DEVILISHLY GOOD BBs
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.
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.
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.