How Do I Choose the Best Calibre Firearm?

Author: John Harrison   Date Posted:20 January 2016 

How Do I Choose the Best Calibre Firearm? main image How Do I Choose the Best Calibre Firearm? image

How Do I Choose the Best Calibre Firearm?

By John Harrison

"How do I choose the best calibre firearm?" is the most commonly asked question over the counter in store.

Take the headache out of choosing a firearm with this informative guide that covers all you need to consider when deliberating your next purchase.

Choosing a firearm to match your needs and your budget is not as difficult as it may seem.

The first question is what is it that you want the firearm to do. Is it for target use or feral animal control? Do you need a short range low power firearm such as an air rifle or .22LR or do you need a long range rifle such as .223 or larger, or do you need a shotgun for snakes, rabbits etc.?

We will assume that the firearm is required for feral animal control as this is the main area that concerns most customers.

Let’s start with air rifles as most people are familiar with the old air rifle they had growing up. The modern air rifle of today is a far more capable firearm than the old daisy we grew up with.

Calibres range from .177 to .50cal and can take game from sparrows to pigs and larger game.

Prices range from around $180.00 for the break barrel to beyond $3000.00 for the pre charged pneumatic.

If the air rifle is for teaching the kids how to shoot, a small break barrel in .177 would be ideal. It is not too heavy or powerful and provides good practice at very cheap cost. This sized air rifle is not suitable for rabbits and unfortunately to buy one for this job means a larger, more cumbersome rifle that would be too big and heavy for the average 12-year- old to handle.

If the air rifle is for pest birds in a shed keep in mind even some of the lower powered air rifles can still put holes through the iron. 

Moving up the scale to something for rabbits a .177 calibre or .22 calibre air rifle capable of taking rabbits cleanly at around 35 meters would include the mid range spring powered rifles such as the Diana 35 or Gamo CFX to name just two amongst many. These rifles sell for around $450.00.

Once the range extends to 50 meters and beyond we start to look at the largest of the spring guns and the precharged pneumatics.

The Diana 350 Magnum is an excellent rifle for this task and is available in.177 and .22 calibre. This is a large air rifle and would be difficult to load for a youngster. The cost of this rifle is also around $700.

The precharged pneumatics have a reservoir tank that is pressurised to around 3000psi so a divers air tank or a special high pressure hand pump is used to pump these up. They range from single shot to semi-automatic with multi shot rotary magazines. The semi autos currently only require a category “A” licence but also retail at over $2500.00.

These rifles are for the dedicated air rifle hunter or for feral pest management due to their high cost. They are capable of consistently taking rabbits beyond 75 meters with a very high degree of accuracy. 

Most of these rifles are capable of 5 shot 50 meter groups ½” or better. The calibres for precharged start at .177 and include .20 , .22 , .25 , .30 , .357 , .45  and .50 calibre these large calibres are capable of taking large game at close range (within 50 meters). Take a look at some Youtube clips for more info on these larger airguns.

Once you look at the cost of the larger air rifles you need to look at wether a .22LR would be a better option. The main advantage that an air rifle has over the .22LR is safety with less chance of ricochet in closely settled areas. Keep in mind that a powerful air rifle can also be quite loud.

 The humble .22LR (Long Rifle) which takes a rimfire cartridge is the world’s most popular round. Within reasonable distances it has been used on just about every type of animal with some success but also a lot of failures. This is not a pig rifle and yet at point blank range has been used to put down large stock.

The range of rimfire ammunition ranges from ratshot to hyper velocity bullets both in solids and hollow points. Hollow pointed bullets are much more effective on foxes and rabbits than solids as they expand in size on impact and cause much more damage.

Rifles available in this calibre range from the cheap Asian made rifles (not recommended due to quality control issues) to the higher class rifles made by CZ, Sako and Anschutz. In the cheaper rifles Savage and Ruger make good quality rifles at an affordable price. The .22LR can be regarded as a 75 meter rifle with well-placed shots called for on foxes.

Moving up in power are the .22 Magnum and .17HMR. The .22 Magnum uses bullet weights from 30 grain to 50 grain with a 40 grain projectile the most common at a velocity of 1875fps (Feet per second). 

The 30gr V-Max has a velocity of 2200fps this extends the range out to appx 125 meters or further.

The 17HMR which is a .22 Magnum case necked down to .17 calibre is flatter shooting and is considered more accurate than the .22 Magnum. The most common bullet is a 17 grain ballistic tip projectile travelling at 2550 fps and while this is quicker than the .22 Magnum, in the wrong hands is not as forgiving if bullet placement is not accurate.

A new kid on the block is the .17 Winchester Super Magnum or 17 WSM - still a rimfire but has as much power at 200yds as the 17HMR has at the muzzle. This should be a great cartridge but at this early stage it has had some accuracy issues in some rifles, mainly the sporter weight Savage B-Mag which was poorly built.

The varmint version of this rifle seems to be more successful and now that Ruger has released their excellent 77/17 it will be interesting to see if this round will live up to its promises.

The advantage with all of the above rifles is that a category “A” licence is all that is required.

The next step up requires a category “B” licence which enables you to own a centrefire.

The smallest of the common centrefires, the .22 Hornet, has been a great little cartridge with a 45 grain bullet travelling at 2550fps it moves the useful range out to around 180 meters. This round is particularly useful on foxes, but suffers from the fact that ammunition is expensive when compared to the .223 Remington.

A new round, the .17 Hornet, has been commercialised by Hornady using a slightly more robust case and has a velocity of 3600fps using a 20grain V-Max ballistic tipped projectile. This calibre makes an excellent fox rifle and is fun on rabbits - the only drawback is the high cost of ammunition.

Just as an explanation of the ballistic tip - it is essentially a hollow point projectile with a plastic tip inserted that ensures it expands when the target is hit. This makes it very explosive when driven at the higher velocities. Its use depends on what it hits and can blow up on the skin of some animals eg pigs encrusted in mud. It works better on soft skinned game as a general rule but in large calibres may not open up and will pass straight through with minimal damage.

Bullet placement is everything when hunting and varies depending on the hunter’s skill.

The .223 Remington is the most popular centrefire round worldwide . It has taken over from the once popular .222 Remington which is still a very good calibre but unfortunately a lot of U.S. manufacturers no longer chamber rifles for this round (some of the European manufacturers still chamber .222). The .223 is generally effective on foxes and small game to around 230 meters and can be used with well-placed shots on medium game such as goats. Once again it is not regarded as adequate for pigs although at close range can be effective.

Practical bullet weights for this calibre range from 35 grains for varmints to 90gr for target use in fast twist barrels. The most common bullet weight is a 55 grain soft point. The .223 Remington is very accurate with the better quality rifles capable of placing 5 shots into ½ an inch or better at 100yds. This does not mean that every shooter is capable of this accuracy as a solid bench with a good front and rear rest as well as a good quality scope is essential to achieve this sort of accuracy. 

Wind also has a major effect on the projectile as the range increases. 

The .204 Ruger is another excellent varmint round. It shoots very flat and is capable of extending usable range to 300 meters on rabbits and foxes. Unfortunately, ammunition is both expensive and sometimes hard to obtain. Bullet choice is also restricted from 32 grains to 40 grains and this makes the round more specialised than the .223 Remington.

The .204 comes into its own on foxes due to doing less damage to the pelt and can be seen as a replacement for the almost obsolete 17 Remington.

The 22-250 Remington is still very popular with effective ranges to beyond 300 meters. With well placed shots it can be used on a wide range of feral animals but due to lightweight bullets (55 grain soft point being standard) is still light for pigs. The 22-250 is seen to be a fairly noisy cartridge and as such is not as popular as the .223 Remington. 

Barrel life is also shorter but unless you do a lot of shooting this is not a factor to be considered. Ammunition costs a few dollars more per 20 rounds than .223 but if extra range and increased hitting power is required it is a great cartridge. Do not expect fox pelts to be in good condition if this calibre is used.

The .243 Winchester is one of the most overlooked cartridges around and yet is probably one of the best all round calibres available. Bullet weights range from 55 grains to 105grains and as such is usable on game such as goats, pigs and fallow deer with ranges out to 300 plus meters. Ammunition is starting to be expensive at around $2.00 per shot but it is a calibre that will do the job with the right bullet type.

The type of projectile is important in all of the above calibres and there is a vast range available depending on what you require.

The following calibres are all good calibres for larger game such as red deer and pigs but ammunition is not available everywhere: . 25-06, 6.5x55mm Swede , 260 Remington, 7mm-08, 7mm Remington Magnum, 270 Winchester, 270 WSM all have their followers. 

Unfortunately, ammunition is also expensive.

One of the best pig calibres is the 30-30 Winchester which is typically available in the traditional lever actions such as the Winchester 1894 and the Marlin 336 series. Bullet weight is normally a 150 grain soft point and it has the knock down power for the job. The range of this round is considered to be 150 meters but it is more limited by accurate bullet placement than power.

One of the most popular rounds is the .308 Winchester with bullet weights from 110 grain to 200 grain with the standard round being a 150 grain soft point. Virtually every manufacturer chambers a rifle in this round and it is suitable for all of the large game in Australia apart from buffalo and even then with a well placed shot and the right projectile at closer ranges has done the job in the hands of a competent hunter.

Ideally for the larger game such as scrub bulls and buffalo most hunters prefer a little bit more insurance and would opt for the traditional African game calibres such as .375 H&H or .458 Winchester and some of the bigger calibres. The problem with buying a large calibre rifle for a “one off” hunt is that they are not very usable when you come back to normal sized feral animals. Keep in mind also that ammunition for these large calibres can exceed $100.00 for 20 rounds.

The deciding factor on which rifle to select has to be looked at with regard to the main use that you need it for. Keep in mind that it is nearly impossible for one firearm to cover every job. 

The next firearm to consider and the most versatile is the shotgun, the most common being the 12 gauge. Other gauges include .410ga, 16ga, 20ga and 28 gauge. Of these the .410 is the most popular due to its low recoil and its use on snakes, rabbits and birds. The other gauges are not very common and can be hard to find ammunition for. 

The 12 gauge can use everything from solid slugs to very fine No 12 

Shot sizes and their uses:

SG,SSG and AAA……………………………..Pigs

AAA,BB, No2…………………………………..Foxes


6………………………………………………...Ducks etc

7 ½” , 8, 9………………………………………Clay Target Load

9,12……………………………………………..Quail etc

Once you have considered exaclty what you require the firearm for, it is a fairly simple process to find the right firearm, depending on your needs and budget.

The team at Hunting Haven is happy to help steer you in the right direction, so feel free to shoot us an email, or give us a call and we'll help you out!

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