U.S. AIRGUNS

DEV­IL­ISHLY GOOD BBs

Airgun World - - Contents - Stephen Archer is the Pub­lisher of Hard Air Mag­a­zine, the US-based on­line mag­a­zine. https://www.hardair­magazine.com.

In re­cent years, BB guns have been one of the big growth ar­eas in airguns here in the USA, and while ‘tra­di­tional’ BB guns, like the Daisy Red Ryder and Cros­man 760 are still sell­ing as well as they ever have, the growth in the market has come from a com­pletely dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion – fast-fir­ing, firearms repli­cas. Huge num­bers are be­ing sold here; the vast ma­jor­ity are pis­tols, but long guns are mov­ing into the scene, too, as we saw in our July story, ‘Fun, Fun, Fun’. All these fast-fir­ing replica guns are pow­ered by CO2, and the over­whelm­ing num­ber of them shoot BBs.

BBs are an ideal type of am­mu­ni­tion and, of course, they’re cheap – re­ally cheap! Pric­ing goes down to around 0.17 cents per BB – that’s 0.13 pence per shootable steel sphere, plus sales tax and/or ship­ping, nat­u­rally.

BBS HAVE TWO PROB­LEMS

First, they are in­her­ently less ac­cu­rate than di­abolo-shaped air­gun pel­lets, but the air­gun­ners blaz­ing away with BB-fir­ing repli­cas are less in­ter­ested in pre­ci­sion ac­cu­racy than they are with re­al­is­tic op­er­a­tion and blow-back ac­tion, and most mil­i­tary-grade cen­tre­fire pis­tols are not ex­actly used for pre­ci­sion target shoot­ing, in any case.

The se­cond, and more se­ri­ous is­sue is ric­o­chets. As we all know, BBs have a fright­en­ing ten­dency to ricochet after im­pact­ing the target. This prob­lem has been re­ceiv­ing some at­ten­tion from am­mu­ni­tion man­u­fac­tur­ers, and a new type of low-ricochet BB is just ar­riv­ing on the market.

BAN­NING THE BOUNCE.

‘Low-ricochet’ BBs al­ready ex­ist in the air­gun world. Ger­many’s H&N Sport has been man­u­fac­tur­ing their Smart Shot BBs for sev­eral years. These dif­fer from con­ven­tional BBs; in­stead of be­ing lead spheres, they are solid lead balls with a cop­per coat­ing, so they flat­ten on im­pact with a hard sur­face, greatly re­duc­ing the in­ci­dence of ric­o­chets. Smart Shot BBs have be­come very pop­u­lar in the US. Pyra­myd Air is sell­ing a ton of them, but they have a cou­ple of is­sues com­pared to con­ven­tional steel BBs.

One po­ten­tial is­sue is that of weight. Smart Shot BBs have a nom­i­nal weight of 7.40 grains. This is much heav­ier than steel BBs, which typ­i­cally weigh in at around 5.1 grains. This causes them to shoot more slowly, but as replica BB gun own­ers are gen­er­ally less con­cerned with fps than they are with re­al­is­tic op­er­a­tion, this is not a re­ally big deal. The

se­cond is­sue is, they do not work in those BB guns us­ing a mag­net to hold the ball in po­si­tion for fir­ing be­cause they are coated lead balls.

The big­ger is­sue is price. An av­er­age bot­tle of 1,500 pre­mium Umarex Pre­ci­sion Steel BBs has a Street Price of $3.95 – that’s 0.26 cents each. A tin of 1,500 Smart Shot BBs sells for $24.99. That’s 1.67 cents each – over six times more ex­pen­sive than the pre­mium steel BBs, and yet the strong sales show how much the safety is­sue is driv­ing the BB market here.

EN­TER A NEW CON­CEPT.

Dust Devils are a new prod­uct just reach­ing the market, and it’s a new con­cept in low-ricochet BBs. The man­u­fac­turer is Air Ven­turi – Pyra­myd Air’s associated dis­tri­bu­tion arm – and they’re man­u­fac­tured right here in the good ole’ US of A. You’ll find them be­ing distributed by High­land Out­doors in Blighty, and H&N in other Euro­pean coun­tries by the au­tumn. Dust Devils are lead-free, frangible BBs, man­u­fac­tured by a se­cret, patented process which com­bines metal par­ti­cles with a binder ma­te­rial to pro­duce a solid pro­jec­tile. The na­ture of the metal par­ti­cles is also a state se­cret. How­ever, there must be some iron in there some­where be­cause Dust Devils are mag­netic, so they’ll work in mag­a­zines that use a mag­net.

Air Ven­turi also claims that Dust Devils give 10% greater muz­zle ve­loc­ity than stan­dard steel BBs. This claim is based on their lower weight – Dust Devils have a weight spec­i­fi­ca­tion of just 4.35 grains. Priced at $9.99 for a car­ton of 1,500 BBs, that makes Dust Devils 0.67 cents each, close to mid­way be­tween the prices of steel BBs and Smart Shot – at least in the USA.

In­ter­est­ingly, Dust Devils are non-spher­i­cal. They have a ‘belted’ shape around the spher­i­cal core. This, com­bined with their unashamedly retro-style pack­ag­ing de­sign,

cer­tainly sets them apart in the BB market.

PATENT PRO­TEC­TION.

As with any patented prod­uct, the pre­cise na­ture of the Dust Devils is se­cret, yet the patent ap­pli­ca­tion process man­dates pub­lic dis­clo­sure of the over­all con­cept be­ing patented, to­gether with its claimed ben­e­fits.

An on­line search for ‘frangible BB patents’ im­me­di­ately shows a Cana­dian patent for lead­free frangible BBs that break up on im­pact with a hard sur­face. The de­tails de­scribe this per­for­mance as hap­pen­ing to the frangible BBs when fired at a muz­zle ve­loc­ity of less than 500 fps, and at a range of over 10 me­tres. Now, I don’t know for sure, but that cer­tainly sounds like our Dust Devils! Patent and mar­ket­ing claims are fine, but the proof of the pud­ding is in the shoot­ing. Let’s see how they per­form com­pared to steel and Smart Shot BBs.

TEST­ING, TEST­ING …

For test­ing pur­poses, I used a SIG Sauer 1911 Spar­tan BB pis­tol and a We­b­ley Mk VI ser­vice re­volver. Nei­ther the semi-auto nor the re­volver had a prob­lem with feed­ing and shoot­ing any of the three BBs.

To de­ter­mine muz­zle ve­loc­ity dif­fer­ences, I used the Spar­tan and loaded the three types of BB in se­quence into the mag­a­zine; Dust Devil first, Smart Shot se­cond, then steel BB third, for 15 shots into the mag­a­zine. I fired each shot, then waited for a minute for the gun’s tem­per­a­ture to sta­bilise be­fore fir­ing the next round, then the muz­zle ve­loc­i­ties were av­er­aged.

With a fresh CO2 cap­sule and in a cool 62ºF in­door range, the re­sults were as fol­lows: (below ta­ble). As we can see, the Dust Devils did shoot faster than the steel BBs, al­though not by as much as the ‘10% faster’ claim. The Smart Shot lead BBs had the low­est muz­zle ve­loc­ity, as

“I shot five Smart Shot and five Dust Devil BBs against a steel plate at six feet”

would be ex­pected, al­though they had the high­est muz­zle en­ergy. That higher en­ergy could be a de­cid­ing fac­tor for some BB gun shoot­ers want­ing to knock down re­ac­tive tar­gets.

Like­wise, if one BB or an­other showed a de­cided ac­cu­racy ad­van­tage, that could be the clincher in your par­tic­u­lar case, but for most shoot­ers, the per­for­mance of all three BBs would be per­fectly sat­is­fac­tory. All seemed to have sim­i­lar lev­els of ac­cu­racy. ‘Seemed’ be­cause I’m a ter­ri­ble pis­tol shot! At 10 yards, I was achiev­ing ‘com­bat grade’ ac­cu­racy with both guns and all types of BB. Just don’t ask to see my test tar­gets – shot­gun pat­terns just make me em­bar­rassed.

All the tested BBs were re­tained by the We­b­ley’s in­di­vid­ual ‘car­tridges’. All cy­cled per­fectly through the Spar­tan.

So feed­ing, ac­cu­racy and over­all us­abil­ity can all be com­pletely sat­is­fac­tory with both tra­di­tional steel BBs and their new, lowric­o­chet al­ter­na­tives. Yes, there are some dif­fer­ences in fps, but they’re not re­ally sig­nif­i­cant in the scheme of things – at least in my opin­ion. So now it’s down to the bounce!

THE RICOCHET FAC­TOR

As noted in both the Patent and prod­uct mar­ket­ing claims, the Dust Devils did not break up in the gun. Judg­ing from the holes in pa­per tar­gets, they re­tained their phys­i­cal in­tegrity un­til hit­ting the target, just as claimed, so now I needed to test the ca­pa­bil­ity of the low-ricochet BBs. For my own safety, I did not try these tests with the con­ven­tional steel BBs – we all know what the re­sults of that would have been!

I shot five Smart Shot and five Dust Devil BBs against a steel plate at six feet, and com­pared the re­sults. In the pho­to­graph, you can see what hap­pened; the Smart Shot BBs were flat­tened to even less than half a sphere in size; there were no ric­o­chets; that pile of black dirt is what hap­pened to the five Dust Devils – again, there were no ric­o­chets. There’s a cou­ple of recog­nis­able BB seg­ments if you look closely, but mainly just a pile of black dust and dirt.

CON­CLU­SIONS

Both low-ricochet BBs work – and they work well. There’s an ar­gu­ment that the Smart Shot BBs could be more suit­able for re­ac­tive steel tar­gets due to their higher muz­zle en­ergy, but Dust Devils are mag­netic.

So, which one’s for you? Well, that’s a per­sonal choice. It might even come down to which pro­vides the eas­i­est clean­ing-up, if you need to do that after a shoot­ing ses­sion.

In the US, the Dust Devils are sig­nif­i­cantly cheaper, but on your side of the Pond, I would ex­pect the num­bers to be much closer, for the rea­sons we’ve dis­cussed be­fore in a pre­vi­ous ar­ti­cle on trans-At­lantic pric­ing. It’s good to have low-ricochet BB choices! I

The We­b­ley Mark VI for re­volver test­ing.

The BBs were stacked one type after an­other in the Spar­tan’s mag­a­zine for ve­loc­ity test­ing. (Sorry about the hairs!)

Note the belt around the sphere.

Left to right. Umarex Steel BB, H&N Smart Shot, Dust Devil.

Steve found that the SIG 1911 Spar­tan worked well with both types of frangible BBs.

Dust Devils and the We­b­ley.

The re­sults: On the left, 5 flat­tened Smart Shot BBs. On the right, the re­mains of 5 Smart Shot BBs. Both work as ad­ver­tised. The choice is up to you.

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