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Comparative pellet penetration test

by B.B. Pelletier

If you want to know how different types of pellets penetrate, here is a neat experiment you can do with very little equipment.

The test medium
I use Neutrogena glycerin facial bars for this test. You find them in the cosmetics section of the store. Use the biggest bars you can buy and orient them the long way when shooting more powerful guns. Also, back the bars with a safe pellet trap in case of a shoot-through. Naturally, you must wear safety glasses when performing this test!

Today, I’ll shoot five different types of projectiles from the same rifle—a wadcutter, hollowpoint, domed, pointed and a round lead ball. I’ll use a .22 caliber Diana model 27 spring-piston rifle for every shot. Because the rifle stays the same, we will be able to compare pellet penetration at the same relative energy level. I’ll also shoot a JSB predator, which is a specialty hollowpoint. That’ll give us the relationship between a regular hollowpoint and the new Predator round.

From the left RWS Hobby, RWS Super-H-Point, Crosman Premier, RWS Superpoint, .22 lead ball, JSB Predator.

The results are clear
Because the facial bars are transparent, we will be able to see how deeply each pellet penetrates and what sort of wound channel it leaves. That’s useful for hunters. This experiment clears up many things shooters often wonder about. You can’t just look at a pellet and know how it will perform. You have to shoot it several different ways and look at the results.

Sometimes, the largest wound channel isn’t the best pellet
If a pellet performs very well in penetration but is not accurate in the gun you shoot, it isn’t a very good pellet to choose. On the other hand, a very accurate pellet can be forgiven its lack of expansion because you know it will always hit its intended target. What you’re looking for, of course, is a pellet that does all things well in the gun you intend using.

I used a lower-powered rifle to limit the depth of penetration. That does affect the performance of the pellets, because at higher velocities some specialty pellets such as hollowpoints may perform dramatically better. On the other hand, I am shooting with the muzzle almost touching the bar, which could duplicate the downrange performance of a more powerful rifle, because pellets lose velocity rapidly. It depends on how far you want to shoot.

Hobby on the left, Super-H-Point in center, Crosman Premier on the right.

Superpoint on the left, Lead ball in center, JSB Predator on the right.

How to read the test results
In the first photo, you can see that the Premier out-penetrated both the wadcutter and the hollowpoint. I expected this. In the second photo, the pointed pellet out-penetrated the round ball. I didn’t expect that. The JSB Predator has just started to expand, but it’s difficult to see in this photo. Still, it isn’t the explosive expansion you might have expected from the advertising copy.

In this test, the Crosman Premier looks like the leader, followed closely by the Superpoint. The round ball was loose in the bore, which could explain why it didn’t go deepest of all (read more about round balls versus pellets in the article Pellets versus round balls).

This little experiment can tell you a lot about the pellets you shoot. Try it some time.

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.

9 thoughts on “Comparative pellet penetration test”

  1. B.B.
    Great experiment! If you want to really have some fun with .22 cal pellets. Try this little trick. However before I mention it, this is very dangerous if you do not pay attention to safty, you can get hurt. WEAR GLASSES. With that said, try epoxying a centerfire primer to a wadcutter pellet. You have to use .22 as a minimun size pellet. The result is a very loud bang when the pellet hits something hard and blows a decent size hole in whatever it hits. I was putting .22 cal holes trhough a metal garbage can at 50 yards, fifty cent size holes with the “modified” pellets. Cool trick, but you have to be safe as the primer has the potential to send the pellet back at you.

  2. This experiment is interesting, but I would be interested in seeing more real life examples. Any chance of recreating this experiment at 20-30 yards with a widely known gun such as an R-9. Also how many ftlbs is the gun you are shooting for the previous example?

  3. Okay – primer guy. I blew a hole in my thumb loading a 38 special case with a Herter’s reloading set that had me knocking the unprimed case out of the sizing die and down onto a spring-loaded primer seater by means of a steel rod inside the case. That was when I stopped messing around with primers.

    I thank you for your suggestion but once stung, twice shy, as they say.


  4. 35-grain pellet. Actually, there USED to be a 35-grain pellet and Pyramyd sold it. They are working right now to get the pellet production going again, so watch the listings. I’ll let you know when I find out it’s available again.

    That said, yes, the Talon or Talon SS with a 24-inch barrel develops enough velocity to stabilize such a pellet out to 50 yards. Beyond that, I can’t say. The 24-inch barrel on those powerplants develops 45 foot-pounds with the heavy Eun Jin pellet.


  5. R9 guy

    The Diana 27 develops aroung 7 foot-pounds at the muzzle. And R9 would be somewhat more powerful than that at 30 yards. Perhaps the best way to conduct such a test is to use a good multi-pump and pump it so it gives muzzle velocity equal to the R9 at 30 yards. I would think a 16 foot-pound R9 would be down around 12 foot-pounds at 30 yards. maybe that’s another test we could do.


  6. B.B.
    Good start to balistics testing of pellet penetration but some facts to bear in mind.
    Penetration is probably the wrong name for this kind of test since what you are doing is simply seeing how far you can get a pellet to enter an inert medium.

    The reason for differing depths of penetration in this type of test is as much a function of friction on the pellet after it enters the medium, as it is of the shape of the pellet head. This is because the surface area of the pellet creates friction after initial penetration.
    The ball has the lowest surface area in contact with the medium since its diameter is the maximum it can have of surface area.
    A diablo has the surface area of a spherical cap (No you do NOT want the math as it will mean accurately measuring the pellet first.) plus whatever surface area of the body and skirt are also in contact with the medium. A point has the surface area of a cone plus the skirt etc., to contend with and wadcutter & hollow point have big problems.

    Shape is more important in getting the pellet INTO the medium and specific shapes have been developed to do specific jobs.
    For example a wadcutter will have difficulty entering through the skin of a small animal or rodent, but it will arrive with a teriffic wallop. A hollow point is designed to penetrate and expand so it achieves both effects. Points will penetrate skin easier and can damage internal organs.

    For a more realistic test hang up a lump of belly pork and pin or tie a chamois leather round it. Make certain the belly is only fastened at one end to simulate your quarry moving with the impact and see what your results are then. The wadcutter may not penetrate but that wont matter since it will most likely kill by hydraulic shock and you will hear the impact.

    Have fun.

  7. librarian,

    Thanks for your interest.

    I believe you mean to refer to a diabolo pellet, as there are no diablo shapes. A few British manufacturers have actually called their pellets diablos in jest, but the shape is diabolo.

    The thrust of my posting was the word “comparative.” Glycerin soap is easly obtained and handled by the average shooter. A chamois-wrapped pork belly is getting a little exotic for most of my readers. If they were interested in hunting performance, then I would have to agree that your method is better, but I think most guys just want to see how everything compares, and for that, glycerin soap works well

    Thanks, again,


  8. i got a RWS .22 Pelet gun and I shot the JBS predators and the Wolverine Domded. The Predators are the best id say out of any pelet because they expand way more then the photo, and they do go all the way threw the small game. I tested on birds and squirls and it also is a very accurate pelet up to 50 yrds.

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