Do we need to re­think our pel­lets to move air­guns on? The ed­i­tor asks

Air Gunner - - Contents -

Have we al­ready found the ul­ti­mate pel­let? Is there room for im­prove­ment?

I ’ve been fas­ci­nated by air­gun pel­lets ever since I be­gan shoot­ing, al­ways hop­ing that I was about to find the next step for­ward in per­for­mance. In re­cent times, I think it’s fair to say that most ex­pe­ri­enced hun­ters have con­verged on the use of high- qual­ity, round- head pel­lets as the ones that of­fer op­ti­mum per­for­mance. They’re usu­ally most ac­cu­rate, fly flat­test and are least dis­turbed by the wind, so is that the end of the quest for the ul­ti­mate pel­let? Maybe not.

I’ve seen some very in­ter­est­ing YouTube videos cre­ated by a South African air­gun hunter, Matt Dub­ber, who is ex­per­i­ment­ing with what he calls ‘slugs’, but what I’d call ‘bul­lets’. They’re made in Amer­ica by Nielsen Spe­cial­ity Ammo (NSA) al­though Matt makes his own in South Africa be­cause he has dif­fi­cul­ties im­port­ing them. As you can see in the pho­tos, they’re shaped like a short ri­fle bul­let and fea­ture a deep nose cav­ity to cre­ate ex­pan­sion on con­tact with our quarry.

Be­cause they’re made from pure lead, they should ex­pand much bet­ter than di­ablo pel­lets, which use lead al­loyed with an­ti­mony to make the metal stiffer. This helps them sur­vive be­ing trans­ported in the tin from the fac­tory to your gun shop. The pure lead also re­duces fric­tion in the bar­rel com­pared to harder al­loys.

“made from pure lead, they should ex­pand much bet­ter than di­ablo pel­lets”

It’s fair to say, they they’re re­ally only suited to high- power ri­fles and that at 12 ft.lbs. the con­ven­tional pel­let re­mains su­pe­rior.


I man­aged to se­cure a small sup­ply of 21grain NSA slugs in .217” di­am­e­ter to test through my 29 ft.lbs. Daystate, which uses a Lothar Walther bar­rel that’s choked. I kept my test­ing to a min­i­mum to re­serve a small quan­tity to try on the squir­rels later af­ter the leaves come down. At 21 grains they’re con­sid­er­ably heav­ier than my usual 16 grain Air Arms Field Di­ablo, which means that in­stead of my cho­sen 900fps, the NSA slugs start at 730fps – a huge dif­fer­ence. It’s also a big drop in muz­zle en­ergy at just un­der 25 ft.lbs. It seems likely that the par­al­lel- sided slug suf­fers more bar­rel fric­tion than the thin con­tact ar­eas of a pel­let, which would ex­plain the loss of power.

One of the most com­pelling rea­sons to use a high- power air­gun is the flat­ter tra­jec­tory, so I needed to see what the dif­fer­ence would be. In the slug’s favour is a mas­sively bet­ter bal­lis­tic co­ef­fi­cient ( BC) 0.073, which should re­cover some­thing of the ve­loc­ity loss. Af­ter feed­ing this data into Chair­gun, I saw that the PBR for the Air Arms pel­let is 10.2 to 47.4 yards while the NSA slug of­fers 8.7 to 41.9yards. My PBR is the zone in the tra­jec­tory within which the pel­let is no more than ½” above or below the sight line and the longer it is the bet­ter.

The high BC also prom­ises bet­ter per­for­mance in the wind, so again I asked Chair­gun for some an­swers. In a 5mph 90 cross wind, the Air Arms pel­let would be de­flected 3.76” at 50 yards whilst the NSA slug was just 1.6” de­spite trav­el­ling much slower at the muz­zle. In fact, the flight time of the slug was just 0.027 sec­onds slower, de­spite the huge dif­fer­ence to be­gin. The NSA slug also hits with 2¾ ft.lbs. more en­ergy, so we can see that there are plenty of fac­tors to con­sider when com­par­ing the two.

Of course, the slugs needed to be as ac­cu­rate as the pel­let to be wor­thy of con­sid­er­a­tion, and time at the range showed that at 35 yards they could in­deed match the di­ablo, so I set that as my max­i­mum hunt­ing dis­tance.


I was champ­ing at the bit to see if the slug would A, ex­pand, and B, de­liver re­duced pen­e­tra­tion, so I shot a pel­let and a slug into a block of bal­lis­tic gel at 25 yards. The pel­let pen­e­trated some 8” whilst the slug stopped at 6”. This sug­gests that the slug will fly straight through my quarry just like pel­lets do, but the ques­tion is, will it do more dam­age in the pass­ing? The pel­let showed no mea­sur­able ex­pan­sion, but the slug had in­deed ex­panded to just over 0.234”and the tiny nose cav­ity had be­come as wide as the slug. All very promis­ing, but it had achieved that ex­pan­sion over 6”, whereas our quarry is prob­a­bly less than 2” wide.

Over the win­ter I shoot a huge num­ber of squir­rels and, now and then, I find my­self need­ing to use a se­cond shot to fin­ish the job, which is not what I want. I strive for a clean kill ev­ery time, and I won­dered if the slugs might help me to knock th­ese tough an­i­mals down hu­manely, even if my shot place­ment is im­per­fect. Of course, ac­cu­rate shoot­ing is the most im­por­tant fac­tor in this, but high strik­ing en­ergy and su­pe­rior en­ergy trans­fer could help. The only way I’ll know the truth is to keep enough slugs to re-zero the ri­fle pre­cisely, and take some quarry to see if a dif­fer­ence can be seen in real- world con­di­tions.

“In a 5mph 90 cross wind, the Air Arms pel­let would be de­flected 3.76” at 50 yards whilst the NSA slug was just 1.6”.

FX Air­guns are de­vel­op­ing spe­cial bar­rels to work with slugs which is very in­ter­est­ing

RIGHT: NSA makes ‘ slugs’ for calibres from .177 to .50”

ABOVE: Note how the slug ex­panded well while the pel­let is al­most un­af­fected by the im­pact

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