Picking the right ammunition can have a big influence on accuracy and power. In fact, ammunition is even more important with airguns than it is with traditional firearms. We took a look at all of the different options on the market for airgun pellets, and here’s what we found.
Wadcutter pellets are the natural choice for target shooting. They have a broad, round head that cut big holes in paper targets. Wadcutters are good for plinking, and some competitive shooting events make their marksmen use them. These pellets range from ultra-cheap target pellets, to expensive tournament-grade wadcutters.
Some hunters think that wadcutters work better on small game than domed or pointed pellets, but I haven’t been able to dig up any hard evidence that that’s the case. The theory is that wadcutters won’t overpenetrate, so they work like sort of a poor man’s hollowpoint.
Whether or not that’s really true is anyone’s guess, but there’s a decent amount of anecdotal evidence — and some squirrel hunters swear by them.
Wadcutters aren’t very aerodynamic, so they drop faster than other pellets at range. If you’re making shots out further than you’ve calibrated your sights, you’ll need to adjust.
Domed pellets are more aerodynamic that other sorts of ammunition. That means, they hit harder at long distances. They were designed as airguns became more powerful and wadcutters started to tumble and lose accuracy because of wind resistance.
These pellets have a heavier tip, which generates a ton of knock-down power compared to other pellets. They keep a lot of that power at long range, too.
Domed pellets hit harder than pointed pellets, but they weren’t specifically designed for hunting. That said, they do a great job as long as your airgun is powerful enough to make good use of them. They won’t penetrate as well as pointed pellets, but they are typically heavier and hit harder.
Since domed pellets tend to be heavy, you won’t see the same sort of muzzle velocity as you would with other types. But if you have a powerful airgun, and you need to make a long-range shot that hits the target hard, domed pellets are a good pick.
Pointed pellets are designed to penetrate. They’re a good choice for varmints at medium range, since they’ll cut through thicker hair and hides. They also have some of the same aerodynamic benefits as domed pellets, but they quite aren’t as pronounced. They retain velocity better than wadcutters, so they’ll shoot flatter and penetrate well at range.
One thing that sets pointed pellets apart from wadcutters and domed pellets is the skirt, which tends to be longer in order to compensate for the lighter tip. Some of the best manufacturers of pointed pellets, like Beeman and ARS, also include thick bands at the midpoint which are designed to engage the rifling and put more spin on the pellet.
Pointed pellets work better than domed pellets in underpowered airguns,especially pistols. They’re typically lighter than domed pellets. Since they penetrate better, pointed pellets are more likely to get you a clean kill at range — even if your airgun isn’t outstanding.
When they’re fired out of a powerful airgun, hollowpoint pellets expand to cause maximum damage. Just like hollowpoint bullets, these pellets are designed to kill. You won’t want to use them for plinking, but they’re great for hunting.
They tend to be a little bit lighter than wadcutters, which makes them fly faster. As they expand in the target, they dump all of their energy fast. That makes for larger wounds and better stopping power.
The downside is that hollowpoint pellets really only expand if they’re travelling fast. Depending on the brand, you’ll only get good results above 1,000 FPS. If you’re shooting long distances, or if your airgun doesn’t have enough power, stick with pointed or domed pellets instead. But up close, they’re a killer.
High-velocity pellets come in different shapes, but they’re all built for speed. Some powerful airguns use high-velocity ammunition to reach muzzle speeds of 1,200 FPS and beyond. Almost all high-velocity pellets are made using lightweight metals, typically lead-free alloys, so they travel faster than heavier ammunition.
Some high-velocity ammunition uses plastic sabots for a better seal with the barrel. Others have ridges or other features cast into the pellet itself to improve the seal. As a general rule, high-velocity pellets penetrate better and shoot flatter than other types.
The one drawback that comes with higher muzzle speed is instability in flight. If you buy cheap high-velocity pellets, some of your shots will tumble and miss the target entirely. That problem only gets worse at long range, so get the good stuff or don’t even bother.
Hybrid pellets combine the benefits of more than one style of airgun pellet. For instance, Crossman makes hollow point pellets that have a small spike in the middle. They give you a bit more penetration, while still having some of the stopping power of hollow points.
It’s hard to categorize hybrid pellets since they come in so many shapes and style. But remember, you get the drawbacks as well as the benefits.
Some heavy-duty airguns are built to fire modified bullets. They’re bigger, weigh more, and have a great aerodynamic profile. You’ll only use them in high-velocity, high-caliber air rifles, but they pack a real punch.
Sometimes you’ll find .22 caliber airgun bullets, but usually you see them as .357 and larger. In the places where it’s legal to hunt deer with powerful airguns, hunters use bullets instead of pellets.
There aren’t any practical downsides to using bullets instead of pellets, but most airguns aren’t chambered for them. If you’re shopping around for pre-charged pneumatic air rifles, keep in mind that your model might shoot bullets in place of (much) cheaper pellets and plan accordingly.
The Choice Is Yours
If you want to make the most out of every shot, you have to pick the right pellet for your airgun and target. The internet is a great resource, so make sure to shop around. Pellets are so affordable that most shooters can keep a few styles on hand.
You might think about keeping around some wadcutters for plinking, hollow points for close-up hunting, and pointed pellets for long-range shots. That’s a decent mix that should cover the bases for just about every shooter.