.177 is the most accurate caliber – NOT!
by B.B Pelletier
This old wives’ tale just won’t die! For some reason, many shooters think .177 caliber is more accurate than the other calibers. Let’s talk about it.
.177 is used in international competition
Yes, and it’s also used in the Olympics. You can’t shoot a caliber OTHER THAN .177 in any international or Olympic bullseye competition. All the target guns are made in .177 caliber ONLY. Doesn’t that mean that .177 is the most accurate caliber?
Not any more than the fact that in NASCAR all the drivers have to use cars that meet certain specifications. If a Formula One car or an Indy car tried to enter the race, they would be disqualified because EVERYTHING in a NASCAR race is geared to the specifications of the cars. Get it?
The reason .177 caliber is used exclusively in bullseye competition is that everything in the competition is geared to that caliber. All the measuring devices are calibrated to work with that caliber – though they no longer determine where shots strike with optical measuring equipment once you reach the national level.
Obviously, no airgun manufacturer is going to make a target gun in a caliber other than .177 because no one would buy it (because they can’t use it in competition). This is not a difficult concept to grasp.
“Yes, B.B., what you say is true TODAY, but back when the rules were being developed they surely took a look at all the calibers and selected the most accurate one.”
No, THEY didn’t, because there was no “THEY” to begin with. International competition grew out of European (read German) competition in the early 1960s, which had its start in Germany in the 1950s. And what THEY started with was what THEY had at the time, which was a long-standing tradition of using the .177 caliber. In England, at the same time, Webley was building .22-caliber target rifles called the Osprey and here in the U.S. we were shooting 25-foot target with the Crosman 160. Ever wonder why the target distance is 10 meters and not 10 YARDS? It’s that way because the international rules started in Europe.
What about field target?
Once again, .177 is the caliber of choice for this sport for a similar reason to bullseye competition. This time, the size of the pellet matters because it has to fit through a very small hole in the field target. The kill zone is crucial because when the pellet nicks the side of the hole while passing through to hit the paddle, it will lock the target and prevent it from falling. That costs a point, which can lose a match.
The kill zones of some field targets are as small as one-quarter inch, so the smallest pellet has the best chance of getting though untouched. If .14 caliber was available, .177 would lose its place in this sport.
The other calibers can be accurate, too!
I have seen .20 caliber rifles do well in field target. It depends more on who is behind the trigger than what comes out of the muzzle. And the Anschütz Hakim rifle is an example of a superbly accurate .22. Some of the PCPs in the larger calibers are so accurate that the groups they make are only larger than .177 because of the pellet diameter. The center-to-center spread remains the same as the smaller caliber.
Buy a .177 if that’s what you want. The pellets are less expensive, which is a nice advantage. I own more .177s than any other caliber, but I don’t think they are inherently more accurate. My “go-to” airguns are a Sheridan Blue Streak in .20 caliber and an AirForce Talon SS in .22.