by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

common pellets
The four common pellet types (shapes) — dome, pointed, wadcutter and hollowpoint. 

This report covers:

  • The common shapes
  • Wadcutter
  • Semi-wadcutter
  • Dome or round-nose
  • Domed differences
  • Pointed pellets
  • Hollowpoints
  • Trick pellets
  • Summary

Recently we looked at all four smallbore pellet calibers — .177. .20, .22 and .25. Today we look at the diabolo pellets that we shoot in them.

The common shapes

I pictured four common pellet shapes above, but there are really only three — the wadcutter, the dome and the pointed pellet. The hollowpoint is based on one of those three shapes and has been made on all three basic shapes. I will explain that in a bit, but for now let’s look at the three basic pellet shapes.

Wadcutter

The wadcutter pellet was perhaps the first shape of the smallbore diabolo (wasp waist and hollow tail) pellet to be created. I temporize with the word “perhaps” because there is still much to be learned about the dawn of the diabolo and we may never know everything. But we see the wadcutter or flat-nosed pellet at the very beginning, sometime just after the turn of the 20th century.

wadcutter pellet
Wadcutter pellet.


wadcutter bullet
Wadcutter bullets.

Wadcutter pellets do the same thing that wadcutter bullets do; they cut perfectly round holes in target paper, which make for easier scoring. As far as bullets go, that is the principal purpose of the wadcutter bullet.

Today there is some talk about using wadcutter bullets for defense because they are slow and won’t shoot through your opponent. And, like wadcutter pellets, they cut large wound channels that don’t close up after the bullet passes through.

Wadcutter pellets, however, do other things. We would never use them for defense, but they are effective on very small game like mice, rats and small pest birds. And, because they are so prevalent, they are perhaps the number one plinking pellet.

Semi-wadcutter

In the bullet world the semi wadcutter is perhaps the number one bullet used in all handguns except semiautomatics used for defense. In revolvers they reign supreme. This bullet retains velocity like a round-nose and cuts a wound channel like a wadcutter. It’s even good for shooting at paper.

semi-wadcutter bullet
Semi-wadcutter bullet.

It’s more difficult to define what a semi-wadcutter pellet is, or should be. Maybe the H&N Hollow Point shown on the right of the first picture of this report is one? It’s harder to say for sure because pellets have to be light enough to fly. Unlike the Keith semi-wadcutter bullet, a pellet can’t be that long and heavy.

Dome or round-nose

The domed pellet is the king of long-range shooting and also of penetration. People will argue that pointed pellets go deeper but testing disproves it. They go as deep but not deeper.

domed pellets
JSB Exact RS on the left and H&N Baracuda on the right. The Baracuda is almost pointed!

Domed pellets are synonymous with round-nosed bullets. They are the best pellet we have for supersonic flight, which, by the way, does not lessen accuracy, as I demonstrated back in 2011.

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Domed differences

Domes are pellets with differences. There are tall domes and low domes. The H&N Baracuda has what I would call a tall dome. That gives it a lot of weight forward and also increases the weight of the entire pellet. The JSB Exact RS dome is a low dome that is lightweight but has the aerodynamic properties of the dome. It doesn’t fly true as far as the Baracuda, but it flies far enough to call it a long-range pellet.

Domes are great for hunting, plinking and many sports like field target. The thing they are not so good for is shooting at paper. They leave ragged holes that are difficult to see and score. Special things like taping the target paper is done to improve this, but domes are not for targets.

pointed pellet
The Daisy Pointed Field pellet is a pointed pellet.

The pointed pellet is the least popular of the three main types. Domes can do everything pointed pellets can, and they do much of it better, but pointed pellets do continue to sell. Perhaps their shape is a big reason?

Hollowpoints

I said in the beginning that hollowpoints can be based on any of the three main types. Here’s the proof.

three hollowpoints
These three hollowpoints are based, from left to right, on a wadcutter, a dome and a pointed pellet.

Trick pellets

I define trick pellets as pellets that are not conventional. That’s just my own definition and it is meaningless, but there is a category of pellets that are just a little different. Take the Gamo Rocket, as an example. It’s a semi-dome with a steel ball in the nose. What purpose does that ball serve?

I can see that I need to start testing all of the “trick” pellets for you. Some I know, like the Predator Polymag, are very accurate and consistent. Others with plastic points glued in their tips may not be as accurate. Until I test them I really can’t say. But in my world they are all trick pellets. Even the ultra light pellets that are used to substantiate velocity claims are trick pellets in my book.

trick pellets
Predator Polymags on the left, Gamo Luxor Cu with the pyramid tip in the center and the Tracer Pell that glows in the dark on the right. All trick pellets by my definition.

Summary

I thought this report was going one way, but it changed near the end and gave me several more reports to write. I see I need to test some of what I call trick pellets using an airgun or airguns of proven accuracy, to see what’s wheat and what’s chaff.