Does it matter what calibre rifle you use for hunting, or should you be focusing more on the ammo?
Q. I’m about to buy my first hunting rifle, but I’m still unsure whether to go for .177 or .22. Does it really matter?
A. This often comes up when discussing air rifle ammo – and there is no definitive answer, as the case can be made for both. In recent years, a significant amount of both paper and web space has been taken up with the argument over which is the superior calibre, with .177 enjoying a rise in popularity that threatens to overtake the .22’s traditional supremacy. The fact is, though, that as long as you keep your shooting to sensible distances, your pellet should have enough energy at the point of impact to make a clean dispatch providing your shot placement is correct – a point that cannot be overstressed.
Whichever calibre you choose to shoot, it is imperative that you understand where your pellet will be in space at any point over the distance you choose to shoot over. Given a typical zero point of 30 yards and a .22 pellet of 16 grains, you can expect your shot at 15 yards to be around 1/2in higher than the horizontal zero line on your target. At 40 yards the impact point will be between 1 and 2in below the horizontal zero line. With .177, all the same rules apply, but the vertical variations will be less exaggerated. It is up to you to investigate the performance of your particular rifle and pellet combination to see where you must compensate for the effects of gravity.
The second but equally important factor to be borne in mind is the terminal energy required to humanely dispatch your quarry –which, in the case of a rabbit or grey squirrel, is around four foot-pounds. Almost any modern full-power air rifle should be making around 10.5ft-lb at the muzzle. A .177 rifle will shoot an 8.4-grain pellet at about 750 feet per second, making 10.5ft-lb. A .22 rifle will shoot 16gr ammo at around 543fps, again making 10.5ft-lb. Both pellets will shed energy at about 10% per 10 yards, so at 30 yards both will still be retaining around 60% to 70% of the original muzzle velocity – so there would be in the region of 6.5ft-lb of retained energy when the pellet strikes home.
All these figures are guidelines, so it’s best not to exceed these ranges until you have checked your rifle/ammo combo with a chronoscope.
More from our experts on airgun pellets
- Best pellets: how to choose the right one
- RWS Super Field: Pellet test
- Pellet test: Webley Mosquito Express
- Pellet Test: Power-Force Field