.177 v .22: Which is better?

The HW100 in .22 is the ultimate hunting gun

The HW100 in .22 is the ultimate hunting gun - Credit: Archant

Gary Chillingworth deep dives into the age-old debate - which is better, .22 or .177? Exploring everything from flight path to muzzle energy, he tries to find the answer once and for all!

In the universe that we live in, there are some questions that stretch back to the dawn of time; which is better, brown sauce or red? – brown. Tea or coffee? – tea, we’re not American. Finally, .177 or .22? Yes, I know there is also springer or PCP, Blur or Oasis … but I didn’t want to labour the point – springer and Oasis, by the way. So, over the next couple of months I am going to delve into the world of .22 shooting and try to see whether the big calibre has any advantages over its baby brother.

I admit that I have never been a .22 shooter. Yes, I do own a very nice HW100T in .22, but it was purchased on a whim, from the Airgun Centre in Rayleigh, and even though I have used it in a few articles, I have never shot it in competition and as I am not a hunter, I haven’t used it very much at all. So, this will be a great learning experience for me.

Both tins have 500 pellets, the difference in mass is considerable

Both tins have 500 pellets, the difference in mass is considerable - Credit: Archant

Now, let’s take a look at the initial pros and cons of the .22 over the .177, and see if we can work out a strategy for the article. It’s my intention to test whether the .22 takes more or less wind than a .177; does it lose its velocity quicker? Does it have more penetrating force down range? Being a bigger pellet, is it harder to shoot small kill zones without splitting?

Before we get into that, though, let’s look at the logistics of owning a .22 over a .177. Firstly, the cost; I don’t know if any of you have been into a gun shop lately, looking for pellets, but the price is becoming astronomical. This is due to the cost of lead and manufacturing, and the days of buying  a sleeve of JSBs for £70 are long gone. 

I went online and looked at pellet prices for AA Fields in both calibres and luckily J.S. Ramsbottom had stock. In .22 16grn, the cost was £13.59 for 500, and for .177 it was £10.59. So, this puts the .177 at around 28% cheaper – or £3 a tin, or £30 a sleeve – and if you are just plinking in the garden, that is considerable.

Also, go online and look at the pellets that are available, in .177. There is a plethora that you can buy; you can get everything from Superlight Express to Jumbos in all types of configurations, but the .22 pellet type is more limited, and can vary massively in price. Personally, and from speaking to friends who shoot .22, the AA Field Diablo in 16grn is one of the most popular pellets around.

My two beauties, both HW100s – just in different dresses

My two beauties, both HW100s – just in different dresses - Credit: Archant

One big advantage that the .22 has is with regard to air. Personally, I would have thought that a smaller .177 would need less air to push it down the barrel, but that’s not the case. The rifle I have in .22 is the HW100T and that is advertised as 140 shots in .22, and the same gun in .177 is around 110. Now, I’ll be honest, with the cost of lead, I’m not going to sit here and fire off 140 pellets to test this, but again, I’ve spoken to owners and they confirm that the .22 is more efficient.

The next thing that we want to look at is the rifle itself and the shooting experience. Getting a .22 in most rifles is not a problem, although sometimes there is an additional cost, but what is most satisfying is the fact that when you lie down to take a shot, because the rifle is only pushing the pellet at around 570fps, it is much easier to watch the pellet fly downrange. It is very odd, though.

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I’ve shot a .177 for 20 years, so I have become attuned to how long a pellet takes to fly to a long target, but when you shoot a .22, it feels like you can fire, put the gun down, have a cup of tea, pick the rifle back up and then watch the pellet hit.

With both guns zeroed at 25 yards, the difference in drop is extreme

With both guns zeroed at 25 yards, the difference in drop is extreme - Credit: Archant

At 16grn the AA Field is almost double the weight of a regular .177, which is 8.44grn. So, when you shoot it, it’s more like throwing a cricket ball instead of a tennis ball. This weight means that the pellet flies in more of an arc. 

To show the difference, I grabbed both my HW100s. The ‘KT in .177 and the HW100T in .22. I zeroed both the rifles at 25 yards and luckily, they are both putting out the same power, or near enough; the KT .177 is 11.76 ft.lbs., and the 100T in .22 was 11.8 ft.lbs. 

With both rifles shooting a single-hole group at 25 yards, I placed a target out at 45 yards and placed a mark on the card. I put my cross hairs on this mark and fired. The .177 pellet dropped 3.8cm below the aim point, but the .22 dropped 9.5cm – well over double. 

As we move forward and start setting the rifle up for HFT, it’s clear that rangefinding will be really important. 

You can see from the two range cards, the difference between .177 and .22

You can see from the two range cards, the difference between .177 and .22 - Credit: Archant

We are going to set out a card on the range, zero both the rifles at 30 yards and see what the drop is at 8, 15, 35, 40 and 45 yards. This way we can see how many cms below or above the cross hairs the .22 against the .177 hits.

Then, I want to see how much energy the .177 and .22 carries down range. To do this we will set up two chronographs, one at the muzzle and one at 45 yards and see what fps it starts with and what it finishes at. Which pellet will retain the most muzzle energy?

Finally, let’s shoot a few targets and see if the wind moves the pellet more with a .177 or a .22. Before we get started, though, I just want to point out that I am learning as I write this. I have tried to come into this piece with an open mind, so if the article seems a bit of a ramble, it’s because I am working through the problems and the data as we go along. I hope you’ll enjoy the journey with me.

We are on my home range with my two HW100 rifles; the .177 is in the KT stock and comes fitted with an Optisan CP 10 x 32. The other HW100 in .22 comes with a standard thumbhole stock and is fitted with a Discovery VT-2 3-10 x 40 mil-dot scope and as an aside, this is a lovely scope and for the money I think it’s really great! 

Both rifles are running at almost the same power, and are both stunningly accurate. I shot a 5-hole group at 30 yards, and even though it is a fairly windy day, they both shot ragged one-hole groups. 

Our first target is at 8 yards, and there is a mark on the page where we will be placing our aim point. The .22 hit almost dead on, but the .177 is 1.8cm below – then we go to 15 yards when the .22 climbed to 1.8cm above the mark, and the .177 climbed 1.6cm. 

At 30 yards, the .177 hit dead on, but the .22 dipped. I thought that was me, so I shot the target to the right and the .22 was dead on, so that missed target was due to lack of talent.

On to 35 yards and we begin to see a big change; the .177 has dropped 1cm below, and the .22 has dropped 2cm, but the .22 seems to have taken no wind, whereas the .177 is 1.5cm off to the right. Now on to 40 yards – 2cm drop for the .177 and just over 4cm for the .22 – and finally 45 yards, and this is the big one. For the .177 there’s a 5.5cm drop, and for the .22 it was 10.5cm.

These drops do line up with Chairgun and Hawke BRC, but in reality, the drops are slightly less – not by much – and it also lines up with the testing that I did yesterday when I was filming. They are are slightly worse, but I believe this was down to a fairly strong wind against me, but it got me thinking.

It seems to me that out to 30 yards, there is a difference between the two calibres, but not as big as I thought it would be. However, once we get out beyond 35 yards, the .22 seems to have double the drop of a .177, but I don’t know why. Is it because it’s double the weight, or double the size, and so has more wind resistance?

Speaking of wind, we are certainly going to have to do more testing, but from my initial assessment, it seems that out to 35 yards, the .22 was less affected, but as the pellet started to slow down, it started to get pushed a lot more. We need to get out on a range with a good strong side wind, set up some flags and maybe have two airgunners shooting at the same time.

So, on to muzzle energy – I set up two chronographs, one at the muzzle, one downrange at 45 yards, and shot a string of 10 .177s and 10 .22s. Both rifles were on 150 bar and as the HW100 has a regulator, we don’t need to worry about changes in power. 

The .177 had an average muzzle velocity of 778fps, and the .22 had a average of 583fps, but at 45 yards, the average for the .177 was 595 fps – a drop of 183fps, and the .22 had a 45-yard velocity of 481fps – a drop of 102 fps. So, the .177 managed to retain 76.48% of its energy downrange, but the .22 retained 82.5%, so there is no doubt that the heavier pellet is more efficient.

The .22 is much larger, heavier and slower than its baby brother

The .22 is much larger, heavier and slower than its baby brother - Credit: Archant

The .22 is a loopier pellet and seems to take less wind out to 35 yards, and I am sitting here thinking, ‘Have I just wasted two days to discover something that we all know?’

To me, there’s no doubt that the .22 works very well if you are shooting out to 35 yards, and it may be the better pellet, but the .177 is flatter in its flight, and the drop of 10cm between 40 and 45 yards for the .22 is massive. The thought of hunting with that kind of drop would scare the hell out of me!

I am going to need to get into this more, and maybe order some different .22 pellets in different weights to see what we can do downrange. Next month, we will look at impact and see what the difference is to a bone and a board, between a .22 and a .177. I am now going for a lie down and maybe a little cry.