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 1
Part 2

This report covers:

  • The point of the Smart Shot BB
  • Colt SAA
  • The test
  • First target
  • Splatology
  • Result
  • Wood is next
  • What to do?
  • Hard oak target
  • Weight retention
  • What have we learned?

Today’s test involves a very small number of shots Yet it is captivating! Today we find out whether the H&N Excite Smart Shot copper-plated lead BBs really don’t bounce back. How timely is this, since Pyramyd Air has just listed the new John Wayne Duke single action BB revolver?

I tested these BBs against three hard targets. Two were planned and the third one popped up as the test unfolded.

The point of the Smart Shot BB

The Smart Shot BB is copper-plated lead. As such it should not rebound from a hard surface like steel BBs do. That’s is the whole point of this BB and why it is worth the money, if it really works that way. Because if it works, the Smart Shot BB allows airgunners to safely enjoy action shooting sports like Cowboy Action Shooting.

Colt SAA

I used the Colt Single Action Army BB gun for this test. We already know how fast this pistol shoots the Smart Shot BB (it’s in Part 2), so we will discover how the BB acts at that velocity

The test

I shot all targets from a distance of 6 feet. Naturally I wore shooting glasses. Shooting this close to a target that potentially rebounds I had to protect my eyes at the minimum. Don’t you try this at home. I did it so we would know, but this is not something I recommend.

First target

The first target was metal. I shot at the flat bottom of an empty aluminum 20 lb. CO2 tank. I have had several empty CO2 tanks for years. They all have the siphon tubes installed for bulk-filling CO2 guns, and I lug them to airgun show after show, but nobody will pay me even $20 for one. The siphon tube conversion cost more than that in the middle 1990s.

At any rate, I know these tanks are empty. I would never shoot at a tank that had gas in it, because even though there is no way a BB gun could penetrate an industrial gas tank like this, it’s not a good practice to get into.

I put a moving pad down in front of the tank to catch any BBs that might fall close, and as you will see, they all did. Five BBs flattened out and fell to the floor within 6 inches of the tank and one fell 3 feet closer to me.

Smart Shot BBs on pad
Five of the 6 Smart Shot BBs fell to the floor 6 inches from the end of the tank. This is exactly how they fell.

Splatology

If you have read the Splatology report I wrote for you back in 2009, you can tell a lot from these deformed BBs. In fact, the first thing I’ll tell you is I knew this test was going to come out this way. Over the years I have seen many metal targets hit by 300+ grain lead bullets that left the muzzle at over 400 foot-pounds. The splats from those deformed bullets were lying within a foot or two of the metal silhouette targets downrange. I have seen this hundreds of times, so I knew the lead Smart Shot BBs would perform the same. Seeing them land within inches of each other was a surprise I will admit, but the outcome of this test was never in doubt.

If you read Splatology you can also determine the velocity of the BB upon impact. It was traveling 300-350 f.p.s., when it impacted the aluminum target.

Smart Shot BBs splats
The 6 lead splats from hitting the metal target. The one in the center shows the classic shape of a lead ball traveling 300-350 f.p.s. on impact.

Result

That is a result! Without question the Smart Shot BBs do not rebound from metal targets! Now, I was careful to shoot as close to 90 degrees to the face of the target as possible. If you hit a metal target on a slanted surface, then yes, it might glance off and go farther. All this test proves is that the Smart Shot BB has very little tendency to rebound from a metal target.

Wood is next

The only other target I thought about testing was a wooden one. People often use wood to make targets. I selected a piece of soft yellow pine and set it up the same as the metal target before it. I thought maybe wood would have some bounce of its own to add to the BB, and maybe that would cause a problem. But what happened this time was unexpected.

The BBs hit the wood and stuck in it! I did not expect that! But the lead BBs have so much energy that they perform differently than steel BBs. The only BB that didn’t stay in the wood was the first shot. My second shot hit next to it and popped the first BB out. It fell to the floor and I saved it to show you.

Smart Shot BBs in wood
Five of the 6 Smart Shot BBs stuck in the wood. The first shot got knocked out by the second shot.

Smart Shot BB from wood
This BB was knocked out of the plank by the second shot. It is deformed from that hit and also from hitting the wood, but it’s still generally spherical.

What to do?

Now I had to make a decision. I had not expected the BBs to stick in the wood that way. Interesting that they did, but it did not answer my question of whether these BBs would rebound from wood. The only solution was to try them on harder wood. And I had the perfect thing. I have a couple oak boards that have aged and hardened over many decades. If the Smart Shot BBs were going to rebound from anything, this would be it.

Hard oak target

Reboiund they did. This time all 6 BBs rebounded from the target with some force. Three of them came back and hit me and I would estimate they were traveling 30-50 f.p.s. with they hit. I know that one of them went 10 feet before it stopped, but if the room was clear the distance would have been more.

So, what happened this time? Did the lead BBs suddenly defy the laws of physics and start exhibiting elastic properties? Not at all!

The wood was the culprit this time. The hard wood absorbed the energy of the BB and then rebounded like a miniature trampoline. I knew wood had a tendency to do that, which is why I tested a wooden target. Obviously things like trees are to be avoided because they aren’t just wood — they also have irregular surfaces that can send the BBs in any direction!

Smart Shot BBs wood target
A hard oak board was resilient enough to send the Smart Shot BBs back at the shooter with some force.

I want to make it clear that it was the nature of the hard wood target and not the Smart Shot BBs that caused these rebounds. I found 3 of the BBs on the moving pad after I finished shooting, and they were clearly deformed, as they should be.

Smart Shot BBs deformed
These 3 Smart Shot BBs rebounded from the hard oak board. They are deformed, which shows where their energy went.

Weight retention

One last question I wanted to answer was how much weight was lost by the BBs when they hit a hard target. The BBs that hit the first metal target were the most deformed, so that was what I measured.

Smart Shot BBs weight retention
The BB that was the most deformed weighed the same afterward as it did before.

What have we learned?

This test demonstrated that the Smart Shot claim of a safer BB is valid. It also demonstrated that even with the safety of a pure lead ball, BBs can still rebound — at least at very close distances. So the designers of action pistol events need to keep these results in mind when designing action targets.

We have also learned that Smart Shot BBs do deform in accordance with the principles that were established by the Spaltology study. Physics is still physics.

One reader was concerned that the copper might chip off when the BBs struck a target. That didn’t happen. Yes, the lead expanded to the point that the copper no longer covered it, but no flakes of copper were found after the shooting was finished. For that matter no lead flakes were found, either.

We now know how these BBs perform when they strike a hard target at 300-350 f.p.s. That doesn’t tell us what they will do at 500 f.p.s. That test still needs to be done. From my time with Spatology I do know what will happen, but I will test it for you just the same.