Heres another very typical question that comes up over and over. Since weve been talking about hunting and hunting airguns, it seems to be a good time to address it. The question is whether .177 is better than .22 for small game hunting. Most recently I received an email that was very well crafted and raised some good observations on the subject.
The writer was asking about .177 vs .22 where .177 airguns seemed to produce about 17 foot pounds of energy vs only about 14 foot pounds of energy from a similar airgun in .22. The conclusion was that the faster .177, which was generating more energy on paper and which also had a higher velocity, would be more effective on small game than a slower .22 that was producing less energy at the muzzle. Could he be correct? Its time to dissect the situation and come up with a definitive conclusion.
Apples to Apples not Apples to Oranges
Its important when attempting to draw definitive conclusions that you only use relevant and accurate data. Comparing two different guns in two different calibers that are very dissimilar is not how you come to a conclusion between .177 and .22 as regards to small game. Since its a rifle that weve looked at recently, and it affords the luxury of coming with both .177 and .22 caliber barrels, it should give us the best chance for coming up with a decent conclusion. The Beeman Dual Caliber article series took a look at this airgun in both calibers. Since the power plant remained the same, its really an appropriate airgun to use to answer this question.
In .177, shooting the 7.0 grain RWS hobby pellets, the rifle averaged 986.6 FPS and 15.13 FPE. In .22, shooting the 11.9 grain RWS hobby pellets, it averaged 780.8 FPS and 16.37 FPE. This rifle supports whats most commonly found, i.e. the heavier .22 cal pellet fired from the same power plant will generally yield higher energy at the muzzle.
Accuracy, velocity, and potential shot curve
The most accurate pellet does not always reach the rifles maximum velocity. In fact it seldom, if ever, comes close. Generally speaking, heavier pellets are more accurate than lighter pellets up to a point. Heavier pellets will have a reduced muzzle velocity due to their greater mass. In .177, the Beeman Dual Cal, preferred the RWS Superdome pellets at 8.3 grain. They averaged 921 FPS which is pretty darn good for this airgun. This translated into 15.64 FPE at the muzzle in .177 caliber. With a properly optimized scope, you should be able to potentially keep the pellet in a 1 kill zone from 11.4 yards to 43.7 yards. This is how flat the .177 pellet will shoot from this gun, i.e. 32.3 yards.
Moving on to .22 we found that the RWS Superpoint Extra pellets at 14.5 grain generated the best accuracy, actually surpassing that of the .177. The average velocity was 735 FPS and the average energy at the muzzle was 17.4 FPE. This continues to show that all things considered, the albeit slower .22 will generally have more muzzle energy out of the same airgun power plant. When I take these numbers and run them through Hawkes ChairGunPro, I get some interesting results. With the scope optimized for a 1 kill zone, the Beeman Dual Cal in .22 shooting the RWS Superpoint Extra pellets should keep the shot in the kill zone from 9.4 yards out to 35.7 yards. The flat shooting zone is approximately 26.3 yards.
What does the data reveal?
I love math and numbers. If you have accurate input data, then the conclusions should come from simple calculations and analysis. Given the above data, the .177 has a higher initial velocity with a lower muzzle energy. It also has a slightly longer killzone range by about 6 yards. The .22 tests have a lower initial velocity, but more muzzle energy and a slightly shorter killzone range, at least that’s what we see on paper.
But, what is the raw data not showing us? What it doesnt tell us is how each related projectile is going to interact with the intended target. This is where things get very interesting. Its my experience that the larger, heavier, slower projectiles tend to impart more of their energy into the game resulting in a much higher percentage of clean, one-shot kills. The smaller .177 caliber, while it may shoot faster and may even have a flatter trajectory, does not impart its energy into the target but rather tends to simply pass through. Beyond this issue, my experiences have also shown that the larger heavier calibers tend to maintain their accuracy throughout the length of their viable kill range where the smaller calibers tend to wander and become inaccurate past 25 to 30 yards.
This information can only be gained by someone actually testing the viability of an airgun at a given range. While on paper the Beeman Dual Cal should be able to shoot flat from 11.4 to 43.8 yards in .177, if its not accurate past 27 yards, then its a moot point as to how flat it potentially shoots.
In my opinion, which is based on personal experience and the word of many airgun hunters, the larger calibers are more effective when taking down small game. Thats not to say that you cant hunt small game with .177, but it will require more precise shooting and discipline. Do you have a different opinion or experience? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section. We love hearing from our readers!