.177 air rifle versus .22 rimfire: woodland hunt comparison
PUBLISHED: 08:27 05 March 2021
What is more effective for small quarry - a .177 air rifle or a .22 rimfire? Jamie Chandler heads to the woods to find out
One of my favourite parts of writing for this fine publication is coming up with new ways of describing those who think that when it comes to hunting, bigger, louder, powder-fuelled bangs mean ‘better hunter’. In their defence, they might not realise that the humble airgun, in one form or another, can humanely dispatch almost every quarry species up to the size of a buffalo that a big-bang stick can, thanks to the incredible development of big-bore airgun calibres up to a whopping .50, mainly for the American market.
Whilst we in the UK are restricted in terms of power, without an FAC and in terms of acceptance in law, in regard to which larger species can be taken with an air rifle of any calibre, there is no denying the effectiveness of a skilled airgun hunter and quality rifle when hunting and controlling small quarry. That all acknowledged, I have always been keen to prove the airgun’s strengths by pitting my hunting skills against those of a competent marksman with a powder-burning rifle, in order to see if there was a clear winner in the hunting field.
As I’m sure I’ve said before, my friend, Tom, is a sufferer of Gunpowder Damaged Cerebrum Syndrome; i.e. his brain finds it difficult to acknowledge that airguns are as effective as powder burners, if the flesh bag behind the trigger is up to the job, and Tom is not alone in his thinking – Gunpowder Damaged Cerebrum Syndrome is a condition suffered by many.
Instead of just conceding to the fact that airguns hold their own in general, the best we can hope for from those afflicted with GDCS, is a raised eyebrow on individual successes. So instead of giving just £3.00 a month by direct debit to sufferers of GDCS, to help Tom and perhaps others with his condition, I challenged him to a good, old-fashioned, therapeutic one-on-one shoot-out. Well, actually going hunting around more distant parts of his farm, which no one has shot over for a year, to see who could bag the most and have the most diverse bag at the end of the day.
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?
Always a gentleman of subtlety and refinement, Tom chose for his hunting gun a Sig Sauer 522 semi-automatic .22 LR with a 20-round magazine. His theory being that should he miss with the first shot, he had 24 back-up shots delivered as fast as his finger could pull the trigger. As a contrast, I chose my ‘pushing 40 years old’ HW77 in .177, with a back-up shot available as fast as I could recock and reload. Luckily, I had a secret weapon – a new pellet pouch that rid me of the dreaded pocket fumble and could reduce my reload time to around 30 seconds, so at least I’d narrowed the follow-up shot gap to a tiny 29.8 second difference.
Things were looking even more equal between the two champions in regard to effective range. I’m confident in myself and the sub-12 ft.lbs. HW77 having a reach of about 35 metres, or so, Tom had about 100 metres usable range, but with the blooming Soggy Soar 522 having so much of an advantage in both range and follow-up shot time, worry was beginning to dampen my positive mood.
Playing the gentleman that I dream of being, I’d let Tom choose the hunting ground and how we were to hunt. At this point, I was concerned that if we were picking off rabbits over a warren, or corvids ripping up new crop shoots and bothering Tom’s sheep, he could happily have bagged two before I’d be in range, let alone got a shot off. Fortunately, Tom isn’t shooting rabbits at the moment due to their depleted numbers, and there are no crows he’s bothered about in particular so my host chose a 10-acre wood.
We tossed a coin, which Tom won and he chose to shoot first. For safety’s sake, we’d agreed only one gun at a time, the non-shooter taking the reins after the first had shot. There were plenty of pigeons, crows and magpies flocking over the wood, and signs of squirrels feeding on the ground, so I followed Tom’s lead and quietly stalked behind him, stopping to watch and listen every 50 paces or so.
Tom could see pigeons in the bare branches of trees 50 or 60 yards away, but couldn’t shoot because there was no safe backstop and the bullet could travel up to a mile and a half if not stopped. As we walked on, we saw two squirrels scavenging in the leaf litter. Shooting freehand, down into the soft, safe backstop of the earth, Tom got four shots off at what he estimated to be 35 yards, but it only took the first shot to miss and the squirrels were off and running treewards, safely out of the .22 LR backstop safety zone. I wasn’t loaded so didn’t get to fire, and after waiting 20 minutes with nothing happening, we moved on.
We stopped for lunch and then Tom was ripped away by a phone call, so I carried on alone. The score was nil-nil, it was approaching 2.30pm and we’d been here since midday. Although there was muted discussion about calling it a draw, mainly from Tom, I felt that the HW77 had an excellent chance to shine, so I set off back into the wood, scanning the trees as I went, and sat down in a small clearing about 50 yards from our last point, with plenty of pigeon-roosting signs on the floor. I got comfy, put on a face mask and waited.
My first chance came half an hour later as a flock of pigeons came diving in at about 30 yards. I wasted no time in raising the HW77 and pole-axing my quarry with an Air Arms Field. I was off the mark and in the lead, so reloaded quickly and settled down again, relaxing with a celebratory cup of coffee. Twenty minutes later, I utterly stuffed a second then third shot – over-excited to grow my lead and fluffing opportunities as a result. The sun started to fade and as it did, a lone squirrel charged through the branches above me, stopping some 20 yards away. I took the shot and was up by 2-0.
It was getting cold so I collected my winnings and on the way back to the car, and by sheer luck, found my rangefinder that I’d lost two weeks back, buried under some leaves and miraculously still working! I called Tom to say thanks and gloat. He wanted to head back out with the shotguns to get a few pigeons coming in to roost and restore honour and of course I agreed enthusiastically to head back out with shotguns, but there’s no way I was giving up my glorious victory. The .177 HW77 had beaten the .22 LR hands down, and airgun v shotgun was another competition, for another day.