Soft Lead

In the Article Air Pellet Penetration I talked about having a hard non deforming pellet if you prefer penetration to shock value.

It lead to a thought about what air gun pellets are actually made of.
OK, most are thinking pure LEAD (Pb to use its scientific symbol) except that is not the case.

Most common plinking “lead” pellets are made of soft lead with antimony which gives it a degree of “hardness”. Yet there are other bits and pieces added to the brew for all kinds of reasons. Curiously, when working lead, in industry they often add ARSENIC to aid flow but not so air gun pellets. Anyway what follows is printed all over the web.

A typical analysis on pellet lead is of the British Standard No. 602: 1956 II:
•Lead – not less than 99.25% and not more than 99.80%
•Antimony – not more than 0.10%
•Zinc – not more than 0.005%
•Copper – not more than 0.07%
•Tin – not more than 0.50%

Top quality international brand pellets are 99.9% Lead and 0.05% Antimony.

The addition of antimony has three purposes:
1. To improve the swaging process.
2. To protect the pellets against transportation damages.
3. To improve resistance to corrosion due to oxidation.
4. To maintain consistency in weight & dimensions.

A while ago some US states banned lead bullets.
Apparently lead bullets are harmful?
In the UK lead shot for shotguns has been replaced with Bismuth.
Why? Because lead is harmful to your health.

durrr That’s the general idea of
bullets and shotgun shot idiots!!

Looking at this, lead (Pb) is harmful in the environment? You think!
Except you actually get more pollution from industrial, agricultural and transport pollution in the environment than the precision shot of an air gunner.

Shotgun shot is eaten by wildlife and poisoned?
Take away the shotguns and change them to bullet / air pellet weapons.
Boy, you can tell I’m anti shotgun for hunting can’t you.
The spray and pray “jobbing mechanics”of hunting.

Anyway some air gun manufacturers coat their pellets with Copper.
What’s that all about? Copper coating is a bit of a funny one.
Harder than lead, softer than steel, it is only a coating on air pellets although firearms do use pure copper especially in frangible ammunition.

This from H&N (A well-known precision manufacturer of pellets)
Light-weight, copper plated pellet for plinking and hobby.
No lead-fouling, low deformation and high penetration thanks to special copper coating (20% harder than comparable lead pellets).

I actually found them a good pellet for precision pistol target work although I won’t use them in my pest control weapon. I value my rifle more than using fashionable ammo.

So, it burrows deeply, won’t deform and thus has a low energy transfer.
And people think that’s good ? Oh well.
I’ve already said I love rapid transfer of energy  i.e. “smack power” and at best all I need is 3 inches of penetration so copper in this case seems counter productive.

As for no lead fouling?
The only time I clean my barrel is once a year or if the groups open up a lot.
The cleaning is also achieved without using solvents and using soft cleaning cloth.

Don’t forget air weapon barrels are made of relatively mild steel and the micro type rifling within is a lot more susceptible to damage than the firearm. Copper fouling needs either an abrasive wire brush or a caustic solvent. I did a bit about barrel scrubbing on air weapon cleaning if you are interested. [Source]

I’ve also found a lot of comment round the shooting forums about a marginal loss of muzzle velocity with copper coated pellets across the spectrum of different manufacturers. It’s pure guess-work but most think that the harder metal coating does not allow the classic Diabolo skirt to deform at much thus you get less air seal.

Looking at the pellet catcher at the end of a target shoot and comparing the rifling marks copper to lead, I’m inclined to agree. The copper is noticeable less marked. Having said that, dimensions vary greatly in skirt size and wall thickness from manufacturer to manufacturer so I could be wrong.

And finally.
Coated, alloys, hardeners, and the alternative copper or zinc cores in sabot type rounds, all do one thing, increase penetration by causing LESS DEFORMATION.
Less deformation equals less energy transfer.
A lower “smack” or knockdown power.

Now call me old-fashioned but when I shoot something for food I want to bowl it over and render it instantly dead or at least incapable of running / flying away.

As for punching a nice .177 or .22 hole “through and through” hit?
Too unreliable an outcome.

A note about pellet shapes.

What is best for hunting
Everyone should experiment to see what works best in their weapons.

  1. Wad Cutter.
    A Target pellet and REALLY good on rats. Ideal for indoors work like chicken sheds as it doesn’t cause a lot of damage to walls.
  2. Pointed (Diablo Style)
    Designed for penetration YET will expand if they hit something solid like bone.
  3. Standard domed.
    The workhorse of pellet design. Good stability in the wind and knockdown power.
  4. Ovigal. Was an attempt to combine the best features of domed and pointed. A solid tip with good penetration. Problem was long-range stability.
  5. The hollow point pellet. Designed to expand on entering a body giving maximum shock with little penetration. Against crow its devastating BUT it’s not a long-range round.
  6. The Armor piercing round. You can stop laughing now, I have.
  7. For completeness I’ve added the “slug”.
    Forget 12 weapons this is really designed for POWERFUL air weapons i.e. round 30 ft.lbs

Me? I carry only one style, item 4 in the field.
Problem is long-range stability in some weapons and through variable barrel twist rates, although they work really well in my work rifle.

For warehouse or ratting I prefer a simple REALLY SOFT wad cutter, why?


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3 Responses to Soft Lead

  1. gamegetterII says:

    The only problem with the enviro-whacko’s claims that lead from hunter’s bullet,and/or shot from upland bird/rabbit hunting is poisoning wildlife is that they are simply not true.
    The U.S. banned lead shot for waterfowl hunting in 1991. Since ducks and geese often fed in the exact shallow waters that hunters were shooting over,years of spent lead shot had built up in these localized areas,and was unavoidable for the waterfowl.
    As for the whackos who pushed the legislation banning all lead ammo for hunting in the only U.S. state it’s banned in-the occupied republik of commifornia-it was all based on horsepucky-zero credible scientific evidence,and zero credible,published,peer-reviewed studies-in fact the author of one of the junk science “studies” refused to allow anyone to review his data or methodology-and that’s the study that was most often cited by the enviro-whackos who got the garbage legislation passed.
    One of their claims was that California condors-and endangered large scavenger bird-like an oversized buzzard-was ingesting bullet fragments from gut piles left by hunters-there just a few problems with that claim-modern centerfire rifle ammo does not fragment. Most bullets pass all the way through med and big game animals. The type of gilding metal jacketed lead ammo used in modern centerfire rifle bullets is simply not soluble in the digestive tracts of condors.
    If condors were dying from lead in hunters gutpiles-hawks and eagles would also be dying-they are not populations of both are increasing.
    Lead ammo was banned in the range of the condors for several years,and the hunter compliance rate was near 100%-and there was zero drop in blood lead levels of condors.
    Bullets are found on battlefields after a hundred years or more-yet they still retain over 95% of their original weights-it ain’t the ammo killing condors in Califorinia.
    The amount of lead shot spread around the U.S. via upland bird and small game hunting is not concentrated enough anywhere to pose any risk to humans or wildlife.

    Plenty of sources/studies all compiled on one site-along with evidence of anti-hunter and enviro-whacko groups using altered data and junk science to get the lead ammo ban passed.

    • Oh I’m so with you there.
      The tree huggers of the world and other limp wrists will dream up any lies they can because shooting “offends their sensibilities”.

      Take the UK.
      All their restrictive gun laws because of limp dick politicians and little old ladies.
      Has it made a difference? Cause it has.
      The general public have been reduced to reactive targets for the police and bad guys to practice on.

      I like bow hunting. Got into that in Europe proper.
      Silent, accurate, and as deadly as a round from a rifle in the right hands.
      Banned in the UK. Why? Because it’s “cruel” and “inhuman”. YAWN!

      As for changing the shotguns from lead to bismuth pellets?
      It’s poisonous too. (although the tree huggers missed that one).
      Bismuth poisoning exists and mostly affects the kidney, liver, and bladder.
      Skin and respiratory irritation can also follow exposure to respective organs. (wiki)

      Besides if you are shooting accurately, one shot one kill, where’s the problem? (VERY pointedly ignoring the spray and pray (shotgun) brigade.

      Oh yeah,I love your term “enviro-whacko groups”. Very apt.

  2. gamegetterII says:

    Here’s what they are doing here now…

    That’s just the animal “rights” whackos,it’s out of control here-these slimy bastards combined with the enviro-whackos dictate just about all U.S. public lands policies-it’s sickening,because it’s all done with deception-every group uses lies,half-truths and obfuscation-along without outright bribery and blackmail to push their agenda.

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