Jim Chapman discusses his pellet choices
Speaking with a couple of fellow airgun hunters recently, the conversation turned to the topic of ammunition. I often over-simplify this topic by saying, ‘use the pellet that is most accurate in your rifle’, but these guys wouldn’t let me off the hook so easily. The fundamental truth is that accuracy is king, but of course there are other important factors. Will shooting take place at exceptionally short or long ranges? What is the calibre of the rifle being used? Which power levels are being generated? What type of game is being hunted? ...
When selecting a pellet for a specific rifle, my requirement is that it provides accuracy, a flat trajectory, whilst producing optimal terminal performance. Maybe I should declare ‘ Spoiler Alert’ here, but this generally means a mid- to heavyweight, roundnose, lead diabolo pellet. However, there can be exceptions to this rule.
When selecting projectiles for smallgame hunting, such as pigeons and turkey on the feathered front and anything between rats and raccoons on the furry side, my typical hunting pellet is the diabolo-style, which features a thin waist and flared skirts. I will sometimes use roundball, mostly in mid- to large bores, and have also worked with cast lead and sabot bullets in the big bores. Cast bullets have limited applicability in small game guns, and in smaller calibre, higher-powered arms, generate ballistic characteristics more akin to a .22 rimfire than an airgun. In other words, these heavy, solid, aerodynamically superior projectiles carry too much energy too far, cancelling out the airgun’s attributes of reduced range with rapid fall off in energy, which minimises the chance of over-travel and over-penetration.
I have .25 and .30 calibre rifles that do very well with quality swaged lead roundball, and especially for close to midrange shooting on larger quarry. If the accuracy is there, and in many guns it is, these roundball can be almost as accurate as the best diabolo pellets and deliver a lot of energy and effectively transfer it on target. At greater distances, the velocity and accuracy fall off quickly, making it optimal for medium game in built-up areas.
The ballistic coefficient of diabolo pellets is superior to roundball, and inferior to cast bullets. With the right head configuration, a diabolo pellet has a maximum effective range somewhere between roundball and bullets in high-power rifles. It is very accurate within this range, provides excellent terminal performance, and is ubiquitous with a huge selection of pellets available in every calibre.
With respect to hunting, the head configuration is central to the projectile’s effectiveness. The most common styles consist of roundnose, hollowpoints, wadcutters, and pointed field pellets with variations on the theme; hollowpoints with bonded, pointed polymer tips, rounded pellets with crosshatched segments intended to open up on impact, and domes almost formed into points.
Specialty hunting pellets tend to be based on innovation in the head design, the materials used, or a combination of the two. An example of a pellet in which the head is modified is the H& N Baracuda Hunter Extreme, a hollowpoint with crosshatch cuts across the rim of the cavity, designed to expand on impact. Nonlead pellets fall into two groups; the first is driven by the need to move away from lead, and the second is to create very light pellets that increase the velocity generated by a given gun. The former has value to US-based hunters in certain areas, such as California where large tracts of public land have instituted a ban on the use of lead. These areas offer public access and great hunting opportunities for small game, so lead-free ammo becomes a necessity. I’ve experimented with several of these over the years, and early on, the accuracy was abysmal, growing increasingly worse as the distance to target increased. However,