Sometimes, close enough IS enough: A tale of pellets
by B.B. Pelletier
While I was visiting Pyramyd Air earlier this week, I happened to speak to Ariel, customer sales and service manager, about the problem of pellet supply they sometimes have. You see, Pyramyd Air ships hundreds of tins of pellets every week and sometimes the manufacturers cannot keep up with the demand. Often it is JSB that's backordered, but this time it was Beeman.
"No problem," I told her. "H&N makes many of Beeman's pellets. Just recommend a substitute H&N pellet."
She tried that already, but the customer wanted only Beeman pellets.
Most of us are aware that Beeman manufactures nothing. They are a distributor who has manufacturers make things they can sell under their own name. This is a pretty common business practice--especially these days, with China acting as the "shop" for so many American companies. Most people are aware of this practice, but they still think there might be something in the purchasing specification that will make this company's product different than the original manufacturer's product, even though they're nominally identical. Sometimes that's true, sometimes it's not. Let's start with Beeman and let's talk pellets.
Beeman Kodiak pellets are identical to H&N Baracuda pellets. And there have been times when other airgun companies also re-branded Baracudas. Webley, for instance, at one time sold their Baracudas as Webley Magnum pellets. The reason I'm so sure they are all Baracudas is because the Baracuda is one of the finest heavy pellets on the market. A company would be insane to screw with that success as long as they can get H&N to put their label on the tin, which they apparently can in the case of Baracudas.
I've used Baracudas under all three names and gotten identical results. So, I shop for my Baracudas by whoever has the best price. Or, as is the case at present, by whoever has them in stock. If there are no Beeman Kodiaks available, I'm going to use H&N Baracudas without a second thought. Or Webley Magnums, during the time they were offered. Pyramyd Air currently does not stock H&N Baracudas in .177 and .22 calibers, but this market is always in flux.
Let's look at another one. How about Beeman H&N Match? Well, there you go! Beeman actually includes the H&N name on the tin with their own. So there's no doubt who makes them. But, H&N Finale Match pellets come in different weights, don't they? And Beeman H&N Match pellets come in only one weight. The solution, of course, is to match up the Beeman pellets with the H&N Finale Match whose weight comes closest. In .177, that would be the heavy one, whose 8.1 grains is close enough to Beeman's pellet weight of 8.09 grains that we can be pretty certain they're the same.
There are some Beeman pellets for which there are no H&N equivalents imported into the U.S. The Beeman Crow Magnum, for example is not brought into this country as an H&N pellet. It may be available elsewhere in the world under the H&N name or Beeman may have an agreement with H&N that the design is theirs, alone. In the latter case, you either have to buy Beeman or do without.
Let's turn that around the other way. Are there H&N pellets for which Beeman does not have an equivalent? Yes, there are. I've already mentioned the light H&N Finale Match, but there are others. They show up from time to time, but unless there's a continuing demand they'll go away without any fanfare. I can't tell you how many times that has happened to me with other brands labeled with airgun manufacturers' labels, rather than pellet makers' labels.
Want some more? Okay, here's a helpful one. Any active U.S. airgunner knows the supply of JSB pellets is finite and limited. So, what if there were pellets under other names that were actually the JSBs we all want. Well, in some cases, there are! Take the .177 JSB Exact that weighs 8.4 grains. It's the same as the Air Arms Diabolo Field pellet that weighs 8.44 grains. It's also sold elsewhere as a BSA Wolverine pellet. Same weight, same shape, same pellet--different names. Good to know if it's a pellet you really like and the supply of one brand dries up.
What ELSE do we know from this?
Okay, this is simplistic, but if you don't know it, it's worth hearing. If a company makes several good pellets, like JSB and H&N, they probably make most or even all of their pellets to the same standard So, if you've grown to trust Beeman brand pellets and are now learning for the first time that they're mostly H&N pellets, it's probably a safe bet that most or even all H&N pellets are equally good. The same could be said of JSB pellets and the other labels we know they're sold under. It isn't Air Arms' name, as respected as it is in the airgun world, on the outside of the tin that makes the pellets inside good. It's the fact that JSB makes them.
Just like Winchester didn't make the air rifles that carried its name, neither do Air Arms and BSA make the pellets they sell. Winchester arranged for Diana to make their air rifles, and you can't do any better than that. Just as you can't do much better than JSB or H&N for pellets.