Choosing the right air rifle calibre for your needs is a crucial step when selecting your next air rifle. We’ve created this handy guide to help you decide if .22 calibre is right for you. Please reach out to us with any comments or questions that we haven’t answered.
What is air rifle calibre and why buy a .22 calibre air rifle?
The calibre of any gun refers to the bore of the barrel, and therefore the size of the ammunition that will fit it, and is usually represented in inches or millimetres. Generally speaking, the calibre of most air rifles is either .22 or .177 or an inch, or 5.5 / 4.5 mm. Other popular calibres include .20 and, for more powerful air rifles, .25 (6.35mm), .30 (7.62mm) , .35 (9mm) and even bigger.
Most countries have a legal limit on the power of an air rifle, measured in foot pounds or Joules, above which some form of license is needed. In England and Wales, the limit is 12 ft. lbs. for rifles and six ft. lbs. for pistols. At that level, a .22 pellet will travel at between 550 and 600 feet per second (fps) depending on the weight of the pellet which is sufficient to achieve consistent accuracy and impart sufficient impact to humanely dispatch small game and vermin.
Should I buy a .22 or .177 calibre air rifle?
The relative merits of the two calibres is the focus of endless debate amongst airgunners. The simple truth is that while each has its merits, both will serve most uses. Lighter .177 pellets will travel faster than heavier .22 pellets. As a result, they travel with a flatter trajectory and require less compensation at longer distances. However, their lower mass means they have less impact. Many will advocate that .22 is a better hunting calibre because of its heavier mass and therefore impact. However, the truth is that with airguns being relatively low powered, efficient pest control or hunting requires pellets of either calibre to be precisely placed.
What are the most popular .22 calibre air rifles?
Other than a few specialist makes, all airgun manufacturers offer their rifles in .22. The most popular brands, to name just a few, include: Air Arms, Brocock, BSA, Daystate, FX and Weihrauch.
What should I consider when buying a scope for a .22 calibre air rifle?
Quality and features
Compared to more powerful rifles, the demands placed on a scope by air rifles, especially recoilless pre-charged pneumatics is pretty light. The quality of glass is the most important component – the image should be clear and not distorted in any way. Given the relatively short distances of airguns, it is important to make sure you buy a scope that has adjustable parallax – the ability to change the focus of the object you are aiming at. Some lower cost scopes have fixed parallax which is fine as long as the scope is rated for airgun use.
Magnification is another consideration. Fixed 4x or 6x scopes are more than adequate for most users, again because of the short ranges they will shoot over. However, many opt for variable magnification which can range up to 30x or higher.
Something else to consider is whether you are likely to be shooting in murky conditions. Without specialist infrared or thermal equipment you cannot use a scope in the dark, however, they can be used in low light conditions. Some models have an illuminated reticle feature which allows you to light up either the entire reticle or part of it to help you aim in low light conditions.
The design of the reticle – the lines you see when you look through a scope – is a largely personal thing. Some reticles are a simple crosshair – two lines, one vertical and one horizontal that intersect each other. Others have markings which allow the shooter to more precisely gauge how much he or she should compensate for wind or distance.
Eye relief and mounts
Traditionally airgun users have used scopes that follow designs developed for more powerful guns that recoil. As a result, such scopes require the shooter to have a gap between their eye and the scope, which is known as ‘eye relief’. Pre-charged pneumatic air rifles have little to no recoil and can be used with ‘zero eye-relief’ scopes which allow the shooter to put their eye much closer to the scope. The benefit of such a set up is that usually zero eye-relief scopes provide a wider field of view. One final thing regarding scopes is to remember that even the best, most expensive model will be compromised by poor quality mounts.
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.22 calibre air rifle FAQs
How far does a .22 calibre pellet travel?
Much depends on the weather conditions at the time, as well as factors such as the power of the rifle, angle at which a shot is taken and ballistic coefficient of the pellet. Generally though it is accepted that a .22 pellet could travel in excess of 400 metres.
Do you need a license for a 22 air rifle in the UK?
Air rifles over .737 ft. lbs. or one Joule require a Firearms Certificate (FAC) in Northern Ireland and an Air Weapon Certificate (AWC) in Scotland. In England and Wales, air rifles up to 12 ft. lbs. do not require a license. Air rifles over 12 ft. lbs. require a FAC. See https://basc.org.uk/airgunning/ for more information
What is the difference between 177 and 22 air rifles?
Air rifles in .22 calibre use larger and heavier pellets than .177 rifles. As a result, .22 pellets will travel slower than pellets from a .177 air rifle of the same power.
Which are the more powerful 177 or 22 air rifles?
Air rifles are manufactured to specific power levels – usually just under 12 ft. lbs. in the UK. As such, the same make and model of air rifle is likely to have the same power output regardless of calibre. Where they will differ is that heavier .22 pellets will travel slower than lighter .177 pellets but will have more impact or shock value.
Is a 22 air rifle good for hunting?
Both .22 and .177 air rifles are excellent for hunting small game and vermin at short to moderate ranges generally accepted to average around 30 to 40 metres. The impact from a .177 pellet is less than a .22 due to its lighter mass, but is likely to penetrate further. However, regardless of the calibre you choose, the relatively low power of most air rifles requires a precise strike to kill humanely and quickly. Just because .22 pellets are heavier does not mean you can afford to be any less accurate.