John Milewski gets round to studying BBs and DDs
‘BB’ does not stand for ’Ball Bearing’ John Milewski shares more fascinating facts about airgun ammo
Ammunition intended for air rifles and pistols has come in a wide variety of shapes, weights and material for some years now. Consequently, a pellet can be found to suit specialist applications such as shortrange, paper-punching, longer range, field target competition, and even FAC-rated, long-range, bench rest shooting. CO2 powered, ball-firing replica arms are mostly intended to be used with steel BBs, but as time goes by, some safer non-steel projectiles have steadily reached the market, in turn, offering airgunners more than just the steel BB.
Let’s get the name right first. BB does NOT stand for ‘Ball Bearing’. Steel shot might be round, but the term originates from a size of shot, approximately .180 (4.6 mm) in calibre, originally intended for shotguns. You can also obtain BBB and a variety of other sizes. Originally made of lead, it just so happens the .180 BB suited some American airguns during the 1880s and the term has stuck ever since.
Ever since the 1920s, BBs in America have been made from steel, and whilst this offers higher velocity it also comes with the added disadvantage of being prone to ricochet. This is because steel is harder to deform than softer lead, and loses much less energy upon impact with another hard surface than softer metals, which use up kinetic energy as they deform. The risk of ricochet poses a dilemma to CO2 users because many clubs ban steel BBs due to their inherently dangerous nature when compared with lead.
I tend to use lead ball or copper-coated lead ball, which is now widely available throughout the UK under brand names such as Excite
“You can also obtain BBB and a variety of other sizes. Originally made of lead”
“the DDs turned to dust, just as advertised. I was pleased to see there were no ricochets”
Smart Shot or Webley Accu BB. The latter are simply a lead core with an outer copper shell. The copper prevents distortion during transit or in a magazine prior to discharge, but will deform upon impact. Some firearms ammunition works on the same full metal jacket principle. The copper-coated lead tends to work in most CO2 arms intended for steel, but can result in shots landing away from the point of aim because they are heavier than the steel BBs intended for many of these guns.
I was intrigued to read Stephen Archer’s report in the August issue, of a new projectile intended for BB guns fiendishly named Dust Devil BBs. Made from a frangible material, these ‘DDs’ weigh less than steel at approximately 4.35gr and are designed to turn to dust upon impact, thereby eliminating the risk of ricochet at a stroke. I obtained a supply from Protek in Bognor Regis at a very reasonable £10 for 1500 projectiles, and hit the indoor range as soon as I returned home to gas up a few of my CO2 replicas. First up was a KWC P08 ‘Luger’ that I tested at six yards. Grouping was a little disappointing, but they did all land within my steel target holder, which is roughly seven inches squared. I would never use steel BBs against this holder due to the ricochet danger, particularly at home indoors and if you must use steel, use a large box lined with layers of old catalogues, carpet off-cuts and other soft materials.
NO NEED TO WORRY
I was a little worried that these frangible projectiles might come apart in the magazine, but need not have worried because they are hard enough to maintain their shape during transit and under spring pressure in a blowback CO2 airgun. I experienced a number of jams during my test, but in fairness, this P08 also jams with copper-coated lead and prefers steel – much to my annoyance. Next up was an MP40, which went through DDs so quickly that I was pleased I’d bought 2 packs of 1500 for fear of running out before I could move on to another airgun. I am pleased to report there were fewer jams, and whilst the group was also fairly large, there were many more central hits than with the P08. The MP40 hit harder too, and I also engaged my fairground plink box consisting of steel fingers and a dangling empty pellet tin. The MP40 scored hits with almost every shot at six yards and the DDs turned to dust, just as advertised. I was pleased to see there were no ricochets with either airgun, nor any bounce-backs, as can occasionally happen with coated and even uncoated lead.
When it came to tidying up afterwards, the target holder was full of frangible residue that resembled dust. I suspect regular use will result in a layer of dust around the range, necessitating a regular clean, but overall, the Dust Devils do what is claimed on the box. The lead-free projectiles shoot faster than steel and lead at close ranges, and break up upon impact. Accuracy might not be match grade, but certainly good enough to shred a tin can placed up to 10 yards away and let’s face it, that is the kind of use most of our CO2 replicas see. I
BB does NOT stand for Ball Bearing. The term relates to a size of shot that has been used both in shot- and airguns. It comes in steel, lead and copper-coated lead.
The MP40 is not ‘ball fussy’ at all and relishes lead as well as frangible BBs. I do not use steel ones outdoors.
MP40 results at six yards: copper-coated lead on left and Dust Devils on the right.
This Special Edition Walther P38 can shoot steel, lead and now frangible BBs.
It does exactly what it says on the tin/box: This is all that remains of around 40 Dust Devils fired at six yards. Three unused projectiles can be seen at top right.
Collector’s Item; the sample steel BBs that came with a boxed pistol I bought remain unopened and unused!
We now have the American frangible Dust Devil BBs as an alternative to steel and lead.
The Dust Devils have a belted band around their middle.