See BBs

John Milewski gets round to study­ing BBs and DDs

Airgun World - - Contents -

‘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.


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.

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