Hunt­ing Pro­jec­tiles

Jim Chapman dis­cusses his pel­let choices

Air Gunner - - Con­tents -

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,

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