .25 caliber is a more effective hunting size than a .22. In Hawaii, these pests are everywhere, tearing up lawns and flower beds. With my RWS 48 in .22, I could put ‘em down only if I hit them in the neck. A body shot was useless and inhumane. Then I got a Patriot in .25 and it was a whole new ball game. A feral rooster hit in the body with a Ram Point .25 is a terminated rooster who won’t get far away. Admittedly, a Patriot packs about 6 more foot pounds than a RWS, but my point is that real world experience indicates that a .25 is more effective than a .22 when used against a larger varmint. Tom


  26. Tom,

    You have a point. There are specific circumstances in which one caliber will shine above all others. However, the .25 is still number four on the popularity charts.

    B.B.


  27. B.B. & Cesarf25s

    I had to drive about 70 miles to get the Daisy 22SG. I would have gotten the 392, but I would have had to drive a lot farther.

    I have done very little shooting in the last several years. It is taking me a little bit to get back into shooting mode, but so far I am quite happy with the 22SG. Last night I had a 5 shot group at 20 yards of .87″. I knew one of the shots was bad as soon as I shot. If I discount that one, it was a 4 shot group of .56″ with 3 holes touching each other.

    I have tried Crosman Wadcutter and Pointed pellets. That was all I have been able to find in .22. Any recommendations on pellets to try if I was going to order a selection? I am thinking of Gamo Match, Daisy Max Precision Pointed, and Crosman Premier Domed. All based on info I have found here.

    Thanks to everyone for the help.
    Lynn


  28. Lynn,

    I would try Gamo Hunters (a little heavy), JSB Exact (heavy, too) and Crosman Premiers.

    I bet the JSBs are the best.

    B.B..


  29. lynn,

    That is really nice to hear. Please keep us updated to how good your daisy performs. Imagine what you could do with a stronger scope…

    Did you buy some pellgunoil or 3 in 1 oil for maintenance?

    Post your results on http://www.reviewcentre.com and on the daisy review posted by BB, Im sure alot of people would be glad to see that. It will help alot.


  30. I’ve got new Beeman Kodiak .22 and was wanting a .25 barrel to check out .25 cal’s performance.

    some say it’s not worth the trouble, some say for larger critters. it increases kill zone…

    what’s your take?



  31. I have a crosman quest in .22 I recently put a bsa 3-12+40 on it the oniy thing i have killed with it is a rabbit and some starlings do you think i would have better luck with it or with my gamo shadow with a 3-9+32 scope










  32. b.b my cousin has one of those in .20 that he paid $70 for so i could probably get it from him for like $50-$65 should i get it and what kind of range can i expect out of it.





  33. I have been shooting my Blue Streak for over 20 years – and it was used when I bought it! Sure, others have more power on paper, and a PCP is a lot more convenient…until it goes empty about 2 miles from your house or car!! I found so far my best results come from the Beeman Crow Magnum hollowpoint and the original Sheridan cylindricals. Both put squirrels and bunnies down quick out to 35 yds when I do my part. I scoped mine because of my old eyes using an intermount. It makes loading pellets tougher, but I like hitting what I aim at!


  34. Just curious…

    Any change in opinion on the .25 cal pellets vs .22 cal, now with the Sumatra 2500 500cc Reservoir by Eun Jin that's out now?

    The Crow Magnum (200 pellets for $9.33 in .25 cal vs $8.95 for .22 cal) & Kodiack EH ($8.87 .25 cal vs $7.99 in .22 cal) aren't THAT much more expensive & pack a noticeably bigger punch & WILL drop larger game with this gun.

    To me it looks like a promissing .25 cal PCP, & I can't wait to try one.

    Anybody have any experience &/or comments with or about it in .25 cal?

    - The BBA -


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