by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

A history of airguns

This report covers:

  • When I was a boy…
  • Tins are collectible
  • Pellets oxidize
  • Accurate?
  • Two targets
  • Come a long way

Let’s be honest — the hobby may be about airguns, but without pellets it dies real fast. Most of us don’t think about the pellets we shoot, other than how accurate they are in whatever we are shooting or do they do the job on the target. If you’re an airgunner for any length of time, eventually you’ll end up with pellet tins from the past — maybe even a past that happened before you got into the sport.

When I was a boy…

One phrase my father used all the time started with, “When I was a boy…” There was usually some object lesson after that. Like, “We walked 5 miles to school regardless of the weather.” Or, “We found ways to make our own money. Nobody gave us anything!” Because he was my father, his mother — my grandmother — never contradicted him in front of me. What has become popular today (intentional embarrassment of a parent in front of their child) was unthinkable in the 1950s. Little pictures have big ears and children should be seen and not heard were the watchwords of the day.

Well, dear readers, when I was a boy the only pellets you could buy were Benjamin high-compression pellets. They came in a green tin that was recognizable to most kids. When I got back into airgunning as an adult and returned to the U.S. those tins were nowhere to be found. They had been replaced by colorful tins from German, the United Kingdom and Japan. The Beeman company had just started up and they had colorful boxes and later tins of their own.

Benjamin tins

The green lithographed Benjamin tin was familiar to many small boys. To the right is a plain tin with a green Benjamin sticker — the start of cost controls. The price on the tin on the left was marked up after sitting in a store unsold for 30 years.

alternate Benjamin tin I

n the 1970s Benjamin dropped the green boxes and tins in favor of an orange and white sticker. Sorry if it’s not orange — I’m colorblind.

Benjamin pellets

Pardon the appearance, but that is what a half-century of oxidation does to a lead pellet. Two Benjamin high-compression pellets from the 1930s-1960s.

Beeman pellet boxes

 Beeman pellet boxes and tins used to be color-coded by caliber. Blue for .177, gold or yellow for .20, green for .22 and red for .25.

Tins are collectible

Today those Benjamin tins are collectors items in their own right and the colorful Beeman boxes I once thought of as state-of-the art are getting to be collectible, too. Here’s a question for you — were those vintage pellets from the time of the dinosaurs any good? The answer depends of what you mean by good.

Pellets oxidize

I remember seeing tins of Benjamin pellets sitting on store shelves. When the tin was opened, the pellets inside shined with a brilliant luster. The oil they were packed in was there to preserve that luster, and I can remember the day I opened a tin to find the oil dried up and the pellets turning dull gray and even white from oxidation.


Were those pellets accurate? Again, it depends. We thought just hitting a tin can with a pellet at 30 feet was a pretty astounding feat in 1956. Yes, Benjamin pellets were that accurate. But I remember a test I did for The Airgun Letter in the ’90s that involved shooting a Crosman 160 rifle using the new .22-caliber Crosman Premier pellets and then with the period Crosman “ashcan” pellets of the ’60s. There was no contest. The Premiers buried the ashcans, revealing the fact that the 160 was quite accurate with the right ammunition. Who knew? Better yet, we couldn’t have done anything about it if we did know, because were were trapped in time. Ashcans were what we had.

Crosman ashcan pellet box

This was the Crosman pellet box in the 1960s.

ashcans and Premiers

Crosman ashcan pellets from the 1960s (do I need to tell you they’re on the left?) and two Crosman Premiers.

Two targets

I did another test. I shot the same rifle at 10 meters, using two different pellets. The top target was shot 5 times with RWS R10 heavy pellets of today. Bottom target shot with Crosman ashcans. If that target doesn’t illustrate the advancements in pellet technology, I don’t know what will.

two targets

RWS R10 pellets shot the target on top at 10 meters, and the same air rifle shot 5 Crosman ashcans at the target below. The difference is pretty astounding!

Come a long way

We’re come a long way when it comes to diabolo lead pellets. Today’s pellets have more potential than most shooters realize. But if you had to shoot the pellets that used to be available, you’d see the difference right away.