Lead-free target pellets – Part 1

by B.B. Pelletier

I think this will be a super-big series, because the times seem to demand it. Lead has been demonized so much that the Junior Reserve Officer’s Training Corps (JROTC), a high-school training component of the U.S. military, has now encouraging the use of lead-free pellets for all marksmanship training using airguns. So, the question is, are lead-free pellets accurate? Can they compete with lead pellets in a formal competition situation?

I have to say that, at this moment in time, no lead-free pellet that I’m aware of can possibly compete against top-quality lead pellets. I’m not the expert, of course, but I have tested enough of these pellets to know their limitations. However, if the world is going to go in that direction, what I know or feel doesn’t matter.

I will, therefore, start testing lead-free pellets against the best lead target pellets available. I’ll use several standardized test guns whose performance can be documented and used for comparison. Before getting to that subject, though, let’s look at what JROTC typically uses for airguns.

There’s no standard gun or guns for JROTC target practice. Like their non-military counterparts in other NRA-sanctioned matches, they use the old favorites like the Daisy Avanti 853, but they also use a wide range of other target guns. Among them are the Tech Force 79 target rifle, the Daisy 953, the Crosman Challenger 2000, the Daisy Avanti 888 and other Avanti rifles, and there are a few target rifles of the junior series from companies like FWB. I’m sure the new Crosman Challenger PCP and AirForce Edge are starting to show up at matches.

So, JROTC is about to enter a field (lead-free pellets) that hasn’t been fully developed yet, and they’re doing it haphazardly, in my opinion. I do understand that their funding is fractionalized and that team coaches control and run the individual programs to a great extent, but lead-free pellets just aren’t ready to compete. At least, that’s my opinion.

I believe JROTC will not be able to remain competitive when shooting against clubs that do not have this sanction. However, it’s not clear to me at this time that they won’t be able to switch to high-quality target pellets when they compete outside the JROTC world.

I understand that this may be decided on a state-by-state basis. There may be more that we haven’t heard yet. And when it becomes obvious what’s happening, they might also rethink their policy.

However, none of that is my concern here. This is the bow wave of a general trend that will inevitably change the face of airgun target shooting in the future. I’m not about to throw myself under the wheels of the movement in protest; I want to stand off to the side and measure it. I want to know which lead-free pellets do what in different types of powerplants so we can get an idea of where the technology is. When it advances, we’ll be able to document it.

Some time ago, a reader asked me to test the Skenco Pointed Poly Match pellets. I agreed and have been planning this test for over a month. Now, however, I’m going to use this pellet test as the launch of a 10X larger test SERIES of all lead-free pellets that are touted as target pellets. If they have target in their name, they go on the list.

The Skenco Poly Match pellet will be the first pellet tested. I already see a problem with the shape. The pointed head will make scoring problematic, and such a pellet will not be permitted at the national level, where scoring is taken very seriously!

Here’s where you readers come in. You folks will keep me informed of all the new lead-free target pellets as you discover them. If I’m able to get them, I’ll test them. This is really an open-ended series.

I plan to use three rifles to test each pellet. I’ll use my HW55F springer, a Daisy 953 single-stroke and a Crosman Challenger PCP. Even with just three guns, these tests will take a long time to complete, so please don’t ask for this or that rifle that you might be interested in buying. Three guns of established performance should give us a good picture of performance.

And, there will be issues. Just yesterday, a reader named Ed asked about the Poly Match pellets. He said they were too long to load into his Daisy 953, so I tested one right on the spot. He was correct. I will show things like that as we do each test.

I have no stake in the outcome of this series. If a non-lead pellet is labeled as a target pellet, it will be tested…if I can get it. They’ll all be compared to the very best lead target pellets for each type of gun. This will not be a fair test. It will be ruthless, because the lead-free pellets are trying to play in the big time. So, they have to perform!