Testing non-lead pellets: Part 3

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1
Part 2

We have a lot of interest in non-lead or lead-free pellets. I heard from several readers on Part 2, which ran last week. That was when I used the Hatsan model 95 Combo breakbarrel to test both lead and non-lead .22-caliber pellets for accuracy at both 10 meters and 25 yards. I admit that was a scatterbrain test; but after seeing the results, I’m glad I did it. Here’s why. If lead-free pellets do not perform in real-world airguns, they have no value. They shouldn’t be a science experiment, requiring special guns and conditions. If they’re going to succeed, they must work well in the kinds of guns that are used by many shooters.

That said, I’m dialing back my test parameters today and using a spring gun that I know is very accurate — my .177-caliber Beeman R8. It’s probably best to start with a known good gun and then, if the green pellets do work, expand the test out into the more basic types of airguns.

This particular R8 works best with JSB Exact RS pellets. And I rediscovered that this rifle also shoots best when laid directly on a sandbag and is not held using the artillery hold. The advantage of shooting directly off a bag is that it gives the rifle a more stable platform.

I was going to shoot several green pellets for this test, but I decided to limit the test to just one pellet. If it was successful, I could always branch out from there. The pellet I selected for today’s test is the H&N Baracuda Green, a 6.48-grain domed pellet (which is the same as the Beeman ECO Kodiak pellet). The equivalent pellet in lead weighs anywhere from 10.2-grains to 10.6-grains, depending on which H&N Baracuda you sample.


H&N Baracuda Green on the left and JSB Exact RS on the right. Notice how much shorter the heavier lead pellet is.

First, I shot a group of 10 JSB Exact RS domes at 25 yards. This group measures 0.502 inches between the two farthest centers. While it’s not the best group this rifle has made at 25 yards, it’s a good one, as can be seen in the photo.


The first group of JSB Exact RS domes made this 0.502-inch group. Eight pellets in the larger hole on the right.

Following that group, I shot the first group of Baracuda Greens. I was prepared to season the bore by shooting as many pellets as necessary for the group to settle down; but as you’ll see, there was no need. Ten shots gave a 0.442-inch group. That’s right, the H&N Baracuda Green pellets beat the best lead pellet I know of for this rifle. I would have to say that’s a positive result!


The first group of Baracuda Green pellets was surprisingly small. It measures 0.442 inches between centers.

After shooting this group, I fired a second 10-shot group of the Baracuda Greens to see if the first group was a fluke. Group number two measures 0.543 inches between centers. It’s larger than the first group and also larger than the group of lead pellets I shot before that, but it’s certainly in the same ballpark.


Group two of Baracuda Greens is a little larger, but it’s still a fine group. This pellet is accurate in this rifle. Group measures 0.543 inches between centers.

Final group
To end this test, I fired a final group of the JSB Exact RS pellets. This time, the first shot did go to a different place than the following shots, so I guess some seasoning of the bore was required; but after that, the shots all went to the same place.

The second group of JSB Exact RS pellets measures 0.422 inches and is the smallest group of the test. But it’s only 0.02 inches smaller than the best Baracuda Green group, and that’s well within the margin of measurement error.


The smallest group of the test is this second group of JSB Exact RS pellets. It measures 0.422 inches between centers.

What can I say?
Obviously, H&N Baracuda Green pellets are very accurate in my Beeman R8. They may be equal to JSB Exact RS pellets, which have been the most accurate pellets for this rifle until now.

We have one good test under our belts. Next, I want to test these pellets in an accurate PCP. I happen to have a Benjamin Marauder in .177 caliber, so that’s what I’ll use.

The rest of you can help by testing the Baracuda Green pellets in other airguns and reporting the results. I want to stick with Baracuda Greens for a while before I branch out into other non-lead pellets. I’m glad I did today’s test, and things are looking good for the greens.

You don’t know how good we have it!
If you’re a regular reader, you know that I built an AR-15 lower receiver to test the Crosman MAR177 AR-15 upper PCP conversion. After sending the upper back to Crosman, I was left with a lower and nothing to attach to it. So, I thought I’d buy an upper in .223 caliber to complete my rifle.

In my ignorance, I imagined that buying an upper was a simple process. Well, it’s not! If you think airgunning has a lot of jargon and is confusing, you’ve never shopped in the confusing world of the AR! The websites abound with acronyms, slang and references to things I feel I should know but don’t. Unless you’re extremely careful, you can buy a partial upper and still need to spend a lot more money on parts that aren’t necessarily compatible with what you’ve already purchased.

Ever hear the tale that all AR-15 parts interchange? Well, they don’t, and the chat forums are full of complaints about it! Reading the customer reviews about certain products paints a nightmare tale of confusion, customer abandonment and outright lying by some of the major dealers.

What a snake-pit the AR market has become! I can see I will have to become very educated on the subject of the parts of the gun before I buy — or there’s one other possibility. I could buy a a “completed” upper that has everything needed to fit on my lower and work. There’s just one problem with that. Most (over 80 percent) of the .223-caliber (and yes, I am including those that are chambered for the 5.56mm in this number) complete uppers for sale today have 16-inch barrels, because buyers apparently want the M4 carbine look. But a 16-inch barrel has none of the things I want on my rifle. It’s as if there are only gas spring super-magnums breakbarrels for sale, and I want a TX200 that nobody offers!

Then, there’s the problem of supply. Buyers in this market are at the mercy of the manufacturers, whose websites are the most confusing places of all. It’s a case of, “Place your order and shut up! We will get to you when we are good and ready!” I know they’re experiencing a boom market of unparalleled proportions, but that’s no excuse for the unhelpful fulfillment language they use on their sites.

When I see complaints about the Pyramyd Air website and then compare them to the trauma wards that sell (I guess?) AR-15 parts and assemblies, I thank my lucky stars I’m an airgunner. And, yes, I do plan to soldier on and see this thing through. Unfortunately, when I do get my upper, I may then be in the class of owners whose “half-minute of angle” upper prints a three-inch, five-shot group at 100 yards! Don’t tell me there are good companies I can trust — I’ve seen complaints about all of them.

The bottom line is that if I wasn’t working in airguns, there’s a huge market of AR sales that needs a little honesty, education and Pyramyd Air-type retailing. Given the supply difficulties that exist, I’m not sure that a good dealer could make a go of it in this market, but it’s obvious there would be no competition.


Testing non-lead pellets: Part 2

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1

This is a long-term test of non-lead pellets that began nearly a year ago. There’s a lot of pressure these days to abandon lead for projectiles and move to some other substance that’s not as toxic. The problem is that there isn’t any material as good as lead. Ammunition companies have been working on this project for decades, and they’ve yet to come up with a substance that can take the place of lead.

I don’t want to get into the discussion of the evils of lead in this report, but suffice to say that a lot of what’s being said about it is untrue. However, that’s not my concern here. I just want to discuss the feasibility of using non-lead projectiles in airguns and hold it to that.

So, I did a little test that I want to talk about today. I tested both lead pellets and lead-free pellets in the same gun at the same distances.

For this test, I used the .22-caliber Hatsan 95 combo breakbarrel that we recently found to be reasonably accurate. I shot the rifle at 10 meters and again at 25 yards; and doing that proved quite revealing. The open sights of the rifle were used for this test.

The best of the best
For this test, I wanted to use the best pellets. For the lead-free pellet, I chose the .22-caliber Beeman ECO FTS. For the lead pellet, I actually tested four different pellets, but settled on just one; and strangely enough, it was the same best pellet that was best in the last test I did with the Hatsan 95.

Before you yell, “Bias!” I know I should test other lead-free pellets in this rifle; but there aren’t that many to test. I do have some others, but in .177 caliber. So, I’ll have to test them next.

Start at 10 meters
I began this test at 10 meters and tried two lead pellets that I knew to be good in the Hatsan 95. The first of those was the heavyweight Beeman Kodiak. When I last v\tested the Hatsan with these pellets in Part 3 of the Hatsan test, 10 shots at 10 meters gave a group measuring 1.073 inches, thought 8 of those shots made a much smaller group that measured 0.529 inches between centers. This time, 10 Kodiaks went into a group measuring 0.834 inches. That’s in between the 8- and 10-shot groups made the last time.


Ten Beeman Kodiak pellets made this 0.834-inch group at 10 meters. Shot with a Hatsan 95.

Next, I tried the best pellet from the last test with the Hatsan, which was the JSB Exact Jumbo that weighs 15.9 grains. Ten of those went into a group that measures 0.514 inches between centers. That compares favorably to a 0.648-inch group last time.


Ten 15.9-grain JSB Exact Jumbo domes made this 0.514-inch group at 10 meters. It’s smaller, but in the same range as the last 10-meter group fired by the Hatsan 95, which was 0.648 inches.

The lead-free pellet
Next up was the Beeman ECO Field Target Special pellet, a 9.57-grain domed pellet that has no lead in it. Weighing less than 10 grains, this is extremely light for .22 caliber. So, the question is — Can it be accurate?

At 10 meters, this pellet turned in a 10-shot group that measures 0.704 inches between centers. That’s smaller than the Kodiak group but larger than the JSB group. And it’s a decent 10-meter group for an open-sighted air rifle of the power of the Hatsan 95.


This is a great group of 10 Beeman ECO FTS pellets. But 10 meters doesn’t tell much. We need to shoot farther to know if this pellet is accurate.

The real accuracy question
Here’s the real question. Ten meters tells us very little about the real accuracy of any pellet. Almost anything can be accurate at 10 meters, but not for very much farther. Real accuracy is the ability to hold a group together at twice the distance and more. To see that, we needed to back up. That’s what I did — backed up to 25 yards and shot again.

At this new distance, the lead-free pellet was again shot 10 times. The group it made this time measures 2.237 inches between centers. That’s a huge group — even when using open sights.


This is the group made by the Beeman ECO FTS pellets at 25 yards. Here we see the true nature of this lead-free pellet. It doesn’t stay together by flies apart as the distance increases.

As a control, a group is shot with the JSB Exact Jumbos. We know from the last test of the Hatsan 95 that this pellet grouped ten shots in 1.882 inches. This time, 10 went into a group that measured 1.728 inches between centers. Not only is that very consistent with that last test, it’s also significantly tighter than the group made by the lead-free pellets.


A 10-shot group measuring 1.728 inches was made by the JSB Exact domes at 25 yards.

Where does that leave us?
This test has many more cycles to run, but what it looks like at this point is lead-free pellets are not yet as accurate as lead pellets in the Hatsan 95. The first test done a year ago showed some surprising results, and there are many more tests yet to be conducted.

Here’s my take on the lead-free pellet issue at this juncture. They’re accurate enough for plinking, and in some guns they’re even more accurate than that; but to-date, I’ve not seen a lead-free pellet that could do as well as a good lead pellet. Since they cost about the same as premium lead pellets, my advice for now is to continue to use lead if you can.

I believe the pellet makers are working hard to perfect lead-free pellets, because they seem to be in our future. This is a topic I will watch and continue to test as new pellets become available.