By B.B. Pelletier
There are two other smallbore pellet calibers, but in terms of sales and recognition, .177 vs .22 are the major ones. For three-quarters of a century, .22 was the sales leader in America, while .177 lead in Europe nearly all that time. In the 1970s, when many British and European models started being imported to this country in large numbers, the preference for .177 came along with them and now the U.S. is in line with the rest of the airgun world. But newcomers often ask, “What are the significant differences between these two calibers, and why should I care?”
In any airgun, .22 is always more powerful
This is true irrespective of the type of powerplant, length of barrel or anything else. Twenty-two delivers about 20% more punch in any given airgun. The technical specifications for the Air Arms Pro Sport illustrate that. Instead of giving velocities for the guns, Pyramyd gives the muzzle energy, allowing you to clearly see the difference in power.
The same difference holds true for all other models of air rifles and pistols. When the velocity is given, the .22 is always slower, but we should not fail to appreciate that it shoots a pellet weighing twice as much. That’s where the extra power comes from.
Accuracy is the same for both calibers – sometimes!
This fact is not as clear as the power issue. You see, sometimes a manufacturer will use a barrel of different quality for one caliber. For example, sometimes a 12-groove barrel will be used for a .177 while a six-groove barrel is used for the .22-caliber barrel in the same gun. There is no inherent accuracy advantage for any particular number of grooves – just the fact that the barrels are made differently allows for the possibility that one will be more accurate than the other.
.177 is the caliber for 10-meter target guns – period!
Only .177 is the caliber accepted by all international 10-meter shooting organizations. That means all target guns are made in that caliber and no other. The extra care given to the construction of target guns ensures that .177 target airguns are the most accurate. There are no .22-caliber equivalents.
.22 caliber dominates the hunting scene
While it is possible to hunt with a .177, .22 caliber is by far the favorite. Sometimes, a .177 pellet will pass through the game animal without doing enough severe damage to stop the animal. Hunters who have had their quarry run away after a solid hit often switch to .22 immediately thereafter.
Even a .22 pellet is no guarantee of a humane kill. The pellet still has to hit a vital spot, and even then there may be some running or thrashing after the hit – but hunters notice a decided advantage when they use .22 caliber.
.177 pellets are cheaper
There is a big advantage to the smaller caliber here. Not only are there more pellets to choose from in .177, they also come more to a box and cost a significant amount less. Look at Crosman Premiers in .177 compared to Premiers in .22 for a comparison. If you look at the pellet count per box, you’ll see that you get exactly twice as many .177s as .22s for the same price. That’s a dramatic example, for sure, because the usual price difference is more like 30%, or so. If you plan on doing a lot of target shooting and general plinking, .177 is your best bet.
I hope this short discussion helps some people make the choice between calibers. In the end, of course, either caliber can satisfy most shooting needs.
This report was written in 2005. How pertinent is it in 2022, 17 years later? Well, .177 caliber is still the most popular caliber. And .22 caliber still does hit with more energy than .177 in any given airgun. But there have been advances in pellet design that make the .177 a better pellet for hunting. These are different designs of hollowpoint that expand in game better. The airguns have also shifted in the past 17 years so far more shooters are shooting precharged pneumatics (PCP) that are more powerful (faster)and that helps the .177 do a better job farther from the muzzle.
The .22 caliber pellets have also advanced and PCPs have pushed them up close to the .22 long rifle power. They still use diabolo pellets that don’t carry as far, but in both calibers there are now slug pellets (no wasp waist and hollow tail) that take advantage of the more powerful PCP technology.
In short, the hobby of airguns is advancing in both the guns and ammunition.