The differences between .177 and .22 — and which jobs they do best: Updated 2021
This report covers:
- This report covers:
- Four smallbore calibers
- In any airgun .22 is always more powerful
- Accuracy is the same for both calibers – sometimes!
- .177 is the caliber for 10-meter target guns – period!
- .22 caliber dominates the hunting scene
- .177 pellets are cheaper
- .22-caliber pellets are easier to handle
This blog is read by hundreds of thousands of people around the world. When they are new to airgunning they usually land here first, or very soon after they start searching the internet for information on airguns. And some of these blog reports are found way more often than others. This is one of those reports.
We are seeing a huge influx of new airgunners in the United States. They are coming over primarily from the world of firearms, either because they can’t find ammunition or they don’t want to pay the high prices. And this has happened at the time when the technology of airguns has exploded! Ten years ago it was a real feat to shoot 10 pellets into a one-inch group at 100 yards. Today there are airguns that have made it commonplace when the wind permits.
Pyramyd Air has asked me to update this report to help the new airgunners. I wrote this one way back in 2005 — just a month after this blog was started. Now let’s see what has changed over the past 16 years.
Four smallbore calibers
There are four smallbore pellet calibers — .177, .20 (also called 5mm), .22 and .25. However in terms of sales and recognition, .177 and .22 calibers are the major ones.
For three-quarters of a century (1900-1975), the .22-caliber pellet was the sales leader in America, and the .177 lead sales in Europe. In the 1970s, when many British and European airguns started being imported to this country in large numbers, the preference for the .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
Irrespective of the type of powerplant, length of barrel or anything else, in the same airgun the .22-caliber pellet will always be more powerful. As long as all these things remain the same for both airguns being tested, the.22 will deliver about 20 percent more punch.
This holds true for all models of air rifles and air pistols. When the velocity is considered, the .22 will be slower, but don’t overlook the fact that it shoots a pellet weighing almost twice as much. That’s where the extra power comes from. If you are just shooting at things like cans, power doesn’t matter. If you are hunting, it does.
Accuracy is the same for both calibers – sometimes!
This is not as clear as the power issue. You see, sometimes a manufacturer will use a barrel of different quality for one caliber. And barrels are often different for different calibers for many reasons. For example, a 12-groove barrel is often used for a .177 while a six-groove barrel is used for the .22-caliber barrel in the same model of airgun. There is no inherent accuracy advantage for any particular number of grooves –- however 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!
The .177 caliber is the only airgun caliber accepted by all international 10-meter shooting organizations. It’s written right into their rules, and that is because their sophisticated sound-scoring target systems are calibrated to that one caliber.
That means that all 10-meter target airguns are made in .177 and nothing else. The extra care given to the construction of target guns goes a long way toward ensuring that .177 target airguns are accurate.
There are no .22-caliber 10-meter target guns today, but in the past 16 years the pre-charged pneumatic, or PCP, has risen to the top of the airgun world, in terms of popularity. And, now that long-range benchrest matches (100 yards) have become popular, there are larger-caliber airguns that will outshoot 10-meter Olympic-grade target guns. I have tested a .22-caliber RAW PCP that put 5 shots into 0.04-inches between centers at 25 yards. That is four one-hundredths of an inch between the centers of the two shots in the group that are farthest apart, and it was shot at 25 yards! For those outside the U.S. That would be 5 shots into 0.752mm between the centers of the shots at 22.86 meters. No 10-meter target gun can do that except by accident.
.22 caliber dominates the hunting scene
While it is possible to hunt with a .177, the .22 caliber is by far the favorite of the two. 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.
But 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 about after the hit. I just want to mention that hunters notice a decided advantage when they use .22 caliber.
.177 pellets are cheaper
There is a big advantage to the smaller caliber when it comes to cost. Not only are there more types of pellets to choose from in .177, they also often come more to a box and cost significantly less. I could give you numbers like the cost per pellet and such, but these days the cost of lead is rising and the cost of transportation is rising, as well. This is something you need to look up on your own, so you get what is correct for you and at the time you look it up. However, if you plan on doing a lot of target shooting and general plinking, .177 is your best bet. And if hunting and pest elimination is what you will be doing, then I would go with a .22. My advice would be to get the finest airgun you can afford, and get it in the caliber that saves you the most if you like to just shoot, or in .22 if you hunt.
.22-caliber pellets are easier to handle
This comes up in this blog a lot. People with large hands or big fingers find the .177-caliber pellet harder to handle, especially while loading. Some airguns make loading difficult because of how they are constructed. For some guys this is a real problem, and for them the .22 caliber (out of these two choices) is best.
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. These are just some things for the new airgunner to consider.