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Air Rifle Caliber Selection
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Finding best pellet for your airgun: The right pellet makes a difference
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Finding best pellet for your airgun: The right pellet makes a difference

Hopefully this article will provide all of our new customers with detailed pellet information and hopefully supply some of you old hands with new information as well. What we hope to do is give you a broad overview of modern pellet design and then give you some specific information on choosing the best pellet for the type of shooting that you intend to do.

There is no "right" or "wrong" pellet for your airgun. Correct pellet selection is a matter of finding the very best pellet for your airgun. Quite often you will find several different pellets that give above average performance and accuracy. The modern, lead pellet that we now shoot in our airguns is most often taken for granted. They don't cost much when compared with other projectiles; they are plentiful and widely available and are amazingly efficient for their size. This was not always the case.

What you need to remember is to always buy high-quality pellets from established manufacturers. If you're at your local gun show and see some low price, bargain pellets for sale, be strong and resist the temptation to snatch up that so-called bargain. They won't be a bargain if they stick in the bore or damage your airgun. Diabolo and Barracuda pellets are one of the first rate pellets from the world's best manufacturers. Buying and using other pellets is simply not worth the risk.

You need to match the pellet to the bore size of your airgun but after that it is strictly a matter of which pellet works "best". Finding out which pellet works best takes some trial and error. You'd try a number of different pellets and shoot each one from a bench rest to determine its potential accuracy in your airgun. You will be amazed at the results. Having and using a chronograph takes a lot of the guess work out of pellet selection.

Generally speaking, air rifles can shoot heavier pellets than air pistols. This is because the air rifles have larger air chambers that create the increased amounts of energy required to effectively propel the heavier pellets down the bore and strike their intended target. Magnum air rifles are capable of pushing the heaviest pellets available but may not do so with any increase in accuracy over their low powered counterparts. Many "match-quality" rifles produce only enough energy to move a 6 grain wadcutter pellet at 650 fps but they do so with extreme consistency so they are very accurate. Air pistols are also capable of outstanding accuracy but they are limited to lighter pellet selection.

The majority of the pellets used today are made in the Diabolo shape. That is, they are larger on both ends and have a thin "waist" area in the center. That waist area separates the "head" from the "skirt". As it was stated before, pellets used in the past were simply round shot or they were cylindrical in shape. Neither design was very efficient but they did shoot. The Diabolo shape is extremely efficient in the chamber and bore as well as in flight because of its self-stabilizing design.

The head of a Diabolo pellet is always inserted into the chamber first so the thinner, skirt area can expand upon ignition and form a seal around the outside edge of the chamber. Airgun pellets are further divided into four different categories designated by head design and are called Wadcutter, Pointed, Round Nose, and Hollow Point. The head design is what determines the primary usage of the pellet. I will list each of the head designs, how they differ, and what usage is considered best for that particular design. At the end of this article, there are some links that will take you to various pages and you can make comparisons of pellets for yourself.

WADCUTTER: The wadcutter head is flat with a slight bevel on the edge. It has long been thought of as the most accurate design available and for many years they were used exclusively in target competition, but recent advances in the pointed designs may challenge this notion. They are light weight, provide maximum velocities and usually cost less than other designs so they are very economical to shoot. Most airguns are test fired at the factory using wadcutter pellets. The wadcutter design really excels at 10 meter, target shooting or informal, indoor plinking. The flat face cuts a sharp-edged hole in paper targets so they are easier and more accurate to score. If there is one design that exhibits uniformly accurate results in most all airguns then the wadcutter is it.

Because of their inherent accuracy, years ago the wadcutter was recommended for small game hunting. I certainly can't recommend them for that use. The flat nose provides poor penetration on even the lightest game. If you are shooting outdoors, the lighter pellet weight is affected by wind to greater degree than a heavier, hunting pellet. I limit my wadcutter use to punching paper or plinking.

POINTED: The head of a pointed pellet is just that. It ends in a very sharp point that provides maximum penetration on small game. Pointed pellets were designed specifically for hunting and field use. The waist area of pointed pellets is larger in diameter for increased weight without unbalancing the front to rear weight distribution which would destroy accuracy. The skirt area is shorter than a wadcutter skirt. Some pointed designs feature forward driving bands. These are flat bands around the head, in front of the waist, that increase the surface area that engages the rifling. Increased rifling engagement area provides better accuracy and longer range but also increases pellet to bore friction that must be overcome or velocity will suffer. For this reason, pellets with forward driving bands work best in magnum air rifles. If you have a standard velocity rifle or air pistol that you want to hunt with, choose a pointed pellet without forward driving bands, or one of the hollow point designs.

The pointed pellet really is the best choice for hunting. Many airgun hunters rely on pointed pellets for humane, one-shot kills on small game. Their other advantage is that they are very accurate. So for informal plinking and target work the wadcutter is still your best bet, but if you are in the field and looking for game the pointed pellet cannot be beat.

ROUND NOSE: Round nose pellets have a protruding area ahead of the driving band that increases the pellets overall weight and provides increased knock-down power. The round shape also helps decrease wind resistance. As airguns became more powerful and provided faster velocities, round nose bullets were developed because a heavier projectile will have greater retained kinetic energy and have greater resistance to wind deflection at all ranges that a lighter projectile. Round nose pellets are used for hunting at maximum ranges and really shine when you are knocking down airgun sized steel silhouettes at 50 meters (55yards). If you have never tried shooting steel silhouettes with an airgun, it is a real challenge. Round nose pellets work best in magnum powered air rifles.
HOLLOW POINT: The hollow point design is somewhat of a combination or extension of the wadcutter shape. The theory behind their development is the need for a reliable, expanding pellet that assures one-shot kills at shorter ranges and lower velocities. The shape also provides the efficient flight characteristics of the wadcutter and combines with that the increased mass and knock down power of the round nose. They can be used in air rifles that have lower velocities with outstanding results. Hollow points can be used in magnum powered air rifles and accuracy is very good especially at increased ranges because of the medium length driving band found on most hollow points. THE BASIC RULE: The basic rule of thumb in matching a pellet to your particular airgun is that a lower powered airgun needs a lighter pellet and the higher powered airguns or magnums can utilize a heavier pellet. Please notice the difference between "needs" and "can utilize". A lower powered rifle will perform much better and needs to be shot with pellets between 6.5 grains to 8 grains in weight. Most .177 caliber, magnum powered airguns will perform better with pellets heavier than 7.5 grains in weight. Even though the weight will be increased for the .20 caliber and .22 caliber airguns the theory of pellet selection is still the same.

And in addition, the pellet is the least expensive aspect of our sport. So do not be afraid to experiment a little. Actually experiment a lot, it is fun.

If you interested in seeing what the various pellets look like and a description of each, provided by each company, this link will take you to our Pellet Page, click here.

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