Ever gone airgunning and missed because of a duff pellet? Bruce Potts shares his tips for washing, lubricating, sorting and sizing for a better performance
I love using air rifles. they sharpen your fieldcraft skills, as ranges are restricted to 30 or so yards. In that way you can learn real accuracy and how to stalk-in close. In fact, their limited range is probably their best benefit as it makes them far safer to use in a variety of shooting scenarios. they are also quiet and cheap to shoot, as the airgun pellets cost less than rimfire ammunition.
However, despite the excellent air rifles produced nowadays there are still a few good techniques you can use to enhance performance, consistency and power. Due to the low velocity of air rifles compared with rimfires, any small change to a pellet can make a difference to its accuracy and trajectory down range. I regularly use four simple and relatively quick procedures. If you follow them regularly, they will soon become second nature and you will find them easy to perform.
Wash airgun pellets to increase consistency
This may sound odd but cleanliness is next to godliness when it comes to all sorts of ammunition. Tarnished, fouled or contaminated pellets will not shoot the same as pristine pellets, so a pre-clean before use is beneficial.
Most airgun pellets come in tins and if you tip the pellets out on to a white sheet of paper you will see quite a lot of swarf and small lead fragments. These can cling to the pellets and if they are located on a pellet’s head circumference or skirt, where the air seal is in the barrel, this can cause air leaks and inconsistent accuracy.
How to do it:
1. Separating pellets from the fragments can be done by hand, by tipping out the pellets, but to remove any bits clinging to the pellets themselves you can gently wash them. Place a small amount — say 200 .22 calibre or 300 .177 calibre — into a freezer bag and add 50ml of warm water and two drops of washing-up liquid.
2. Agitate them gently for five minutes,then tip them out on to some absorbent cloth.
3. Allow them to air dry, or use a hairdryer. Your pellets should now be totally free of filings and debris.
Lubricate for less friction
This has two benefits. If you have washed your airgun pellets as described above, lubricate them to stop them oxidising if they are not used immediately. Oxidation of the surface of the pellets will increase the friction between the pellet and the rifling in the bore, so a passage down the bore is more like a juddering as the smooth and rough surface contacts the rifling lands.
We have all had annoying fliers in airgun groups. Lubrication can improve the consistency of shot-to-shot velocity and accuracy and reduce fouling in the barrel, which keeps the airgun’s accuracy for longer and helps eliminate point-of-impact shift.
How to do it:
Use the same method as for washing the airgun pellets but this time add a small amount of lubricant. There are many pellet lubricants on the market. I use two types: Napier and Daystate. The Napier comes as a liquid and a spray while the Daystate is spray only. Two drops of lubricant is all you need but because a .177 has a different surface area from a .20, .22 or .25 pellet you will need to experiment a bit to get it right.
Napier also suggests adding a few drops to a tin of pellets and agitating them. I tested some differing styles of .177 and .22 pellets — here are the results.
Sort by weight for even greater accuracy
This is a very easy procedure that only needs a little time to conduct and a cheap set of scales, either digital or balance beam as used for reloading cartridges.
How to do it:
Each pellet and calibre of pellet will have an average weight measured in grains. The idea is to weigh each pellet and reject those that are “outliers” and fall outside the limits of the mean weight. If say a .177 pellet weighs 8.6-gr, a plus or minus weight of 0.2-gr will not make much difference to velocity or accuracy. You are looking to reject the 0.5-gr-plus oddities.
As the test results show (see below), there was good accuracy all round, but there was an increase in group size when using non- identical weights. At 25 yards, you might not really notice it, but at 30-40 yards this could be the difference between a hit or a miss.
Size airgun pellets for best fit for your gun
Sizing pellets can be a satisfying way to improve accuracy in your air rifle and you do not necessarily need specialised tools, though plenty are available. What you are trying to achieve is a perfect pellet, whose head and skirt dimensions are symmetrical and uniform. They should also match the groove diameter of the barrel.
Lead pellets are usually soft, so they can deform easily and re-uniforming each one can prove beneficial to consistent velocities and accuracy. So there are two benefits to sizing a pellet — matching the barrel’s internals and ensuring the bearing surfaces are uniform for a better fit.
How to do it:
Use pellets that are available in different head sizes to match your rifle’s barrel. In this way you can try each different head size for the same style of pellet that best matches your barrel’s characteristics. For instance, in .177 calibre, H&N makes its Field Target Trophy (FTT) pellet, a domed-style pellet ideal for targets or hunting, in many head sizes. The metric size is 4.5mm and this pellet is offered in 4.50mm, 4.51mm and 4.52mm.
The results suggest that this particular HW35 liked the 4.51mm FTT pellet size, as the velocity was highest, so energy and accuracy was consistently better than the other two sizes. These pellet sizes can be bought in packs of 40 for each head size, so you can experiment at home.
The other sizing option is to actually size your own pellets to match your barrel by using a pellet sizer. Here, a pellet is swaged through the die so as not to deform it but to yield a uniform and true pellet specific to the diameter you want. This way you now know that each pellet is identical and if you miss, it’s down to you.
This method is handy for .20-calibre pellets, where expanding the skirt can be beneficial, as the skirts in this large calibre are often dented or deformed.
As you can see in this case, with swaged pellets, the velocity reduced slightly but accuracy increased. However, given that a wide range of pellet weights and styles is available, it really is a matter of trial and error. However, when you do hit that sweet spot the end result can be very satisfying.
For many, pellets from the tin put into a pocket prior to a rabbit hunt is fine. But more time spent in preparation can boost confidence — particularly with airgunning, as you can spend a lot of time stalking in close, only to miss because of a duff pellet.