Target shooter: insight and expertise to help you raise your game

Whether you’re looking for just a few tins, or maybe pallets full of pellets for years of use, Andy McLachlan provides some pointers on purchasing projectiles. 

James takes his time zeroing his new springer and testing different batches of pellets to see which suits the barrel best

Maybe it’s just me, but I often wonder if the trouble that some shooters go to regarding their pellets can be justified. Many – and probably, if the truth be known, most – shooters will just open a tin and happily fire away and be perfectly content with how their pellet of choice is performing downrange.

If you are a confirmed target shooter though, it would be unusual if you adopted this approach to ammunition selection. It is a proven fact that correctly weighed pellets can, and will, produce even further reduced group sizes.

Consider a target shooter taking on a long-range target in a gusting breeze: the last thing they want to think about is if their ammunition is fully up to the job of landing where they want it to. If they happen to be using pellets that will form an 8mm group at 40 yards, it is highly likely that should they miss that long-range breezy target, they won’t be blaming their ammunition.

Target shooting is all about reducing the variables of anything that might result in a miss. This will include guns that are usually regulated in the case of the pre-charged pneumatic, so that each shot will leave the barrel at near enough the same velocity, thus reducing any likelihood of the pellet having any chance to fall even slightly above or below the exact point of aim.

James tin of unwed JSBs sit alongside his match-weighed pellets in their protective container.

The correct shooting techniques of proper follow-through, and not flinching a millimetre during the release of each shot, are done without thinking by the experienced shot, and greatly practised by those wishing to emulate the achievements of successful competition shooters.

So, if we take it that the shooting hardware is good – including the proper zeroing of the scope and an understanding of any limitations it may have regarding potential parallax error at certain ranges – we can hopefully presume that the shooting combination is more than up to the job of hitting any target we point it at, presuming of course that the shooter points it in the right place. This is something that the top shooters are able to do much more frequently than most of us.

We then need to consider the pellet itself. If you’re the type of shooter who intends to go target shooting, it’s not wise to nip into the local shooting shop and just purchase the first tin of whatever pellets you’ve found that suit your gun’s particular barrel. If you were to do so, you will probably discover that your intended point of aim on the pre-shoot zeroing range appears to have moved. This could be anything from a few millimetres to several centimetres – it really can make that much difference.

For the average person, looking at a pellet from one tin of a certain batch number and then comparing it with one from the same manufacturer, but from a different batch, the pellets might look exactly the same.

This is the sticker placed on the rear of a tin of JSB pellets which identifies the pellet batch.

You might have even weighed them to ensure that the pellets fall within the parameters you want. Even so, because
the pellets have been manufactured using a different die at the factory, the chances are that each will have its own particular characteristics and point of zero.

It’s strange, but true – and this fact is responsible for many shooters wondering why they can’t hit a damned thing after previously doing so well with the shooting combination. This is why experienced target shooters spend so much time checking out different batches of pellets, testing them to make sure that each will meet their own requirements when fired from their gun.

If you look at the ammunition choice of 99 per cent of the top shooters in both FT and HFT, you will find that they will be using the famous JSB Exact. This pellet first appeared on the scene years ago as the Air Arms Field, prior to JSB also supplying the trade directly itself.

I can remember my son James and I using AA Field for the first time in our hunting springers – probably 15 years ago now – and being genuinely amazed at their performance. It would not be an overstatement to say that the ammunition was a game-changer, particularly for competition shooters.

Air Arms pellets are still manufactured by JSB and perform just as well as they always did. There are in fact some shooters who consider that their pellets perform better in their guns than JSB, although this might just be down to a particular batch.

This heavier pellet would be rejected due to the 0.4 grains of additional weight that might cause it to drop further.

For serious competition shooters, then, the never-ending search for an ultimate performing pellet will continue unabated. Some shooters have managed to establish contacts which will allow them to test fresh batches straight from the JSB factory, with others spending time deciding upon which particular batch among the latest production run will best suit their needs.

This can often lead to orders of literally pallets-full of pellets being purchased directly for the use of those willing to buy vast amounts of pellets from an individual batch that will perform for them.

We’re not talking 70 or 80 quid here, but – in some cases – thousands for a ready future supply of high-performing ammunition that will of course last the purchasers for a considerable amount of time, all being well.

My son James and his close-knit group of serious target shooting friends are always on the look-out for top pellets. Due to contacts that they’ve made over the years, this gives them the opportunity of checking out numerous batches fresh from the factory itself.

This is what you want to see – the perfect weight of 8.44 grains. Hallelujah!

If this is not possible for whatever reason, I have known James call into a local shooting supplier and first physically inspect each particular batch that happens to be in stock, and then buy a tin of each of the contenders prior to a session at the zeroing range, which will enable him to choose the pellet best suited to his barrel.

James can physically inspect the pellet and have a fair idea of how it will perform, due to the very precise shape that the individual die has pressed. This is a very annoying skill that unfortunately he proves to be right at every time!

Once he likes the look of a particular pellet, he will take it downrange to see if the point of impact has dropped in height in comparison to his usual zero. If it has, he reckons that the new batch possesses a lower ballistic coefficient (BC), so he will avoid it and try one that flies at least as high as his previously successful pellets did.

He has also been known to consult with other experienced and successful target shooters for their own opinions regarding batches of pellets. He and his serious target shooting friends also swear blind that some batches of pellets perform better in the wind than others, and that pellets fired from a springer suffer less wind turbulence effects than those shot from a PCP. They seem to think this might be due to the way the charge of air is delivered to the base of the pellet as it engages the rifling in the barrel.

You can see, then, just how seriously the acquisition of top-performing pellets is viewed by those wishing to use ammunition that will not let them down. Incidentally, none of the target shooters I know wash their pellets, but they all weigh them prior to use in a competition. Some also lubricate them, but James and his cronies don’t.

This does not mean that cleaning the newly purchased pellets would not improve their performance even further – just that they basically couldn’t be bothered! After all, the law of diminishing returns has to kick in at some point. Doesn’t it?


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