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Testing non-lead pellets: Part 1

by B.B. Pelletier

Writing this blog is a humbling experience. Sometimes, when I think I know the answer and it’s obvious, there’s a surprise. Today I wasn’t just surprised — I was bowled over!

I started this test way back in June when I tested the velocity of all the pellets in my Slavia 631. While testing, I felt the powerplant was running a bit off, so I opened the gun and in so doing I lost one or two very important springs. That moved the Slavia from being a testbed to the repair category. I had other plans for that rifle besides testing non-lead pellets, and I’ve since acquired the parts to fix it (I think). Now all I need is the time.

But I did want to get on with this test so I went to my gun closet and guess what I found? Nothing I have with a scope on it is sighted-in. Remember the cobbler’s children walk around barefoot? That’s the same way for me, as I’m always mounting a scope on something new for another test.

But, fortunately, I own a class of accurate air arms that do not need scopes. My 10-meter target rifles do fine with their aperture sights; and for a 25-yard indoor test, they’re all that’s needed.

The most accurate of all the rifles I have tested to date is the FWB 150 I just tested for you, so that was the gun that got the nod. It was sighted-in for 10 meters (11 yards) so it should have been close enough for 25 yards if a large enough target was used. I used the 10-meter pistol target, whose larger bull at 25 yards looks very similar to the 10-meter bull.

NOTE: This is not a continuation of my earlier test of non-lead target pellets. That’s a series I started but have not yet finished.

To verify sight-in, I shot a 10-shot group of RWS Hobby pellets that went into an embarrassingly large group. However, on the tenth shot one of the stock screws fell out, reminding me to do as I say and not as I do.

After tightening all screws I decided to shoot just five shots since this isn’t a test of ultimate accuracy. I reckoned we could see what we needed from five shots, and I could go through more different pellets that way.

After tightening the stock screws, I shot another five-shot group of Hobbys. While this group was much smaller, it pointed out that I needed to tighten up my shooting technique. I think you will understand why I say that when you examine the group.

Two tight groups of Hobbys (one with three pellets and the other with two) at 25 yards. What can I say? I believe this is due to canting, for as you can plainly see, the pellets tried to group very tight, otherwise.

I figured I was canting the rifle to produce those two groups. With all other pellets, I used downrange cues to slant the rifle the same with every shot.

Surprise, surprise!
The first non-lead pellet I tested was the RWS HyperMAX. I hoped all would hit the target paper at 25 yards, but instead they produced a group that was not much larger than that of the Hobbys. This was not what I had expected. I’ve never seen HyperMAX pellets do so well before, and I must attribute their accuracy to the FWB 150 barrel. I also have to revise my thinking about non-lead pellets, because this is very acceptable performance!

What a surprise! Five RWS HyperMAX pellets did very well at 25 yards from the FWB 150.

Following the HyperMAX, I shot five Skenco Type 2 Hyper-Velocity Field pellets that Pyramyd AIR no longer carries. Only four of them connected with the target downrange and the group measured about 12 inches, but that’s just a guess from the new mark I have in the drywall behind the target trap. This was the level of performance I had expected from all non-lead pellets, but in fairness to Skenco, these pellets fit the breech of the rifle very loosely and one even fell back out after loading. I wouldn’t expect accuracy from a lead pellet with a fit like that.

I’m not showing a target for this pellet because it only has four holes, and they’re so far apart that it would be meaningless. The 12-inch spread is no exaggeration.

Next, I loaded the golden Gamo Raptor PBA pellets that have never done well in any of my tests. These are the pellets Gamo touts for killing wild pigs on their TV ads. I’ve read the reports of others who have had good success with them, but I never have. Until now.

Five golden Gamo Raptor PBA pellets made this tight group at 25 yards.

That target was a real shocker for me because I’ve never seen Raptor pellets do well, and I’ve tested them a lot over the years. But the results are very hard to refute, and why would I want to? This is a test on non-lead pellets, after all. Raptors can shoot very well in the right airgun.

That result gave me a lot of confidence that the final pellet, also from Gamo, would group well too. This was the Gamo Platinum PBA pellet that resembles the golden PBA pellet but is actually even lighter.

Five Gamo Platinum PBA pellets made the best group of the test.

I have much less experience with the Platinum PBA pellet, though after seeing these results I will try to include them in some future testing of other airguns. They really are an accurate pellet in my FWB 150.

I wouldn’t put too much faith in the individual group sizes in this test, because they’re only five-shot groups. But the relationships of how accurate they can be should stand out clearly. It was just a chance accident that caused me to test with a target rifle, though I’m sure there are some readers who feel justified by these results. Clearly, lead-free pellets can be accurate in the right situations, and I have to revise my opinions of them.

I will continue to test them in other airguns, plus I’ll look for other lead-free pellets to test in the FWB 150. That’s why this is a Part 1 report. I’m sure there’s more to follow.

It’s also nice to have a reliable testbed rifle that I know I can leave alone for just such a purpose. I thought the 150 was just another pretty face, but now I know she can cook, as well! Life just keeps on getting better all the time.

author avatar
B.B. Pelletier
Tom Gaylord is known as The Godfather of Airguns™ and has been an airgunner for over a half-century, but it was the Beeman company in the 1970s that awoke a serious interest in airguns. Until then, all he knew were the inexpensive American airguns. Through the pages of the Beeman catalog, he learned about adult airguns for the first time. In 1994, Tom started The Airgun Letter with his wife, Edith. This monthly newsletter was designed to bring serious reports about airguns to the American public. The newsletter and Airgun Revue, a sister magazine about collectible airguns, was published from 1994 until 2002, when Tom started Airgun Illustrated -- the first American newsstand magazine about airguns. Tom worked for three years as technical director at AirForce Airguns, the makers of the Talon, Condor, and Escape precharged air rifles. Today, he writes about airguns and firearms for various publications and websites. He also makes videos, and you'll find short clips embedded in some of his artices on Pyramyd AIR's website. Tom is a consultant to Pyramyd AIR and writes under the name of B.B. Pelletier.

40 thoughts on “Testing non-lead pellets: Part 1”

    • jimby,

      Thank you for that link. You did some very valuable testing and I see that you used an accurate rifle for establishing your baseline.

      What if there is also a power limit for non-lead pellets? Your Marauder is clearly more powerful than my 150. Yet I see that you got similar results to me with plastic-bodied pellets.

      There seems to be a lot to understand about this whole class of pellet. I guess I’m just getting started with this test.


  1. Apparently, if you slow them down enough, you might hit something with them. I am curious about the velocities and FPE of the non-lead versus lead from such as your FWB150.

      • BB,

        I have tested some pellets that are accurate only at lower velocities only. In testing a .25 cal Hatsan AT44 (wood stocked version of the Hammerli Pneuma), several pellets returned very good accuracy under 500 FPS using the non-PAL air valve. With a full power valve generating 700 to 900 fps (depending on the weight) the same pellets gave much worse groups. A few like the FTS and Exact Kings did well at either power level. I have also found that most wadcutter pellets do not do well over 800 FPS in several different rifles.


  2. First time posting to this blog, though I’ve been a reader for a long time. With much respect to an airgunner who’s been shooting (AG’s) way longer than I have, I’m not sure this is really an accurate test. I say that because of my recently acquired FWB 700 alu model (a 60th birthday present to myself).

    That gun will shoot ANYTHING accurately! Pellets I’ve had absolutely no success with in my other guns (various Crosmans, IZHs, AAs, Beemans and Weihrauchs) will group very closely when fired out of the 700. This speaks volumes for the craftsmanship of the FWBs. I think I could probably shoot fishing splitshot through the gun and it would be accurate (smiles).

    I’d really like to see some results of these non-lead rounds fired through something a little more commonly owned by folks.

    Thanks for all you do on here, I’ve learned much by reading this blog.

    • chasblock,

      Welcome to the blog and I agree. The 150 is an accurate rifle that seems to shoot almost everything well. Still, we learned that the Skenco non-lead pellets couldn’t even perform well in this gun, so I guess that’s something.

      I also wonder about performance at differing power levels, so I guess a lot more testing will be required. I’m glad I made this Part 1.


      • I’m not sure you learned anything about the Skenco pellets other than that a loose pellet is inaccurate, and that’s pretty obvious.

        As to a power limit, I would guess that you’re seeing the accuracy go to hell when the pellet gets somewhere near Mach 1.0 — say faster than Mach 0.9, give or take. One reason they did well in the FWB 150 is likely that it can’t shoot anywhere near as fast. You’ll likely get similar results in any slow, accurate rifle.


  3. B.B.,
    Do you still have the Gamo CFX, or something in this class, that you can test with? It’s not too expensive, and yet is very accurate, but not quite a TX-200, or an FWB. Also, the CFX likes lighter pellets, as opposed to the really heavy stuff, and it’s not so over-powered.

    • Victor,

      I have many test rifles that fit your criterion, but why use an imperfect test rifle when there are so many good control rifles around? For example, I have a Whiscombe in 4 calibers that I can set up to operate from 4 foot-pounds up to about 22 foot-pounds in .177. Wouldn’t that make a better test platform, because of the same powerplant, barrel and so on?

      I don’t know. There are so many ways this thing can be taken.


      • B.B.,

        I’m inclined to agree with you, because I do want to know how well they can perform. I must have a really good CFX, because at 10 meters, with Crosman Premiers (light), I do get single pellet hole sized groups.

        I’d say continue on with the FWB. My original interest in this whole discussion of non-lead pellets is that the use of lead was an excuse by some to establish that shooting air-guns is unhealthy. Remember, my range was shut down because of claims of lead poison by a range-master! I’m continuing the fight to keep an air-gun program, at least. They have at least 6 FWB 300’s.

        The next question then is, do you have, or can you get non-lead wad-cutters, and if so, can you PLEASE test those in your FWB at 10 meters. I’d be extremely happy to know that they can punch the dot out at 10 meters. If a non-lead wad-cutter can perform reasonably well at 10 meters, then there’s no excuse to not go forward with a junior air-rifle program.


  4. I think your article will serve to enlighten some people to the fact that lead free pellets can and do have a place in airgun shooting. Many on the forums automatically dismiss them as out right dangerous and damaging. Some of these people have never even shot one, but have only read what a so called “expert” or “pro tuner” said. And of course their word is Gospel. There’s been a lot of “band wagon jumping” and “mob mentality” where non lead pellets are concerned. That’s partly Gamo fault, because they marketed their pellets as capable of killing hogs. Can they shorten the life of a spring and or seal? Maybe. But seals and springs wear out from day one. If they’re accurate out of your gun(s), shoot them. Don’t listen to the mob.

    • Nathan,

      You have probably realized by now that I don’t listen to mobs. My experience with non-lead pellets was always based on my experience, only.

      As for breaking springs, I just don’t have enough information to comment, except to note that the mob also claims a short life when you use heavy pellets.


      • It’s worth noting that the tin pellets are much harder than lead and offer more bore resistance. This would negate the theory that the lighter pellets damage the piston seal as it takes more to start a non-lead pellet in the bore than a lead one. This is assuming that the pellet is matched to the bore size and not loose. So piston slam with non-lead pellets is another myth.

  5. BB,
    That is an interesting test, or rather the first part of one. I agree about testing higher power, with perhaps a mid-range level in between. More importantly, I think the non-lead pellets would be very prone to deflection from wind, and may be near the end of their range at 25 yards. If I understand correctly, they will have a very low BC (as well as sectional density). Anyway, I’m glad you did the test this way first, because it eliminated a few variables and got us away from the zombie-esqe mantra-chanting approach to non-lead pellets. For me, lead is a trumped up (non-)issue, but I feel that, in regards to the agenda behind lead bans, a non-lead alternative or at least the hope of one is a win for shooters, i.e. if banning lead won’t stop us from shooting, they will be stumped for a while looking for another non-obvious approach, and we might be able to lift or at least halt the progress of the lead bans once there is less political pressure on that issue.

  6. This is interesting. I think I will order some of the Hypermax for my Slavia on my next pellet order.
    Another thing worth considering. When I first asked about these pellets a couple of months ago (which I think prompted this whole affair) I was interested in getting a bit more velocity for some long range shooting with the Slavia (long range being 100′ with a 500fps gun) and wondered if the increased velocity would help accuracy at that distance.
    It would seem that from todays blog we’ve found out that some of these non-lead pellets do well in low powered guns which are know to be accurate (and I think most consider the Slavia’s to fall in this group).
    What I’ll be doing is testing them first at 10m…and then at 33m (100′) to see if they hold their accuracy at a distance.
    Will let you know what happens.

  7. Hi one and all, it’s been a while since I’ve chimed in (just been too busy)
    I have shot a few of the different lead free pellets in a couple of my guns.
    The first rifle is a cheapie Tech Force 34 in .177. For a “just because and reading some of the blogs”
    I crowned it, tore it apart and cleaned, dry lubed and honed alot of moving parts (metal ones). Now
    this 55 dollar rifle shoots like a 65 dollar rifle. Ok..enough with the prelims and on to the business at
    hand. Skenco’s Golden Rod Long Range Pellet at 8.2gr (plastic skirt) shot fairly well in this gun.
    10 shots at 27yds (odd distance, but another “just because”) went into 1.5 inch ctc with a mv
    average 640fps. Gamo’s PBA gold’s with an ave mv of 780fps at the same 27yds would hardly stay on
    the paper at an over 4″ spread..now when i brought the distance back to 23yds a group of 1.25 was
    printing. Then I shot some H & N Sport FTTG 5.4gr mv ave 873. At 27yds a nice little 1″ group was
    shot. So in this rifle these lead free do ok..(just for the record, this rifle likes JSB Exact and Beeman’s
    HP which both print half inchers)
    Now the same pellets in my Remington NPSS in .177 does a little different.
    Golden Rod’s @ 957mv would do 1.25″ at 27yds and 2.5 at 37yds both with a couple of flyers
    PBA gold (whoops, i gave these to my brother for his CFX after the TF-34 shootings) so i didn’t shoot
    H & N FTTG @ 1145mv would do 7/8″ at 27yds and open up to 2.5 at 37yds
    (again for the record JSB’s @ 989 5/8″ at 37yds and Premiers open up to an inch in this gun..OH WELL)
    Hope this is helpfull

  8. BB,won’t the Whiscombe be a “good news/bad news” test bed? I’m thinking about having to tune the HOTS system each time you change the transfer port limiter…..for EACH pellet?? God bless if you are THAT patient! Otherwise I love the idea.BTW,in general I’m not a naysayer…..

    • Frank,

      I thought about that. Not only tune the HOTS for each pellet, but also at each velocity.

      I don’t think I will do that. Maybe if I run the test, it will be obvious whether it will work or not. I certainly hope so.


  9. Can anyone inform me on the average velocities achieved by the FWB 150? B.B.’s test of lead free pellets showed better results than I have heard of shooting them from a rifle.I have shot the RWS hypermax out of a few rifles at 20yd and managed a shotgun pattern covering the 8.5×11 paper my target was printed on.I know it’s not the rifle, because with 7.9gr Crosman Premier Hollow Points in the same rifle, I can knock a quarter off of the top of an apple from that distance just about every time. I’m looking for a good backyard plinker that I can shoot lead free pellets from and maintain some accuracy at that distance.

  10. Excellent shooting. You are consistent with the hits. It must be the gun and the pellets that helped bring about the ease in shooting. More importantly is the skill of the one shooting. Very exceptional!

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