Posts Tagged ‘ammo’
by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier
This report addresses:
• The .22 rimfire ammunition supply problem in the U.S.
• One possible solution for an ammo supply
• A great substitution for .22 rimfire
Bricks of .22 rimfire ammo usually have 500 rounds, except the value packs that contain a little extra loose ammo.
The rest of the world may not be aware, but there’s an extreme shortage of .22 rimfire ammo in the United States at the present time. In my 66 years, the last two are the only time I could not walk into a gun store or even a discount store and buy a brick of .22 ammunition.
What’s a brick?
A brick is a carton of 500 rounds. It holds 10 boxes of 50 rounds and is called a brick for the general size, shape and weight of the box. There are also loosely packaged value packs that contain a few more than 500 rounds.
In 2012, a brick of inexpensive .22 ammo cost around $9 to $10, depending on the sale. The nominal price was about $20, but everybody knew that was too much to pay, so we all waited for the sales. Only when our backs were up against it did we bite the bullet (pun intended) and pay full price.
Today, the street price of a brick is $50, but that’s only when you can find one for sale. Many of the stores are now rationing sales with limits on the number of smaller boxes you can buy at one time. Buying whole bricks is pretty much a thing of the past.
I’ve purchased single bricks from Midway for $29 in the past year, but they limit your purchase to just one; and when they add the mandatory $27 HAZMAT fee and shipping, the price increases greatly. If they would sell entire cases of .22 (5,000 rounds), the fees and shipping would disappear in the volume. But that isn’t going to happen anytime soon.
Plenty of .22
There’s no shortage of .22 rimfire ammo in the U.S. The ammo plants are working 3 shifts each day to supply all they can. And the government is no longer buying everything they make. What we have is a run on ammo that cannot be satisfied in the near term. The so-called shortage is being caused by hoarding. This is the reason I reload. I can load .45 ACP rounds for much less than the current cost of .22 long rifle. But .22 is a lot of fun to shoot!
Strategies for getting bricks
You can watch the obituaries and attend the estate sales, but that’s where everybody goes. I would make friends with the supply sergeants! That’s what I did in the Army. Supply sergeants are in control of everything, so go right to the source!
In the civilian world, the supply sergeants are the clerks who work in the gun stores and sporting goods departments of the larger stores. Cozy up to them, and they may let you jump to the front of the line when ammo comes in. I’m not talking about stealing here — I’m talking about being first in line — even before the line forms! When you want something that’s hard to get, this is how it’s done.
But wait — there’s hope!
Actually, this report isn’t about .22 ammo at all. It’s about what can substitute for it. When I was at the Flag City Toys That Shoot airgun show last Saturday, a lot of people were talking about it.
If you just shoot to plink, an air rifle is just as good as a rimfire out at 75 yards. You can go out even farther, but I’m trying to stay conservative. Yes, a lot of air rifles are single-shots, but there are also a lot that are repeaters. And the cost, while higher than the cheap rimfire rifles, isn’t that bad. Especially, since the guns you get for that price will shoot rings around most rimfires out to 50 yards.
A couple years ago, I remember listening to some airgunners bemoan the fact that Crosman Premiers in the cardboard box cost more than $20. You get 625 pellets in that box if they’re .22s and 1,250 if they’re .177s. That was when budget bricks were still selling for $9-10. But those days are over and will never return. When this shortage is finally over, I predict the price of a budget brick will be somewhere around $29-$36, and the sales may lower that to $25 on occasion. That’s just a prediction, of course.
Can a pellet rifle equal a .22 long rifle?
The answer is both yes and no. The new Escape survival rifle from AirForce Airguns produces almost 98 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle when the heaviest .25-caliber Eun Jin pellet is used. That compares favorably to a standard speed or subsonic .22 long rifle cartridge. It’s not quite as powerful, but it’s very close. So, yes, a pellet rifle can equal a .22 rimfire.
But, when you drive that pellet that fast, you don’t get all the accuracy that rifle has to offer. You saw that when I tested the Escape. At max power, that large pellet gave me a 2.48-inch 5-shot group at 50 yards. But when I throttled the gun back and shot JSB Exact King pellets, 5 of them went into 0.715 inches at the same 50 yards.
The fill pressure for that smaller group was just under 2,000 psi, and the power was set at 6 — so the rifle was probably producing around 40 foot-pounds. Before you sneer with derision, because that’s less than half what the gun can do at its best, remember that 40 foot-pounds is still more than a lot of PCP rifles can get when they’re shooting full-out. And that’s my point. Understand what it is that you’re talking about. Yes, a pellet rifle can meet the power of a .22 long rifle, but no, it can’t do it with the same accuracy. Maybe someday in the future, but not today.
Do you really need all that power, or have you fallen into the trap of defining your minimum shooting experience based on what’s out there? Are you a guy who just has to hunt deer with a .30-06 because that’s what “everyone” does, or are you someone who thinks a .28-30-120 might just be the best deer cartridge ever for shots under 100 yards? Don’t ask me what a .28-30-120 is — look it up on the internet and gain some wisdom.
Do airguns replace rimfires?
No! And they never will. There will always be a place for a rimfire or two (or more) in my gun closet. But I’m not going to go out and shoot up all my ammo and then whine about it when I own a battery of fine pellet rifles.
I shoot from 100 to 1,000 shots each and every week of my life, with few exceptions. Most of those shots are with airguns. I do enjoy firearms and I frequently shoot them, and rimfires are among the most fun of all; but I don’t allow the current ammunition shortage to hinder my shooting one bit. I’m an airgunner!
by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier
Today’s report is a continuation of the test we started last week, when I asked if the pellet matters (as far as accuracy is concerned). That test wasn’t quite as dramatic as I would have liked, and several readers chalked it up to my Beeman R8 being an inherently good shooter. No doubt it is, but that still doesn’t explain the good results I got with pellets that I wouldn’t normally recommend for that rifle.
Today, I’m using a target rifle that’s hands-down the most accurate .22 rimfire I’ve ever owned, seen or shot. It’s a Remington model 37 Rangemaster from before World War II, and it’s fitted with the “miracle trigger” that Remington once sold. This trigger has no perceptible movement and releases with just an increase in finger pressure. It’s much like an electronic trigger, only this one is all mechanical.
The rifle has a Redfield 3200 target scope. It magnifies 24X and has parallax corrections down to extremely small increments out to 50 yards.
Remington’s model 37 is a world-class target rifle.
I’ve put 5 shots from into a quarter-inch at 50 yards with this rifle using peep sights.
But this time, I’ll shoot 10-shot groups because they’re the ones that show a rifle’s true potential. For this test, I used 13 different .22 rounds. Most of them weren’t target rounds, but that doesn’t matter. They’re all different, and that will address today’s title question.
Best round first
I had no idea how this test would turn out. I knew certain ammo shot well, but this was the first time I’d shot 10-shot groups with the rifle at 50 yards. The best round turned out to be CCI’s .22 Subsonic Hollowpoint. Ten of them went into a group that measures 0.504 inches at 50 yards. That’s as good as some top-quality air rifles at the same distance, and I was pleased with it.
Ten CCI Subsonic HPs went into 0.504 inches at 50 yards.
The worst round was Remington’s Target ammo — a standard-speed round that Remington recommends for formal target shooting. How’s that for irony? Ten of them went into 1.766 inches at the same 50 yards from the same super-accurate rifle! If that doesn’t make believers out of you, nothing else I can say will. Look at this group. These bullets didn’t even attempt to go to the same place!
Ten Remington Target rounds went into 1.766 inches at 50 yards.
Another poor round was Winchester’s Wildcat high-velocity ammo. Ten of them went into 1.395 inches at 50 yards.
Ten Winchester Wildcats went into 1.395 inches at 50 yards.
I expected the high-velocity ammo to do worse in this test because that’s what everyone says. They say once you break the sound barrier, .22 rimfire ammo loses its potential. So, the large Wildcat group didn’t surprise me. But the Remington Viper group that measures just 0.924 inches does. Vipers are hyper-velocity rounds whose 36-grain lead bullets leave the muzzle of a 24-inch barrel at 1,410 f.p.s.
Ten Remington Vipers made this 0.924-inch group. This was not expected.
Remington Cyclone rounds are also hyper-velocity. They leave the muzzle at 1,410 f.p.s. — yet, 10 of them went into just 0.882 inches. According to popular belief, these should have been among the least accurate round in any .22 rimfire rifle.
Ten Remington Cyclones made this 0.882-inch group. Another unexpected result!
Close, but no cigar
Another subsonic round almost made the second-best group. Ten Remington Subsonic Hollowpoints went into 1.206 inches, but 9 of those bullets made a 0.548-inch group. The one round that’s not in the group is below it, and this tells me what probably happened. Rimfire ammunition has one big weakness. The priming material is sometimes not evenly deposited around the rim, and that causes misfires and poor ignition. This shot looks like it came from a round that wasn’t ignited well and probably went slower than the others. Of course, I can’t prove that without velocity data that I don’t have, but poor ignition is the bane of .22 rimfire target shooters.
Ten Remington Subsonic Hollowpoints went into 1.206 inches, with 9 of them going into just 0.548 inches.
The Subsonic was the most accurate round in my 10/22, which I tested for Shotgun News years ago, but the Remington Target round that was the worst in this rifle was also among the top 5 in that test. So, each rifle is different, and the ammo definitely does make a huge difference!
I shot a total of 13 different rounds in this test. I’ve shown you the best and worst in today’s report. Besides the 3 bad groups I have shown, there were 4 other rounds that made groups larger than one inch. One inch for 10 shots is small for most .22s, but not for a Remington model 37. Of 13 different rounds, 7 made groups larger than one inch, leaving 6 that made groups under an inch.
Obviously, the ammo does make a difference in .22 rimfires — just as pellets make a difference in pellet rifles. I’m still going to do the test of discount-store pellets versus the best premium pellets. From the comments I’ve received, I believe I’ll test them in 2 different rifles. It should be interesting.
by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier
A couple weeks ago we had several comments that said there are people who believe all pellets are the same, and it doesn’t matter what you shoot in your airgun. Then others chimed in and said the same is true for .22 rimfire ammo. Well, I started a test of .22 rimfire ammo last week and hope to finish it soon, but today I thought I’d start exploring the pellet side of the question.
Today was supposed to be a first look at the accuracy of the BSA Supersport SE; but for the first time that I can remember, I couldn’t get the open sights on target at 25 yards! I didn’t want to fool with the rifle for a long time, so I set it aside and picked up my super-accurate Beeman R8 Tyrolean. That’s a rifle I know I can count on.
My original plan was to buy .177 pellets from wally world and pit them against the best premium pellets I have; but since this was a last-minute test, I just selected some pellets from my supplies. I made this a Part 1 because I still intend doing what was planned.
Today, we’ll look at 4 pellets. Two are what I consider premium, though one of them is pointed and I usually don’t shoot pointed pellets for accuracy. That should be interesting.
The other 2 pellets are ones I actually bought at a discount store some time ago. They’re representative of what’s out there right now. One’s a wadcutter; but since I’m shooting indoors at 25 yards, I felt it might still do its best. The other is a pointed pellet that Crosman made for Remington several years ago. These 2 pellets are the ones I believe will not do well.
I shot the rifle at 25 yards rested directly on a sandbag, which I’ve determined works well for this gun. In the entire test, there were no called fliers.
Air Arms Falcon
The first pellet I tested was the Falcon from Air Arms. It’s made by JSB on dies owned by Air Arms, so there’s no equivalent JSB pellet. There are several that look similar, but testing shows they perform differently. Ten Falcons went into a group that measures 0.667 inches between centers. You can see a single pellet hole to the right of the main group. That was the third shot. Nine of the 10 pellets went into 0.399 inches.
This group of 10 Air Arms Falcon pellets measures 0.667 inches between centers, but 9 of them are in 0.399 inches at 25 yards.
I normally don’t recommend pointed pellets for accuracy; but 25 yards isn’t that far, and RWS pellets are certainly in the premium category. I didn’t expect RWS Superpoints to do as well as the Falcons…and they didn’t. But they were close! Ten made a group measuring 0.732 inches. Once again, one pellet was outside the main group, and 9 pellets went into 0.43 inches
Now, it was time to test the 2 pellets in which I didn’t have any faith. I still tried as hard as possible to shoot the best group. Frankly, I’m surprised they did as well as they did!
Daisy Precision Max wadcutter
The next pellet was a older pellet I had that is similar to the Daisy Precision Max wadcutter – a flat-nosed target pellet. I didn’t expect it to do much, but 10 of them went into a group measuring 0.804 inches. And, to be fair, 9 of them are in 0.591 inches. While that’s not great for this particular rifle, it’s a lot better than I expected.
Remington pointed pellets
The last pellet I tried was one Remington sold for many years, but one that Crosman made. So, it has a sort of premium heritage, though the discount store pellets that Crosman sells (which is where I got this tin) are not normally as good as the ones they make for their cardboard boxes — by which I mean Premiers, of course. I didn’t know what to expect from these pellets. Ten went into 0.821 inches, which is better than I expected, and 8 of them went into a group that measures 0.402 inches. That’s hard to argue with.
Ten Remington pointed pellets made this 0.821-inch group. Eight went into 0.402 inches.
This test worked as expected, but it wasn’t as conclusive as I’d hoped it would be. Clearly, I need to look harder into these discount store pellets.
The Beeman R8 rifle is really an accurate platform that makes all these pellets look good. I think it’s a great testbed, but I won’t rule out trying the same test with a different rifle at a later date.
I could run the test at 50 yards, and the groups would all open up a lot — but that isn’t what I’m testing. Most airgunners don’t often shoot at 50 yards. I think 25 yards is more representative of what they do most of the time. I think I’ll just stick to the original plan of buying some representative pellets at a discount store and pitting them against the best premium pellets I have.
by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier
This comment came in last week from our new blog reader Jim H, and I wanted to address it right away. It’s a good question for a new airgunner to ask, and it deserves a good answer.
“I’m new to the airgun side of things, so I have a lot of questions but here’s one that is really bugging me. I have read all of the reviews here by Tom and also the blogs over at that “other airgun retailer” written by Jack Elliot. One message that has come through loud and clear is that each gun will tend to like specific pellets and only experience will tell the shooter which one is best. What is the best approach for testing various pellets? Do you pick a velocity that you want to shoot at and then try all the pellets that will get you to that velocity range or do you simply have favorite pellet brands and types that you’ve come to love over the years and that’s what you go with? With the hundreds of pellets available out there, what is the ‘short list’ of pellets that a newbie needs to start with?”
Several of you started to answer Jim in the comments section, so my answer comes a little late; but from what I’ve read, I’m telling him things that are pretty different from what all of you told him. He actually asked 2 different questions: 1. What is the best way to test a pellet? and 2. What is a short list of pellets to choose to test airguns? I took my direction for this report from his request for a “short list” for a newbie.
This will not be a very technical report. I’m not going to discuss pellet head sizes or skirt thicknesses, except where it affects the pellets I name. I have a short list for most of the airguns I shoot, and it’s not rigid. But it’s caliber-specific, and there’s also a small powerplant component to it.
Money is no object
I used to focus on the cost of pellets, but that was before discovering that hitting the target is far more important than saving money. If saving money is your principal goal, get a piggybank. I shoot for fun, and hitting the target is where the fun is. It costs no more to be accurate than it does to experiment by chasing the illusion of economy.
I must also say that I have more experience with pellets for rifles than for pistols. So, today we’re just looking at pellets for rifles. Let’s take a look at them.
For .177 rifles my short list is the following pellets:
Crosman Premier lites (brown box) springers and CO2
Crosman Premier heavies (brown box) pneumatics and CO2
JSB Exact RS (up to 12 foot-pounds)
JSB Exact Heavy 10.3-grains
H&N Baracuda and Baracuda Match
Beeman Kodiak and Kodiak Match
That is my short list. There are other pellets that are very accurate, but I find them to be more specific to certain guns. Please remember that this is not a popularity contest. If your favorite pellet didn’t make my list, don’t fret. I try other pellets all the time — these are just the ones I count on.
If you ask me why these pellets are on the list, it’s because they’re the ones that are the most reliably accurate. That’s my only criteria because if you can’t hit the target, nothing else matters.
The .20-caliber list is very short because there aren’t as many reliable pellets made in that caliber. The most reliable one is the Crosman Premier.
Other than that, I would try anything JSB makes, and that’s about it.
The quarter-inch caliber is another one with few good pellets. The two on my list have demonstrated they will deliver in all cases.
Benjamin domed (these have no name, but they are essentially a .25 caliber Premier)
JSB Exact King
I prefer domed pellets to all other shapes. They’re more accurate at long range and penetrate well. Wadcutters are good for distances under 25 yards but not for farther than that.
Pointed pellets, hollowpoints and lead balls
I have no use for pointed pellets of any kind. I’ve never found them to be accurate, and the slight advantage they have in penetration isn’t good if they can’t hit the target. Hollowpoints are a subject that need a blog report of their own. Lead balls are specialized for certain airguns and are not for most air rifles.
Pellets and power
As power goes up, the pellets should generally get heavier. And PCPs tend to do best with heavier pellets. CO2 guns are a lot like PCPs when it comes to pellets, so I consider them to be the same.
Other selection criteria
There are other selection criteria, of course. I’ve found certain pellets to sometimes be surprisingly accurate in certain guns, and that’s enough to keep me trying them in other guns — searching for more miracles. But the lists above are the tried-and-true performers that almost never let me down. That’s why they made my list.
The second question
The other question Jim asked was how to test pellets. I do it by choosing the most accurate rifle I have and shooting 10-shot groups with each pellet in which I’m interested. Do it that way, and pellet testing is easy.
I usually don’t express my opinions this strongly; but when it comes to picking a good pellet, I think it’s too important to let it slide.
by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier
Let’s begin testing the effects of oiling pellets. There are numerous ways to approach this issue, and I have to pick one at a time and limit the test to just that. But I think as long as I’m testing one aspect, I ought to test it thoroughly so someone can’t come back and second-guess me later in the report.
So, today I’ll test with one rifle, and the next time I’ll test with another. What I won’t do is test with each different brand of airgun, just to see what will happen. If a powerful gas spring rifle performs in a certain way, I’ll assume that all powerful gas spring rifles are going to do the same. If the difference between dry pellets and oiled pellets is close, I may do additional testing; but if there’s clear separation, I’ll accept that as the way it works.
What am I testing?
The question that started this experiment was, “How much faster will oiled pellets shoot than those that are not oiled?” One reader has asked me to also test this downrange because he wonders if a thin coat of oil changes the laminar flow of air around a pellet. I may get to that at some point, but for the present I’m just concerned with muzzle velocity because all pellets slow down after they exit the muzzle — oiled or not.
I suppose this needs to be tested in all three powerplant types, but today I’m testing it in a spring-piston powerplant. Today’s gun is a weak powerplant, so next time I’ll test it in a more powerful gun.
I’m using an HW55 SF target rifle to test three pellets. This rifle is a variation of the old HW50 rifle, so it shoots in the 600-650 f.p.s. region with lead pellets.
Since oiled pellets will leave a film in the bore, I tested all pellets dry first, and then tested the oiled pellets afterwards. Before the first test shot with oiled pellets, I fired two pellets to condition the bore. That turned out not to be enough, but I’ll come to that later.
I’ll test the three major pellet shapes in this test. They’re the wadcutter, dome and pointed head. There are other shapes, like hollowpoints, but they’re based on one of these three main shapes, so this is all I’m testing.
How I oil pellets
I oil pellets in the following manner. A foam liner is placed in the bottom of a pellet tin, and 20 drops of Whiscombe Honey are dropped onto the foam. Then, a single layer of pellets is spread on the foam, and the tin is rolled around. I shake the tin lightly to move the pellets around…but not enough to damage them. Whatever oil transfers to the pellet is all the oil it gets. I’ve been doing this for many years and it works well.
The pellets end up with a very light and uniform coat of oil. When I handle them the tips of my fingers become oily, but I can’t see any oil on the pellets. Other people use more oil than I do, but this is what I am testing.
Whiscombe Honey is a mixture of two-thirds Hoppes Gun Oil (not Number 9 bore cleaner!) and one-third STP Engine Treatment, by volume. Shake the mixture until is takes on a light yellow color. It will look like thin honey, hence the name. This mixture should not detonate easily in a spring gun.
Test one — dry pellets
Crosman Premier 7.9-grain pellets were the domes I tested. The average velocity for dry Premiers was 606 f.p.s., with a low of 577 and a high of 616. So, the spread was 39 f.p.s. The average muzzle energy was 6.44 foot-pounds.
For wadcutters, I tested Gamo Match pellets. The average for dry pellets was 652 f.p.s., with a low of 640 and a high of 663 f.p.s. The spread was 17 f.p.s. The average energy was 7.14 foot-pounds.
H&N Neue Spitzkugel
The pointed pellet I selected was the H&N Neue Spitzgugel. When shot dry, they averaged 601 f.p.s., with a low of 585 and a high of 620 f.p.s. The spread was 34 f.p.s. The average muzzle energy was 6.81 foot-pounds at the muzzle.
Now, I shot two oiled pellets through the bore to condition it and began the test.
Oiled Crosman Premiers
Oiled 7.9-grain Premiers averaged 591 f.p.s., but the spread went from a low of 545 to a high of 612 f.p.s. That’s a spread of 67 .p.s. The average energy for oiled pellets was 6.13 foot-pounds. I did notice the pellets were going faster at the end of the shot string, so I thought I might come back to them after testing the other pellets.
Oiled Gamo Match pellets
The oiled wadcutters averaged 658 f.p.s. — a slight gain over the dry pellets. But the real news was the spread, which went from a low of 651 to a high of 663 f.p.s. Instead of a 17 f.p.s. for the dry pellets, the oiled pellets gave a spread of just 12 f.p.s. That’s too close to draw any conclusions, but it’s interesting. The average energy with the oiled pellets was 7.27 foot-pounds. So, with the oiled pellets, the velocity went up — along with the energy — and the shot-to-shot variance went down.
Oiled H&N Neue Spitzkugel
Oiled Spitzkugels averaged 609 f.p.s. — which was a small increase over the same pellet when dry. The average energy was 6.99 foot-pounds. The spread went from 585 to 620 f.p.s, which was identical for the same pellet dry. Velocity and energy were both up slightly from dry pellets, and the shot-to-shot variance remained the same.
By now, it’s obvious that the bore needed more than two shots to condition it, so I retested the oiled Crosman Premiers. The second time the oiled pellets averaged 604 f.p.s., which is just 2 f.p.s. slower than the same pellets dry. But the spread that was 67 f.p.s. on the first test of oiled pellets and 39 f.p.s. with dry Premiers now went from a low of 594 to a high of 613 f.p.s. — a much tighter 19 f.p.s. total. The average energy was 6.40 foot-pounds.
From this test, I observed that these three pellets either remained at the same velocity or increased very slightly from the light oiling I gave them. In two of the three cases, the velocity spread got tighter when the pellets were oiled.
I further observed that it’s necessary to condition a bore with oiled pellets before doing any testing. As a minimum, I would say that 20 oiled pellets should be fired before testing.
These are very small differences from oiling; and although I can’t draw any conclusions yet, I would think that such a small change is not enough to matter. It hardly seems worth doing at this point. However, there’s still a test to be done in a powerful airgun. Until we see those results, I think it’s too soon to say anything for sure.
Although the question that drove this test was how much faster oiling pellets makes them shoot, I think we still have to take accuracy into account before forming any opinions.
And now for something completely different
Pyramyd Air is looking for a manager for their tech department. If you’re interested in the position, below is the job info and where to send your resume.
Directs and coordinates activities of the department in providing customers technical services and support; directly supervises employees. Responsibilities include but are not limited to:
Coordinates technical support services between management, tech support staff, sales department, and customers.
Establishes and documents department procedures and objectives.
Accomplishes department objectives by selecting, orienting, training, assigning, coaching, counseling, and disciplining employees; communicating job expectations; and monitoring performance.
Maintains and improves support operations by monitoring staff and system performance, identifying and resolving problems, and preparing and completing action plans
Provides technical assistance to customers and labor quotes. Handles escalated calls or provides assistance requiring more complex issues.
Installs common accessories and kits in accordance with customer orders.
Performs tests on guns to determine advertised performance specifications.
Required experience, skills and background:
Bachelor’s degree and 3 years managerial experience, or an equivalent combination of education and experience required. Previous industry experience required.
Must be detail-oriented with good mechanical aptitude.
Ability to prioritize and multi-task.
Good communication and customer service skills.
Good computer skills.
Hours: Monday through Friday, 9am until 5:30pm; longer hours and some Saturdays are expected, especially during our busy peak periods.
Preferred experience, skills and background:
Previous experience in airgun repair or troubleshooting desired.
Send your resume to firstname.lastname@example.org
by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier
This report will be lengthy because I want to test several aspects of oiling pellets. For starters, I want to test it with spring guns, PCPs and CO2 guns just to get a complete picture of what, if anything, oiling pellets is doing in each of those powerplants. I’m interested in velocity because of the question that spawned this blog, but accuracy might also be interesting to test.
We received this question in the following form. I will paraphrase, but this is the gist of it, “How much faster do pellets go when they are oiled?” That question came in on one of our social networks and was referred to me for an answer. Well, you know me! Give me a topic and I turn it into a week’s worth of blogs. But this question really begged for the full treatment because there’s so much to cover.
When I got interested in shooting airguns as an adult in the middle 1970s, the question of oiling pellets wasn’t around (as far as I know). In talking with the late Rodney Boyce, I learned that the oiling question really came to a head when PCPs first started being used in the early 1980s. A PCP shoots very dry air, and their barrels are made from steel; so, at the higher velocities, they tend to get leaded bores. Some shooters were also oiling pellets for their spring guns; but a lot of the time they did it because they washed the pellets, thinking the black compound on them was dirt. In fact, it was anti-oxidant to keep the pellets from turning to white dust. Had they just left the pellets alone, they wouldn’t have oxidized.
In defense of the spring-gun guys who washed their pellets, though, some brands did have a lot of lead swarf (flakes of lead from the manufacturing process) inside some of the pellets, and vigorous washing did remove it. But then the pellets needed to be oiled again, or they would quickly oxidize.
Why we oil pellets
We oil pellets for two reasons. The first is to prevent the oxidation of the lead after washing. The second is to reduce the leading of the bore, though this is principally a PCP problem. Other pneumatics either shoot too slowly or they have brass or bronze barrels that do not allow the lead to attach itself, so they do not lead up.
Do oiled pellets shoot faster?
That was the question that started this report. I’ve tested this in the past and found that with a PCP shooting .177 pellets at 850-900 f.p.s., oiled pellets went slower, not faster. But that was just one test, and I don’t want to say what oiling will do for other guns until I do some more testing.
I’ll tell you this — oiling pellets became such a hot topic in the late ’90s that people were swapping their favorite secret formulas on the internet. And I know one UK company that sells an oil for pellets that they still claim gives increased velocity. Well, that’s too good to pass up, so I’ll test some of their oil in this test.
Not just oil
Don’t think that oil is the only thing people put on pellets. I remember lengthy discussions of how to apply a thin even coat of wax on pellets. Then, the topic shifted to what kind of wax to use! One guy went so far as to specify a high-tech boat hull compound called Bo-Shield for his pellets. When he talked about it his eyes got that faraway stare, as though he was transcending the real world and entering the spirit world.
What I will test
The first thing I want to do — have to do, in my mind — is test what the application of oil does to the velocity of pellets. Okay, that opens about 10 worm cans, right there:
What constitutes “an application of oil”? (I have seen paragraphs of instructions telling you how to know if the application of oil has been enough or if you need more.)
Am I testing this on lightweight pellets? Heavy pellets?
Do I test a powerful springer as well as a lower-powered springer?
Do I also test this on a precharged pneumatic?
A powerful PCP and a lower-powered PCP?
What about testing on a CO2 gun?
And on and on….
I think the best approach is to ask the question: Why do we oil pellets and who does it? We know that people who wash pellets also oil them, and we know that PCP users oil them; so that includes all the categories above. I don’t see a need to go to the extremes with this test. I’m not HP White Labs, and this isn’t a burning consumer question. If the findings suggest further testing, I could decide at that point?
What about the possible side effects?
Will oiling a pellet cause extra dieseling? Maybe. Is that what’s behind those flimflam salesmen who claim that oiled pellets go faster than dry pellets? I don’t know for certain; but as long as I’m going down the path, this is something I want to look at. Obviously, we’re talking only about powerful spring guns.
Does oiling affect accuracy?
I don’t know, but it seems we ought to find out. This gives me another excuse to unlimber my R8…so, hurrah!
Have I forgotten anything?
You tell me if I’ve overlooked any test that ought to be conducted. This isn’t a guessing game or a creativity contest, so please tell me only things that really matter to you.
by B.B. Pelletier
Whenever I write about the fundamentals of shooting, it usually starts a good discussion. The CB cap vs pellet rifle article spawned an article about why we like to keep airgun velocities under the transonic/supersonic level for the best accuracy, and THAT, in turn, evoked this thoughtful question on the Pyramyd Air facebook page last week:
“This may be a dumb question — but, since the issues revolves around the ‘badminton birdy’ design of our current air rifle pellets. Has there been any attempts to change the design to provide stable flight, and maintain more energy, at faster speeds? Just curious….”
That is not a dumb question at all! In fact, it’s such a good and thoughtful question that I thought it deserved a special report because we’re seeing a rise in the number of firearm shooters who are reading this blog. Just like airgunners, those who shoot firearms come with different levels of experience; and some of them are not attuned to the fundamentals of accuracy. They buy commercial or military surplus (milsurp) ammo and just shoot it without appreciating how much better they might do with a little tweaking.
The same can be said of airgunners, many of whom have bought into the high-velocity craze without realizing (or perhaps caring) all they are giving away. Today, I want to look at the projectile we shoot — the common pellet — with the hope that, by understanding its design and limitations, we can extract the best our airguns have to offer.
The diabolo pellet
Diabolo (pronounced dēˈabəˌlō). According to the dictionary, the origin of the word comes from a toy top that was popular in parts of Europe. It was also sometimes used in juggling performances. The word came from 20th century Italian from the ecclesiastical Latin diabolus, which means devil; the game was formerly called devil on two sticks.
The diabolo pellet is characterized by a pinched or wasp waist and a flared hollow tail or skirt. Though there are many different variations on this central theme, they all have these characteristics.
The diabolo pellet can have different nose shapes, but all of them have a pinched waist and a flared hollow tail. The center of mass is biased forward by the hollow tail.
The design of the pellet biases the center of mass forward of the center point, like a throwing dart. The flared skirt and to a lesser extent the pinched waist create high drag that keeps the pellet oriented forward in flight.
I wish I could say exactly when the diabolo pellet was first introduced, but I’ve been unable to find a source that gives a definitive date. Nor is there a George Diabolo after whom the pellet is named. What I can say at this time is that it didn’t exist in the 1880s but was already in existence when the first modern air rifle — the Lincoln Jefferies underlever made by BSA — was offered in 1905. That’s as close as I’ve been able to pin down the date of introduction. I would welcome any information that contradicts my dating or offers greater insight.
When the diabolo pellet was first sold, most airguns were smoothbores whose designs were already many decades old. Buglespanners, the underlever guns that cock via the triggerguard, were being made in calibers as small as .22 as early as the 1850s, though that caliber is rare. By the mid-1870s, a great many companies were selling smallbore airguns in many calibers.
Perhaps the most well-known and prolific of these, at least in the United States, is the Quackenbush company, whose proprietary .21-caliber long guns and pistols sold for a tenth the price of handmade gallery airguns from just a decade before. Quackenbush guns and the others like the Gem, Haviland and Gunn, and others all used darts and something called cat slugs (sorry, Edith) that were nothing more than cylindrical lead slugs of bore diameter. They were very short, so they either avoided the tendency to tumble or it didn’t matter that much. Another variation of the cat slug was the felted slug, which was a cat slug with a short wad of felt clued to the base to provide drag.
Once the diabolo pellet came on the scene, it quickly rose to the top of the sales heap, surpassing all other projectiles. It did so because its high-drag design stabilized the flight of the pellet without requiring a rifling-induced spin. However, spinning the pellets did much to improve their accuracy, and the new BSA spring guns could not have hit the market at a better time.
Where the other types of projectiles were inaccurate at distances beyond 30 feet (excepting some handmade darts that were extremely accurate and had been in existence for over a century, but required specialized and expensive dart guns), the new diabolos pushed out the distance to 60 feet, where they gave one-inch, five-shot groups. In that day, being able to group like that was like saying a modern PCP can group an inch at 200 yards. It was an unthinkable distance that revitalized airgunning like nothing before.
Diabolos and the accuracy barrier
Certainly, up to this point in time (1905), there had never been any thought given to airgun projectiles going faster than about 500 f.p.s.; and only that fast in very few guns in the smallest caliber (No. 1 bore, which is also called .177). Velocity was not important, as the airgun was seen as an extension of the gallery target gun — though one that was much less expensive and more available to the common man. Accuracy was the sole purpose for the diabolo until the mid-1920s, when the Crosman Corporation started selling a hunting-themed pneumatic (Power Without Powder).
Power/velocity in airguns crept up very slowly throughout the 1920s and ’30s, and accuracy did the same. What held back accuracy was not the barrels of the guns, some of which were very fine, but the quality of the pellets. Airguns had run into the “accuracy barrier” because the manufacturing processes hadn’t reached the levels they would several decades later. It wasn’t until after World War II that European pellet makers finally started making really accurate diabolo pellets.
Sheridan shows us the way
In fact, there’s an anecdote in all of this; because in 1947, the Sheridan company decided to not use a true diabolo design and instead created a proprietary cylindrical pellet that had no pinched waist but did still have an open tail. The tail was not flared; instead, it had a tiny stepped ring of lead that was slightly larger than the diameter of the rest of the pellet and that was what was engraved by the rifling when the pellet was loaded.
The vintage Sheridan cylindrical pellet was not a true diabolo, but it had high drag just the same.
The reason given for this departure was that there was no accurate .22 pellet available. That may have been the truth, because the first prototype Sheridan rifles were created in .22 caliber; though, when brought to market, they came in a proprietary .20 caliber that has been the same ever since.
The first Sheridan pellet was a throwback to the schuetzen rifle days when all lead bullets were made with bases that were a couple thousandths larger than the rest of the bullet. These bases sealed the bore against the hot gasses at firing, and they also made it possible for the shooters to load the bullets separately into the rifled bore ahead of the cartridge case. This prevented the bullet from tipping as it entered the bore, because it was already seated there by hand.
The one or two lead rings at the base of the bullet were relatively easy to engrave with the rifling, as opposed to trying to engrave the entire bullet. That was the mistake that British and German pellet makers made when they tried to make the solid pellets (which I’ll discuss in a moment).
The sound barrier is breached!
Until the 1980s, peak pellet velocities remained below about 870 f.p.s. In the early ’80s, several rifles finally achieved 1,000 f.p.s. Soon after that, British airgun designer Ivan Hancock broke the sound barrier with his Mach I breakbarrel springer that got over 1,150 f.p.s. in .177 caliber. After that, things changed very fast.
Suddenly, accuracy was out the window, as shooters discovered that the diabolo shape is not well-suited to flight in the transonic or supersonic region. The fact that the pellet remains at this high velocity for only a few yards makes no difference. The damage was done. The extreme buffeting caused when the pellet reaches and passes transonic speed, then slows back down and goes through it again is more than enough to destabilize it and cause groups to open.
Sales go crazy!
However, the other side of the coin is that high velocity sells guns. A company that advertises their gun shoots 1,000 f.p.s. and higher attracts lots of attention and, yes, sales. In fact, so much attention has been given to 1,000 f.p.s. that it is now seen as the marketing kiss of death to advertise anything less. Some companies have gone to great lengths to tout ever-higher velocities without a thought being given to accuracy. Special lightweight, lead-free pellets are now selling well partly because of the velocity boost they give to the guns that shoot them.
Which brings us back to the initial question
If the diabolo design doesn’t work at high velocity, and we know unequivocally that it doesn’t, then why doesn’t someone design a pellet that can exceed the sound barrier? Well, to a very limited extent and with disastrous results, it has been done. The so-called “solid pellet” was the first attempt to do this. This projectile is really a bullet — not a pellet, and as such is brings all its bullet weaknesses with it. The first is that nobody can load a lead bullet into the bore of a rifled gun unless he’s Superman. Those who shoot muzzleloaders know that it takes a device called a short starter and often a separate mallet to force the bullet into the rifling of a bore.
These .22-caliber Eley solid pellets weigh 30 grains and require the shooter to engrave the rifling at loading. They failed because they’re too difficult to load and because they’re inaccurate in most airguns. Other designs were similar and have had the same problems.
So, no solid pellet currently on the market can be loaded into an airgun easily enough to use. If it could, the second problem crops up. The twist rate of the rifling is too slow to stabilize a solid pellet. That twist rate, which is very often one turn in 16 inches of travel, was taken from the .22 long rifle cartridge when the first modern air rifle was made. It hasn’t changed since then. It works with diabolos, but not with solid pellets because they’re too heavy for the lower velocity at which most airguns can propel them. They have no additional means of stabilization and need to be driven faster to stabilize. Being both very heavy and also having a lot of friction with the bore, they go much slower in any given airgun.
Okay, make the airguns more powerful
About seven years ago, I could see where all of this was heading, so I tested these pellets extensively in an AirForce Condor — the only air rifle I can afford that can get them up to 1,000 f.p.s. You know what? They still aren’t accurate. They’re stabilized at that speed, but they still shoot in 5-inch groups at 50 yards, while diabolos going less than 950 f.p.s. will group in three-quarters of an inch from the same gun.
Okay, then why don’t “they” make a more powerful air rifle that can shoot these things really fast?
Stop right there!
Don’t you see where this is heading? When an AirForce Condor shoots a 30-grain solid “pellet” at 1,000 f.p.s., it isn’t an air rifle anymore. It has become a firearm in all ways except how it’s powered. The Condor can shoot a 30-grain diabolo that leaves the muzzle at 1,000 f.p.s. and probably kill a woodchuck at 75 yards with ease, yet it still won’t travel downrange any farther than about 500-600 yards max. The high drag of the diabolo design slows the pellet after a very short time, but a solid pellet leaving the muzzle of the same gun at the same velocity will go a mile and a half. It has nothing to slow it down. We’ve then turned the Condor into a .22 short.
There’s an airgun maker in the Netherlands that makes custom .25-caliber rifles that can shoot 60-grain jacketed boattail spitzer bullets at over 1,200 f.p.s. That’s very admirable for an airgun, but that rifle, my friends, is a .25-20 Winchester in all ways but the name. Maybe not the modern loading of the cartridge, but it’s certainly close to the original loading. So, while it can actually be done, I’m saying that it shouldn’t be. Turning an air rifle into a firearm is just asking for more legislation that we don’t need.
Now, before some of you go off on big-bore airguns, they’re just as relatively safe as smallbore airguns. They shoot about as far as shotguns shooting rifled slugs, and most states that worry about distance limits for sporting guns allow the shotgun with slugs.
It’s not the power of the gun at the muzzle, but how far downrange it throws the projectile that makes it more or less safe. And, with diabolo pellets, airgunners have achieved something truly remarkable — a safer bullet.
I hope this report sheds some light on today’s state of airgun technology.