What is the Best Airgun Caliber for Squirrel Hunting?
Many more hunters used to chase bushy tails decades ago. Hunting small game animals, like squirrels and rabbits, was a popular past-time and in some cases necessary pursuit for meat on the table. Sure, a single squirrel doesn’t make a huge meal, but it’s usually enough for one. And the hunt for them can be a fun group activity or solo adventure. Sometimes these tasty game animals can be the focus of slightly more compettive hunting, as is such the case for our annual Squirrel Master Classic! Many of us probably have fond memories of slinging a .22 over our shoulders and wandering through the woods on a Saturday morning. But things have come a long way since the squirrel hunting heyday. Today, hunters can rely on modern airguns instead of the old .22. But what is the best airgun caliber for squirrel hunting? That’s what we’re here to talk about.
Most Effective Caliber for Squirrels
Before we go further, let’s clear something up. Yes, you can hunt squirrels with shotguns. It’s very effective. But it can be a little too powerful sometimes, which leads to meat loss. Your target’s not that big, remember? You can avoid that to some extent by restricting yourself to a .410, but there’s something fun about the added skill and marksmanship that a rimfire rifle requires. Or these days, that’s one of the benefits of an airgun. You can find airguns in all kinds of calibers these days, but ultimately, the discussion usually comes down to two calibers for squirrel hunting. Is the .177 or .22 caliber better for squirrels? Both can be effective and potentially the best airgun caliber for squirrel hunting.
Argument for the .177-Cal.
While not as familiar as the .22, the .177 is a solid caliber choice for small mammals. It has a smaller bore than the .22, and is generally capable of firing faster velocity pellets. It’s also quieter than a .22 caliber airgun (and certainly a rimfire rifle or shotgun). In fact, the Swarm Whisper .177-cal from Gamo® is an easy-to-use and fun shooting airgun that is very quiet for stealthy hunts. And if you live in a suburban area where you’re not allowed to discharge a pellet from a bore measuring .22 inches or larger, a .177 is still legal in many cases. The .177 is probably the better choice for accuracy in many cases such as the backyard, outdoor range or indoor shooting range.
Argument for the .22-Cal.
You’re probably very familiar with this caliber after shooting the equivalent rimfire rifle before. Many hunters probably already consider it the best airgun caliber for squirrel hunting. The bore is ever so slightly larger than the .177 caliber, but basically the same looking. Because the pellets are marginally larger, the .22 airgun generally shoots pellets at a slower velocity than the .177, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The Swarm Maxxim .22-cal air rifle by Gamo® is a game-changer for squirrel hunting. Its 10x quick-shot technology means you can shoot 10 pellets before you have to reload. That’s obviously a huge advantage for fast follow-up shots at nimble bushy tails.
“I love the .22 caliber the best. Hits hard & more one shot kills. It seems to shoot more accurate as well in windy conditions. My favorite ammo for the .22 cal is just the simple, flat nose lead pellets. It’s worked for decades”. – Michael Waddell
Why Pellet Choice Matters
You might think that if there are only two airgun calibers discussed above, there wouldn’t be a lot of choices when it comes to airgun pellets. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. There are tons of options, styles, designs, and brands available on the market, and it can get a little confusing trying to figure out which one is the best for your purposes. For squirrel hunting, you obviously want to prioritize accuracy. If you can’t consistently put your pellet on a small target, you probably shouldn’t be hunting with it, or you will be facing a higher percentage of unrecoverable squirrels.
There can be a lot of experimentation for this one. In general, though, shooting a heavier pellet means it will retain more knock-down power compared to a lighter one. Also, heavier pellets will move at slower velocities than lighter ones. Pellets for .177 caliber airguns usually range from 5-10 grains for most target or hunting applications, while pellets for .22 caliber airguns may range from 10-20 grains.
Like ultra-fast compound bows, faster shooting modern airguns are appealing to most people. But they can produce pellets with an inconsistent trajectory, particularly if you’re using a pellet that’s on the light side. Using a heavier pellet will slow it down a bit, which can actually improve your accuracy by helping it to stay steadier in flight. This allows you to use a faster .177 caliber airgun for squirrel hunting while also maintaining accuracy. That’s a great combination when discussing the best airgun caliber for squirrel hunting.
When you browse the shelves at a sporting goods store or look online, you will be amazed at how many choices there really are when it comes to pellet choices. They come in all kinds of shapes, each with different purposes or best uses.
- The simplest one you’re probably familiar with is the round ball – you know, the thing you shot through your bb gun as a kid. This isn’t as common for pellets in modern air rifles.
- The diabolo pellet is a much more common option on store shelves, and it can be very effective. It has various nose shapes, as discussed below, and most of the weight of the pellet is on this nose to keep it moving forward. The waist of the pellet narrows down, followed by a flared, hollow skirt on the rear end.
- Cone-shaped, pyramid, and/or pointed-tip pellets like the Luxor CU .177 Cal Pellets are a variant to domed pellets. Unsurprisingly, they have pointed noses, which are sometimes constructed from the pellet material themselves or a polymer or different metal tip. These pellets are aerodynamic, retain their velocity well, penetrate targets better, and are often very accurate.Sharp, pyramid-shaped tip to cut and shatter your target. Copper layer for enhanced impact energy. Lead-free material for increased velocity and impact. Aerodynamic shape for excellent flight characteristics.
- Hollow-point pellets are usually similar to a domed pellet, but they have an opening on the forward nose. When fired from a powerful enough airgun, this causes the tip to expand and create a larger diameter entry and exit hole.
- The wad-cutter pellet is a popular choice for target shooting because it cuts neat holes in target paper. Pellets with flat noses and with a flat forward surface provides a lot of knock-down power for small game animals at close distances. It also slows the pellet down a bit (since it’s not as aerodynamic), which can improve accuracy (as described above).
“My favorite Gamo is the BC Swarm Gen2 in .22 Caliber, It’s accuracy & power put small game in the bag and have given my family and I successful hunts and meaningful time together outside. My choice of ammo is the Red Fire pellets that Gamo makes (https://gamousa.com/product/red-fire-pellets-22-cal/) but they make a great combo pack so you can try different shapes and figure out what works best for you: (https://gamousa.com/product/combo-pack-assorted-22-cal/) – Nick Mundt
You also have choices when it comes to the type of materials for airgun pellets. The vast majority of them come in lead or lead alloy options. Lead has always been the old standby for most bullets and pellets because it is dense, heavy, and easy to make. But these days, you can also find pellets constructed from alternative materials, such as steel, tin, bismuth, or even hard plastic. Gamo® has a great pellet material called Performance Ballistic Alloy, which is much harder than lead and increases penetration greatly. It delivers up to 25% more energy downrange. You definitely have some choices if you’re hoping to go lead-free.
Gamo® not only offers some top-notch airguns for hunters and target shooters, but plenty of awesome pellet options too. Consider buying a variety of pellets to play around with and see which one works best for you and your airgun. The .22 caliber combo pack or .177 caliber combo pack are both great options.
Assorted 22 caliber ammo, 950 pellets! Master Point (250), Magnum (250), Hunter (250) and TS-22 (200).
Best Airgun Caliber for Squirrel Hunting?
With all of that being said, take this advice with a grain of salt. There are a lot of variables when it comes to your specific airgun model, the pellets you choose, the wild game species you hunt, your shooting style, and even the weather conditions. Changing any one of these items can change the performance and accuracy in the field. So spend some time shooting different combinations of pellets under different conditions, and see which one can get you closest to the consistency you’re looking for. If a winner had to be chosen, the .22 Caliber would be the winner in our books, especially in the application we use the most…hunting. The .22 Caliber wins as a clean sweep for the best squirrel hunting caliber, even if the .177 might be a little more accurate or quieter at times, the Gamo technology behind a .22 caliber can be deadly, quiet, and extremely accurate!
“I opt always for the .22 caliber. It’s a little slower but heavier pellet.More energy, hits harder, more accurate, and sometimes even quieter, in my opinion. Just like in archery, a slow hit is better than a fast miss! – T-Bone