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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.

Tough targets
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.

author avatar
Tom Gaylord (B.B. Pelletier)
Tom Gaylord, also known as B.B. Pelletier, provides expert insights to airgunners all over the world on behalf of Pyramyd AIR. He has earned the title The Godfather of Airguns™ for his contributions to the industry, spending many years with AirForce Airguns and starting magazines dedicated to the sport such as Airgun Illustrated.

24 thoughts on “Why is .177 the only caliber for field target?”

  1. BB,

    Now I understand!!!!!!!!

    But does this mean that in another tipe of competition that caliber size doesnt matter,can a .22 cal be as accurate as a .177?
    or will the .177 will always have an advantage in accuracy?

    CF-X guy

  2. BB,

    Also I would like to know what technic is needed to shoot the hw97k accurately.I ask because my cf-x likes a hard grip but I ant to know about the technic for the hw97k.

    CF-X guy

  3. It will be difficult to hit a 17 yard target when zeroed for 20 to 35 because the flight of the pellet will either be above or below the aim point depending on the height of the scope above the bore axis and the trajectory of the pellet.

  4. Bill,

    Bingo! That’s it.

    There are two techniques for dealing with this problem, and it is a BIG problem if the kill zones are very small. Between 10 and 20 yards, the pellet is climbing up to meet the aim point, so we can either hold the aim point over the kill zone by the appropriate amount for the distance to the target, or we can adjust the elevation reticle in the scope.

    I will do a posting or two on these two techniques in a little bit.

    Thanks for playing along!


  5. BB,
    have you done some tests or know about crosmans domed pellets? Also will the PCPs ever reach the $200 range or remain in the upper $300 and higher range? Hey have you done a report on a PCP compared to a springer? If not that might be a good one.

  6. sav300,

    Use the search feature on the blog home page to see all the pellets I have reviewed. I have do0ne Premiers, the Crosman model for all their domed pellets, a bunch of times.

    As for $200 PCPs, I don’t know. To build them that cheap, they will have to cost about $25 in materials. The Chinese can do it, but both their barrels and their seals are garbage. Just the barrel of a quality PCP costs more than that when you buy 500 at a time!


  7. I am new to air soft, but am haveing a ball. Big question. Is there sucha thing as “Red Gas” Some dealers say red is really green in wolfs clothing while others say Red GAs is for real and if your gas gun isent set up to takeit, it can destroy your gun Then theres the gas specially for the Japanese guns. What gives??? Then there is the TM made propane adaptor with special oil for lube.

  8. BB,
    Do you know how to make a PCP? I have all the pieces I need, but I am not sure how to connect this and that. I have everything down to the trigger and stock. I just need a lay out of one and I’m sure I could make it. Although I’m not sure about making the action. That is my main focus for making one and also I don’t have enough parts to mess up. If you have any info let me know.

  9. BB,
    I forgot to ask, do you know of a way to change a blued barrel and action into a silver one? I have a gun that I am giong t customize and would like it to be silver insted of blue.I prefer it to be a do it yourself deal insted of sending it off to get it done.

  10. Oh yeah from two post down it’s sad about the number game at wally world I wonder if this trend will pass to other companies. I hope not and I also hope more people get into this sport/hobby in the future see you around guys


  11. The other advantage of .177 pellets for FT is related ballistics. Since there is a power limit of 20fpe for FT at most courses, this means that a .177 pellet can go 900fps or even a bit faster and stay under the limit. For a .22, the speed will be quite a bit less because the pellets are heavier.

    Thus, the ballistics will be such that the .22 will be far more affected by wind and the hold-over or clicking will be far greater.



  12. BTW, anyone wanting to try out FT can go to any club sponsoring matches. My club DIFTA has matches once-per-month and the next one is May 20.

    Novice shooters are welcome at all clubs and, given enough notice, we can arrange for a loaner gun if necessary.

    Joe McDaniel
    DIFTA Match Director

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