Testing non-lead pellets: Part 3

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1
Part 2

We have a lot of interest in non-lead or lead-free pellets. I heard from several readers on Part 2, which ran last week. That was when I used the Hatsan model 95 Combo breakbarrel to test both lead and non-lead .22-caliber pellets for accuracy at both 10 meters and 25 yards. I admit that was a scatterbrain test; but after seeing the results, I’m glad I did it. Here’s why. If lead-free pellets do not perform in real-world airguns, they have no value. They shouldn’t be a science experiment, requiring special guns and conditions. If they’re going to succeed, they must work well in the kinds of guns that are used by many shooters.

That said, I’m dialing back my test parameters today and using a spring gun that I know is very accurate — my .177-caliber Beeman R8. It’s probably best to start with a known good gun and then, if the green pellets do work, expand the test out into the more basic types of airguns.

This particular R8 works best with JSB Exact RS pellets. And I rediscovered that this rifle also shoots best when laid directly on a sandbag and is not held using the artillery hold. The advantage of shooting directly off a bag is that it gives the rifle a more stable platform.

I was going to shoot several green pellets for this test, but I decided to limit the test to just one pellet. If it was successful, I could always branch out from there. The pellet I selected for today’s test is the H&N Baracuda Green, a 6.48-grain domed pellet (which is the same as the Beeman ECO Kodiak pellet). The equivalent pellet in lead weighs anywhere from 10.2-grains to 10.6-grains, depending on which H&N Baracuda you sample.


H&N Baracuda Green on the left and JSB Exact RS on the right. Notice how much shorter the heavier lead pellet is.

First, I shot a group of 10 JSB Exact RS domes at 25 yards. This group measures 0.502 inches between the two farthest centers. While it’s not the best group this rifle has made at 25 yards, it’s a good one, as can be seen in the photo.


The first group of JSB Exact RS domes made this 0.502-inch group. Eight pellets in the larger hole on the right.

Following that group, I shot the first group of Baracuda Greens. I was prepared to season the bore by shooting as many pellets as necessary for the group to settle down; but as you’ll see, there was no need. Ten shots gave a 0.442-inch group. That’s right, the H&N Baracuda Green pellets beat the best lead pellet I know of for this rifle. I would have to say that’s a positive result!


The first group of Baracuda Green pellets was surprisingly small. It measures 0.442 inches between centers.

After shooting this group, I fired a second 10-shot group of the Baracuda Greens to see if the first group was a fluke. Group number two measures 0.543 inches between centers. It’s larger than the first group and also larger than the group of lead pellets I shot before that, but it’s certainly in the same ballpark.


Group two of Baracuda Greens is a little larger, but it’s still a fine group. This pellet is accurate in this rifle. Group measures 0.543 inches between centers.

Final group
To end this test, I fired a final group of the JSB Exact RS pellets. This time, the first shot did go to a different place than the following shots, so I guess some seasoning of the bore was required; but after that, the shots all went to the same place.

The second group of JSB Exact RS pellets measures 0.422 inches and is the smallest group of the test. But it’s only 0.02 inches smaller than the best Baracuda Green group, and that’s well within the margin of measurement error.


The smallest group of the test is this second group of JSB Exact RS pellets. It measures 0.422 inches between centers.

What can I say?
Obviously, H&N Baracuda Green pellets are very accurate in my Beeman R8. They may be equal to JSB Exact RS pellets, which have been the most accurate pellets for this rifle until now.

We have one good test under our belts. Next, I want to test these pellets in an accurate PCP. I happen to have a Benjamin Marauder in .177 caliber, so that’s what I’ll use.

The rest of you can help by testing the Baracuda Green pellets in other airguns and reporting the results. I want to stick with Baracuda Greens for a while before I branch out into other non-lead pellets. I’m glad I did today’s test, and things are looking good for the greens.

You don’t know how good we have it!
If you’re a regular reader, you know that I built an AR-15 lower receiver to test the Crosman MAR177 AR-15 upper PCP conversion. After sending the upper back to Crosman, I was left with a lower and nothing to attach to it. So, I thought I’d buy an upper in .223 caliber to complete my rifle.

In my ignorance, I imagined that buying an upper was a simple process. Well, it’s not! If you think airgunning has a lot of jargon and is confusing, you’ve never shopped in the confusing world of the AR! The websites abound with acronyms, slang and references to things I feel I should know but don’t. Unless you’re extremely careful, you can buy a partial upper and still need to spend a lot more money on parts that aren’t necessarily compatible with what you’ve already purchased.

Ever hear the tale that all AR-15 parts interchange? Well, they don’t, and the chat forums are full of complaints about it! Reading the customer reviews about certain products paints a nightmare tale of confusion, customer abandonment and outright lying by some of the major dealers.

What a snake-pit the AR market has become! I can see I will have to become very educated on the subject of the parts of the gun before I buy — or there’s one other possibility. I could buy a a “completed” upper that has everything needed to fit on my lower and work. There’s just one problem with that. Most (over 80 percent) of the .223-caliber (and yes, I am including those that are chambered for the 5.56mm in this number) complete uppers for sale today have 16-inch barrels, because buyers apparently want the M4 carbine look. But a 16-inch barrel has none of the things I want on my rifle. It’s as if there are only gas spring super-magnums breakbarrels for sale, and I want a TX200 that nobody offers!

Then, there’s the problem of supply. Buyers in this market are at the mercy of the manufacturers, whose websites are the most confusing places of all. It’s a case of, “Place your order and shut up! We will get to you when we are good and ready!” I know they’re experiencing a boom market of unparalleled proportions, but that’s no excuse for the unhelpful fulfillment language they use on their sites.

When I see complaints about the Pyramyd Air website and then compare them to the trauma wards that sell (I guess?) AR-15 parts and assemblies, I thank my lucky stars I’m an airgunner. And, yes, I do plan to soldier on and see this thing through. Unfortunately, when I do get my upper, I may then be in the class of owners whose “half-minute of angle” upper prints a three-inch, five-shot group at 100 yards! Don’t tell me there are good companies I can trust — I’ve seen complaints about all of them.

The bottom line is that if I wasn’t working in airguns, there’s a huge market of AR sales that needs a little honesty, education and Pyramyd Air-type retailing. Given the supply difficulties that exist, I’m not sure that a good dealer could make a go of it in this market, but it’s obvious there would be no competition.

50 thoughts on “Testing non-lead pellets: Part 3

  1. The further you’re digging the more interesting it seems to get!
    I bought RWS hypermax to try out and the first thing that I noticed was the uniformity of these pellets, they all seem to be machined to exact dimensions. I can measure a few of them to test out that theory but I can’t weight them as I don’t have a scale accurate enough to do the job. Could you weight a few for the next report to see if they vary more or less in weight compared to lead pellets?

    If they are more consistent it would only be a mather of finding a rifle or pistol best suited to them…

    J-F


    • Because the non-lead are lighter than lead, you would not expect there to be as much weight variation with the non lead pellets (actual weight). A more realistic look at weight variation would be the percentage of variation for each kind.

      twotalon



      • BB,

        I weighed about 30 of my .22 Baracuda Greens and they were incedibly consistent – as I recall, all were between 12.52 and 12.68 grains on my scale, so only a 0.16 grain spread. If I grab 30 JSB 18.1s out of a tin I’ll see at least a 0.25 grain spread . . .

        Alan in MI


  2. I’ve used both Barracuda Green and Field and Target Trophy Green pellets extensively with good results in the following airguns: Weihrauch HW-30S, Benjamin HB-22, Webley Hurricane, Feinwerkbau 602. The 602 and HW are detuned versions that are supposed to deliver just under 500fps with “normal” weight pellets.

    All the shooting is indoors at 10 or 6 meters (depending on whether I’m shooting in the games room or the basement). I can reliably get sub-dime sized groups out of the HW and 602, the HB gives quarter sized ones (though P.O.I. is WAY to the right of where the sights sit on the bull – probably because it tumbled down a flight of stairs once) and the Webley – well, I love it and inherited it from my Dad, but its groups are more in the Canadian two dollar coin size most of the time.

    These groups are pretty much the same as what I get with various H&N match pellets. I think the lead pellets may be a bit more accurate but I’m not a consistent enough shooter to be really sure. I am slowly improving all the time though!


    • nowhere,

      Okay, I will do a blog on how to hold a Webley pistol for accuracy, and what you might expect from it.

      B.B.


      • I figured there might be a technique I was missing. The artillery hold and 1911 grip blogs helped a lot with the HW-30 and HB-22 respectively.


    • From my experiences so far in airguns, shooting a Webley Tempest or Hurricane accurately is one of the most rewarding things you can learn. My Tempest has a heavy trigger pull but I took it on a two week vacation to Colorado and shot it a lot every day for two weeks. I started out shooting coke cans at 5 yards and by the end of the trip it was coke cans at 25 and 30 yards. I never did shoot it for groups, but instead just kept backing up my target. Anyway, now I love these Webley pistols. It’s highly addicting to shoot a pistol that well. My advice is to just put up everything but your Hurricane and shoot it every day.

      David Enoch



    • Victor,

      Yes, I will test green wadcutters, though the ones I have tested thus far are very disappointing.

      B.B.


  3. Good news! they a bit zippy, so still not sure if they have a lot of knock-down power and overpenetration might be an issue, but they can hit what you aim at…


    • Shakes,

      As light as these pellets are, I don’t think over-penetration will be a problem. I guess I can test for that.

      B.B.


  4. Couldn’t wait on me any longer, eh? That’s OK. Life distracted me for awhile (still is as a matter of fact).

    That is quite impressive grouping! I just might have to rethink a springer some day. I do not suppose you happened to check velocities, did you? These light pellets seem to be very sensitive to that and also to the slightest breeze.


  5. BB, DPMS, Panther Arms makes a large number of Uppers with different barrel lengths and configurations. They should have what you want. But, how well they will work with you lower would need to be checked. There are lots and lots of different lowers out there as you well know.

    Mike


    • Mike,

      DPMS and Panther Arms are both snake pits! I went to their sites and tried to navigate through the hospital waste and excrement.

      B.B.


      • Too bad, I really like the rifle I have from them. Good quality and accurate. It looks like things must have headed south there.

        Mike


  6. B.B.

    Welcome to the exciting world of AR15s. ARs are really fun guns to play around with. I personally consider them to be carbines whether with a 16 or 20 inch barrel. The 16″ barrels are the most popular, I think because that is the shortest barrel one can purchase without having to purchase a tax stamp. I have never had any problems with 16″ barrels, but many consider the 20″ to be a slightly better pick since it was the barrel length the gun and cartridge were designed for. Also, with open sights it allows for a longer sight radius, but if you plan on using optics that’s not really an issue.

    Most of the web sites out their are really confusing. Brownells and a number of companies out there carry what you are looking for which I assume to be a flattop 20″ model with front sight post. You may want to check out J&T Distributing in Winchester, KY (parts arm of the company that makes DoubleStar ARs). Their web site is new, but still confusing to me. Just give them a call, they are very helpful folks and will configure your upper anyway you want it. You can get a standard flattop 20″ upper (w/o rear sight) and bolt with upgraded chrome lined barrel for around $500. However, you can drop big bucks on options, for example free float handguards can run upwards of $300 for some models.

    A lot of folks out there really look down on the AR family of firearms. Personally I have found them to be outstanding firearms. They can also deliver outstanding accuracy with quality ammo (i.e. Hornady, Black Hills, etc). The .30 cal folks will tell you the 5.56 is only slightly better than throwing rocks, but talk to some of the folks that have really used them for serious work and your opinion changes fast.

    Good luck, Bub


    • Bub,

      Thanks for your encouragement. I am thinking about a 24-inch heavy barrel in .223, be3cause I want the most accuracy I can get. Weight means very little to me, but accuracy is important.

      Question: Should I just build what I want from parts? I want a good bolt carrier for reliability and anything else the good ones offer, and I want an accurate barrel. I’m thinking a 1:8 twist. But 1:9 would also do, as I’ll probably not shoot much over 55 grains.

      Do you reload? What is the best powder? And is is clean?

      Also, what’s a convenient way to throw the empties into one place where I can find them. I have no shortage of brass, but I’d kinda like to use mine as much as possible, so I can keep track of its history.

      B.B.


      • Forgot to add in my comment below. There are brass catchers specifically designed to attach to the AR… Well worth the few bucks to not have to chase your brass.


  7. BB,

    Sorry your AR experience isn’t what you’d like. Too bad you’re not in CO where we have 5280 Armory. They have pretty much anything you’d want in an AR or accessories and are friendly and knowledgeable folks. Matt and Gina have grown their little gun show business into a rather large, mostly tactical, brick and mortar gun store. I go there for everything.

    Looks like Obama and his crew are stimulating the firearms economy again…

    /Dave


  8. B.B.

    If weight isn’t a problem a 1:8 stainless steel barrel would be hard to beat. It should handle most 55gr-75gr rounds without any problems. You should be able to put one together from parts without any problem. It’s not that hard and you would get what you want. I would strongly consider a free float barrel for your purposes. Companies like Colt, Daniel Defense, and Bravo Company all offer quality bolt carrier assemblies. The Mil-Spec term gets overused so don’t pay too much attention to that.

    I don’t reload, but save my brass. Planning to start someday when time permits. If your shooting from a bench most of the brass will wind up in one general area. If you are moving around shooting you will have brass all over the place. Some folks use brass catchers, but I never have and really don’t know how well they would work.

    Bub


  9. B.B.,

    Very impressive shooting. I’ve heard good things about the Baracuda Greens but this report made me sit up straight and open my eyes. Initially I thought this was a shameless excuse to shoot the R8. Seems you keep unlocking its’ shooting secrets. ;-)

    Your frustration with the AR build is palpable. These are the same feelings I see expressed by newbie airgunners that try to navigate through the hospital waste and excrement of tuners, good scopes, scopes that are springer rated, maintenance do’s and don’ts, proper mounts, proper cleaning methods, etc., etc. At the very least the AR build experience will heighten your empathy and add to your excellent patience for the novice airgunner.

    kevin


    • Kevin,

      Well, the motivation started as a shameless excuse to shoot the R8, but I am so glad that it did!

      And yes, I am also glad for this frustrating experience with buying an AR% — a gun I said I would never own. Because this pushes my nose into the pile on the trading floor. I do renew my empathy for the first-time buyer.

      And, I have uncovered another dynamic. I have found many AR buyers are just like the younger magnum spring-gun buyers, in buying rifles that have no hope of being accurate, then complaining bitterly about it afterwards, when they find out. That’s what some of my chat forum reading has turned up.

      B.B.


  10. If even one non-lead pellet performs well, I would say that the category has been validated since lead pellets give you variation.

    How fascinating to read your take on the AR. It confirms my sense that a lot of the motive to build and accessorize this gun is not for the purpose of creating a better gun but just to tinker. I’m also reminded of one of the most damaging criticisms of the AR from none other than Mikhail Kalashnikov: “The AR has had more modifications than there are hairs on my head.” He has an extremely full head of hair at an advanced age. The good designs–like the M1 or the AK47 or the 1911–don’t change. When you have to work over every feature like the barrel length and whether to have a piston or not and where and how your piston design affects your bolt carrier tilt and where your charging handle is located and which caliber is the right one (all of which come at astronomical prices), you have to start wondering if you’re making things better or putting on band-aids.

    I have no doubt as many have said that some copies of the gun shoot extremely well. But this raises a question about design. If you really want to shoot accurately, why not get a bolt-action rifle of which there are many good ones? For an assault rifle, especially at the limited distances possible for the short-barreled ARs, target-level accuracy is irrelevant. Moreover, it seems to me that the essential virtue of the assault rifle design as discovered by the Germans is to optimize a rifle to kill as many people as possible in a battlefield environment. It wasn’t the most accurate rifle or the most powerful, but it adjusted these parameters to do maximum damage. Not pretty but at least its purpose was clear. To try to impose the American tradition of extreme sharpshooting on a design that was meant for something fundamentally different doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Anyway, I’m always happy to read more, especially from B.B., about developments with ARs to challenge my opinions.

    Duskwight, well since you asked it has been pleasantly cool in Northern California–in the low 90s F. That seems to be about to change with a few 100+ days coming up. But we all have power and air-conditioning. Besides I’m off to Hawaii in a few days. :-)

    Quite a day for weapons carrying yesterday. A woman in Detroit is fatally shot at a party when she reaches behind an off-duty officer to hug him and somehow discharges his SW M&P pistol in its holster. Then there was the guy on the talk show in the Middle East who throws his shoe at another guy and pulls a gun on camera. As for the M&P, it’s hard to imagine how the events happened as described. But I will say that carrying a round in the chamber in a gun with no safety (like the Glock) has always made me nervous. Otherwise, I would say that it a case of carrying responsibly and intelligently.

    Matt61


    • But I will say that carrying a round in the chamber in a gun with no safety (like the Glock) has always made me nervous. Otherwise, I would say that it a case of carrying responsibly and intelligently.

      They have plenty of safeties…

      BUT they are designed on the basis that one should not have to fumble with disabling safeties before the trigger is deliberately pulled. The trigger IS a safety (the first part of the trigger pull disables a firing pin blocker or similar mechanism — the Walther P99 is similar, the trigger first rotates on a lower pin before the mechanism starts to rotate the on the upper pivot pin). Holsters are designed to cover the trigger guard against accidental contact (and with my P99, if one has pressed the decocker button before holstering, it requires a long heavy trigger pull to set the system off; even without the decocker, the “free” trigger is still a long pull before catching up to the striker and then stacks to a heavy pull.

      The news did state that the soft inside-the-pants holster used could allow pressure on the trigger, but I still question that one could innocently brush the holster with sufficient force to move the trigger of a defense pistol [whereas my IZH/Baikal pellet pistol will go off if you sneeze at it).


  11. Matt,

    I have several good bolt guns. The reason I’m getting an AR upper is to go with the AR lower I had to build to test the Crosman MAR177.

    If I didn’t know there will be many more Crosman air rifles coming that will use the AR lower, I would not have done it this way. The firearm upper is just to use the lower while I wait for more airgun uppers to come.

    That and I have several hundred rounds of .223 and 5.56mm to shoot (doesn’t everybody?).

    B.B.


    • Nope…

      A small hundred of .30 M1 Carbine, and a larger hundred of mixed 147gr 7.62NATO ball and 150gr .308Win soft points, OTOH… (Really need a few more boxes — hmm, Does Hornady make a Z-max in rifle calibers? The .40S&W Z-max appears to be their home defense round with a green insert rather than red, and using plain brass rather than nickel cases [at about $2 less a box])



  12. BB,
    Glad to see some non-lead pellets that work. I think the lead ban faction has ulterior motives, and having a non-lead alternative seems like a good idea to me: They may not sneak around banning lead projectiles if they know their hidden aim (stopping shooting) won’t happen. So no, I haven’t become a left leaning greenie :). Though I’ve actually been convinced by a medical researcher friend of mine that lead in gas was a bad idea, most of the hysteria over lead is pure silliness, and I will continue to clinch fishing sinkers with my teeth with no fear :).


  13. BB,
    Getting a complete AR upper is a cakewalk compared to figuring out how to finish building some of the lowers. At least you wont have to deal with commercial vs. mil-spec buffer tubes and staking the castle nut.
    Just don’t forget the charging handle.


  14. Great article.
    I took the time to test these greens in my prod! By far they are in my top 5 pellets. My groups rivaled its favorite pellet thus far (cphp). If these can keep groups like Ive seen today then they just might make the cut for hunting. I just wish the price was more bulk buying friendly :-)


  15. “The good designs–like the M1 or the AK47 or the 1911–don’t change. When you have to work over every feature like the barrel length and whether to have a piston or not and where and how your piston design affects your bolt carrier tilt and where your charging handle is located and which caliber is the right one (all of which come at astronomical prices), you have to start wondering if you’re making things better or putting on band-aids.”

    LMFAO! I’ll give ya the M1, but the 1911? There are far more variations of that platform than the AR/Mxx, doesn’t mean it’s design is flawed. And neither is the AR’s. Both guns have proven themselves reliable workhorses whose adaptability lends themselves to modification. I’m no longer active military (once a marine, always a marine) but I carried both through many tours over 20 years and my faith in each is resolute and well-earned. It’s obvious to even casual readers of this blog that BB doesn’t like ARs or Glocks and that’s fine, this is America and you’re entitled to whatever opinion you’d like. An opinion, ironically, protected by the very weapon you despise. Morbid curiosity does make me wonder why you dislike Glocks so much…it certainly can’t be because they made plastic popular, since this entire column is devoted to toy guns made almost entirely of that material. My current duty backup is a gen 1 G17 that is every bit as reliable as my service weapons. Personally I don’t find it much to look at, but it has saved my butt, (and countless civilians’) on several occasions.

    And so far I haven’t found a single airgun as consistent, reliable or accurate.


    • d1swat,

      I dislike ARs because they were forced on me when I was in the Army. I barely qualified Expert with a 1966 M-16, and only then by splashing rocks on the silhouette target at ranges beyond 200 yards. Then as a company commander, I “owned” over one-hundred of them, and they were nightmares to keep operational.

      I will admit they have gotten better (more reliable) in the years that have passed.

      As for the Glock, I agree they are very reliable — no doubt more so that a standard 1911A1. But they are plastic and I am an old man and something of a curmudgeon.

      My wife, Edith, carries a Glock 36 that we gunsmithed for her, and for its size I think it is the best.45 acp she could have, because she can carry a round in the chamber and just pull the trigger to get started. After the first shot, though, give me the trigger of the 1911.

      B.B.


      • I’d carry a 1911 if it weren’t so doggone heavy & big. My purse would be half it’s size if I didn’t carry a Glock. It would be larger still if I carried a 1911.

        Edith


    • d1swat,

      Since you are new here, I’ll cut you a bit of slack and not delete your comment. This is a g-rated site, and using terms or acronyms that are unsuitable for people of all ages isn’t allowed here. Thanks for understanding.

      Edith


  16. BB I have to apologize for ‘d1swat’, (I wondered why he was yelling for my email address) He’s staying with us while he’s inbetween wives and like anyone who isn’t named Bill Gates is looking for a cheaper alternative to buying ammo. I’m new to the airgun world myself but have found your blog extremely informative and appreciate your straight-forward writing style…I figured he’d appreciate it too and might actually LEARN something, so I sent him here. Drives me crazy when he calls ‘em toys! The man has the most highly calibrated eyeball I’ve ever seen and has taught me plenty at the range, but he is a diehard jarhead of the strictest sort and just refuses to believe our ‘silly little toys’ can be just as enjoyable a shooting experience as the ‘real’ thing.
    I suppose that’s my fault as well, I haven’t made exactly the best choices when it comes to purchasing these things. (That was before I found PA and your column of course) I’m hoping the discovery I have arriving this evening will change his mind. : )


    • dangerdongle,

      Well, he is a shooter and because of that he will always be welcome here.

      And many of us also do shoot firearms. We just shoot airguns because they allow us so much more trigger time.

      By the way, I haven’t seen your handle before, so welcome to the blog!

      B.B.


      • Thank you! I tend to read more than I write so you probably won’t see my name much, save for the occasional dumb question or two. Also I’ve spoken to Greg (d1swat) and asked him to sign up under his OWN email if he intends to continue posting, and to tone it down a bit. Naturally his response was, well, not something I can repeat here.
        Whoever coined the phrase ‘curse like a sailor’ never met a marine!


        • No surprise… After all, what IS a marine…

          Basically army infantry that spends most of its life shoved into small cabins below deck on a navy vessel <G>


  17. Superb shooting. I can tell that the gun was accurate from the hits on the target. Well, I guess it really depends on the brand. Popular brands are usually more accurate when it comes to shooting.


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