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The "Pellet Argument"

We have been involved in airgun shooting now for some 30 years and over this period of time different air rifles have come and gone, different disciplines of shooting, styles, scopes, etc, etc. One thing that has always kept on going in the background and sometimes the forefront is the “pellet argument” concerning which size of pellet to use in air rifles and air pistols and which is “best”. I have put together a few thoughts of my own on this subject and combined some facts with these for your perusal. This is in no way intended to be the start of an argument or to be used as a definitive but more as a guide for beginners.

The .177 pellet, light and fast flying the .177 enjoys a flat trajectory over longer ranges and is therefore forgiving on scope zero at more ranges than its heavier counterparts. The .177 is the first choice of target shooters the world over due to these factors and its inherent accuracy. All of these things said and duly noted as positives towards this little round there are a couple of factors weighing against it, the very fact that it is a light round means it can be influenced by external factors over long ranges for example, wind. Also this fast travelling light round can deliver a phenomenon termed as “overkill”, this means that due to its fast speed and small circumference it is possible for it to travel clean through a target posing risk to anything in the backdrop behind. Having said this a shooter should always strive for a safe backdrop in any circumstances.

The .22 pellet, heavier and larger in circumference than the lighter .177 the .22 offers a harder hitting alternative. This however in my book is its only outstanding merit. Given the very pronounced “lobbed” trajectory of a .22, the effect this has on rise and drop over ranges compared to your scope zero and the slower speed, I feel its one saving grace is for use on particularly hardy quarry such as rats at short to mid range, many will argue that this is not the case and a .22 is useful for mid to long range as well, I personally feel the .177 is far more useful in these areas, after all when it comes to pellet choice the top guys including myself all opt for the more accurate .177. If you are shooting live game surely this should be your primary concern, no one wants to wound and cause unnecessary suffering. Most will argue that the shock impact of a .22 is more useful in stopping harder quarry, I will not argue against this but, the wound track of a .177 causes just as much if not more soft tissue and bone devastation on its way through and as I mentioned before, we should all make sure of a safe back drop when shooting so overkill shouldn’t be an issue.

This probably raises a question in your head as to why the .177 flies faster than a .22 but gives the same power reading? This is due to the fact that in order to gauge the power of an airgun the energy it imparts on impact is measured and in the UK this is required to be below 12ft lbs at the muzzle for an airgun available without a firearms certificate. In order for a .177 to achieve this it has to fly faster to compensate for its lack of weight in comparison to the heavier calibers. Thus a .177, .20, .22 and .25 will all have different velocities in order to achieve the sub 12ft lb limit in accordance with their weight, the exact calculation being
Divided by,
= Ft lbs

To explain, if you chronograph your rifle using an 8.4grn Air Arms Field pellet and it travels from the muzzle at 790 feet per second your sum would be as follows;
790 x 790 x 8.4
Divided by,
= 11.64 ft lbs

Making your rifle totally legal to own and use in the UK with this weight pellet. However if we were to now Chrono a .22 the equation would look more as follows, using a 14.5grn Air Arms Field the rifle fires at 600 feet per second,
600 x 600 x 14.5
Divided by,
= 11.59 ft lbs

As you can see there is nearly 200 feet per second difference in the velocity of these two pellets owing to the weight differential and the amount of speed required to stay within the 12ft lbs.
A few if not all of you will have probably noticed I have mentioned a further 2 pellet sizes in the previous paragraphs, these being .20 and .25, I will start with the .20. Being midway in size between the .177 and the .22 I would describe this calibre as very useful indeed and it has baffled me for years as to why it has not become more popular, it is a great compromise between the flatter, faster flight of the .177 and the harder hitting weight of the .22 but sadly there are not a great many guns available in this size and I find this very disappointing indeed! Perhaps shooters should attempt to make this a more popular alternative by asking gun makers for this size to be more readily available, the more of us that ask the more likely they are to supply them. Moving on to the .25, sadly I cannot really offer any argument as to why anyone shooting a sub 12ft lb rifle would want one but if you are looking for something that can hit really hard at close range then I guess this would float your boat but forget it for any other purpose as it presents a flight trajectory more akin to a mortar than a rifle at this power level.

I hope that anyone reading this has gained a more informed insight into the differences between available pellet sizes and their characteristics but I guess it all comes down to “horses for courses” some of you may have sworn by .22 for years, are used to shooting them and will not be swayed by any amount of evidence or argument posed as to a more effective alternative for what you are using it for, alternatively there may be some out there who have been dodging ricochet’s from .177 whilst shooting rats inside concrete buildings, not a practise I would recommend or endorse but it happens.

When it comes to choosing your air rifle ask yourself one question “what am I going to primarily use it for”, make an informed decision from there either based on advice from experienced shooters, personally gained knowledge but most importantly make sure the advice you are receiving is impartial and based on YOUR needs. If you are going to have a great deal of use for a rifle in more than one particular area then I would urge you to consider more than one air rifle after all you would not use a screwdriver to bang a nail in, each virtue or tool to its respective or if you like “more suitable use”.

FYI, a .25 in sub 12ft lbs based on a pellet weight of 24grns offers a rather lethargic flight velocity of just 465 feet per second (11.51ft lbs) a little over the speed offered by a Co2 pistol in .177!!!