Much like firearms, airguns are available in a number of different calibers.
It might surprise you to learn that they come in sizes as large as .357 (9 mm), .45 (11.43 mm), and even up to .58 (14.5 mm).
But by far the most popular and common airgun calibers are .177 (4.5 mm), and .22 (5.5 and 5.6 mm).
So, which should you choose?
In this article, we take a look at the .177 or .22 debate – what they’re used for, the pros and cons of each, and which is the best option for your needs.
Let’s fire in.
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- .177 vs .22 Pellets – Too Long, Didn’t Read
- Airgun Ammunition
- Calibers Explained
- The Difference Between .177 and .22 Calibers
- Airgun Uses – Which Caliber is Right for You?
- Velocity, Accuracy, and Distance
- Noise Levels
- .177 vs .22 – Costs Involved
- Larger Caliber Airguns
.177 vs .22 Pellets – Too Long, Didn’t Read
As this matchup can be settled fairly quickly, let’s not beat around the bush with the answer:
.177 pellets are designed to be more suitable for target shooting, and is the standard caliber of choice for most National Governing Bodies for airgun competitions – up to Olympic level.
.22 pellets are much better for hunting – and are capable of offering more “punch” when it comes to stopping power.
Simple, right? Of course, there’s a bit more to it than that, and you should read on for some additional top-tips and advice, with a more in-depth pellet size comparison.
What kind of ammunition do airguns actually fire?
Let’s take a look.
The two most popular types of airgun ammo are metal “diablo” style pellets and ball bearings – or “BBs” for short.
The ammunition might be anodized, or coated with other materials (such as zinc) to improve accuracy, and reduce vibration while shooting.
Darts and arrows can also be fired from some airguns, although you’ll find they’re more common with tranquilizer guns for big game – for example. Ask your local zookeeper.
It’s worth noting that airguns and airsoft guns are very different, and although they both label their ammunition as “BBs,” one fires metal and the other fires plastic pellets.
Follow that link for a more detailed explanation of the differences if you’re unsure, and this article on why you should never use airgun ammo in an airsoft gun is also very useful.
And for anyone looking to go back to basics, this piece on how airguns actually work is highly recommended if you’re new to the sport, or you’re simply curious as to what goes on inside these weapons.
So, we’ve got all these numbers flying around – but what do they actually mean? What are we talking about when discussing calibers?
In this context, the word ‘caliber’ can mean one of two things.
It refers to either the size of the bore of the gun (the diameter of the inside of the barrel), or the size of the ammunition that is fired from it.
It stands to reason that a .177 caliber pellet is fired from a .177 caliber bore, for example.
Different calibers are used for different objectives – and the same is no less true when it comes to airguns.
And in the airgun world, the two most common options are the .177 and .22 caliber rifles/pellets – so let’s explore the differences between them.
The Difference Between .177 and .22 Calibers
In a nutshell, the main difference between these two calibers is their size.
A .177 pellet is 4.5 millimeters in diameter, designed to be fired from an airgun with a bore that is 4.5 millimeters in diameter.
A .22 pellet can be either 5.5 or 5.6 millimeters in diameter, designed to be fired from an airgun with a bore size of the same.
When you examine each pellet side-by-side, you can see that the .22 is almost double the size – which has both advantages and disadvantages over the smaller .177.
Keep reading to find out more.
Airgun Uses – Which Caliber is Right for You?
Now you understand the sizes of the calibers, but that still doesn’t answer the question – what’s actually the best airgun caliber to use?
It just depends on what you’re using it for. Thankfully, when it comes to comparing the .177 and the .22, things are pretty straightforward.
Easily the most common of the two, .177 pellets are readily available just about anywhere. You’ll never struggle to find .177 rounds – and sourcing ammo can often be the deciding factor when it comes to choosing between calibers.
.177 are predominately used for recreational shooting – such as plinking in your backyard – and competitive target shooting.
The International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF) have mandated the .177 as the standard caliber of choice for international target shooting. This includes Olympic airgun competitions at 10 meters.
National shooting bodies in the US have followed suit, and .177 is the accepted caliber for competition across the board.
That said, they can also be very effective for hunting rodents and killing small game/pests – such as pigeons, rats, and squirrels.
But you need to make sure you’re using the right kind of ammunition, with an appropriately powerful air rifle.
That, and your shot placement is dead on.
If you’re looking for something that’s going to punch a hole in the target, then look no further than a .22 caliber.
Just like a .22 rifle, an airgun firing .22 pellets is going to be more than capable for killing small game – extending to critters like rabbits, hares, and even foxes and coyotes.
Of the two calibers, if you want to absolutely guarantee the kill – then a .22 is the obvious choice.
Although the .177 is regarded as being more accurate, you arguably need to be the more skillful shooter overall for using a .22.
It’s certainly less forgiving than its smaller counterpart, and hitting targets for the uninitiated is going to be more of a challenge.
Velocity, Accuracy, and Distance
Let’s get down to brass tacks – or metal BBs, I should say.
Which is more accurate – the .177, or the .22 caliber? Which offers the higher velocity?
Generally speaking, a .177 has an advertised velocity of 1000 FPS, compared to the 800 FPS of the .22.
For the most part – and given the fact that it’s the choice for Olympic shooting, and has more product support in general, the .177 is more accurate than the .22.
It’s also capable of greater distances, and will typically fly further, with a flatter trajectory than a .22, which will begin to dip significantly after around 30 yards.
But of course, these measurements depend on so many other factors, including the rifle, the scope, and not least, the skill of the shooter. And over shorter distances, the .22 has proved to give better results than the .177.
Speaking of optics, check out this article on how to choose a rifle scope – but make sure you’re only going for something that is actually compatible with an airgun when making a purchase.
And this article will explain FPS (Feet Per Second) in more detail. Although it relates more to airsoft, it’s still useful for familiarizing yourself with gun velocity.
Something that’s often overlooked when researching the differences between calibers – is the decibel noise level of each option.
We tend to think about what we want to shoot, rather than how loud the shot is actually going to be.
And just as it is with all calibers, the larger the bore/projectile, the louder the gun/cannon/artillery that fires it.
That said, they’re nowhere near as loud as firearms, and you’re unlikely to need ear protection when shooting airguns.
Still, you should always be wearing eye-pro when shooting anything, and this article on shooting range tips offers even more top advice on gun safety – no matter what platform you’re running.
And try a pair of good-quality shooting gloves – which will give you more control and keep your hands protected at the same time.
.177 vs .22 – Costs Involved
As ever, when deciding between two options in the airgun/firearm/airsoft/paintball/tactical world (or the world in general), we should take a look at the cost of running each.
For the ammunition, at the time of writing, a tin of 500 Crosman .177 pellets will set you back around $5.
A 500 count tin of the equivalent Crosman .22 pellets will dent your wallet $7-$10.
Typically speaking, and all things being equal, you’ll find that .177 is cheaper to buy than .22. Something to consider if you’re on a budget, and/or a high-volume shooter.
When it comes to the price of guns themselves, the difference is negligible – if there’s a difference at all.
Larger Caliber Airguns
It’s not just all about the .22 vs .177 in the airgun community – there are more calibers available – including some large-bore weapons that can pack a serious punch.
Larger calibers include .357, .45, .50, and .58 – but for the most part, such pellets are going to be fired from a PCP airgun.
PCP stands for precharged pneumatic, and if you’re interested in this powerful option, take a look at this article, which fully explains PCP airguns.
Will a .22 air rifle kill a human?
Depending on the range, the location of the hit, and the power of the airgun, then it is possible for a .22 to kill a human.
It’s possible for a .177 to kill a human, too – given the right circumstances.
Disclaimer – under no circumstances does Riflepal endorse killing other humans. Airguns should be treated with the same respect as firearms, and safety should be your utmost concern at all times.
Can I fly with airgun ammo?
Airguns and airgun ammunition fall under the same laws as firearms, and as such, they have strict laws governing what you can and cannot board an aircraft with.
In short, so long as your ammo and airgun are securely stored and checked in, then you can fly with them. They are just prohibited from entering the cabin.
This article on flying with firearms contains all you need to know.
Can you use .177 pellets in a .22 pellet gun?
History is littered with battles lost because someone turned up with the wrong sized cannonballs for the cannons.
The answer is no. It’s unwise/impossible to try to mix bore sizes with different pellet calibers. It would be nice if there was a one-size-fits-all, but that’s just not feasible.
It’s one or the other, I’m afraid. A .22 pellet is going to be too large for a .177 airgun, and a .177 pellet is going to be too small for a .22 airgun.
Attempting to fire either in this manner could result in damage to your airgun, or, at the very least, make you look like an idiot.
Which is better .177 or .22 airgun?
This isn’t a straightforward question to answer, as I don’t believe there is a “best” when it comes to these two options.
If you’re target shooting, go with the .177. If you’re hunting, go with the .22.
If it’s a choice between the two, I would personally lean towards the .177 – but that’s simply because it’s more common, ammo is readily available, it’s cheaper in the long run, and is still capable of killing small game if need be.
Of the two, it’s definitely the more versatile.
But why not get both?!
If you’re still struggling, take a look at the video below:
When it comes to choosing between a .177 or .22 caliber airgun – it’s going to depend on what you need it for.
And in layman’s terms, you should opt for the .177 for recreational shooting and the .22 for hunting rodents and small game.
That said, there’s no reason why you can switch it up and use either for both purposes – depending on the type of ammo and gun being used.
Let me know which caliber you prefer, and why.
Stay safe out there, and happy shooting!