Pellet variation: What do you do?
by B.B. Pelletier
Update on Tom/B.B.: Tom is doing well. He keeps telling me he feels fantastic. His voice is getting stronger and stronger, as demonstrated by the 8-10 times a day he calls me with things he wants me to do, dictating new scripts for the Airgun Academy videos, blogs, blog answers, his Shotgun News column, etc. It’s obvious that he’s suffering from airgun withdrawal and needs to immerse himself in things.
Announcement: Just a reminder that Pyramyd Air is having an airgun garage sale on June 5. They’ve extended the hours, so now it’s being held from 10 am to 3 pm. They keeping adding more stuff to the sale pile, so they wanted to give everyone more time to look around.
Speaking of the garage sale, don’t forget that Pyramyd Air is raffling off a gun that Crosman is donating, a Benjamin Trail NP XL rifle in .22 caliber. Raffle tickets are $1 each or 6 for $5, with proceeds going to Warrensville Heights Economic Development.
Now, on to today’s blog.
In the past few days, we’ve done some interesting experiments with pellet weight variation, and some eyes have been opened for sure. You’re now discovering what I knew when I competed in field target in the 1990s. Pellet weights vary and there’s nothing you can do about it.
For general use, it doesn’t really matter. If you’re shooting at pop cans or even bottle caps, a variation of five-tenths of a grain won’t matter that much. But, if you’re trying to shoot competitively, like field target at different ranges, then pellet variation is your enemy.
Before every match, I used to weight-sort my pellets. I shot a Daystate Harrier, and I shot it with Crosman 10.5-grain Premiers and later with Beeman Kodiaks, which weighed 10.65 grains. But, when I would weight-sort the pellets out of the box or tin, I would get many piles of pellets that weighed a tenth of a grain different. The Premiers, for example, most commonly weighed 10.4 grains. I might get as many as 40% of a box of Premiers at that weight. So, that becomes the group of pellets I would compete with. Those would be transferred into a tin, where they were oiled before loading into the gun.
When I competed, the Kodiaks also varied in weight, though not as much as the Premiers. The largest number of pellets at any one weight usually was 10.6 grains. I found that by sorting pellets by weight, my groups shrank significantly, and I could count on 2 or 3 extra points every match. That’s what matters, and that’s why we sort our pellets by weight.
If we hadn’t done the experiments, many of you would have never believed that pellets vary as widely as they do. Some of you are still discovering that even premium pellets can vary by a huge margin. Also, we note that over time, manufacturers’ tolerances tend to change and the average pellet weight may not agree with what’s on the tin. So, the prudent competitor trusts no one and verifies the pellet weight himself.
Manufacturing: How accurate?
During the M1 Carbine production program, one firm was heat-treating receivers on the basis of their color outside the furnace. It seemed as though the production personnel were able to very closely estimate the temperature of the metal based on the color. To speed things up, the plant dropped their thermocouple measuring test and allowed their employees to estimate receiver temperature by color. When the government finally caught the problem, they discovered that people guessing the temperature were actually off by 75 degrees. A tolerance variation that was enough to reject tens of thousands of receivers. So, don’t think that manufacturing is ever that precise. The tests we’ve done have demonstrated that it’s not.
Years ago, there were programs called “zero defects.” That means something does not depart from the specifications in any way. No manufacturing process can guarantee zero defects. It’s simply impossible. The only way you can have a true zero defects program is to inspect 100% of the products and sort for acceptance on that basis. When you weigh pellets, that’s what you’re doing.
Don’t worry about weighing pellets if you’re a 10-meter shooter. The distance is always the same, plus it’s so close to the muzzle that weight variation has little or no influence on accuracy.
To weigh or not to weigh
If you’re shooting just for fun, forget sorting pellets by weight. It isn’t necessary. But when you want the absolute most accuracy you can get from a particular gun and pellet and when the range stretches out past 25-30 yards, then definitely sort your pellets by weight.