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Air rifles have many practical uses and I believe everyone interested in survival should own one.
If you have a good air gun then you can hunt game, practice your marksmanship, defend your crops, and entertain yourself, with less expense, noise, and legal hassle than using a firearm!
While some high-caliber air rifles can get into deer-hunting territory (and can even be used for self defense!), most people are going to pick up a .177 or .22 caliber pellet gun.
What is the difference between .177 vs .22 air rifles?
Which should you buy?
.177 vs .22 Pellets – Caliber Matters
Both .177 and .22 caliber air rifles are similar in many ways, but they have certain differences that can make or break the gun for your purpose.
In both cases, the number refers to the size of the gun’s bore in inches: 0.177 inches / 4.5 mm versus 0.22 inches / 5.5mm.
The obvious result is that .177 air rifles will fire a smaller pellet.
What are the non-obvious results?
Mass, especially its effect on ballistics.
Primarily, .22 pellets will have more mass in them than most .177 pellets, when comparing the same type of ammo. Less than a dozen grains versus over a dozen.
Newton’s Second Law tells us that force equals mass times acceleration.
This extra mass is more advantageous than a bit of extra velocity and helps the pellet buck the wind better and maintain more inertia.
The result is that, if you compare two air rifles that are otherwise the same, the .22 rifle will hit harder than the .177 rifle at both the muzzle and the target.
As for .177 vs .22 accuracy, they’ll both be just as accurate when the wind is still but the .177 pellet will get shoved more by a breeze so a .22 caliber air rifle will be slightly more accurate in real-world conditions. Outdoors.
The Difference Between .177 and .22 Pellet Guns
Often, the difference between the .177 caliber and .22 caliber versions of the same model of air rifle is…
…zilch. Nothing. Nada. No difference other than caliber.
You’ll often find that it’s the exact same air rifle sold for the exact same amount of money, such as with the Benjamin Trail NP2.
The bore is different to fit the different caliber pellet, but otherwise, the only difference is in what size projectile you’re sending downrange.
What About Barrel Harmonics?
I’ve seen people complain that .177 air rifles tend to be more accurate than their .22 brethren but the difference, if it even exists, is going to be minuscule.
If the barrel in both calibers has the same outside diameter then it will be a bit thicker, theoretically, from the smaller bore on the .177, making the barrel a bit stiffer.
Stiffer barrels tend to be inherently more accurate than whippy barrels.
However, air rifles are not firearms.
They have a “cold bore” because the projectile is not being pushed by rapidly expanded, heated gasses.
So, you don’t have to worry about heat expansion and contraction affecting barrel harmonics.
And the factors that will apply, from a spring or air reservoir, are lower energy than the chemical explosion you’d get from gunpowder, thus minimizing their effect on barrel harmonics.
Note that you can buy tuners to tune an air rifle’s barrel harmonics, but not everyone will see a benefit.
Related: Best 22lr Scopes of 2023
.177 vs .22 Air Rifles for Hunting
Knowing what you now know about .177 and .22 air rifles, which do you think would be better for hunting?
That’s right: .22!
.22 is heavier and hits harder than .177.
But that’s not the only consideration…
A .22 pellet is 0.043 inches wider in cross-section than a .177 pellet, which means that if you want to hunt with a .177 air rifle you need to be that much more accurate.
There’s a common rule of thumb for hunting with these small-bore air rounds:
- If you can hit a quarter at a certain range, you can hunt a squirrel at that range with .22
- If you can hit a nickel at a certain range, you can hunt a squirrel at that range with .177
It doesn’t matter if you have a beefy .177 and a wimpy .22. If you can regularly hit a quarter-sized target but would have missed a nickel-sized target, .177 isn’t the right round for you.
Serious about hunting with an air gun? Check out the Best Air Rifles for Hunting!
What Can You Hunt with .177 Air Rifles?
Some people say to use .177 on feathers and .22 on fur.
Once you get past the coat of armor that is your average crow’s plumage, birds are pretty weak.
Small and medium sized birds are good targets for .177 caliber air rifles.
Once you get into big bird territory, you’ll want a bigger air rifle.
Don’t try to take out a turkey with a .177 air rifle!
You can also take out tiny furry varmints with a .177 air rifle, but I wouldn’t use one to take aim at a squirrel.
See our picks for the best air pistols on the market today!
What Can You Hunt with .22 Air Rifles?
.22 caliber air guns are the minimum, in my opinion, for any furred creature squirrel-sized or larger.
And even then, you still want to be as precise with your shot as possible.
Rabbits are also good targets for .22 air rifles.
Once you get to raccoons and possums, you’ll be stretching the limits of the caliber. Consider using a .25 or larger air rifle.
You can still put down raccoons with a particularly powerful .22 air rifle if you don’t miss the vital zone.
Check out my review of the Benjamin Marauder, an excellent air gun for hunting!
.177 vs .22 Air Rifles for Practice and Competition
On the other hand, .177 has the advantage over .22 when it comes to shooting at non-living targets.
You get more ammo for your dollar with .177 than you get with .22.
200 .22 Predator Polymag pellets will cost you a buck fifty more than 200 .177 Predator Polymag pellets.
150 .177 Gamo Rocket pellets will only cost you half a buck more compared to 100 .22 Gamo Rocket pellets, but there’s 50% more pellets per container!
So, unless you’re going to be shooting at an animal, it’s generally a good idea to go for the cheaper ammunition.
.177 also has an advantage over .22 in that the smaller holes make it easier to see precisely where you hit the target.
This can help you visualize your shot pattern, making it easier to practice more effectively.
I will point out that .22 air rifles will be better for long-range plinking because the more massive projectile will resist wind drift more.
But, unless you’re lobbing those pellets far downrange, .177 is generally the better choice for target shooting.
Both .177 and .22 air rifles have their place.
If you need to protect your garden from starlings then go for the .177 air gun.
However, if you’re hunting rabbits, a .22 pellet gun will suit you better (see how pellet guns compare to BB guns for hunting).
For paper? .177, most of the time.
And for those people who will use one air gun for all of those purposes? Go with the .22 air rifle. It’ll give you more choices.
And remember to check your local laws! Regulations might restrict you to certain calibers.
Which is your favorite small-bore air rifle caliber? Let me know in the comments below!