by B.B. Pelletier

Yesterday, I received this comment from a reader who is planning to buy an AirForce Talon SS CO2 rifle. He asked so many questions and was confused on the topic of pellet performance, so I thought I’d answer his questions here. If one person has these questions, others probably do, too.

His questions are in green.

I plan on getting the Talon SS CO2 .177. But I have a few more questions. I was wondering about the trajectory. I think it would be the same with any rifle shooting the same pellets at the same velocity.

You are right! A bullet fired from a .30/06 at 2,900 f.p.s. drops at the same speed as a .177 (or .22) pellet. Galileo demonstrated this principal by dropping two balls of dissimilar weights from the Leaning Tower of Piza. The thing to understand here is that gravity acts the same on all falling bodies.

Your other clause, “…and same pellets,” shows that you understand how aerodynamics affect ballistics. Pellets slow down rapidly in flight, while streamlined .30/06 bullets do not. Although pellets and bullets fall at the same speed, the DISTANCE FROM THE MUZZLE varies greatly between pellets and bullets.

At what distance will the pellet drop 1.5 to 2 inches below what I am aiming for? I ask because I plan to use open sights for now and wonder whether I will have to compensate very much.

That depends on the distance at which you sight your rifle to strike the target. The pellet falls very slowly, relative to the distance it travels when measured close to the muzzle; the farther it gets from the muzzle, the faster it falls (again, relative to the distance it travels). I’ve done a pretty good number of blog posts on this very subject:

At what range should you zero your scope?

More about sighting-in: How to determine the two intersection points

ANOTHER problem with scopes: Not mounting them correctly

The last reference is loaded with additional references to sight-in questions. Although all the references are for scopes, open sights function the same.

If you took the time to read a few of these posts, you’d understand that YOU are the one who decides where to sight in your rifle. If you’re smart, the first aim point will be at 20 yards, making the second one anywhere from 26 yards to about 35 yards, depending on the pellet’s initial velocity. Caliber has no bearing on any of this. Sure, you can sight in for 50 yards, but if you do you will have a horrible curve to your pellet (only relative to where you aim – the actual trajectory never changes).

If you sight in at 20 yards, all shots between 20 and 30 yards will hit close to the same aimpoint (for a domed diabolo pellet exiting the muzzle at 900 f.p.s.) Your 1.5″ to 2″ drop below the aimpoint will come somewhere around 45 yards. If the pellet is traveling 700 f.p.s., the 1.5″ to 2″ drop will occur somewhere around 35-38 yards, and your second point of intersection (please read the indicated posts) will be at around 28 yards.

For pellets I was thinking of getting Crosman .177 Premier Domed 10.5-grain for shooting at longer ranges.

The 10.5-grain Crosman Premier pellet is a great one for long-range shooting from a precharged pneumatic (PCP). In the CO2 version of the Talon SS, this pellet will be going much slower on high power (I would guess it will top out at around 575-600 f.p.s.), so you will need to sight-in accordingly. First point of intersection 20 yards, second point 26 yards (or so) and the place at which the pellet drops by 1.5″ to 2″ will be around 33-35 yards. A better pellet for the CO2 rifle, where a flat trajectory is desired, might be the 7.9-grain Premier. It will have increased velocity and will be almost as accurate, if not just as accurate, as the heavier pellet. If you sight-in at 20 yards, you’ll be on target out to 27-28 yards and your 1.5″ to 2″ drop will be at 34-35 yards.

I was thinking of shooting the 16.1-grain Eun Jin pellets, but might they have too much drop at 50 yards? I would like these to make better holes and blow things up more.

I hope by now you see the answer to your question. The 16.1-grain .177 Eun Jin pellet is not suited to the power level available in a PCP Talon SS, much less in the CO2 version. Far from “blowing things up,” this pellet would do very little damage to the target, compared to a lighter pellet that is better suited to the rifle’s power curve. Something in the 8-grain to 8.5-grain range, maximum.

I know the .22 would be better for this (blowing things up). But I’m thinking the pellet will drop a lot along the way, and you said in the review that the extra f.p.s. of the Condor is nice. That’s my reasoning for getting the .177. If I’m not right about that I will get the .22 and save up to buy pellets.

This last comment leads me to the conclusion I’ve been building all along. A friend of mine happens to be battling this same question: If pellets drop because of velocity, wouldn’t I be better off shooting as fast as possible, so I don’t need to worry about the trajectory as much? My answer to him and to you is “NO!” Velocity doesn’t make any difference if you don’t hit the target. My friend bought an AirForce Condor and fitted it with a 25″ .177 barrel from Mac-1 to get as much velocity as possible so he wouldn’t need to worry about trajectory. Now, all he has to do is find a pellet that will fly straight at 1,450 f.p.s.! I predict that when he does, it will be a spitzer (a long pointed bullet). He will have reinvented the .17 Aguila cartridge in an airgun (with less velocity, of course).

The .17 Aguila round fires a spitzer bullet at 1,850 f.p.s. It’s based on a necked-down .22 LR cartridge.
There is another way. It’s been around for more than a century. Please watch the movie Quigley Down Under, if you have not seen it yet. In that movie, Matthew Quigley shoots a Sharps rifle that fires a 540-grain lead bullet at about 1450 f.p.s. and manages to hit man-sized targets at 1,000 yards and beyond. The movie is not true, but the shooting is, for the most part.

In September of 1874, the world-champion Irish rifle team shot against an American team at the famous Creedmore rifle range in Long Island, New York. The six best shooters from each team fired for record. They shot at 800, 900 and 1,000 yards at a target that measured 12 feet square. The “center” of this target was worth 3 points and measured 6 feet square. The bullseye was a 3-foot square inside that and scored 4 points. The shooting took several days to complete. When the smoke had cleared, the U.S. team was the winner by three points – 934 to 931. One Irish shooter had shot at the wrong target and lost the 4 points his bullseye scored. Had he been firing on his own target, the Irish team would have won by a single point. That’s how close the match was.

That match was shot with peep sights! The shooters had to know how far the targets were because their bullets were dropping many feet in flight. A light wind could also push them several feet to the side, so they had to know how to compensate for it.

The point is that it is always best to shoot just one accurate pellet and to learn how it performs at all ranges. Then, learn to estimate ranges accurately. In the Army, I learned to direct artillery and mortar fire by learning how to estimate distances very accurately. It’s not easy, but it is a skill that can be learned. They may not allow laser rangefinders in field target, but nobody can deny me my own skill for range estimation.

In a few days, I will be reviewing a very special airgun hunting video for you. In that video, hunters shoot big bore air rifles with bullets weighing up to 510 grains in weight. They use a laser rangefinder to determine distances to the game, because those big slow bullets drop like stones after leaving the muzzle. But, they also take game such as deer, boar, goats, elk and even a 2,000-lb. American bison! They are extremely effective, but the hunters shooting them have to know their trajectory to the last yard they intend shooting. That’s my real answer to our future Talon SS CO2 rifle owner. Get the gun, find one good pellet and then GO LEARN TO SHOOT IT!