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Advice for Choosing the Proper Pellets for an Accurate Air Rifle

By: Tom Claycomb III

We big game hunters know how important it is to choose the proper ammo for our big game rifles if we want to be accurate. I’m currently testing a Mossberg Patriot Revere .30-06 and have mounted a Riton RT-S MOD 5 4-16x50 WIDE FOV scope on it. I’ve tested seven different loads and am still not getting the groups I want. I plan to try some new ammo next week.

Testing numerous loads is nothing new to big game hunters determined to get the best group out of our high-caliber rifles. But what about “little game” hunters?

When I first started shooting air guns as an adult, I nearly resigned myself to believing it impossible to get any degree of accuracy out of them. But some experimenting has taught me the same process I use to ensure I’m shooting accurately with my big game rifles is just as important to carry out for accuracy with air rifles.

Testing Guns and Pellets
I remember being astounded that I couldn’t get better than a 1 ½” group at 15 yards with the first break barrel air rifle I acquired. I don’t claim to be the best shot, so I took a buddy shooting who is a SWAT team member. He could only get 1 ¼” groups. So, I called the gun manufacturer and they said, “Yes that’s about right. We figure on 1 ½” groups at 13 yds.”

What?

It’s a wonder I didn’t give up on air rifles right then. With an air gun, you’re hunting small game that has a small kill zone. I hunt a lot of ground squirrels, pigeons, and doves with air guns. That means at 30 yards with the types of groups the gun company aims for, it’d be a veritable miracle if I hit anything.

I kept testing more guns, to no avail. I upgraded to some higher-quality guns, which helped slightly, but I still wasn’t getting decent groups. Then I began experimenting with different pellets. I met the JSB guys at the NRA’s annual SHOT show, and using their pellets, finally started getting some good groups with my Benjamin Marauder air rifle.

I’ve developed a theory while shooting air guns during the past six years. Mind you, I’m not a combat-trained tournament airgun shooting expert. I am just little Tom Claycomb shooting on the high plains in Idaho, but on a good day of ground squirrel hunting, I get 400-500 shots, so I’m not exactly a novice.

Speed vs. Accuracy
To be able to boast of speeds up to 1,450 fps, it seems some air gun companies have made super lightweight, flimsy pellets. As an aside – I’ve chronographed a few air guns, and none of them have hit their advertised speeds. It’s not a big deal to me, as long as they shoot straight and fast enough to kill what I’m shooting at, but it’s worth noting that most of them aren’t as fast as they claim. That said, though these pellets may travel fast enough, you just don’t quite know where they’re traveling to!

Killing Power vs. Accuracy
To have better killing power, various pellets – namely, polymer-tipped and semi-hollow point – were developed. It sounds rational: a pointed pellet will penetrate deeper. The problem is, none of these special pellets have shot very accurately for me. Nor do the pointed polymer-tipped pellets feed in a Marauder or Sig Sauer CO2 gun. The polymer tip sticks out too far and jams up when the clip turns, so I can’t shoot polymer tips in a lot of my guns anyway. I commend the industry for experimenting to find the perfect pellet, but we’re not there yet. At least they’re trying, though, so you have to assume they’ll get there.

Accuracy Trumps All
To me, accuracy trumps all. So we’re left with a dilemma. Do we want an accurate pellet, or do we want to sacrifice a little accuracy to gain a little speed or better killing power?

After testing a lot of different pellets – and I’m still testing, six years after getting back into air guns – I’ve learned something useful: If brand X pellet shoots best in my most accurate rifle, then brand X also shoots best in my less accurate rifles. Basically, the guns all keep their same accuracy rankings; it’s just that they all shoot better with the better-performing pellets.

Brand Recommendations
Most people I’ve encountered agree that the Diabolo-shaped pellets shoot the most accurately. JSB gets me the tightest groups. Crosman and Sig Sauer both shoot well, too, but trail a hair behind JSB. I met the guys from Rifle Pellet Co. at SHOT this year and am going to be testing a lot of their pellets in the near future. Stand by.

Tom Claycomb III is a product tester for outdoor manufacturers, hunter, and outdoor writer, writing from Idaho.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Gunpowder Magazine.

Photo Credit: Tom Claycomb

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Gunpowder Magazine.