When it comes to airgun shooting, selecting the right pellets is vital for achieving accuracy and optimal performance. With a wide variety of airgun pellets available, it can be challenging to determine which ones are best suited for your shooting needs. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk you through the different types of airgun pellets, their characteristics, and factors to consider when making your purchase. Let’s dive in and unlock the secrets to finding the perfect ammunition!
Diabolo pellets, also known as domed pellets, are the most common and widely used type of airgun ammunition. They feature a rounded head and a hollow skirt, making them aerodynamically efficient and accurate. Here are key points to consider:
Calibre: Diabolo pellets are available in various calibres, including .177, .22, and .25. Choose the appropriate calibre based on your airgun’s specifications and shooting requirements.
Purpose: Diabolo pellets are versatile and suitable for a wide range of shooting applications, including target shooting, plinking, and small game hunting.
Accuracy and Penetration: Due to their shape, diabolo pellets offer excellent accuracy and penetration capabilities, making them a popular choice among airgun enthusiasts.
Hollow Point Pellets:
Hollow point pellets are specifically designed for hunting and pest control purposes. They feature a hollow cavity at the tip, which promotes controlled expansion upon impact. Key considerations include:
Expansion and Energy Transfer: The hollow point design facilitates expansion upon impact, increasing the pellet’s stopping power and energy transfer to the target. This characteristic makes hollow point pellets highly effective for hunting and pest control.
Calibre and Velocity: Consider the appropriate calibre and velocity required for your specific hunting needs, as hollow point pellets come in various sizes to match different airgun specifications.
Accuracy: While hollow point pellets may not offer the same pinpoint accuracy as diabolo pellets, they are designed to deliver maximum impact on targets.
Wadcutter pellets are characterized by their flat, disc-like shape. They have a wide and squared-off head, resulting in a clean, round hole upon impact. Consider the following aspects of wadcutter pellets:
Target Shooting: Wadcutter pellets are primarily designed for target shooting due to their ability to cut clean holes in paper targets. They offer excellent accuracy and visibility of shot placement.
Caliber: Wadcutter pellets are available in different calibers, with .177 being the most common choice for target shooting.
Velocity: Since wadcutter pellets have a larger surface area, they tend to decelerate faster than diabolo pellets. Consider the optimal velocity for achieving consistent accuracy with wadcutter pellets.
Pointed pellets, as the name suggests, feature a sharp point at the tip, offering improved penetration and long-range accuracy. Here’s what you should know about pointed pellets:
Penetration: The pointed design of these pellets enhances their penetration capabilities, making them suitable for shooting at longer distances and hunting small game.
Calibre and Weight: Pointed pellets are available in various calibres and weights. Consider the specific requirements of your airgun to select the appropriate size for optimal performance.
Velocity and Ballistic Coefficient: Pointed pellets typically have a higher ballistic coefficient, allowing for better stability and less affected trajectory, especially at longer ranges.
Choosing the right airgun pellets is crucial for achieving accuracy, consistency, and desired shooting results. Understanding the different types of pellets available, such as diabolo, hollow point, wadcutter, and pointed, empowers you to make an informed decision based on your shooting requirements and preferences. Consider factors like calibre, purpose, accuracy, and penetration to select the perfect ammunition for your airgun.
At Pellpax, we offer a wide selection of high-quality airgun pellets to suit various shooting needs. Visit our website to explore our range and discover the perfect pellets for maximizing your shooting performance.
We put some of the best 177 hunting pellets to the test to find the best airgun ammunition.
The smaller 177 calibre has long been neglected by hunters as an ineffective pest pellet. The reasoning behind this is easy to understand, more mass = more power but this not strictly true as power is actually a relationship between mass and speed. Think about it this way, if I were to throw a tennis ball at a window, chances are it bounces straight off but if I were to launch a steel ball bearing at that same window through a sling shot it would punch a hole clean through despite the BB having much less mass than the tennis ball. This is because of the greater speed.
The UK limit for muzzle energy on an air rifle is 12ft/lb no matter what the mass of the pellet is. This equates to ~500fps in a .22 and ~700 – 750fps in a .177, around 50% higher! This added speed means that under the right conditions a 4.5mm pellet can be just as, if not more effective than a .22.
OK, with that out of the way, what criteria are we actually looking for? What makes an effective hunting pellet? When hunting any live animal, the most important factor to keep in mind is respect for the quarry and to minimise suffering. Therefore, the most important thing we are looking to achieve is a reliable one shot dispatch. This is usually achieved via a head shot but can also be possible via a heart and lung shot with the right pellet. Let’s see if we can find it with some of the options below.
All pellets tested with .177 Zbroia Hortitsia running at between 11.5 – 11.7 ft/lb at ranges between 20m – 35m.
H&N Barracuda Hunter Extreme
Made by H&N, these pellets are some of the most effective one shot pellets that money can buy. Normally in sub 12ft/lb airguns, expansion of hollow points is something that is actually quite hard to achieve as the velocities involved are not high enough to deform the lead, even in the faster .177 calibre. With the H&N Baracuda Hunter Extreme all of this is flipped on it’s head thanks to the cross shaped hollow points that these pellets feature. The ingenuity of this design allows the pellet to mushroom out upon impact as contact with the target creates a pocket of air that, instead of pressing against a thick wall of lead surrounding the hollow point, instead is forced against four thinner walls and allows for rapid expansion even in lower velocities. This leads to a much larger wound channel and more of the pellets energy being transferred into the target. This is what we want and what this translates to is, not only will a head shot be enough to reliably kill vermin in our desired one shot, but also a heart and lung shot will be more than capable.
The sacrifice that is made with this shape is long range & potential accuracy. The hollow point of the pellet whilst perfect for dispatch actually works against the pellet in flight and increases the air resistance, reducing range and causing the pellets to drop sooner than some of the more traditionally shaped diabolos. This has to be factored in whilst aiming as your point of impact might be slightly lower than expected, even if zeroed with domed pellets at the same weight.
Something else to consider is these pellets are not the cheapest on the market and they also only come in tins of 400 as opposed to the usual 500 for other .177s. Still a potential of 400 pigeons in the pot so I’m not really complaining.
For this test I am using the lighter 8.18 grain QYS Domed pellets as opposed to the 9.56 version. My reasoning for testing these is to try something with a lot higher velocity in an attempt push the effective range as far as possible in a .177. Again, our main priority is the quick and consistent one-shot dispatch but a lighter pellet should carry more velocity out of the barrel and therefore maintain that power further downrange.
The uniformity of these pellets surprised me somewhat. The “Made in China ” slur is a brush that QYS are, I think, unfairly tarred with as the consistency in shape, weight and skirt size is absolutely fantastic. The weight deviation in particular was minimal with a maximum deviation of 0.1 grain either side of the advertised 8.18. This consistency is replicated in your shot placement and I found that these QYS pellets were by far the most consistent when zeroing. Now I am not by any means a professional shooter but whilst zeroing these pellets I was able to achieve just over a 25mm (about the size of a 5p) grouping at 30m. Not Bad.
I found the same thing with the pigeons. The trees I camped up in front of were around 35m from me and, when putting the crosshair of the scope on top of the birds head so that the first mill dot lined up with the eye, I was able to reliably one-hit kill birds with a brain shot. Thanks to the lack of expansion and higher speed, there was a degree of over penetration with these pellets though and I could foresee that, unlike the Hunter Extremes pellets listed above, a chest shot would not be enough to kill a pigeon instantly. If you are not confident of hitting heads then I don’t think these are the pellets for you.
H&N Rabbit Magnum II
On the other end of the spectrum are the H&N Rabbit Magnum II pellets that weigh in at a colossal 15.74 grain. Advertised on the tin as being for guns of around 25J these pellets are recommended for FAC power level guns but I know people that shoot the .22 versions of these pellets in 16J guns and swear by them so I thought they’d be worth a shot. Now, my Zbroia Hortitsia is tuned to around 11.7ft/lbs with 10.6 grain Bisley Magnum pellets so just under the 16J limit and way under the recommended level for these pellets and that issue was clearly thrown up by my testing.
These pellets are domed but are shaped more like slugs than traditional diabolo pellets and that added lead at the neck of the pellet is the reason for the increased weight. This design does allow more lead to make contact with the rifling and hopefully increase accuracy, but I was finding that the weight of these pellets was just far too high. I was almost running out of elevation to zero the pellets on my scope (a Hawke Airmax AO 2-7×32) and had to reduce my range to 20m just to reliably hit the target.
The variance between each pellet was OK, the build quality of H&N products is always very good but there was quite a large weight difference between pellets with some being almost half a grain lighter than the advertised 15.74. Now this weight change might not make much of a difference in a high powered gun but when I’m already pushing the limits of my rifle to zero, this variation plays into shot placement quite a lot.
Owing to the unreliable point of impact, I didn’t use these pellets on any birds and I cant recommend you do the same Unless you are using an FAC rated airgun and might have to have a word with my friends using the .22 versions as whether those guns are 16J or not…
And now for something completely different…
So there has been a growing movement in ballistics towards going lead-free. Lead is quite harmful to the environment, even excluding the animals being shot, and has a tendency to build up particularly in water animals and cause severe damage to the food chain. As of 2022, lead shot is not allowed when hunting ducks and other birds and I imagine it won’t be long before this legislation affects pellets. Nothing concrete or confirmed, but call it a hunch. Anyway, thanks to this many pellet manufacturers offer “lead free” pellets in a variety of shapes and sizes. These RWS Hypermax are made from tin and moulded into a pointed shape.
Ok so first thing to say about these pellets is, like most lead alternative pellets, they are extremely light. Weighing in at just 5.2 grain, these pellets are almost half the weight of the Hunter Extreme pellets and through the chronograph the speeds were mind boggling. The hunter extremes were getting about 740fps but some of the Hypermax were getting over 1000fps. Not that far off the speed of sound! I also found that, possibly due to the added hardness of tin compared to lead, the pellets in the tin had low variance in weight and almost no skirt or head deformation, something that can happen to softer lead pellets.
In practice, these perform much like the QYS pellets in that, a head shot is consistent, predictable and effective but the incredible speed and high penetrative power of the pellet means body shots are just going to fly straight through the bird and likely not kill straight away. Also, while testing these pellets the air was relatively still, but lighter pellets tend to be far more affected by the wind which is something to bear in mind.
Tin & alloy pellets are also more expensive than their lead counter parts with this tin costing similar to many others but containing just 200 pellets rather than the usual 500. I understand these tin pellets are relatively new but that’s just not enough for me.
Ok the best performing pellet was the Baracuda Hunter Extreme by H&N but I was surprised by a few, particularly the RWS Hypermax. I do wonder if these lead free pellets become the norm then peoples approach to airgun hunting might change. No longer will you be able to blast a bird or small mammal with a huge lump of lead anywhere in the body and be assured a kill. Instead you will be forced to use a lighter but faster moving projectile that requires a more skilful shot and this would encourage more accuracy and patience when hunting which is always a good thing.
So you have your rifle. What’s the first accessory you’re going to need? Well, something to shoot out of it might be an idea; so let’s look at your choice of pellets.
Now, the barrel of any air rifle will contain minute imperfections in both the material and rifling, which can have a large effect over shot placement. What this means is, every airgun will respond differently to pellets and different shooters. For example, I have a TX200 that prefers JSB Exact pellets to anything Air Arms have to offer; so much for brand loyalty.
So a good thing to buy would be a Pellet Sample Pack. This way you can try out a couple of different types of pellet before committing to one, to see not only what your rifle prefers, but what kind is best for what you need.
Everyone has a type
Flathead or Wadcutter :
These pellets are ideal for shooting paper targets, where their flat, circular nose will cut a clean hole through paper, allowing you to see exactly where you’ve hit. This makes them ideal for zeroing in scopes and lasers, as well as for competitions, where competitive scoring must be as accurate as possible.
These pellets do also have some hunting utility, particularly in smaller calibres, as they have a high rate of deformation and expansion upon impact, which leads to larger wound channels and less chance to wound.
These pellets have an indentation in their nose, which, upon impact, drives air into the centre of the pellet, causing rapid expansion. These pellets are designed for hunting and pest control, and are best used at short to medium range to be most effective. This is because the hollow point in the centre can affect accuracy and cause the pellet to tumble at longer distances.
I would recommend them for anyone thinking of using a pistol for pest control, as the higher level of energy transfer from the pellet can help counteract the pistol’s lower power.
One thing that’s good about hollow points is that, thanks to their high rate of expansion, they’re extremely unlikely to over-penetrate, and, although I would always pay concern to what is behind your target, this will minimise the risk.
Pointed : Designed to prioritise accuracy above all other aspects, pointed pellets are created to maximise aerodynamics around the fired pellet to ensure a laser-straight flight path. That’s the theory anyway. However, from my experience, pointed pellets tend to be amongst the most inconsistent.
After some testing, I’ve concluded that it’s down to the way the pellets are manufactured and stored. The pointed pellet works fantastically well only if the point is aligned correctly, and, due to pellets being stored in a tin without much protection, this is the exception and not the rule.
Having said that, my dismissal of pointed pellets has led me to experiment with them less, but I have a couple of friends who swear by Gamekeeper Infiltrators for rabbits, which I am yet to try. So let’s just say I’m waiting to be won over.
Domed : The classic pellet shape. Domed pellets are by far the most popular shape of pellet and are really a jack of all trades. Their shape leads them to be accurate, with deep penetration and reliable expansion, without excelling in any of those areas.
Honestly, these pellets can do anything pretty well, and if I didn’t have a specific task in mind, these would be the pellets I’d go for. Since they’re the most common type of pellet, there’s a very long list of pellet brands, all with variations in shape, so something is almost guaranteed to suit your shooting style.
One thing to bear in mind with domed pellets is that, more than any other, they offer differing skirt sizes. Now, the skirt is the size of the end of the pellet and effectively equates to how tight the seal is of the pellet inside the barrel. The tighter the seal, the more pressure has to build up behind the pellet for it to be fired, therefore increasing FPS. This skirt size will be represented by an additional .01 when listing the pellets size. For example, .177 pellets which are usually 4.5mm will be listed as 4.50, 4.51, 4.52 etc.
A wider skirt will leave more lead behind inside the barrel. This lead fouling will need to be regularly cleaned to keep your rifle in perfect working order, as large build up can affect both power and accuracy. Also, some magazines, most notably semi-automatic rifles like the Sig Sauer MCX and Beretta CX4, tend to prefer smaller skirted pellets, so I would stick with .50 or .51 if using these rifles.
The next important consideration is the material that the pellet is made from. The various qualities of these materials, such as weight and hardness, will play an important role in how the pellet flies through the air and also how the pellet behaves when it impacts the target.
Lead : The first and by far the most popular choice is lead. Lead has been used for ammunition for literally centuries, thanks to its properties of being not only very heavy for its size, but also a relatively common material.
Its weight makes it a great projectile, as a small lead pellet will transfer more energy into the target than a larger pellet made from a lighter material. This means that the pellet is more effective in smaller calibres, and that it’s also less affected by environmental conditions in flight, such as wind.
Lead was also traditionally chosen because of its relative softness. This leads to deformation upon impact, dramatically widening the wound channel and leading to more effective hunting. Nobody likes wounding animals, so the fact that lead dramatically decreases this risk makes it a great choice for hunters.
Lead is not without its downsides, however, and because of its soft nature, the pellet often leaves a small amount of residue inside the barrel. This is an advantage, as it helps lubricate the barrel, but the build-up will start to affect accuracy and will need to be periodically removed – not a particularly hard job, but something to bear in mind.
Lead is also hazardous to the environment and is particularly toxic when it enters river systems. As a result, many places are becoming stricter on its use in ammunition, particularly the use of lead shot, and this is a trend I can see continuing with people’s growing concern over the environment.
Lead pellets are great for almost any task and are perfect for sub 12ft/lb air rifles, where their rapid expansion ensures humane hunting.
Copper : The military has been using copper jacketed ammunition for over a century, so copper coated pellets are nothing new in the airgun world. But how do they compare to their lead alternatives?
Well, first of all, they provide a handy barrier between the lead and your hands, which is always good, as lead’s not a particularly nice material to ingest. They are also significantly harder than 100% lead pellets, which has two distinct advantages. Firstly, they offer greater penetration, and pointed copper pellets offer some of the deepest penetration of any airgun ammunition.
The harder coating also provides protection against damage, and means that the pellets in the tin are far more uniform. This increases shot-to-shot consistency, and ensures the pellets are all in excellent condition when fired. It’s certain a strong reason to recommend the use of pointed copper pellets, as the problems that lead pellets have with making a reliable point is not present here.
Copper may be far less toxic to animals than lead, but it’s actually far more dangerous to plants. I always remember being taught the best way to kill a tree stump: hammer it full of copper nails. Now, thanks to their great penetration, copper pellets can perform a similar, if largely unwanted, role; so always ensure a safe backstop.
Copper Pellets, I think, are best used in conjunction with high-powered FAC air rifles, where their harder coating and more uniform shape will yield incredibly high accuracy.
Alloy : PBA or Alloy pellets are a fairly new development when it comes to airgun ammunition and are available in quite a limited number of designs.
Alloy pellets have the advantage of being non-toxic and can be safely handled and fired, although I would always ensure a secure backstop. The pellets themselves are often lighter than lead or copper, and consequently can produce higher feet per second. FPS is not necessarily the most important metric when viewed on its own, but it can aid accuracy and give a boost to range.
Alloy pellets do tend to be expensive, however, and I would only recommend them for close range target shooting in 6ft/lb pistols and 12ft/lb rifles, where they will perform very well. Anything more powerful than that, and you’re going to be getting close to the sound barrier (~1125 FPS depending on temperature), something that most airgun pellets are not designed for, and something that will negatively affect your accuracy. The noise they make, however, will be awesome.
Hopefully that clears up some of the jargon surrounding airgun pellets; it can be quite a confusing topic for the uninitiated. I would recommend buying a decent tin of domed lead pellets as they can do pretty much anything well, and then starting out with a sample pack to determine what is best for individual tasks.