Finding the right pellet for your airgun can make all the difference says Matt Clark
The airgun pellet is an important link between the shooter and the target. It can make the difference between Olympic gold or bronze. For most airgunners it can just mean the difference between a hit or a miss, but that’s equally important as Olympic glory, especially when you are hunting.
Pellets come in four main calibres (sizes): .177; .20; .22 and .25, with .177 being the smallest and .25 being the largest. There is also a .303 calibre pellet, but that is rather specialist and was designed for the awesomely powerful FAC-rated Daystate Wolverine.
Hunting for pellets
For hunting it used to be said .22 was the best because the relatively large calibre imparted a lot of energy to the quarry, ensuring a clean kill. But things have changed and now the smaller .177 calibre is more popular in sub-12ft/lbs air rifles. Being smaller and lighter it doesn’t impart as much energy to the quarry but, if hit in the right place such as the head, the animal will be killed cleanly.
The advantage of the .177 pellet is that it has a flatter trajectory because of its light weight. This makes it easier to hit the target because the shooter doesn’t have to allow as much hold over as with the heavier .22.
With larger pellets such as the .25 the trajectory in a sub 12ft/lbs airgun is rather “loopy” and so it is best to use this calibre for FAC-rated airguns, or for rat shooting where you shoot at relatively close ranges.
For formal target shooting, such as 10-metre match shooting, .177 is the pellet to use because of its flatter trajectory. Target pellets often have flat heads and are called wad-cutters because they punch a neat hole in the paper target, which makes scoring easier.
Airgun pellets for different purposes
There are a whole range of weird and wonderful pellets on the market, all made for different purposes. They range from pointed ones, hollow points, roundheads, ones with ball bearing in the nose. By far the most common shape of pellet for general use is the round-head and for good reason.
The roundhead has a greater ballistic coefficient (BC), which means it cuts through the air more efficiently than the other shapes of pellets. This means it loses less energy, is less likely to be blown off course by side winds and flies to the target quicker than any other type of pellet.
Wadcutters, with their flat heads, have a poor BC, so are only good at close ranges and pointed pellets, designed for hunting, often have their points damaged in transit and this causes them to be inaccurate. And the one thing you want to be with an air rifle is accurate.
Hollow point pellets are designed to work like dum-dum bullets and spread on impact to impart more damage to the quarry. Like flathead pellets these are best used at close-quarters, such as rat shooting because of their poor BC.
Confused? You will be
To make things even more confusing, pellets come in a variety of weights. A general rule is that low-powered airguns should use lighter pellets and high-powered ones should use heavier pellets. Put a heavy pellet in a low-powered airgun and you will get a trajectory that arcs like a rainbow.
FAC-rated airguns should use heavy pellets to absorb the extra energy that comes from the greater power. For legal limit airguns (those under 12ft/lbs.) pellets of seven to eight grains are good for .177 and 14 to 16 grains in .22.
Also pellets in the same calibre can be a slightly different size. For example .22 pellets can be found in 5.50mm or 5.52mm. A larger size won’t damage your barrel, it’s just that some are a slightly tighter fit than others.
“You will often find that airguns from the same manufacturer prefer different brands of pellet”
If you are a seasoned airgunner, you will have noticed that most airguns are “pellet fussy”. That means that an airgun from a certain manufacturer prefers a certain brand of pellet. You will sometimes find that airguns from the same manufacturer prefer different brands of pellet. The only way to find out which pellet your airgun prefers is by trial and error. Thankfully, airgun pellets are relatively cheap.
When it comes to testing your airgun for accuracy with certain pellets, always use a gun bag on which to rest your rifle. This just eliminates human variables, such as rifle wobble, from the equation and gives a level playing field for all the brands of pellets.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that the more you pay for a pellet, the better it will perform in your air rifle. While it is true to say that more expensive pellets are generally better made than cheaper ones, it doesn’t mean to say your rifle will perform better with them. For example, one of my old spring-powered air rifles performed best with Milbro pellets, which were very affordable, thankfully.
Or, if you can’t be bothered to do all that testing, buy the same brand of pellet as your airgun. I have found that my Air Arms S-410 air rifle is very happy with Air Arms pellets. After all, Air Arms use its own brand of pellets to test all its airguns. Where the airgun manufacturer doesn’t have its own brand of pellets, it will usually be happy to tell you which pellet its rifles generally prefer.
Don’t let picking the perfect pellet become an obsession that can drive you away from perfecting your shooting technique. True, the right pellet for your airgun can make all the difference, but even if you choose the right pellet, but still have poor shooting technique, you will miss your target all the same.
Top airgun pellet tips
- Always look after your pellets by keeping them in a sturdy container lined with soft material, such as foam, because damaged pellets cause inaccuracy.
- When testing pellets shoot off a bag. It removes the human factor of rifle wobble and gives the pellets a level playing field.
- Pointed hunting pellets often don’t work as well as you might think because the tips of the pellets get damaged in transit, which causes inaccuracy.