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Air Rifle Caliber Selection

By Scott Thomas

I often get asked the question: "What's the best caliber of air rifle to use?" The answer depends on what you are going to be using the rifle for. In this article we will examine the pros and cons of the 3 main calibers available for air rifles which are .177, .20, and .22 caliber. Each caliber is unique and each is good for different types of airgunning.


.177 cal is by far the most popular caliber on the market today. .177 pellets are the smallest of the 3 calibers and can be fired at the highest velocities for given amount of airgun energy which results in the flattest trajectory. A flat trajectory means greater accuracy from longer distances. If the main purpose of your air rifle is going to be target shooting then choosing a .177 cal air rifle is a smart choice.

.177 caliber air rifles can also be a good choice for small pest control. With current airgun technology .177 cal air rifles can reach velocities of up to 1250 FPS (feet per second) but most reasonably priced .177 air rifles shoot around 1000 FPS. At these velocities you can easily kill small squirrels, birds and other small rodents. We sell a lot of .177 cal air rifles to customers who want the best of both worlds...they want down range accuracy for target shooting but also want the power to kill small pests.

The other nice thing about .177 cal is that you have a lot of different guns to choose from in all price ranges. If you would like some suggestions for some recommend air rifles please read our Air Rifles Overview & Recommendations article to find exactly what you are looking for.


Some feel that the .20 cal air rifle is the best caliber for overall use. It provides a lot more knock down power compared to a .177 air rifle and the trajectory remains fairly flat. Unfortunately there are not a lot of .20 caliber rifles on the market and they tend to be more expensive because only the higher end manufacturers such as Beeman make them. The hard core airgunners swear by this caliber. The .20 cal (5 mm) pellet can carry 40% more energy than a .177 cal pellet yet the trajectory remains almost as flat. The .20 cal is great for taking down larger small game especially if distance is a factor. A .20 cal pellet (depending on the rifle used) is effective up to about 60 yards. With a good pellet you might be able to increase that by a few yards.

There is no doubt that the .20 caliber is a great caliber. Unfortunately there aren't a lot of options out there and price is a factor. You can buy a Benjamin / Sheridan pump style air rifle in a .20 cal for a reasonable price. This rifle is good for close range hunting (25-30 yards) but lacks power for any hunting at longer distances. If you want a pump pellet rifle for target shooting or close range varmint hunting this would be a good choice. If you are in the market for a top of the line air rifle and have the money to spend you might want to seriously consider one of Beeman's .20 cal rifles. They are top notch and backed by a lifetime warranty. You can view our selection of .20 cal air rifles here.


The .22 caliber pellet has a large gain in weight and size over both the .177 cal and .20 cal and has the most down range knockdown power of the 3. One drawback of the .22 cal pellet is that it has the shortest range of the 3 calibers. The effective range of this caliber is around 45-50 yards depending on the pellet. However, you can get within 50 yards of most varmint so range should not be an issue. If you are going after larger pests such as jack rabbit, crow, wood chucks (wild), racoon and others a .22 cal air rifle is going to be your best choice because of its tremendous knock down power.

Several different manufacturers such as RWS, Gamo, and Tech Force make .22 cal air rifles and usually make both .177 and .22 cal versions of their more popular models. If the primary use of your air rifle is going to be hunting then go with a .22 cal unless your primary prey is at a distance of 55 yards or more. If your prey is at longer distances make sure you get a powerful .22 cal rifle such as the RWS 34 with Scope .22 cal air rifle. Get something that is at least 800 FPS. To view our selection of .22 cal air rifles click here.