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Lead pellets and ricochet

By B.B. Pelletier

“Do lead pellets bounce back?” is the gist of a question/comment I received yesterday on the Shooting BB guns post from June 28. This is a good question, because it relates to shooting safety.

Lead doesn’t bounce straight back – but be cautious just the same
The article was about shooting steel BBs. Steel BBs bounce back with almost all their velocity. How fast they return depends on what they hit. The harder and more immovable the object, the faster they rebound. There is no place for the energy to go but back into the BB in the form of velocity in the opposite direction.

Lead, on the other hand, deforms easily, absorbing energy as it does. Think of it this way – a BB is like a baseball. When it contacts a hard, fast-moving bat, it goes in the opposite direction very fast. If, instead of the baseball you threw a lump of modeling clay, it would go splat on the bat and fly only a few feet. Lead is like the modeling clay.

When a pure lead pellet hits a hard, immovable surface face-on, its velocity converts to energy. The pellet starts deforming immediately. If velocity is low, the pellet flattens and falls to the ground. When there is too much velocity the lead cannot deform enough to absorb all the energy, so the pellet starts breaking off into smaller pieces. Some of those pieces fly away at high speed. When the impact is faster than 700 f.p.s., some of the smallest ones will absorb too much energy and become super-heated. If they get too hot, they flash to incandescence like a spark. Veteran airgunners who use steel bullet traps have seen sparks in their trap from time to time. These are fragments of lead flashing to incandescence.

Earlier, I said lead pellets do not bounce straight back – and they don’t. But they do deflect, which is a grazing sort of “bounce” called a ricochet. The angle of deflection is dependent on the angle of impact, and it’s not always easy to figure out. If a pellet strikes a hard immovable surface at exactly 90 degrees (that’s straight on), it first smashes against the target, then parts break off and start deflecting on angles away from the impact. These deflection angles will not be 180 degrees, which is straight back at the shooter, but they will be greater than 90 degrees, which means they will come back in the same GENERAL direction as the initial shot. If the shooter is 10 feet away from a flat steel plate, someone 10 feet to either side of him might be hit by lead fragments splashing back.

If the fragments strike a second surface, the fun begins! They deflect off the second surface at a different angle and some of them COULD come back at the shooter. By this time, they’ve struck two surfaces and deformed twice, so a lot of velocity has been lost. If you are just 10 feet from the trap, you can still be hit pretty hard. A large lead fragment traveling at 400 f.p.s. (initially from a gun with a 900 f.p.s. muzzle velocity) will penetrate your skin and draw blood. I picked one out of my cheek just two months ago while doing some velocity testing.

Gonna end here, but there’s probably more to say. Write me.

author avatar
Tom Gaylord (B.B. Pelletier)
Tom Gaylord, also known as B.B. Pelletier, provides expert insights to airgunners all over the world on behalf of Pyramyd AIR. He has earned the title The Godfather of Airguns™ for his contributions to the industry, spending many years with AirForce Airguns and starting magazines dedicated to the sport such as Airgun Illustrated.

18 thoughts on “Lead pellets and ricochet”

  1. Your answer to the bounce back question brings up serious issue, Lead is a deadly poison. The incandescent lead you mentioned anecdotally is one of the worst and dealiest forms of heavy metal poison. Its time to find a reliable reasonable substitute for lead before the fed or state shuts down our sport!

  2. Oddly enough, the lead dust issue isn’t much of a problem in home ranges. I have had my blood tested for heavy metals (for insurance policies) and my lead level is always below average, despite shooting a lot of pellets and reloading, in which I cast lead bullets. The lead scare doesn’t seem to pan out.

    Now, if one were to ingest lead, then yes, that would be a big problem.

    I do take 1,000 Mg of vitamin C a day. Vitamin C removes heavy metals from the body, which may be why I test so low in lead. All I know is, after a life of exposure to lead from bullets and pellets, handling molten lead and generating lots of lead dust in my traps, I have not suffered any ill effects from lead dust, nor do I have an elevated lead level in my blood.


  3. Hello

    with the stronger gun, I have had some deflect back. My trap has a 45 degree angle. And is steel. How do we control the deflection back. Someone suggested mill felt waste by product from paper mills. Is there material like what crosman uses in the 850 trap to minimize that?

  4. The best thing to do is fasten a sheet of thick cardboard over the face of the trap. It will stop most of the backsplash.

    You will have to replace it from time to time, depending on how much you shoot.

    Once the cardboard is fastened down, you can tack or tape paper targets directly to it.


  5. I have a Remington Genesis with the Scope as seen here (/product/remington-genesis-w-3-9×40-scope?m=525). Do you know much about this rifle? What is the rifle itself based on? The scope seems fairly generic….is it another more popular scope without any markings? Should I replace the scope for something more accurate? I shoot fairly regularly and find I have to fight to keep this scope zeroed in.
    Another question with this scope is I don’t see any difference in the focus when I turn the parallax correction on the scope. Am I not looking correctly or is it possible something isn’t correct.

  6. Well, Crosman distributes Remington, and the Crosman site says the scope is a Benjamin scope. Who makes it I don’t know.

    Before replacing the scope, I would take a look at my shooting technique. Spring guns need a good shooting technique to shoot well.

    You say you shoot regularly and have problems with your zero. Can you tell me what they are? Is the zero shifting? Are you always shooting at the same distance? The strike of the round will move not only up and down but from side to side at different ranges, so you have to shoot at the same range to keep the same zero. At different ranges, you have to apply some kind of correction to hit the target.

    The way around this is to optically center your scope, then sight in using adjustable scope rings. When you are zeroed, the pellet will only go up or down at different ranges, not left and right.

    Also your shooting spot weld can be a problem. If you aren’t putting your eye at the exact same place every time you shoot, the impact point will change.

    The parallax correction SHOULD change the focus as it is turned. If it doesn’t, you may need to get your scope looked at.

    Hope this helps,


  7. What do you mean by optically center the scope? I messed around some today. I got extremely tight groups when sighting in at 10 feet and ten yards. I then moved the target back to 20 yards. I aimed at the target and got tight groups 2-3 inches above the target. I then tried to recenter the scope and got very scattered results. High, left, right, and low. Is this an indication of the springs inside the scope getting mushy and not reacting to click corrections? How should I go about correcting this? By the way…I am the same guy with the Remington from yesterday.

  8. I’m going to answer the part about optically centering the scope in tomorrow’s posting.

    Your groups at 20 yards SHOULD be higher, if you sighted in at 10 yards. That has to do with the arc of the pellets, as they drop after leaving the muzzle. I have covered that in several postings already.

    As for the scattered results, YES, I think you may have diagnosed the cause. If you have run the adjustment knobs way out toward the high side or the right side of their range, They are probably in the region where the counter-springs are getting weak and the adjustments could be spotty as a result. The solution is to use an adjustable scope mount and optically center the scope (as we will discover how to do tomorrow). Then any adjustments you have to make will be made close the the center of the springs’ adjustment range.


  9. Never, ever use Lexan (polycarbonate or “bulletproof glass”) to shoot at in any form. This has come up when people try to protect their chronographs from being hit as well as on targets. If a pellet hits Lexan, it will ricochet and it will have a lot of the original energy left.

    I had a problem with the paint on field target paddles getting shot off with the first hit and tried Lexan. Not a pleasant experience — it worked fine unless someone had a split (partial hit). Then, the pellet was coming back!

    My solution was the simple one of not painting the paddle — I wire brush it to “polish” it, paint the back of the target face with florescent orange, and with reasonable light on the target the kill zone is very visible. Every shooter now has the same advantage/disadvantage when using the target.

  10. Joe,

    Good tip. I’ve never heard of Lexan being used, but now I’ll know to stay away from it.

    Another good tip is to NEVER shoot at a golf ball with a pellet rifle or a .22 rimfire. I don’t have personal experience, but two people have told me the pellets and bullets come straight back at the shooter at high velocity.


  11. The person with the Remington Genesis… I have the daisy powerline 1000s very similiar gun. The factory scope was junk. I installed a better 3×9. The gun still is inaccurate. Lesson learned.. this is a break barrel design. The open sights are on the barrel (best results, very accurate) The scope is not mounted on the barrel, This affects accuracy. I ordered the crosman challenger 2000

  12. You mentioned that on multi-pumps you should always leave one pump in it to keep valves closed and lessen the chance of contamination. Should this be done with a Daisy 22SG, because I got the impression that on that model, it should NOT be stored with a single pump in it?

  13. Umm, just a suggestion. Don’t shoot at bowling pins. I did that a few days ago and one of the pellets ricocheted right back past me and hit my shed. I could hear the PZZZZEWWW of the pellet spinning as it flew over me.

  14. Just a warning, I've been getting ricochets from using a spinner target at 30 yards rated for .22 rimfire. It happens with both my .177 shooting 10 grain at about 1000fps and a .22 shooting 18 grain at 600- 700. The spinners spin, but the plates are too heavy and the pellet has enough energy to return. I hear it coming back toward me but haven't been hit (yet). I have found deformed, but almost full sized pellets about 10 feet in front of me. It makes me nervous but I love shooting spinners, and the .177 ones are just too cheap.

  15. Anonymous,

    That's why they make spinners suitable for airguns. Pyramyd AIR sells a number of spinners for .177-caliber air guns that deliver up to 1,000 fps with lead pellets.


  16. I was shooting in my back yard with a wood backstop, and I heard some kind of wierd humming go by about 2 feet to my left right after a shot, then a metallic ‘ting’ sound. There was a big pot behind me. I looked beside it and there was my pellet, severely deformed.

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