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Ammo The ubiquitous BB: Part 3

The ubiquitous BB: Part 3

The steel air rifle shot is commonly called a BB.

Part 1
Part 2

This report covers:

  • Happened before
  • And BBs?
  • Daisy 499
  • Marksman BBs
  • Smart Shot
  • Dust Devils
  • The Diana Oktoberfest
  • Summary

Today we finish the saga of the ubiquitous BB. When we left off last time the BB had become a precisely round steel ball. It was so uniform that at close range it was unbelievably accurate. The BB gun of 30 years ago had suddenly (over the course of about 5 years) become accurate. Or at least some had, and it was known how to make them accurate.

Happened before

This isn’t the first time ammunition has leaped ahead and revealed accuracy previously unknown in an airgun. When the Crosman Premier pellet came out airgunners all around the world awoke to find their Crosman 160 pellet rifles were actually hyper-accurate.

Crosman ashcans
Crosman “ashcan” pellets were made of dead soft lead and resembled garbage cans. These are the pellets Crosman sold to the Air Force for the 160.

When the 160 first came out in 1955 the pellets Crosman sold were the old “ashcans”. They were so-named for their resemblance to a garbage can.

In the 1960s the U.S. Air Force bought a large number of Crosman 160 rifles built to a target specification. They came with adjustable leather slings and precision target peep sights. I suppose the Air Force wanted them for their safety, because when you consider the fact that they use two CO2 cartridges that at the time got about 25 good shots per fill, the cost per shot was roughly equivalent to that of a .22 long rifle cartridge.

Crosman 160 AF
The Crosman 160 was a pellet rifle that blossomed when the pellets it shot became better. When the Air Force used it in the 1960s it wasn’t that accurate.

For whatever reason, the Air Force didn’t use as many of these as they ordered and in the 1990s hundreds of them were found in a warehouse unissued and still in the box. BB bought one and found it still had the Crosman “bottlecap” CO2 cartridges that the factory used to test the guns after manufacture.

Crosman bottlecap cartridge
The Air Force used CO2 cartridges supplied by Crosman that were sealed with “bottlecaps.”

I’m taking a long time to make a point. In the 1990s when these new/old 160s hit the market shooters had  accurate pellets like the Crosman Premier dome to shoot, along with a whole world of other accurate pellets, suddenly an air rifle that had shot five pellets into one inch at 25 feet was capable of putting five pellets into one-tenth-inch at 33 feet.

Crosman 160 CO2 rifle 5 Superdomes target
A Crosman 160 put five RWS Superdomes into 0.107-inches at 10 meters. It’s not the Crosman Premier dome mentioned in the text but those pellets performed similarly.

And BBs?

I spent a lot of time explaining how improvements in lead pellets transformed the accuracy of a pellet rifle. A similar thing happened with BBs when they became more uniform. It began with the Daisy 499 that I call the world’s most accurate BB gun. It came with target sights and it was built for business.

Daisy 499

There were BB guns prior to the 499 that had target sights and slings. The Daisy model 99 and model 299 are two examples of such guns. But sights and slings do not make an accurate BB gun. However, occasionally, when one of those “better” BB guns came with a tighter barrel by happenstance, they shot phenomenally well. Coaches around the U.S. would order BB gun shot tubes (the barrels of BB guns are in the shot tube assembly) by the dozens, test each one and keep the most accurate ones.

But the Daisy 499 was developed for just one reason — accuracy. No need to test for a tight barrel because Daisy engineers designed the 499 to have one from the start. They made it a muzzle-loading single shot with an intentionally tight barrel.  They also specified BBs that were and still are precision ground to fit that barrel.

What I’m about to say I cannot prove but it seems too coincidental not to have been done on purpose. As the reputation of the 499 grew, every company that sells BBs started selling an upgraded BB that was slightly larger and more uniform. That’s EVERY manufacturer! You have seen those BBs in this blog. Two of them are the Hornady Black Diamond and the Crosman Black Widow. I have measured them and they are both on the large side, plus both are plated (?) with a black compound. Are they the same BB made in the same plant? Well, in tests they have performed differently enough for me to believe they are not exactly the same. Whether they are made in the same plant I have no idea, but both are made in China.

Marksman BBs

Then there are the BBs that Marksman just brought out. They are sized 0.176-inches in diameter and before a week ago I would have said they don’t shoot well in anything, but reader Cloud9 brought a well-worn Daisy Number 40 military-style BB gun over to my house to see if I had some lead BBs that would fit it. It was made for 0.175-inch lead Air Rifle Shot (1905 to 1925?). But when I saw the shot tube I knew that someone had been shooting steel BBs in the gun for a long time. The shot tube in those BB guns made for lead shot has a swage (a dent) in the breech of the shot tube instead of a wire spring to hold the BB. It stops the soft lead BB very well, but when steel shot is used it irons out the swage. The test is to drop a 4.4mm lead shot down the muzzle. If it falls out the rear of the shot tube the swage is gone and the tube is ruined. Until now. 

BB shot tubes
Modern BB shot tube (left) has a spring to hold the BB before firing. Antique shot tube on the right has a swage to hold the lead Air Rifle Shot.

I had a thought. Would the Marksman BB be large enough to work in this ancient BB gun? It was. They fed through the magazine and shot fine. Of course in time they will remove more metal and not work, either. But at least they let the owner shoot his father’s BB gun a few more times.

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Smart Shot

If lead BB shot was safer than steel, why not bring it back? So H&N did just that and called it Smart Shot. Of course it costs a lot more because lead is more expensive than steel, but it does allow the safe shooting of modern BB guns because lead doesn’t rebound nearly as much as steel. You still need to wear safety glasses, but with lead you can shoot hard targets more safely.

Dust Devils

And finally there is the frangible BB — the Dust Devil from Air Venturi. These are great for shooting hard targets safely. Pyramyd AIR has high speed photos of Dust Devils coming apart when they hit metal targets. They are not made from lead so they aren’t toxic.

Dust Devil
When the Dust Devil hits a hard target it disintegrates.

Dust Devils are lighter than solid steel BBs, so they go a little faster. In my testing I have found that they range from almost as accurate in some BB guns to less accurate in others. But there are always new developments going on.

There was an upgrade several years ago and the Dust Devil Mark II is the current product. They are a little larger and have a less pronounced ring where they are joined.

The Diana Oktoberfest

I was going to address the Diana Oktoberfest but it really isn’t a BB gun. It’s a ball-shooting rifle. It has a rifled barrel and even though you can shoot steel BBs in it, I recommend you find some 4.4mm lead balls, because they make the Oktoberfest shine.


That’s all I have for you on BBs at this time, but the good news is things are in motion. We may see more developments and improvements in this area of our hobby as time passes.

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.

30 thoughts on “The ubiquitous BB: Part 3”

  1. B.B.
    What is the ballistic coefficient of b.b.’s?
    I have heard that it is much higher than pellets.
    With a sufficient powerplant, what is the range of these mini-cannon balls?


      • Seriously, if you can propel a b.b. to leave the barrel at 1,000 fps. What would the range be. Not effective, just how far would it go….?


        PS Please do not “wise crack” to serious questions, Peanut Gallery. Yes you Ridge Runner!

        • Yogi,

          I don’t know about 1000 fps, but the fastest shooting genuine BB gun (although it also shoots pellets as well) I know of is the Daisy 880. I’ve never chronied mine, but I’ve read they shoot 5.1 gr BBs somewhere between 700 and 800 fps. That is enough to make me fearful of the ricochets that could come back to the shooter. It was an 880 at perhaps 7 pumps that demonstrated to me that ricochets can come right back at you at distances you wouldn’t believe.

          I know precious little about aerodynamics, however, other than it is the wind OVER the wings of an airplane that provide lift. But I think most people know that.


          • Michael,

            “I know precious little about aerodynamics, however, other than it is the wind OVER the wings of an airplane that provide lift. But I think most people know that.”

            Do you and those “most people” really know?


            I’m seeing RED at the moment about this Old Chestnut unlike Bulls who have NO RED receptor.
            (I love FRESHLY roasted Chestnuts, however, and have ever since I was a small boy in Vienna where they were sold on almost every corner in the Winter.)

            I flew a number of aircraft that had wings without the differential on wing clean and dirty side shapes. Must have been magic…or was it the angle-of-attack to the airflow vector?


        • Yogi,

          I was bored and noticed I hadn’t answered one of your questions. I found this right on PA: “Because the projectile is so light about 5.1 grains (0.33 grams) and is spherical, it loses its velocity quickly, a BB fired at approximately 590fps (180 meters per second) has a maximum range of about 240 yards (220 meters) if the muzzle was elevated to the optimum angle.”
          Read the rest if interested here: /best-bb-guns

          Just guessing here but suspect that adding another 410 FPS to the above would result in big disappointment for the cost of the BB Gun to do it with. I doubt the trip into transonic realm would help with accuracy…but who knows…not me.


    • Yogi,

      As I and others have stated before, there are many factors that affect BC so that it is never exact. For example, BCs change with velocity throughout the external trajectory, so a listed BC of a bullet or a pellet is only really meaningful if you know at what velocity the projectile was measured at and at what points in its flight from muzzle to target. You can use a Ballistics Table or Calculator if you know the MV, the sectional density (plus other stuff) of the projectile/environment and select the correct model (G1, GA,…G7, GX…) for the projectiles shape. Fortunately a BB is a Sphere so the Balistic Tables are about the best for the shape because of similarities to a cannon ball!
      Typical Steel BBs (.171-.173 or so) have a Balistic Coefficient in the 0.013 to 0.016 range which is poor compared to even (Lead pellets; edited for clarity) wadcutter pellets.

      Hope that covers you question; if not keep asking.


    • Yogi,
      I’m sure a bb can shoot over 1,000 fps if the gun shooting it was made to do so. The hottest BB gun I know of is the Umarex Lever Action (600 fps) and the Umarex Morph (also 600 fps). A pump Crosman or Daisy will shoot them faster, but, having a rifled barrel these are rifles. I too have often wondered of the point of how fast vs accuracy. The two I listed are very accurate for bb guns. In fact when bb tested those, he found them right at or nearly as accurate as the Daisy 499.


    • Yogi,
      From what I have read, the Red Ryder can shoot about 200 yards. Not to sure about a more powerful airgun but I would guess about 400 yards. There are many variables that would increase or decrease the distance, ie wind, shot angle, etc.

      I have never tested a bb gun for distance so I don’t really don’t have first hand knowledge. Maybe some one that has done some testing will chime in. Just the testing method would be very interesting.

      • Benji-Don,

        My Big Bore “BB” pistol and Short Rifle shoot .575 Lead Ball at 283 grains and drop approximately 4-5 additional inches compared to 350 grain Lead hollow points at 100yds.
        Sorry don’t have a 28x grain conical to do a direct comparison. The ball in the pistol starts to loose in accuracy out beyond 125yds the 350 keeps going accurately out to 150yds and beyond; just becomes a REALLY loopy trajectory. I don’t have enough D.O.P.E. on the Short Rifle to provide anything to say if the extra length on the barrel helps with accuracy.
        I believe it does but that is an A. vs O. comparison.

        Apples to Oranges but the best I know from direct experience.


  2. I gave a Glock 17 Gen 4 BB pistol as a Christmas Present and training aid to my Deputy Sheriff nephew. It jammed repeatedly on the Hornadys. Next time he’s over we’ll test the Dust Devils and the Precision ground shot.

  3. BB

    These reports have been informative and helpful. I would not have known to get a 160 at Newton a few years ago but for your tip about accuracy potential with modern pellet design. I was not disappointed with its accuracy.


  4. The BBGage is available with a range of 4.35 to 4.44 mm (about .171 to .175 in). There has not yet been a BBGageR to sort quantities, but I have the idea it would work well, and that the key is to know the best diameter for the 499 or other “target” grade BB guns. I’d love to hear opinions.

    • JerryC,

      I would agree with Tom.
      I would add that if you publicized your device(s) or better yet Sponsored a Youth BB Gun Competition that it would be a plus for sales to the biggest single market. Just search “Youth BB Gun Competitions” and you will get pages of ideas.
      Write a piece for Shooting Sports or other NRA publications about your products mightcould work too!


      • Thank you, sir! I could start by sending out a message to everyone who already purchased a BBGage, and follow up with your ideas. I think if anyone wanted to sort quantities, the BB shooters would, and it would work pretty well given that the 499 is the common denominator.

        • JerryC,

          I owed you one!
          I had been stuck at more than MOA for months with my PA Sub MOA competition tries.
          Since using your .177 Gage on my bullets (slugs) helped me get Sub MOA more often with my SIG ASP20 at 25 and 50 yards.
          Can’t argue with the results given that bore fit is finally being learned by the airgun Bullet (slug) shooters; especially in the powerful gas/spring piston air rifles which we all “KNOW” can not shoot solids worth a darn.


  5. BB,

    I’m a little surprised that you didn’t include the ASG Blaster plastic BBs in your discourse.They measure an actual .177 inch in diameter and are a mere .138 g in mass. They might be the perfect BB for the Daisy #40 that you mentioned since they aren’t likely to wear down the barrel nub. I like to shoot them from my Colt licensed Umarex Pythons. They are plenty accurate in the smooth bored BB-only versions. I haven’t tried them through a rifled barrel. A light blanket, as a backdrop, is all it takes to stop them and, since I shoot at mouthwash sized Dixie Cups at 10 yards, they don’t get damaged and I can reuse them. They used to have to be ordered from a dive shop in the UK but now they are available on Amazon. I will say that they are pretty expensive if you don’t reuse them a few times, but being able to shoot indoors without fear of doing much damage should you have a wild total miss makes them worth it to me.


  6. Wow. This makes my head hurt. I was searching for lead BB’s for the Gamo P23 I inherited from my bro-in-law and stumbled on these 3 articles. How can something so simple and basic be so complicated? I measured the Gamo lead round BBs I have and they run .1720 to .1756. Most of the steels are about .1715
    All I want to do is hit the target reliably, and I can’t even buy ammo without 3 months of research! Plus, no local shops stock the lead .177 BBs.
    I currently own two old 880’s (that I’ve not used much), a Gamo Whisper Cat .177 and now this P23. Looking forward to gleaning some good info from the Pyramyd site.

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