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Ammo The differences between .177 and .22 — and which jobs they do best: Updated 2021

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
  • Summary

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.

Hunting Guide

.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.

Summary

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.

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.

63 thoughts on “The differences between .177 and .22 — and which jobs they do best: Updated 2021”

  1. BB
    May want to make the point that .177, and perhaps some 22cal, light weight pellets when used in a powerful PCP or Magnum spring powered airgun are very likely to exceed the speed of sound and be mistaken for a real firearm.
    And not be too backyard friendly, or safe at a far greater distance.
    A very light pellet in a .177 Ruger Magnum for example will get everyone’s attention real quick and may be very dangerous at close range and require you to pay strict attention the gun rules.

  2. When I started out, I remember my confusion about ammunition talk.

    For example, the vocabulary. I didn’t know many basic words, like, what exactly is a “calibre” or caliber” ?

    Also bewildering was the naming of the various projectile sizes, ie why would the smaller size be given a bigger number, you know, why would 177 be smaller than 22 ?

    (Besides, depending on the reader’s location/country, the decimal indicator and the thousands seperator can be reversed. For example a German 1.000,00 is the same as a British 1,000.00 ! )

    And to this day, I still struggle with acronyms which, because I don’t use them, I have to look up online. However, often I can’t be bothered and just skip those sentences. 🙂

      • That view might be inside the Imperial War Museum? Fantastic place to visit for the military history and artifact buff. Not sure, but FM thinks he sees a Matilda in the background. If correct, you would not want to waltz with one with anything less than 88 mm caliber, speaking of projectile sizes.

        • Manuel,

          you’re right, that’s where it’s from. I just looked for a picture with a giant shell. This seems to be an 800mm shell for the German “Schwerer Gustav” railway gun.

          Actually, this round would be perfect for 10 meter shooting. You can reliably hit the inner 10. On all lanes. At the same time 🙂

  3. BB,

    The .177 is better in Field Target because it is has a higher chance of cleanly entering the kill zones of the targets. The .22 has a better chance of hitting the targets in Metallic Silhouettes. The .177 is also a better choice for airguns in countries with restrictions to how much power an airgun can put out before it is considered the equivalent of a firearm.

    Siraniko

  4. BB,

    If no 10-meter target gun can outshoot that RAW PCP, then RAW should get busy producing a 7.5J .177 target version of it and take a big chunk of the 10m match rifle market.

    • Bob,

      That would be very difficult. I have an HM1000X. It is cheap compared to a 10M air rifle. The big reason is it is labor intensive to make an air rifle or pistol that is soooooo accurate at 10 meters, if you miss it is you. 10 meters is the focus point of these airguns. Some of these airguns shoot accurately out to 50 yards. Some do not do worth a hoot.

      Likely the main reason that RAW and others do not intrude on the 10 meter market is financial return. You are talking of dropping a lot of capitol into a very, very limited market. What is really funny to me is the companies who make these 10 meter airguns find it very difficult to build other types of airguns that are affordable to most airgunners.

      • RR

        Would you agree that too much pellet drag due to less velocity is the primary reason one 10 meter rifle would lose to another at 50 yards if they were equal at 10 meters?

        Deck

          • Yogi

            Glad you said that because it begs the question: If pellets from two 10 meter rifles land in the same size group at 10 meters, how does one beat the other at 50 yards if shooting same pellets at same velocity?

            My FWB300S gets over 600 fps with JSB Express 7.87 grain pellets, much more than the norm like my Walther LGV Olympia.

            Deck

        • Deck,

          Yogi beat me to it and is correct.
          But if there is a difference in barrel twist then precession and nutation get involved creating both projectile path variance as well as potential changes to dynamic drag numbers. Measurement error is also a factor given the large change in ToF (Time of Flight) which isn’t linear.
          In short all the variables between the two rifles/pellets keep growing quickly beyond 10 meters; some will stack and others will mitigate but in the end differences will be multiplying fast on the way to 50 meters.

          shootski

        • Deck,

          That is a tuffy. Velocity will certainly have a major role. A slight variation in bore size, twist rate, recoil affect, harmonics, yadayadayada will also have an affect.

          You are also shooting an extremely light pellet a long way. Even the slightest hint of a breeze can affect your grouping.

          Some 10m air rifles will consistently do better than others at long ranges. It is possible to have two of the same model perform differently.

      • RR,

        Yes, 10m airguns are a tiny niche market.

        Walther makes very fine 10m match air rifles, but also reasonably affordable springers and PCPs such as the Dominator and Rotex RM8. I think the actual manufacturing is done by Umarex though.

    • Hi,

      Good catch,

      I use a converter app on my computer and I thought I had it right, but I just entered it again and now it says 0.04-inches is 1.016mm. Good catch!

      BB

      • Well BB, I just looked at your review of the RAW HM-1000X and you actually scored: “…Five… pellets… 0.037-inch… 25 yards.” which, incredibly, is even better !

        (caption beneath 5th/last picture, here: /blog/2021/09/raw-hm-1000x-precharged-air-rifle-part-6/ )

  5. B.B.,
    At my age, yes, I do find .22 pellets much easier to handle. However, on my .177 caliber pistols and rifles, I use those cool pellet pens from PyramydAir; they make the handling much easier, and they may be of some help to someone who wants a .177 for the reduced cost of pellets, but still wants a way to load them more easily (in a break barrel, that is). Thank you.
    Take care & God bless,
    dave

  6. BB,

    Excellent overview of these popular airgun calibers and while there are exceptions ( like the Brits shooting rabbits at 50 yards with sub 12 fpe .177 rifles) you are right on with your recommendations.

    IMHO, the .177 is the optimum caliber for springers & SSPs, the .22 was better in multi-pump. Now, because of more powerful PCPs, the .25 caliber (and the .30) has become popular and needs to be considered in the “best caliber” discussions.

    PCP technology has really muddied the waters making caliber choices even more difficult. Up until recently, the power plant capabilities limited the energy (fpe) available which dictated pellet caliber & weight choices and ultimately the design of the barrels. By having so much power available PCPs have changed the rules, the old caliber/velocity/fpe (and barrel design) concepts need to be reevaluated.

    As always, we need to choose the right tool for the job. Unfortunately, too many people get caught in the “more is better” trap and over-gun themselves for what they really need. Large calibers, high velocities and heavy projectiles have their place but the opposite is true as well. IMHO, power and caliber are no substitute for accuracy and skill.

    BB, it might be helpful for people new to airgunning if you did a blog (series?) from the application (target, plinking, pesting, hunting) and environment (backyard, forest, plains) perspective.

    I’m often asked what airgun I’d recommend and the first thing I ask is what do you THINK you want to do with it. The rest of the conversation revolves around determining what their typical (and realistic) needs are and convincing them that they don’t need (or want) a .30/100 fpe PCP to shoot pests in an urban backyard.

    Hank

  7. Shootski
    But why compare?

    At the least we should be happy that the multiple calibers exist and we have the choice.

    Shot airguns from the late 60’s and on. Exsperianced alot of different air guns throughout time. The different calibers can be used in multiple different ways. Being smart enough to figure that out is what is important.

  8. B.B.,
    I think you’re spot on with your analysis in this report: I am using .177 calibers for plinking, and .22 caliber airguns for pesting. The one .20 caliber rifle I have is my old Sheridan; if not for that it was a gift from my Dad, and my first airgun ever, then I would have gotten a multi-pump .22 instead; but since this thing is a family heirloom, that’s why I didn’t replace it, and scoped it instead so I can get even more use from it. The one rifle I have that doesn’t fit the “mold” you’ve laid out here is my .22 caliber HW30S; even though I just use it for plinking, I love it even more than the .177 caliber Beeman R7 that it replaced. Yet, since you’re never warmed to the .177 caliber versions of the Diana model 27 that you have and love in .22 caliber, I’m sure you see where I’m coming from. These guidelines you’ve laid out here are excellent; but sometimes, for nostalgic purposes, or even for some reason we can’t define, we just take a liking to some airgun in some caliber for no other reason than “we just like it that way,” and there’s nothing wrong with that (IMHO); it’s what makes our sport fun.
    Note: to all you newcomers to the sport, please listen to B.B.’s advice on calibers, but whichever type of gun you ultimately select, in whatever caliber, just shoot the gun a bunch, and have some fun! 🙂
    Take care & God bless,
    dave

  9. “Grillin’ Gun”
    I even took some B.B. advice from the past when selecting a Haenel model 1 from Frank (Thanks, Frank; I love this little rifle =>); in his report on that model, B.B. suggested that his rifle was in .22 caliber, but that .177 might be more suited to the powerplant (my rifle puts out 4.4 fpe, 520 fps with 7.33 g JSBs).
    This makes a good “grillin’ gun;” my criteria for such, if it’s a long gun, is that it should be light and handy enough so you can hold it in your “off” hand in the case that you need to use your dominant hand to flip whatever’s on the grill in a big hurry, and you have no time to set the gun down. This little plinker from the past (1938) fits that mold quite well; and even with open sights, I can take down feral cans at up to 25 yards. The pellet pen not only makes it easier to load the pelllets into the rifle, it also ensures that I am not handling lead while I am grilling…something that makes “da Boss” (my wife =>) happy.
    Happy wife, happy life. 🙂
    Blessings to all,
    dave

  10. Good article, BB. I agree with the other folks; there ought to be a post on the other calibers also. If I recall correctly, you do have an older report or two—one was in a Pyramyd Catalog.

    To ensure more clarity, the section heading, “In any airgun .22 is always more powerful,” would be more accurate if it reflected the contents of the section and instead read, “In the same airgun .22 is always more powerful.”

    Best,
    AP

  11. MisterAP
    Maybe true when BB wrote about .177 and .22 caliber in his old report back then.

    It’s now obvious that the .25 caliber and up guns are way more advanced now days then back when BB wrote the original report on .177 and .22 caliber air guns.

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