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Ammo H&N Excite Smart Shot copper-plated lead BBs: Part 1

H&N Excite Smart Shot copper-plated lead BBs: Part 1

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.

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.

49 thoughts on “H&N Excite Smart Shot copper-plated lead BBs: Part 1”

  1. I wonder if they will work in bb guns like the Umarex Steel Storm and Steel Force or the Drozd Blackbirds.

    I have passed up getting some of the semi-auto and full auto burst guns because of ricochet.

    If they work in them that just opened up a new ball game for me.

    Now I’m going to need more airgun hobby money. I really do hope they work in them type of guns.

    • Gunfun, I’ve never shot a Drozd, but I’ve read that they are hard on lead bbs. They deform them bad. Note sure if it’s true, but I’ve read where more than one owner complained about it.

  2. I think that the effect the BBs have on reactive targets is something worth mentioning. For instance, where a steel BB from a particular gun might just find its way through a drink can (and similar traditional BB targets), will the lead BB do so too?

    Gamo have had uncoated lead BBs on sale for a while, so I’d like to suggest bringing some of these in for comparison.

    That copper coating is just a gimmick, isn’t it?

  3. BB,

    that is interesting… It’s like an answer to your blog about the history of BB “ammo” a few days ago 🙂

    Maybe two other things might be interesting:

    1. Are these safe to use in rifled barrels?

    2. Will they engage the rifling (I guess the diameter might be too small and the question is whether copper is soft enough)?

    I would guess that the accuracy in pellet gun barrels will still be problematic since the caliber is smaller than .177 pellets and BBs won’t really obturate.


  4. BB,

    These are not $10 per 750, they are $10 per 500. Golly Gee Whiz, they had better do real well in something like the 499 for me to buy any. I can burn through some BBs with my 99 and at that price carpenter bee hunting can get real expensive real fast.

  5. B.B.

    Guns that have magnets to keep the BB from rolling out the barrel will probably have problems if you don’t keep the barrel pointed up . Feeding may not be as much of an issue as this would be .


      • BB
        I thought I heard that somewhere today already.

        I sure hate a full auto return fire from steel bb,s. That’s what has kept me from buying those type of guns.

        If these bb’s truly stop ricochet I can get some full auto bb guns that are on my list. I do like can shredding with the full auto guns. Yes spray and pray is fun too. I don’t shoot for accuracy all the time. Got to mix in the other kind of shooting in too you know.

  6. B.B.

    Since these BBs are non-ferous and only 0.171 inches in diameter, I suspect that magazines for CO2 semi-auto pistols like the Beretta PX4 will not be able to hold these BBs. It might be worth testing with one of those magazines just to confirm whether or not the BBs stay in the holes or immediately fall through.

      • B.B.

        I also recently loaded my PX4 magazine with some Umarex, Copperhead, and Daisy steel BBs to see if the PX4’s rifled barrel improved the accuracy of the BB’s. What I saw on target is that the BBs appeared to spread out about as much as when shot from semi-auto pistols with smooth bore barrels. I realized from the start that the results would be inconclusive since I don’t have a PX4 pistol with a smooth bore barrel to compare to.

    • Stuff like that and the model B I got at the Texas show should be perfect for these, if I can ever get it going. I guess we’re looking for a shot tube now it’s been a couple week since I’ve heard anything back and I think I tossed his contact info but he’s in my phone just in case he does call I’ll know what it’s about.

  7. Exciting times. My first thought was the Umarex MORPH! Then my mind starts wondering, Umarex Steel Storm, EBOS, Crosman Comrade AK (Which I’ve never read a report on-hint hint) and even the new Daisy 74 CO2 bb gun. Can’t wait to see all the tests! Thank You B.B.

      • Jim, glad you like the MORPH. I’m wanting to add a low price “FUN” gun. I thought about the MORPH, but then for around the same money I could get the Crosman 1077. I’m torn as I love the better open sights and longer range of the 1077, but also like the idea of being able to load so many bbs and converting it to a pistol is a plus. I know, buy both!

        • Doc,

          I have a 1077 as well as the morph. I like them both. I use the 1077 when going after soda cans. My daughter prefers the morph but it’s limited to soft targets to prevent bounce backs. That is why I’m hoping these lead BBs will work in the morph.

          You can’t go wrong getting both other than having to buy lots of CO 2.


  8. Is there formalized Cowboy Action Shooting with airguns? That crowd seem to be sticklers for authenticity. The lead bbs are certainly less of a danger for ricochet but could certainly shoot an eye out in bb gun wars, although they seem to have disappeared.

    Reb, you’re right about the cost of the Cabela’s boar. Thanks to Buldawg’s stories, I think it’s a bargain as there is no way I’m going hunting in a swamp. I tried it last night pan fried with vegetables and it was fabulous. It’s sort of like what wine tasters say about accents and undertastes in fine wine. There was an overall good, almost spicy taste with a profusion of subtler flavors. I can’t wait to try out the various preparations.


    • Matt:

      I don’t know about a formalized cowboy action shooting with airguns but Rick Eustler has a couple videos promoting the IASS (International Air Shooting Sports). If these BB’s don’t ricochet then it appears that they would be perfect for the IASS type matches.


    • Matt
      I knew you would like it and I was not aware it was even available from Cabellas or other places but I would wager to say while it is much better than store bought pork it is still not as good as from the true wild boar we hunted and BBQ but in this day and age likely as close as you will get with out hunting and slaughtering your self.

      Glad you bought some and experienced it first hand.


  9. B.B.

    They certainly worth their money.
    As far as I know here only one range accepts steel BBs, the one with dedicated sand trap. All the others, with common rubber/steel grid or cone traps have them banned due to the aforementioned unsafe ricochet. So using such BBs can be a real entry ticket to anyone who wants to empty several bottles of CO2.

    Eyes are understandable, that’s what eye protection was created for, but I know at least one guy who visited dentist after close contact with bounced off steel ball and a girl who took a stray BB into her left hip, no penetration through her jeans but a sensible and long-lasting bruise.

    I think that’s their main benefit and it trumps all the rest of typical BB ammo and guns downsides.


    • My biggest concern about this shot is flakes of copper flying around, if they’re sharp and still have enough velocity they will imbedded but that would be too close range and I’d kinda like to know how well they hold together.

  10. B.B.,

    All I can say is Woooo-HOOOO!

    OK, of course I have more to say. As long as these are no less accurate than Crosman Copperheads, usually the smallest and least accurate of BBs, this is rockin’ good news. I have a few BB guns that have bores large enough to be muzzle-loaded with H&N Rundkugels that I believe are 4.45mm, and they shoot well (accurately) that way. But that is as non-rapid fire as it gets.

    Because of the risk of BB ricochets I have not yet purchased a Rocket Shot Target System, but now I think I’ll get a few. I had worried about ricochets from the steel paddle or the other parts of the all-steel product. An aluminum can is not as dicey, but I have experienced ricochets a few times when a BB struck the concave bottom of a soda can, which seems to have more rigidity than the rest of the can.

    The non-magnetic nature of these is unfortunate, but as the comedian Steven Wright once said, “You can’t have everything. Where would you put it?” Most BB guns now are spring fed or use cartridge shells. Add to them the old faithful gravity feeders, and I’d imagine not too many BB guns these days make use of magnets, at least as a percentage of the market.

    I will be very interested in your testing them with strong spring-followers. If that isn’t an issue, these are likely to be the bee’s knees.


  11. Glad to hear the 499 is in the test mix. While not familiar with the “guts” of a bb rifle,….I do not see it working with one that uses any sort of magnet. I have had bb’s and pellets rebound. Still, very interesting product. While a flash coat of copper will help preservation, it should do nothing, if little, to the “splat” effect. In other words, it should splat good, which is good. But, due to the low power of most bb guns, the splat effect could be minimized. Which in turn, could mean that while the rebound effect would be lessend, it would still mean that some still exist.

  12. Gun accuracy vs. muzzle velocity.


    I don’t mean this as a metaphysical question; rather, I don’t understand the elements that affect why different guns are accurate in significantly different conditions.

    The Daisy 853 and 747 single stroke guns give the pellet a low velocity yet are very accurate. In contrast, for the Crosman 2300S, you had to increase power/velocity “up as far as it went” to get acceptable groups.


    Is it a question of pellet selection: Are different pellets most accurate at different velocities; that is, do you need to match “slow pellets” to low velocity guns and fast pellets to higher velocity guns? But that seems inconsistent with the 2300S’s tests where all of the tested pellets were more accurate at higher velocities.

    Is it something internal to the individual gun designs’ structures? If so, what might that be and how would that structure affect the velocity for best accuracy?

    Very respectfully,

    • Larry,

      Maybe you didn’t intend your question to be metaphysical, but it sure sounds like it is!

      The simple answer is — I don’t know why some guns are accurate at a low speed and others respond well to being speeded up. The answer might be as simple as the slower guns are accurate to their own performance limitations, but cannot be compared to the absolute accuracy of the faster guns.

      I am reluctant to try to answer your question any more than that, because I would just be guessing. I do guess at things, but when I answer questions here I try to have a little more substance in them.

      Sorry — that’s the best I can do.

      Still, it makes for an interesting hobby — no?


      • Thank you, B.B.

        Interesting, yes. . . . but that does make it more difficult to guess the direction to take.

        I think that I’ll borrow a pistol for awhile before buying.


  13. I am looking forward to trying these in the Colt SAA. I keep cardboard over the front of my pellet trap, but still have BBs bouncing out onto the floor in front of it all the time.


  14. Tom:
    You have been shooting air guns for a very long time.
    In every responsible discussion regarding shooting pellets or BBs, it is said to wear eye protection, and I agree that doing so will lessen the possibility for injury.
    What I’d like to know is how many times you might have seen eye injury due to BB or pellet fly back or ricochet?
    Likewise, how many times have you seen eye protection save someone from injury?

  15. I have old “Shooter Bible” editions from the early ’60 (wonderful to review products from that time) that show, graphically and with dimensions, shot sizes and one is “Air Rifle”, which is between BB and #2, and is .175 inch. I always wanted to try them, but as a 12 year old did not have the resources to buy a 25 lb bag.

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