Pellets and Accuracy
It was an incredibly pleasant summer morning: sunlight filtering through the trees, thermometer flirting with 70, a light breeze barely moving the leaves. And me – I was sitting at my shooting bench having an absolutely awful time.
The reason: the gun I was testing stubbornly refused to shoot good groups even at the closest ranges. I had tried several different kinds of pellets, but the results were still not good.
I was just on the verge of declaring “this dog won’t hunt” when it occurred to me to try an unusual pellet that I don’t use much. Bingo! Suddenly the group size shrank by two-thirds, and the gun acquitted itself very well.
You would think, in this day of modern computer-controlled manufacturing, that producing a batch of airguns that would shoot well with a particular pellet ought to be easy as pie. But it simply isn’t so. Airguns, it turns out, are as individualistic as people. For example, you can take two different air rifles from the same assembly line – just a serial number apart – and each of those rifles may shoot better with a different pellet. This isn’t just idle theorization either – my brother-in-law and I have identical air rifles, and his gun works best with one pellet and mine with another.
Even worse, there is no reasonable way of predicting which pellet ought to work well with which airgun. As a result, if you want to get the very best accuracy out of your air rifle or air pistol, you’ll probably have to try a number of different pellets to see which one performs best.
The easiest way to do this is to shoot groups from a rest. This involves shooting multiple shots at a target at a fixed distance and seeing how well the pellet holes cluster – or group – together. Your rest doesn’t have to be fancy so long as it holds your air rifle or air pistol steady and you can comfortably look through the sights. You could use a toolbox placed on a picnic table and padded with a jacket. I use a small portable work bench topped with a couple of old foam cushions.
Besides a rest, you’ll need a pellet trap (or perhaps a bale of hay to stop the pellets) and some paper targets. Put a target out at a measured distance (I recommend a minimum of ten yards) and, carefully maintaining the same point of aim for each shot, fire five shots. Using a ruler, measure from the outside edge to the outside edge of the two most widely separated pellet holes. Write this measurement down on the target, along with the name of the pellets that you shot at this target. Next, put up a fresh target and repeat the process at the same distance with a different type of pellet.
As you shoot groups with different pellets and you compare targets, you’ll quickly see that your airgun “likes” some pellets much more than others. If you find that you get down to two or three different pellets that seem to shoot pretty well, and you can’t decide which is shooting best, try shooting 10-shot groups, multiple groups with each pellet or groups at longer ranges.
The results of this testing can be absolutely spectacular. About a year ago, I was testing a gun that was producing 1 3/8 inch edge to edge groups at 10 yards. By switching pellets, I was able to shrink the group size to 7/16 inch. That’s a big improvement. In another case, a friend was heartbroken because his brand new air rifle seemed terribly inaccurate. We tried a different pellet and put a huge grin on his face! A further note: in the years that I have been testing airguns, only once have I selected the “right” pellet for maximum accuracy on the first try.
If you want to get the absolute best from your airgun, be sure to experiment with different pellets. I think you’ll be glad you did.
Jock Elliott’s writings have appeared in Precision Shooting, Airgun Illustrated, Addictive Airgunning, GunGames, U.S. Airgun and The Backwoodsman magazines. He is also a regular contributor to SHOT Business and SHOT Daily.
He lives with his family in upstate New York and competes in air rifle field target competitions when he can. When he isn’t writing about airguns or playing a mean banjo, he helps high technology and health care organizations communicate with their critical audiences.