Target shooting: choosing the right pellet

Target shooting expert Andy McLachlan offers a few powerful pointers for when it’s time to pick the perfect pellet for your particular air rifle.

These pellets come from die 46 and actually do measure the 4.53 head size as indicated when put in a Pelletgage measuring device

I strongly suspect that most airgun shooters, whether for target shooting or any other type of airgunning, buy their pellets by brand alone. What I mean is that rather than spending a lot of time checking out issues such as the die and batch number or the head size (found upon the rear of the tin in many cases), they will just look at the branding and make their purchase based upon that, as the tin looks exactly the same as the last one they bought.

The problem is of course that they may be purchasing a pellet that will not perform with their gun’s barrel. You might think that something like a JSB Exact, possibly the most popular pellet in existence, will behave just the same as the last tin of ammunition did as it is made by the same manufacturer and even displays the same head size, either 4.50, 4.51, 4.52 or 4.53, so to all intents and purposes the pellets look pretty much the same.

It’s only when you tear off the red strip of sealing tape and start shooting pellets from your newly acquired tin that you notice your ammo might be landing away from your previous point of impact with the same zero, which will obviously have an impact on your target shooting results.

This is to be expected and is no problem as it only results in a couple of clicks either way on your scope turrets to accommodate.

However, sometimes the use of a new pellet will result in lots of head scratching as you totally fail to produce any type of group as the pellets appear to have a mind of their own and land everywhere but your intended point of impact. Oh dear!

If this unfortunate event occurs, those of us who have been around a bit will know that you have been shooting a pellet that does not suit your own barrel.

This sounds ridiculous, I know, but barrels produced by the same manufacturer, at the same time even, will have their own individual preferences regarding the diet of pellet we feed them.

Fair enough, a ‘super pellet’, usually one particular batch, will suit many gun barrels as it has many of the preferred characteristics that happen to suit a lot of barrels, but they will not suit all.

The use of a poorly performing pellet in a gun can sometimes lead to shooters thinking that their gun has gone off, when all that is required to enjoy the previous level of accuracy is a change of ammunition to something that suits the barrel far better.

This is all well and good if you have the opportunity of trying lots of different batches of pellets from a manufacturer and identifying the top-performing ammunition with your own equipment.

It is possible to locate a supplier that can provide low numbers of individual brands of pellets and finding out which manufacturers’ products suit your gun.

The problem is that the choice of genuine head size, which specific die pressed the pellet and when it was made all need to be considered. It’s not just the individual manufacturer’s pellets that you need to consider, but the specific details regarding the individual pellet’s construction.

This will of course be of no surprise to those of us that have been shooting airguns for nearly half a century as I have now. It does come as a shock to novice shots however, as they presume that their newly acquired tin of their own favourite brand will perform as normal. In many cases it won’t.

These are what the batch-testing tins look like on arrival – note they have additional protection for pellets in transit

One of the advantages of being associated with some of the best airgun shooters in the UK is that I get to see how they go about preparing for all aspects of their sport, which they obviously take extremely seriously.

One of the ongoing campaigns that they all subscribe to is the identification of pellet batches that meet their accuracy requirements, both indoors and out.

I am sure that it will come as no surprise to hear that most serious target shooters use a pellet manufactured from the famous JSB stable. This will be either the 8.44 grain Exact or the 7.9 grain Express, with most shooters choosing the Exact as their preferred option.

Target shooting: more on pellets

Prior to the arrival of JSB pellets, choices such as the famous Crosman Premier or H&N Baracuda Match/Bisley Magnum were very popular with target shooters. These pellets are still as good as ever, but the JSB steamroller has pretty much tied up the serious end of the market for the past decade or so.

Let us not forget that the highly popular family of Air Arms pellets also originate from the JSB factory, with some shooters preferring to use this brand over ‘standard’ JSB products.

So, how do the top shooters decide upon the precise and specific choice for their competition ammunition? They develop close contacts with the manufacturer! This allows them to try out the latest batches of pellets from new pellet dies and allows them to compare them with the standards of their existing supply of ammunition.

The manufacturer, in this case JSB, will only do this on the understanding that the interested parties will be purchasing vast numbers of pellets from the preferred batch or batches. I am talking several thousand pounds’ worth here! Not something that can be organised by a few friends down at the range unfortunately.

My son James and his target shooting friends have developed such a relationship with JSB. This allows them to try lots of ‘new’ pellet batches in search of the best-performing ammunition.

I add that this group does not include just shooters local to our North West area, but also other areas within the UK that will all put up the funds for the mega pellet purchase.

The attached images illustrate how these batches of new pellets arrive for testing purposes. Due to years of experience as to how a good pellet looks, some shooters, including my son James, will be able to identify potential candidates on looks alone after assessing individual batch dimensions that consider things such as head shape, skirt length and thickness etc.

When shooting the new pellets downrange, the first consideration will be just how high they are landing on the target in comparison with known accurate pellets.

If a pellet lands well below the intended point of aim this pellet will usually be discounted straight away as the ballistic coefficient of the pellet is inferior to the current ammunition.

Ballistic coefficient refers to how well any projectile, in our case an airgun pellet, happens to fly onto target. If the BC is high, this will result in the pellet landing higher on the target as it has retained more velocity. 

To get accuracy like this at distances of 50 yards or more you need top quality pellets that perfectly suit your barrel

Pellets will also be checked for their performance outdoors, with some individual batches being slightly less affected by any shearing wind forces.

For those of us not in the cliques, how do we go about choosing the best ammunition? My friend Dave and I participate in pellet batch testing, so we input our preferences into general feedback prior to any large orders being made.

If you do not know any shooters in these circles, then I suggest you purchase a few tins of your preferred ammunition, find which one suits your gun, and then buy as many as you can.

Correct pellet choice is one of the most important decisions you will make regarding your efforts to optimise your own levels of accuracy. Don’t just buy a tin that looks like your last one!

More target shooting advice from Andy McLachlan

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