A tale of modifying air gun pellets.

I was asked if there was anyway to make air gun pellets more “lethal”.
The other party was a newbie pest controller who was sick of hitting prey and watching them either fly off or run away from him at high-speed.

The obvious answer is always go for a totally incapacitating brain pan shot but there was more to the question that met the eye.

Firstly the weapon.
At 21 ft.lbs, it was registered as a firearm.
Only it was a .177 (4.5mm) calibre. Why so small?
Because the user wanted a shallow trajectory.
OK but lets look at that.
.177 lead comes in a range of weights typically from 7 to 15 grains, and if you run a simple ballistics calculation the speed that these pellets have to fly at to achieve 21 ft.lbs is alarmingly high.
7 grains is 1150 fps
15 grains is  800 fps
Now “technically” the standard speed of sound is 1125 fps.
Only anything above 1000 fps, and the lousy design of the typical diabolo pellet, or indeed any shape at that weight will destabilise by turbulence LET ALONE the muzzle blast (which can be moderated a lot with an air stripper or a PROPER sound moderator) flipping it in the first few inches.

Only I’m more of a fan of ‘smack down’ than speed as lets face it, such powers and calibres aren’t exactly going to cause gross cavitation wounds or hydro-shock.

The light dawned a bit and he said that he was having better results with heavier pellets but didn’t know why. Yet it didn’t explain the lack of stopping power.

By now I was getting the idea that the concept of a brain pan shot was not sinking in or compatible with his shooting prowess.

Out to the range to test the rifle (and him).
40 yards and my little 20 mm knock over target.
Now I’ve got to say his rifle was lovely. A tame, good quality PCP, and as accurate as a laser BUT I’m used to using any form of expedient support I can find (aka a grain bag for the test), he preferred a hasty sling or sitting field target style with predictable results.


OK, simple test two, out goes two paper targets, 40 yards, 5 on each for the closest group.
Bloody marvellous rifle, I key holed 4 out of 5 and despite the flyer which was definitely my fault, all fell within a 9 mm group.

Um, 3 hit within an inch for him and his sling. Bad pellets were ‘the fault’ of the other two.
Observations. The sling was too tight, no BRASS, canting the weapon, bad cheek weld, variable support and hand contact. Shooting on the move with a clearly definable figure 8 drift. The option of a support was refused.

You see a high percentage of “I must have hit it as I saw fur/feather flying” is actually a miss and a trim of the feathers / fur more than a hit.
Nope, it wasn’t that, the prey was hit, it rolled, and got up running again, it must have been the pellets. So then came the discussion about pellet style.


For me there are only 5 basics that matter.
There are more, but these I know about.

  1. Wad Cutter. Close range, high ‘smack’ type of pellet (ratting, internal work)
  2. Pointed. For penetration into ‘tough’ targets, easily destabilised as it tends to be too long with all the weight at the back. (Crow rounds)
  3. Standard Diabolo. Actually the most stable of the 5. (Gen purp)
  4. The Ovagee. An attempt to improve penetration with long-range stability, its sheer size is easily diverted by wind, rain, or foliage although it always weighs in heavy. (Rabbit/hare)
  5. The hollow point. Now this one NEEDS POWER to deploy effectively. Except it’s not a fan of long-range even with high velocities. (crow, gull, magpie)

I’m not a fan of exotics, high-speed synthetics, sabot, slug, ball, AP, or fletched dart from a low power air weapon.

I’m the guy who likes ‘loads of smack without finesse’ but the bottom line with low powers, even though the UK PTB think that 21 ft.lb is firearms power, you need a good solid accurate kill shot on small prey.

So I got a rabbit head out and asked him to stop me at his usual shot range to see (if as said) the shots weren’t going through. At 6o meters that was his average range.
Right about then I lost interest. Still, lets keep going.

Bisley magnum .177 10.5 grains, the smack should have been 9-10 ft lbs.
I planted the head and walked 30 meter to one side and behind a tree.
10 shots later fur flew. A burn mark at the back of the head.

I thanked him for his enquiry and showed him the door.
Any guesses why?


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2 Responses to A tale of modifying air gun pellets.

  1. shtfprepper says:

    First… if his average range is 60 meters to try to shoot small game, well… Hell, that’s too far. Second… I wish I had a stable surface to shoot from ALL the time. If he didn’t want to use any variation of a sandbag, he’s nuts. Third… Did he shoot prone? If he doesn’t fancy sandbags and he’s trying to hit a small target at 65 yard with a pellet gun… there’s not much hope.

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