Choosing airgun pellets
PUBLISHED: 16:47 28 October 2011 | UPDATED: 19:17 14 May 2012
Steve Miles gives you some tips on choosing the right pellet for the job...
Theres one big snag about airguns - no two are the same. Even top of the range rifles, from the same production run, can favour one type of pellet, while others wont shoot accurately with them at all. This means choosing a pellet thats going to give you the most accurate, reliable performance from your air rifle or pistol, which takes time and patience. Youve got to sit down with as wide a selection of pellets as you can rustle up and shoot them off at targets. There are no short cuts, trial and error is the only way to give you some clear idea of what your airgun prefers and what will let you get the best out of it.
This all seems pretty expensive and time consuming, doesnt it? But its not quite so bad as it sounds. For a start, you must have some idea of what you really want to do with your airgun. Say its a .177 plinking pistol and your back garden is on the small side, then youre not going to want spit-accurate 10 metre Match grade Olympic-level ammo. You can get it, of course, in fact some types, like H&N Finale Match, are even hand picked, selected and graded but pellets like these cost the earth, and you dont need them, anyway.
Basically, any pellet of the correct calibre, in any shape, will do the job for you. But if you are aiming to become a bit of a marksman , flat-headed pellets can give you the best results. These are just the job for plinking at tin cans and because they cut a neat hole which is why they are also known as wadcutter pellets they are even better for paper targets. All the top makers produce at least one flat-head, so it wont be difficult to find one of these target style pellets to suit you, your pistol, and your pocket.
To a large extent, Field Target shooters dont have to agonise over pellet choice - their rifles do that job for them. The longer barrels of the pre-charged pneumatic rifles FT shooters prefer always seem to perform best with heavy .177 pellets. As a result, for ages, Bisley Magnum or H&N Barracuda took all the top trophies. Then it was Crosman Premiers and Bisley Long Range Gold that swept the board and now Air Arms and JSBs are at the top of the pile, with the new Defiants waiting in the wings. All different pellets, its true, though all are .177 round-heads, and all are longer and/or heavier than average.
FT shooting is no piece of cake, but at least choosing the right pellet can be. On the other hand, is it perhaps hunting that turns you on? Well, if thats the case the choices open to you are wider than ever, but theres a but, and its a BIG one. When you are aiming to hunt, you are also aiming to take the life of a living creature whether it be a rat, a rabbit, a grey squirrel or a wood pigeon and that sort of decision carries a lot of responsibility. It means that finding the perfect pellet to suit your particular air rifle holds far more significance than any back yard plinker, or even knock-down target shooter, has to worry about.
You are going to need pellets that can, together with your own level of accuracy, guarantee one inch groups, or better, at your hunting range and that means five or more shots inside a circle the same size as a 2p piece. What that range may actually be is down to your ability as a marksman and how good your fieldcraft may be every bit as much as your pellets performance downrange.
As any keen and competent hunter will tell you, theres a huge difference between calmly plotting precision groups on sheets of paper in the back garden and keeping that muzzle rock steady, with flies buzzing around your head, nettles tickling your ankles and the chance of the rabbit in your sights vanishing in the blink of an eye.
The best shape for hunting pellets causes as much argument as the best calibre - so lets get size sorted first. Some will insist that .177 with its flat trajectory and high penetration is the hunters only sensible choice and, if that calibre is what gives them the best, consistent and accurate results, theyll be right, of course. But the plain fact is that far more hunting airgunners opt for the heavier knockdown impact of the .22 and will defend their preferred choice against all critics. At least, theres no doubt that overall, these two calibres form the most popular and effective hunting pellet choices so their users are equally right, too. Then again a smaller, but equally dedicated band of airgunners are utterly convinced that .20 pellets provide the perfect compromise - a trajectory close to .177 and an impact like a .22. And of course theres still the .25 brigade, who, to be fair, will be mostly FAC level shooters but they will still swear by the total effectiveness of their mega-slugs.
So whats the right answer? Is there an ideal hunting calibre? Is .177 better than .20 .22 or .25? There is an answer, and its that the ideal hunting calibre is the one that gives you the best results, the one that gives you the confidence to squeeze the trigger in the sure and certain knowledge that the shot will impact exactly where you want it to that is the ideal hunting calibre - and only you can be the final judge of what size it must be.
Getting to the Point
Then again, shape can cause a bit of a barney too. Many believe that pointed pellets must, by their very nature, be the hunters logical choice. The downside is that the actual point can become more easily damaged than round or flat shapes and a damaged head almost always means an inaccurate flight path, which will result in a miss, or even worse, a wound.
Again, only trial and error at targets, not live quarry will set your mind at rest, and fill it with the sort of total confidence an airgun hunter has to have.
Many hunters opt for the logical compromise, the classic round head. All the pellet manufacturers make them and all airgunners have used them at one time or another in fact scores of them will have never used anything else. So, if numbers were used to decide matters, hunters would all use round head .22 pellets.
There is one more aspect of pellet choice and thats the eco-friendly one, part of the green issue. Although the vast majority of airgun pellets are made from lead, there are one or two brands available made from more environmentally friendly metals, like tin and zinc, the best known of them being from Prometheus Pellets. Are they better than lead? As per usual, when it comes to picking pellets, it all depends on how they suit your airgun so the choice is still down to you!