Pellet calibers — why .22?: Part 3

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

diabolo pellet
The diabolo pellet exists in four smallbore calibers.

Part 1
Part 2

This report covers:

  • History
  • Huge deal!
  • Application
  • Hunting
  • Drawbacks
  • However
  • Summary

The .22 pellet was the most popular caliber in the United States for many decades in the early 20th century. We haven’t looked at this series for a few months, and today we examine the .22 pellet, which is just as important as the .177 — if not as popular.

History

The .22 caliber pellet was brought out and developed about the same time as the .177, which was just after the start of the 20th century. It was called the number 2 load in the United Kingdom, and their airguns from that timeframe are marked that way — not with .22 caliber. It took a little while for the .22 to gain traction in America, but once it did it displaced the .177 until sometime in the late 1960s.

If the BSA spring-piston guns had been as popular in the US as they were in the UK the .22 would have caught on faster, but nobody imported them in any numbers until the 1930s. By then the American pellet gun makers Benjamin and Crosman were solidly on board and the .22 dominated the .177 in all their airguns. The .25 was scarcely ever seen in the U.S., though a few were made here.

From the 1920s until the end of the 1960s the .22 pellet dominated the American airgun scene. There were .177 airguns from all makers, but the sales were low in comparison to the .22. I see 10 Crosman .22-caliber 101 pneumatics for every one .177 model 100. And the model 104 repeater (.177) is as rare as can be, while the 102 (.22) is seen quite often.

Huge deal!

Probably one thing that led to the .22 pellet’s popularity in the United States was that it shared a caliber designation with the .22 rimfire cartridge. Shooters were already very familiar with .22 rimfire and the fact that the .22 caliber pellet sounded the same gave them a lot of confidence. The thing is — the .22 caliber pellet IS NOT a true .22 caliber! It’s really .218 caliber.

This is no big deal because all pellet and airgun manufacturers know that, and everything they make fits. Call these pellets what you want, the industry knows the specifications. Over the years there have been some anomalies, like BSA guns that needed 5.56mm pellets, but some British pellet manufacturers like Eley accommodated them and everything was fine. Until now!

Today it seems that many of the people in the airgun industry do not have shooting backgrounds and mistakes are sometimes made. I have seen airguns made with .22 rimfire barrels. They don’t work! I’ve seen people buy .22 rimfire barrels and turn them down in a lathe to fit in a pellet rifle and then discover there is no accuracy. I’ve seen people try to shoot .22 pellets from .22 rimfire rifles and from AR-15 barrels which is even worse, because they are larger! I have seen people learn some costly lessons.

So yes — knowing the true size of the .22 pellet is a big deal. And then you have to apply it. This is why shooting pellets from special cartridges that allow primers to be used as propellant doesn’t work so well. The bores of the guns they are shot in (like the AR-15) just aren’t sized correctly for the projectile they are trying to shoot.

Application

The .177/4.5mm pellet dominates the airgun world because it is either mandated for some uses like target shooting or it is highly favored for other endeavors like field target and silhouette, not to mention many other competitions for reasons of its size and its velocity.

In contrast, there are no exclusive shooting events for the .22. Unless someone specifies shooting only .22, there is no good reason to do so. However, there is one popular application that the .22 pellet excels at — hunting!

Hunting

In B.B. Pelletier’s opinion, the .22-caliber pellet is the best hunting projectile that exists for airguns. It hits harder than .177 or .20 and it shoots flatter than a .25. Of course in saying all of that a great many different airguns must be taken into account. One airgun can’t do it all.

The thing a .22 does is open up a large wound channel in a game animal. One of the drawbacks of the hyper-velocity .177s is they tend to “acupuncture” their victims. The wound channel left by the pellet will close after the pellet passes through. Domed and pointed pellets cause this the most. Wadcutters and hollowpoints tend to do it less, but as the velocity increases the .177-caliber pellet tends to close the wound channel more with all types of pellets, in my experience.

Now, .22 pellets don’t do that, at least in my experience. So you get a good bleedout, which is the main way that pellets kill, unless there is a brain shot. However, I don’t have that much experience hunting with .22 pellets going faster than 1,000 f.p.s. because they haven’t been able to do that until recently. Today, though, there is no problem getting them going that fast and even faster. I think that gives the hollowpoint pellets a big advantage!

Drawbacks

In a word — lead is the biggest drawback to the .22. Twenty-two caliber pellets use a lot of it and nowadays lead is getting pricy. Of course there is more to it than just the material they are made from, but if you look, you’ll see that lead pellets don’t often come in tins of 500 anymore. Where .177 pellets come in tins of 400 and 500, .22 pellets are offered with half that many in the tin. Oddly (or not) that number, one-half, relates closely to how much lead is in pellets of each caliber.

However

If you are in a quandary of choosing between .22 and .25 consider this. There are a great many more pellets made in .22 caliber, and that fact alone offers you greater choice. For years I have recommended getting the powerful pellet rifle in .22 instead of .25 for that reason, above all others. The .25 is coming into its own and, just because it is a bigger number, it’s attracting a lot of attention. But an accurate .22 pellet in the right airgun will do everything that’s needed from a hunting pellet.

Summary

After the huge writeup I gave the .177 pellet I’m sure you expected equal time for the .22. The truth is, the .22 is the second most popular pellet caliber but .177 is so far ahead that the .22 is in the dust. It is, however, my favorite caliber, all things considered.

96 thoughts on “Pellet calibers — why .22?: Part 3


  1. B.B.,

    .22 caliber pellets might be cheaper to buy and more suitable for certain types of small game hunting but .177 is king for short range indoor/inside Pesting. But hunting for what prey? .22 caliber has the greatest number of HUNTING pellets to chose from because that is driven by laws in most other countries limiting power and/or velocities if not flat out limits on caliber!

    If I was a hunter that could only own one gun it would be a PCP in .25 caliber because of sectional density/BC and the fact that with proper shot placement some substantial food source game becomes possible. Bullet(slug) performance appears (at least until this point to be better once you have reached or exceeded .25 caliber for the same Balistics facts.

    But then I hunt with PCPs as big as .58 caliber to be humane in my hunting.

    shootski


    • Now Shootski,

      Do you not think .58 is a little large for squirrels? Yes, spreading him over a 1/4 acre with one shot is likely more humane than punching a hole through his ribs the size of his heart, but you do not have much left for dinner.


    • Shootski, A mini ball @ 1350 fps needs no hollow point on a chipmunk. The hollow point must be cast in front, function of the casting process.A minnie ball with a hollow base, has to be made another way, right?
      Out of a rifled shotgun, I have read they are very accurate. Minute of chipmunk?
      Rob


  2. BB,

    Most of the old gals living here at RRHFWA are .177, with the exception of the Webleys, which are .22. When it comes to my “hunting” air rifles, they are all .22 or larger. I want energy down range. Also, though it is quite limited, my experience is the accuracy of the .177 falls apart quickly at longer ranges.

    Now that I have said that, someone will claim their Super Slugger 5000 will put 10 .177 wadcutters in a 1/2 inch group at 437 yards and killed a bear with it at 723 yards. OK fine.


  3. BB,

    The rate the slug industry is going,… there might be more .25 slug options now than .25 pellet options.

    Kind of off topic,… there is a guy on GTA that is taking a razor blade to the top of hollow point slugs. Slight tap with a hammer. Of course the “petals” start to move out when doing this. He tried several methods to re-close the slug. In the end, I think he made a mold from liquid steel epoxy of a new slug and then put the worked slug in that to re-close it.

    Bottom line, the slugs opened up ((beautifully)) into full petals just like some of the specialized firearm bullets do.

    Chris



      • RR,

        I was a casual observer to the thread. In the end, he got them to return to normal very nicely. The cuts were rather deep,…. like 1/4 to 1/3 of the way through the height of the slug or something like that. Probably down to the bottom of the hollow point cavity I imagine. Bottom line,.. the end result was pure perfection with regards to the ideal flower petal expansion.

        Chris


      • RidgeRunner,

        Seth, Black Hog Down, and I went back and forth some years back on polymer tipped lead bullets(slugs) at that time accuracy on the bullets got worse and terminal performance was not observably improved. Perhaps with a harder alloy? Dead soft lead expands reliably after impact and doesn’t fragment nearly as much. I would much rather dig out one intact deformed hunk of lead then ruin a bunch of meat hunting for lead and plastic fragments. Just my opinion.

        shootski


    • Chris USA,

      I wonder when they started opening? 1,050 FPS is close to 716 mph. I can still vividly remember my first flight in an open cockpit airplane doing all of 130 mph, being new and dumb, doing the right down there point!!! My arm has never moved so quickly ever again.
      I can’t imagine a Lead hollow point projectile cut that deeply not coming apart.
      But then he may have swaged the cuts closed back together with enough force?

      Just seems like a great deal of work requiring utmost precision for minimal gain.

      shootski


      • Shootski,

        He had pics of all his test. Some peeled full back, still intact. Some did loose a petal or two. Most were a full flat, fan out. That is pretty good for the effort. He was working on a jig to make it faster. I do not recall what medium he was shooting into. They may have varied as well.

        The depth of cut would affect peel back. Nothing special to re-close was done other that what I mentioned ( liquid steel cavity copy from a new slug).

        Just thought I would bring it up since we were on pellets today.

        Chris


  4. BB,

    A little off topic myself. I was glad to “hear” that the prestigious FX Airguns is building air rifles offered in .357 now. We will likely see more pellet choices in that caliber soon.


  5. Also, looks like there is a replica No.1 Mk3 SMLE (Short Magazine Lee Enfield) bolt action, wood stocked, CO2, BB rifle due to come out this month. It just keeps getting better. Make that Feb, but we all know how that really works out ….. What year? Hope they remember to leave off the orange barrel tip after the airsoft conversion.
    Bob M



      • I recall they took awhile to bring it to market… perhaps a few years of development. Most reviews (British) seemed to praise the finished product. But even then, it seems like the production run was just a few thousand units.

        Interesting they would plan for so little. Unless, they were unsure of the market? I hope the quick sell-out in 2018/2019 convinced them to scale up manufacturing. Would like to see this one become available.in the U.S.

        StarboardRower


  6. B.B.

    2 Pellet brands that you hear about in the UK, not not in the USA are Accupell and Bisley. What information do you have about them?
    Do they make their own pellets? Is it a similar arrangement like the Air Arms pellets? Are they any good and how can you get some?

    Thanks,

    -Yogi


  7. I will add that I greatly prefer to handle the .22 pellets over the smaller .177 pellets, especially when loading a single shot gun. The slightly larger size is just so much easier to handle, and even see if I don’t happen to have a pair of safety glasses with the built in cheaters handy.

    Obviously the .25 caliber is even more so, but the vast majority of the benefit comes from the walk from .177 up to .22 caliber.

    Alan



  8. B.B.,

    The Hatsan 135 QE shoots .22 pellets at a cracking 1000 fps and .25 pellets at 750 fps. How mangled and expanded would the .22 pellet be? Would it exceed the diameter of the .25 pellet fired with a muzzle velocity of 750 fps? I think the .22 would have at least as much effect, plus its flatter trajectory, etc.

    Michael


    • Michael,

      Pellet performance (expansion) depends mostly on the pellet design – presuming it is shot at “normal’ velocities.

      I have tried a couple of expanding pellets (no polymags, too expensive and I don’t care for two-piece pellets) and can say that after a season of testing, pesting and hunting that I am very impressed with the performance of the .22 caliber 15.89 g JSB Hades.

      The Hades, shot from my Maximus (750 fps), HW100 (880 fps) and FX Impact (950 fps) have shown excellent energy transfer (better than regular domed JSB 15.89 pellets) and good expansion. Haven’t found any pellets from the Maximus or the Impact but from the HW100 I have recovered several pellets from squirrels (head shots at 35-45 yards) that measured .250 to .280 across the widest dimension and retained almost all of their weight.

      Haven’t tried the .25 caliber Hades in my FX Royale but the regular domed pellets (about 875 fps) that I have recovered from groundhogs have not shown any expansion.

      …FWIW, Just what I have observed.

      Hank


      • Hank,

        As the Depeche Mopde song goes, “Everything counts in large amounts.” Pellet shape, velocity, softness (lead content vs antimony content) and so on. All make a difference.

        But yes, hollowpoint vs. whatever. How about a pure lead .22 hollowpoint of 16 grains traveling 33% faster than a pure lead .25 hollowpoint of 24 grains? One would likely penetrate more, but what about the splatology? Which would provide greater effective range?

        Calls for an experiment! (See LFranke, below.)

        Michael


        • Hmmm, would be interesting, this kinda goes with my plans for next season.

          To be able to draw any conclusions between different calibers there would have to be some common factors.

          To be fair, both rifles would need to be tuned to the same energy level and the pellets should be the same weight.

          At close range, testing for penetration, it would be a surface area vs inertia battle.

          At long range, testing for penetration, it would be an energy retention contest where the BC could be the deciding factor.

          Going by gut-feel, I would say that the .25 would win at close range and the .22 at long range.

          This spring I will be setting up my Impact for long range shooting (75-125 yards) and will be testing 25 g JSB Monster Redesign pellets and slugs in the same weight range. Might be a good time to take out my .25 Royale and do some comparisons.

          IMHO, effective range is determined by accuracy more than power. Most air guns (over 11 fpe) are capable of taking small game out to 50 – 60 yards IF you can hit a vital spot. 🙂

          Hank


    • I own an Hatsan 135 converted to gas ram in .25. After finding out that the oversize .25 bore only shoots accurately with the JSB Exact King Monster II or H&N Baracudas made after February 2015, I tested them on my modeling school “brick” made from clay usually found in elementary school class rooms.

      The cavity formed in the modeling clay by the .25 at 750 fps is impressively bigger than any of my .22 break barrel magnums. The mass of the JSB Exact Kings at 33.95 gr. even “poking along” at 750 fps makes for deep and wide cratering that is larger than any of my .22’s moving along about 100 fps faster.

      I have, in fact, had to turn my modeling clay “brick” so that I shoot the small square end to get enough depth to stop the .25 caliber pellets which, otherwise shoot completely through the 3.5″ of clay on the long rectangular sides. Remember this is just about the size and proportions of a standard building brick.

      So, based on this rather scant “testing,” unless the .22 was markedly faster than my RWS 34 or RWS 340 or Crosman Nitro Venom Dusk, the .25 delivers Point Of Impact energy that out measures that of the usual .22 air arm.

      Hope this help in the discussion. Maybe someone with a much higher velocity .22 could make a better impact comparison between the two calibers?


  9. This is a good one for the fence-sitters like me to help decide what caliber and type airgun to get, aiming for a “keeper.” So for FM, it will be highly likely a .22 and the ASP-20. Of course, it will also boil down to the laws of availability, supply and economics. One can always be persuaded to try an alternative, such as happened to a young ‘un back in summer ’68 who got tired of waiting for his Fiat 850 Spyder, delivery being held up thanks to a lengthy strike by Italian dock workers. After 3 months’ waiting the exasperated teenager asked the car dealer to suggest an alternative and off he drove in his red ’68 MG “Spridget.” For the next 50+ years it was all British sports cars, no regrets. Again, sometimes that alternative you had not considered is the right one.


    • FawltyManuel,

      You reminded me of a comment by Ken Norton (as I recall, but it could be apocryphal). He said getting punched by Muhammad Ali was like getting hit by a Ferrari going 160 milers per hour. Getting punched by George Foreman was like getting hit by a bus going 90 miles per hour, and getting punched by Earnie Shavers was like getting hit by a cement truck going 70 miles per hour.

      Michael


  10. I’m not so sure that the day hasn’t arrived or will soon arrive that will allow “One airgun to do it all”.

    I say this for several reasons:

    1-MODULARITY. No question that AirForce opened the door to a modular airgun platform that allowed a variety of adjustments for power and caliber. With the blizzard of recent airgun introductions, modularity and EASE of adjustability has been taken to a whole new level. Regulator pressure adjustment, swapping barrels/calibers, ease of using a barrel liner with different twist rates, Plenum upgrades/options, Hammer spring adjustment/replacement, etc., etc. have become blink of an eye changes that can be made to one airgun.

    2-SLUGS. The recent introduction of slugs, especially in .22 caliber, are providing shooters with a broad range of foot pounds and long range accuracy. Combined with being able to easily adjust your gun to shoot a variety of pellets and slugs covers the spectrum of shooting. I’m seeing slugs sold from 17.5 gr to 34 gr and may even have missed others. These slug offerings come from H & N, NSA, Javelin, JSB, Daystate, FX and others in a variety of sizes like .216, .217, .218, etc.





        • Yogi,

          I spent the summer tinkering with my Impact (.22 caliber, 700 mm barrel MKII with the Power Plenum) and can say that the rifle is exceptionally accurate WHEN PROPERLY TUNED.

          The biggest problem with rifles that have readily accessible tuning is that people (who don’t understand what they are doing) start messing with things they shouldn’t touch. From experimenting, I know that a 1/8 turn of the valve dwell can double the group size. The flip side is that with this sort of sensitivity, you can really fine tune the rifle to the harmonics of the power/pellet/barrel – which a fun thing to play with all by itself 🙂

          My Impact, straight from the factory the rifle was (easily) shooting 1/2 inch groups @ 50 yards with 18 g JSB pellets in spite of me. It took me a while to get used to the bullpup design as it is more sensitive than the traditional rifles I prefer.

          I’ve been doing my testing and tuning at 40 yards – far enough to see variance, close enough that I don’t (negatively) influence the results too badly 🙂 That and 40 yards (plus or minus 10 yards) is typical of my hunting range.

          Because I hunt/pest a lot of the time, I am more interested in the difference between the POA and the POI than I am about the overall group size across 5 or 10 shot groups. I shoot multiple small groups (3 shots per target) so I can see/measure each pellet hole relative to the POA as higher shot counts result in a single hole that has me guessing where the hits are. Occasionally, I superimpose multiple groups if I really want to see how a “normal” group looks.

          The picture below is from my current tune, from a bench at 40 yards. From one magazine (28 pellets) discounting the one “Xed” shot where I bumped the trigger, 6 shots are within 3/8″ of the POA and 21 shots are 1/4″ or less with about 12 of those that are under 1/8″. (FWIW, I marked the size of the 3 shot group because a friend asked me to add it for reference). I would call that accurate. Now to start extending my range and improving my focus.

          A babbling aside, from my experience, if you see an FX rifle that is not accurate it is likely that needs cleaning and/or a proper tuning to that pellet. I would expect that of the thousands made that there are some bad ones out there (there always are) but that they are the exception rather that the rule.

          Lousy weather outside – bet you can tell eh? 😉

          Cheers,
          Hank


          • Glad that she is accurate. If the Darkside is going to tempt me it had better be 1 MOA> @ 100 yards. No wind, I’m ON, my springer can do that at 50.
            Once you have her shooting “just right”, how long does it stay that way?

            -Y


            • Once you have her shooting “just right”, how long does it stay that way?

              …Usually until I start messing with it again 😉

              I am settled on my pellet choice/tune and plan on some serious practicing, extending my range 5 yards at a time to see where I reach my maximum effective range.

              Though I intend to use the Impact as a (long range) pellet gun, next summer I am going to start experimenting with slugs.

              H


          • Hank

            Your advice about readily accessible tuning adjustments may be good for me to think on. My BB’s golden gun is still grouping from .52 to .54 inches at 25 yards 10 shot groups rested. I have never experienced consistency like this with anything I shoot and this is a pistol! Think I should cancel any thoughts I had about turning up the hammer spring tension and trying for serious distance at a rifle range. As long as I get this level of accuracy I should just leave the adjustments as is.

            Thanks.

            Deck


            • Agreed Deck!

              If there is no compelling reason to “fix” something that is not broken then it is probably best left alone!

              Just to see “what if” gets me in more trouble than I want to admit to 🙂

              H





              • Chris,

                As I said earlier, for a PCP to tempt me it had better be able to shoot one MOA or less, alot less, @100 yards.
                Longest distance in FT is 55 yards. Mos tof my hunting is in the 25-45 range. Target shooting even less.
                I don’t have the “Wide Open Spaces” that you guys have……

                -Y


                • Yogi,

                  Even in the BEST of PCP land,… that is a pretty tall order. You sound to be well suited to the usual 25-45 yard range for springers. That is quite respectable for a springer. I had a TX200 and LGU,… so I am speaking from some experience. Sold them both,… kind of wish I still had them,… but sold them both to get into PCP’s. No regrets.

                  I always admire your firm stance in defense of springers. Really,… I do.

                  Chris


    • Kevin,

      I agree.
      I will add to what Hank said that the addition of .30 caliber in the PCP lines of those modular rifles gets you into the bottom of Big Bore range of performance without needing a dedicated and optimized Big Bore.

      shootski


  11. Different calibers are like having different tools for a job that needs done.

    What I have found with .177, .22 and .25 caliber is that they all can cross over and do a job at hand.

    What needs to happen is a person needs to do some testing to understand what a particular gun can do in a particular caliber with different pellets.

    Here’s what I say. Don’t judge until you tried. I’m sure that there will be some surprised people if they actually do.

    I always hate when somebody assumes. And I’m sure most people already know where that all goes.



    • Shootski,

      Thanks! This looks to be a good article. I myself do have issues with gut shooting animals. I much prefer the brain. If that is not possible, the spinal column of the neck or the point right above the shoulders, also in the spinal column. They do not run. They are dead.

      Just so you know and hope you are not offended, back when I was eighteen I shot two deer in the body. One went about 50 yards and was quite dead when I got to it, but the other dropped right where I shot it, but was still alive when I got to it. That bothers me. If I cannot do a clean kill, I do not pull the trigger.



        • Chris,

          I am one of those who can’t stand to see an animal suffering. I have shot quite a few deer in my time. Those are the only ones I have gut shot. I have shot hundreds of groundhogs over the years. All were head shots.

          I would rather miss than see an animal die slowly.




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