The rise of the accurate pellet: Part 3

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

A history of airguns

Part 1
Part 2

This report covers:

  • Up to this point
  • What came next?
  • Head size
  • Enter the Pelletgage
  • High-performance expanding pellets
  • Solid “pellets”
  • Lead-free pellets
  • Conclusion

I bet some of you didn’t realize there was so much to making pellets accurate, did you? This is the third installment of this report and we still have some ground to cover.

Up to this point

To summarize, we have learned that the introduction of the diabolo shape made pellet more accurate than ever before and ushered in the age of the accurate airgun. But after that first surge of advancement, pellet makers didn’t really forge ahead. They were comfortable just making diabolo (wasp-waisted, hollow-tailed) pellets. It wasn’t until 60 more years passed that they began to question whether there was more that could be done.

What came next?

The next advances happened on both the individual shooter level as well as the manufacturing level. Manufacturers of premium pellets began to tighten their control over the specifications. They were already doing that in-house, but when they started selling pellets to World Cup and Olympic competitors, they started selling their productions by lots. Shooters tested each lot until they found the pellet that worked best with their gun, then they bought a significant portion of that lot, in the belief that there would be more uniformity in the same lot than across lots. In the world of rimfire competition and 10-meter airgun target competition, this is still the practice today.

In the 1980s field target shooters were also interested in getting the best accuracy from their air rifles, but they were shooing domed pellets that had not come under scrutiny previously. The pellets were very good because the manufacturers (premium makers) were holding the tolerances tight, but until field target, and more recently long-range benchrest shooting, nobody was checking. But field target shooters looked for ways of making these good pellets even better.

Two methods surfaced — weighing and sorting by head size. Pellets that were sorted by weight seemed to shoot better than the same pellets selected at random from the tin or box. When I competed in field target in the 1990s, weight-sorting was considered mandatory if you wanted to win. You use an electronic powder scale and group the pellets into categories that do not vary by one-tenth grain. While there are a few scales that show weights down to one-hundredth grain, it turns out that level of sorting doesn’t add much accuracy, if any. The real benefit comes from not shooting two pellets that vary by nearly half a grain in weight at the same target 55 yards away.

The head size sorting was less scientific. Shooters used transparent ballpoint pen barrels that were known to taper smaller on their inner diameter. Since they were transparent, the pellets could be seen from the outside and marks were made to show the ideal range. If a pellet stopped falling in that range, it was considered good for competition.

Head size

What this sorting was after was a pellet with a consistent head size. The skirt would always be larger than the rifle’s bore and would be squeezed down when shot, but the head was the part of the pellet that was engraved by the rifling and affected accuracy the most. The shooters did not know the exact size of the head — it was just the relative size they were after, so all pellets would be the same. But that was all it took to make a difference.

Enter the Pelletgage

In 2015 the Pelletgage hit the market. This tool that I have reviewed for you several times is by far the best way to sort pellets by head size. Pelletgages are shipping around the world, and competitors are discovering a new level of performance from guns and pellets they already thought were perfection. Future competitors will have to use this gage just to stay even with the pack!

Pelledgage
The Pelletgage is a game-changer for competitors wanting ultimate accuracy.

High-performance expanding pellets

We are not done. Next we will consider the hunters’ need for expansion on game. When I got into airgunning seriously in the mid-1970s, there were hollowpoint pellets, but they were mostly a gimmick. They only expanded if they hit an animal while traveling very fast, which meant you had to be very close to the game, because in those days, airguns did not shoot that fast. Well, times chage. Guns have speeded up and pellets now have remarkable performance at even moderate velocities.

It takes a lot of time and money to develop a good expanding pellet. Sometimes the shape of the hollow cavity makes a huge difference and other times the thickness of the cavity walls matters the most. Even striations in the cavity walls that weaken it can be significant.

Vortek Lamprey Hollowhead pellets were among the first to experiment with new shapes, and they actually turned inside-out when they deformed. To this date I have not seen an expanding pellet that could equal what they could do, though they have been off the market for over 10 years.

Vortek pellets
Yes, the long end is hollow and it is the head! Vortek Lamprey hollowhead pellets outperform every expanding pellet ever made! They are no longer produced.

The thing about expending pellets is they perform best within a range of termial velocities (velocity at the target). Each one will give you a different range with different airguns. And then there is the accuracy potential. Today’s expanding pellets are usually quite accurate, because their makers know airgunners insist on accuracy over everything. So that part of the pellet market is bright and getting brighter.

Solid “pellets”

Sorry, but I’m too much of a shooter to call a solid projectile a pellet. Just because it goes in a pellet gun doesn’t make it a pellet. It’s a bullet, plain and simple.

And, being a bullet, the ballistics are determined by spin, where diabolos are more sensitive to drag. Pellet makers haven’t tripped to this yet and keep bringing out these ridiculous projectiles that don’t shoot well in most airguns, in my experience. Give them time to learn the lessons black powder shooters have learned and eventually there will be some useful solid pellets. But for the present — not on your life. If anyone knows different, please inform me.

Lead-free pellets

For many years I taunted the pellet makers about their lead-free pellets that weren’t worth much. I said if anyone ever made a good lead-free pellet, I would become its head cheerleader. Well, Sig Sauer did just that, with their Match Ballistic Alloy pellets. Now the JROTC teams and all those who shoot in California have something good to shoot in matches! Yes, I know they are made by H&N and are probably the same as H&N Match Green pellets, but I haven’t tested those yet, so I can’t say that with authority. I will do that test in the future.

Conclusion

We are now living in a golden age, where pellets just keep getting better. I look for more developments in long range pellets soon, plus more good lead-free pellets. I don’t think the advancements will end anytime soon.

38 thoughts on “The rise of the accurate pellet: Part 3


    • When I checked at midnight, and no new blog, the first thought was ,
      oh no, hope Tom isn’t back in the hospital…

      Then thought, hmm, maybe he is out on a late date with “Jill.”


  1. I do look forward to the advancements in pellets. In just the past 10 years I have seen drastic improvements. There is also a much larger selection of quality pellets than previously.

    The most difficult part is trying not to be drawn in by the “gimmicks”. I have seen quite an array of tips and hollow points that just didn’t work too well. Most of those usually do not hang around very long as the word eventually gets out, but by then the manufacturers have made their money and moved on to a new “gimmick” or they rely on the newbies to learn their lessons.


  2. I had wondered if the Sigs we the same as the H&N Match Greens…I’ve found the match greens to be quite consistent in my Beeman P1. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised…



  3. With all those gimmicky pellets that have plastic or metal points on the front you would think that someone would design a streamlined plastic pellet “skirt” with a lead head.

    A ring on the plastic body could engage the rifling and seal the bore, aspect ratios could be improved and still have reasonable weights. Friction would be low and the pellet would be non-fouling. Less subject to deformation as well.

    Google “finned slugs” for some interesting designs.

    Wish I had the time and facilities to do some experiments with this.


  4. B.B.,

    I hope that more and more manufacturers pay attention to producing alloy (lead-free) pellets that are as heavy as some of the lead pellets in that caliber. I am happy to see, for example, four lead-free .177 pellets carried by Pyramyd Air that outweigh pure lead RWS Hobbys. It would be even better to see that number double by this time next year.

    It is indeed a golden age for pellets,

    Michael


  5. Somewhat related

    Is the .20 caliber “dying off” with all the advancements in pellet tech and certainly with the ever popular .177 caliber it seems that the niche for .20 is slowly dissapearing. Even if the .177 weigh as much as the .20 that doesn’t mean they will perform the same, does it?


    • That is really hard to say. There are very few manufacturers that are making air rifles in that caliber, however there is a larger selection of .20 pellets today than there were just a few years ago.

      I think it would be very interesting to get three R9’s in .177, .20 and .22 and test them head to head with similar pellets.


      • RR
        I totally agree with you. The size of my yard IMO would be well suited for a 20 Cal.(not that I really need one 🙂 ) I remember hearing some old Sheridan blue streak die hards really touting the caliber but like you said it would be interesting to sample all 3 calibers in one moderately powerful rifle.



      • It seems like the only manufacturer today is Weihrauch and Air Force is still importing the LW barrels, but there are more pellet manufacturers with .20 pellets than there used to be. It is probably still a popular caliber in Europe but with our obsession with bigger and faster over here, it will likely become a very rare caliber in the US.



      • B.B., unfortunately you are right. I have mint R10 that is .20, and recently purchased R1 from PA that is .20. Have a boat load of .20 pellets stockpiled, selection is good but not like it used to be. Bigger is not always better, bought the R1 .20 after deliberation. As you know .20 shoots flat like .177, so it made perfect sense to me to take out as much guess work as possible when in the field. More humane in the end, if there is such a thing 🙂


  6. As far as hunting or pest control is concerned I think that a soft round nose pellet in a higher powered pcp gun would be just as effective as deep hollow point. And for sure more accurate.

    I have tryed these before out of my other.25 Marauder and .25 Talon SS I had.
    https://www.pyramydair.com/s/p/Skenco_Ultrashock_25_Cal_23_50_Grains_Hollowpoint_75ct/1028
    Out at 50 yards I was lucky to hit a 2×4. But when I did they did mushroom nice. And they did shoot some what better in the closer I shot.

    But what I do know is that the .25 caliber JSB 33.95’s mushroom pretty well to at 50 yards and are pinpoint accurate.

    And now on the other hand the H&N 31.02 grain Barracudas are a little harder than the JSB’s plus have a little more of a semi-pointed round nose. Those pellets will go through a 2×4 at 50 yards in my Marauder I have now. The JSB’s won’t go through. Almost but not quite.

    So choice wise it depends on what I’m doing at particular time. But the choice would for sure be the JSB or Barracudas over a deep hollow pointed pellet.

    And one thing I would like to see made just to try would be a wadcutter .25 caliber pellet up around 30 or so grain. I bet that could be a good pellet design in a .25 caliber. Well pcp anyway. So yep would like to see that pellet made.


    • GF1,

      I am thinking “jacketed” next. Aero-dynamics,… with expansion.

      What’s up with giving away the 2×4 data? I have yet to even try it yet.

      BTW,…. in the mail today.


      • Chris USA
        Spring for your Mrod is in the mail also. And thanks again for the hot sauce. Making my mouth water right now thinking about it.

        That’s data on my .25 Mrod. Remember I said I already know what my gun does. It’s yours I’m waiting for. Let’s see I asked Friday, asked Saturday and asked Sunday but I didn’t ask today. Figured you wee working and didn’t have no time. And yes I’m still interested to see what your gun will do at 50 and a 100 yards to a 2×4.

        And what do you mean by jacketed. With steel, or maybe copper or half the pellet. Maybe plastic like the ones BB gave a link to for Vana2.


        • GF1,

          I still do not understand what that plastic part does, but then I have never really looked into them either.

          As for jacketed, I guess something that is pre-cut, weakened or segmented. Encase that head design in a durable, yet softer case or jacket. Round nose. In that head, a “driver”, kind of like the Metal Mags, could facilitate the expansion the “segments”. Max. aero-dynamics yet max. expansion at the same time.

          Not into firearms, but some shooters at work have brought in slugs that were recovered and they looked like an open flower with the “petals” perfectly and evenly “peeled” back. I believe those are pre-cut or segmented.

          I took Friday off again so I will do the 2×4 test then. Yours is making more power, so my results will be less dramatic. I still need to look into that spring installation (and) the subsequent adjustments. Any general instruction/direction on adjustments post new spring would be appreciated.


          • Chris USA
            The plastic part engages the rifling and also seals the air like the skirt of a normal pellet does.

            And there use to be a .22 caliber rimfire round that CCI made that was called the stinger if I remember right. It was a round nose hollow point bullet that had a peice of star shaped metal embedded in the hollow point. And if I remember right it was a little higher velocity round. That was a killer little round to shoot at the farm pests.

            But yep if you had a soft enough lead with a metal star in the hollow point of a round nose pellet that would be a nice hunting pellet. But you would have to have a pretty powerful pcp gun to make its design work. Plus distance would be a factor too. Not because of accuracy but because it needs alot of retained energy to get the mushroom or opening up effect.

            And ok good on the 2×4 test at 50 and a 100 yards. And remember all you need is one shot from each pellet in the peice of wood. And circle and identify on the board what pellet made that hole and at what distance. And yes I know my gun is making more power. But I still think your going to be surprised with your results. And especially when you compare the 50 and 100 yard pieces of 2×4’s.

            And here is a tune for max power not shot count. Striker spring adjusted for the most pressure. The striker adjusted for the most stroke. The transfer port opened all the way out to flush without any lock down set screw. Use a drop of blue locktight to hold the set screw in place. Fill to 3500 psi.

            You can back the spring pressure off half the amount of turns for a little more shot count but less velocity. Then if you want more shot count you can start turning the transfer port screw in untill you get a shot count you want. And I keep my striker stroke at max stroke all the time. I use the striker spring pressure adjustment and transfer port adjustment to get the velocity and shot count I want for a given fill pressure.

            I like mine maxed out. And I can shoot from 3500 psi down to about 2300 psi with out my POI changing much. Under 2300 it drops off like a rock. And when it’s in the power band the sound of the shot is a sharp crisp sound. Definitely louder now than a stock gun. And when it starts comming off the powerband towards the end fill psi. The crisp sound starts going away. You just got to shoot and see what is good for you is the best I can say. But the main thing is. See what the gun poi’s like through the whole fill pressure range and see what is acceptable to you.


            • GF1,

              I made a full set of notes. Terminology is in question.

              I do want you to clarify, based on Manual/ A-Team/ Your Comments (3 versions)

              1/8″ Allan adjustment…. is called:

              M- Hammer stroke adjustment
              A- Hammer stroke adjustment
              You- Striker stroke

              1/4″ Allan adjustment….. is called:

              M- Hammer spring preload
              A- Hammer spring tension adjustment
              You- Striker spring pressure adjustment

              If you agree that each category of 3, means the same thing, then great. I just wanted to (make sure I got it right) and for you to understand that different terms can create confusion for us newbies. ;(

              Thanks for the help and I will do, try and play. I feel confident that I got it 100%. Chris


  7. With these kinds of controls, I’m amazed that pellets are as cheap as they are. What exactly is a “lot” of pellets? Is that a group that has gone through the complete manufacturing cycle together? And how do the field target shooters adjust to the groupings of pellets sorted by weight? Do they rezero for each group?

    Matt61


    • Matt,

      Yes, you described part of what constitutes a lot. Also they should have the same batch of lead preforms made from the same lot of lead wire, to be uniform. In some places, starting and stopping the machines even for a moment ends and begins a lot, just because of the differences you get powering up.

      As for the weight question, typically field target shooters only shoot one weight of the pellet. They use the rest for other airguns, or they rebox them and sell/trade them.

      B.B.


  8. B.B.,

    “Still more ground to cover”,…. you got me there. The Lamprey’s defy all logic. Solid pellets are of interest. I am assuming the plastic drops away (link),.. on those that are of that type? Alloys too.

    Darn it B.B.,…. you are gonna’ make me get a Pelletgage yet!…… “The Facilitator”,….. if I am remembering correctly? 😉

    Chris


  9. BB
    It seems the .20 cal. is the 16 gauge of airguns.
    Also, I wonder when airgun manufacturers will take a closer look at the rate of twist of rifling. I used to shoot a lot of Collibri very low powered .22 rimfire ammunition in standard rifles with 1 in 16 twist but couldn’t get good groups. Finally I built a rifle with a 1in 20 twist and the groups shrank to one holers.
    Finally, I have really enjoyed the “teach me to shoot” series. I think fiction can sugar coat factual information and make it easier to understand. Remember the “Gus Wilson” stories in Popular Science? I learned a lot about cars from those pieces.
    I hope the series will become a book or pamphlet (at least the airgun parts) and offered with introductory target type air pistols. Cordially, Fido 3030


  10. Hi BB, thanks for writing this series. So many things to consider in a pellet! I have chosen to go lead-free and there aren’t much chose from out there, however, H&N offered a few more than others. I have also tried their H&N Match Green pellets on the IZH61, Beeman P17 and a modded Crosman 2240 with the 10.1 LW .177 barrel. Unfortunately, none of them seem to like the match greens at all. Is it because they are all cheap guns? Would this pellet perform better with the more expensive match guns? I’m still trying out the other H&N green pellets. The Field Target Trophy Green had dime sized groups at 9 yds with these guns. I’m also trying out the Baracuda Greens and will let you know when I have some results.

    Regards,
    Peter


  11. Question from a total newbie here, about solid shot. Taking for instance, say, one of the H&N Rabbit Magnums. (https://www.pyramydair.com/s/p/H_N_Rabbit_Magnum_II_22_Cal_25_62_Grains_Cylindrical_Solid_200ct/783)

    This, obviously, is not your standard airgun pellet, but I’m confused about why it would not work well enough. This, of course, assumes a rifled barrel and a PCP or big springer sufficient to launch it at 500+FPS. Would this not just perform more or less like a .22 short in terms of external ballistics? The barrel is rifled with an appropriate twist rate, the projectile is symmetric… ?

    As I said, I’m a newbie here, and I’m just really curious. Educate me!


    • Komitadjie,

      Welcome to the blog. One word is the answer to your posit — accuracy. How accurate would that pellet be?

      I think I have to test it for you. because I have several other people asking similar things.

      B.B.


      • Thanks, this is one heck of a lot of good info! I’ve been reading a ton of the back articles, and learning a truly amazing amount. Your write-ups on here are one of the primary reasons I purchased a Talon SS just a week or so ago. Obviously, I’m still ENTIRELY a newbie at this, so everything I can learn is great.

        So far, I’ve been using JSB 18.13gr heavy domes, and at 25 yards they will just keep right on stacking for as long as I keep loading them. I’m trying out a range of pellets in it, but I really can’t think of anything else I’d WANT from one!

        I’m just curious, because it would seem that a properly-made solid pellet that engages the rifling well in a barrel with the proper twist rate, and emerges from the muzzle with sufficient energy (both of which my rudimentary knowledge of ballistics would indicate that particularly the Condor will easily do) it would seem that the should be every bit as accurate as a similar projectile fired from a powder-actuated arm. The drag stabilization aspect of a pellet would seem far more critical if the barrel is poorly rifled, or the rifling is not of sufficient rate to stabilize the weight of the projectile. In a firearm, that will result in a “keyholing” hit and ensuing terrible accuracy as the projectile loses stability and tumbles. The drag-stabilized aspect of a pellet would most likely resist that far better than a traditional “rifle bullet” design.

        But if the barrel is properly rifled, and the twist rate is sufficient? It would *seem* that solid shot that is well-made and uniformly dense should fly just fine… ? I’ll be really interested in seeing what your tests turn up!



          • Most interesting! I wonder if air rifle barrels, irrespective of the rifle they’re attached to, have a distinct preference for a specific projectile the way rimfires have a preference for a specific ammunition type. I know on my 10/22s, I have a re-chambered, re-crowned factory barrel that will shoot itty-bitty-tiny little groups with CCI SVs or Wolf MT, but sprays the target down like a shotgun with CCI Minimag. And that holds constant as I move it from receiver to receiver. I wonder if air rifle barrels do the same? As in, I wonder if you had three barrels that were otherwise nominally identical in twist rate, manufacture, etc, if you’d end up with three different performance plots with identical gun settings. Rimfire, anyway, is all kinds of quirky that way!

            I’m going to be sitting down and reading through that entire rifling rate article this evening, that looks like some fascinating testing to follow.


  12. We have been shooting lead free for the past two years at New England Airgun and have found the H&N products to be very accurate.

    One of my members just competed in the Baystate games and scored a 539 using the H&N Match Greens to secure second place ( he regularly shoots close to 560). Jacob is new to the sport and this was his third competition.

    Also check out the article in USA Shooting News March 2015 by Robert Mitchel CEO of USA Shooting, Seems he is very impressed with the Lead-Free pellets for all but elite-level competition.

    H&N also come out with the Excite Dynamic pellets from their acquisition of Prometheus. One of my customers took down a wild dog (coydog) that weighed in at 150 lb with this pellet in .177. Single shot to the top of the head at 50 yards. These pellets are much like the trash can pellet but more like a solid bullet. We find them very accurate in the high powered break barrels and pcp’s.


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