by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

Smart Shot BBs
H&N Excite Smart Shot BBs are the first lead BB in 90 years.

Part 2
Part 3

This report covers:

  • Description
  • Safety first
  • Cowboy Action Shooting
  • Rebound test
  • Velocity test
  • Accuracy test
  • Compatibility with different BB feeding systems
  • Baseline testing has been done
  • Expensive
  • Anything else?

Have you ever wanted “them” to do something so much that you talked about it to everyone? And then one day you woke up and saw “they” had done what you asked?

What do you do then?

Today we begin looking at a product I never thought I would be reviewing. It’s the H&N Excite Smart Shot copper-plated lead BB. Yes, I said a lead BB. As in, “Mother, what will you complain about, now that we can no longer shoot our eyes out?” THAT kind of lead BB!


Little boys used to buy lead BBs for their BB guns many years ago. But in the 1920s lead was taken off the market and the BB changed to steel. Lead BBs are good for shooting in antique BBs guns and for collecting, but if you buy BBs today, they are all going to be steel. Until now.

Don’t get me wrong — lead balls have been available all along, and a few of us knew to use them in certain airguns. I’m referring to the 4.4mm lead balls you have read about in my reports on vintage ball-shooters like the Haenel model 310 and the Czech VZ35. But lead BBs haven’t been made for the past 90 years. BBs are not 4.4mm.

A BB, or more correctly, an air rifle shot, has a diameter of 0.171 to 0.173-inches these days. They were larger in the past, and if you want to learn more about them read this report.

The Smart Shot BB measures 0.170 to 0.172-inches in diameter. Most of them that I measured were 0.171-inches, which is 4.34 mm. That size and tolerance range falls into line with the other premium steel BBs on today’s market.

Smart Shot BBs
As you can see, H&N Smart Shot BBs are very uniform.

Smart Shot BBs are lead that’s been plated with copper to help prevent deformation and oxidation during storage, handling and transportation. They weigh 7.4 to 7.6 grains, with the most common weight being 7.5 grains. A steel BB of the same size weighs 5.1 grains, so these are heavier. That means they will travel slower but they will hit harder — especially when shot from CO2 guns and pneumatics.

Safety first

A big reason for the creation of these BBs is shooter safety. Lead projectiles are far less prone to ricochet than steel projectiles, though any projectile can ricochet under the right circumstances. You can’t be irresponsible when shooting these BB, any more than with any type of ammunition, but you can shoot them at targets that are unsuited for steel. Regardless of the safety level, eye protection must still be worn by everyone in the vicinity of a shooting activity.

What this extra safety margin means is these BBs are well-suited to shooting at hard targets that might be encountered in competitive games like action pistol shooting and Cowboy Action Shooting. In fact, that gives me an idea of one test to conduct.

Cowboy Action Shooting

I reviewed the Colt Single Action Army BB gun for you in a 4-part series this year. I said in that series that this BB gun is idea for an airgun version of Cowboy Action Shooting. Well — now we have the perfect BB for that sport. All that we lack is the organization of the sport, itself. SASS members — here is your call to action!

I’ve had these BBs in front of me for several weeks, and I have been thinking about what tests should be conducted. Here are some I’m considering.

Rebound test

This is a test of shooting the BB against a hard surface and noting what it does. I know what steel BBs do — I’ve had my lip split by one that rebounded 10 meters from a .22 rimfire bullet trap! So, no need to test any further. Shooting steel BBs at hard surfaces is a no-no.

But what happens when the Smart Shot BB hits something hard? I plan on shooting against something very hard, like steel, and something not as hard like a dressed pine plank. I’m only going to test straight-on — not try to shoot ricochets. I just want to see what this BB does in general. Once we know that we can take it from there.

Velocity test

Everyone will be curious how the new lead BB stacks up as far as velocity is concerned. I will test both steel and lead BBs in the following BB-gun powerplants:

Traditional Red Ryder type
Multi-pump pneumatic

I won’t test velocity for comparison in every gun I test for accuracy, so the plan is to just test once for each powerplant. Individual guns will differ a little, but similar powerplants should perform similarly.

Accuracy test

This test is trickier, because every airgun has the potential to do very well or very poorly with one type of ammo. I may need to expand this test to several airguns — just to give us an idea of where the Smart Shot BB takes us. Like the velocity test, this test needs to be done with several different powerplants.

Compatibility with different BB feeding systems

Being made from lead and copper, these Smart Shot BBs are non-ferrous. They aren’t attracted to magnets. Will that have an affect on how well they feed through different BB guns? Pyramyd Air tells me they have done some testing that indicates Smart Shot BBs will feed through guns that have magnets, so this will be something we will want to verify.

Another concern is how well lead BBs stand up to magazine followers with strong follower springs. Will the strength of the follower spring cause these BBs to deform before they are shot? I have the perfect testbed for this in a 1950s-vintage Daisy Number 25 pump gun. As far as I know, the follower spring in the Daisy 50-shot forced-feed magazine is the strongest spring in the BB-gun world. The follower is made from stamped steel. If Smart Shot BBs will stand up to that, they will stand up to anything.

Baseline testing has been done

Fortunately for me, I have tested a lot of BB guns. It should be easy to look at the results and select the best guns to test with the Smart Shot BBs. I will still shoot both steel and lead BBs through the gun on the same test — but I’ll use the past results to choose which guns to test.


Before someone else tells you, I will say it. Smart Shot BBs are more expensive than conventional steel BBs. They sell for 10 dollars for a tin of 500. That may sound okay if you are used to the cost of lead pellets, but other premium steel BBs cost around half as much for 3-4 times as many. So why buy Smart Shot BBs? Well, safety is the number one reason I can think of. And my testing may uncover other reasons. The point is, if you plan to shoot where rebounds are a problem, such as in Cowboy Action Shooting, the Smart Shot BB is the only game in town.

Anything else?

This is where you come in. I have told you the testing that I plan to do; you tell me what I have missed. Or, what haven’t I got right? I want to give this new BB the best test possible, but I’m not going to stop the blog to do it. I welcome your input.