Air rifle pellets are the cheapest form of ammunition. However, they vary in quality, design, weight and performance. Choosing the right pellet to suit the shooting you do and the rifle or pistol you use is vital if you are to exploit the accuracy of your gear and of your own abilities.

What are Air Rifle Pellets

Unlike ammunition for rimfire, centre fire and big bore rifles, as well as shotguns, air rifle pellets require no explosion or ignition. They are simply a shaped piece of lead which is placed into the breech of a rifle or pistol and expelled down the barrel by air that is compressed either in a bottle or cylinder in the case of a pre-charged pneumatic (PCP) airguns, or a spring. Lead alternatives are also available, usually made from tin or zinc, and some feature a synthetic skirt.

What are Air Rifle Pellets

Choosing an Air Rifle Pellet

Different brands of rifles, and even different rifles of the same model or brand, will sometimes have a preference for one make or design of pellet over another. This is usually down to the slight variances in the way barrels are manufactured. In addition, some barrels will perform better with pellets made from a slightly softer lead, others with a harder lead. Some will prefer light pellets, others heavy. In some rifles the difference is significant. In others the improvement offered by one pellet over another may be incremental. In addition to different brands, many pellets are available with slightly different sizes. For example, the standard .22 pellet is usually expressed as 5.5mm. However, 5.51, 5.52 and 5.53mm variants of the same brand are often available, giving the shooter a further opportunity to seek a slight performance advantage. The most practical way to find the right pellet for your rifle is to simply try different brands and sizes against targets at different ranges. Some manufacturers offer tester packs comprising say 50 pellets of several different types they make.

Types of air rifle pellets

There are a great many different designs, many of which make claims about superior accuracy, impact and penetration. Nearly all pellets share the same design in that they have a skirt, which is usually hollow to some extent. The middle tapers inwards before ending in the head. The purpose of the skirt is to fit snugly into the breech and expand slightly under air pressure to form a tight seal in the barrel. The overriding priority is to find a pellet that is consistently accurate in your air rifle. As a hunter, there’s no point in using a pellet that has greater impact and penetration if you can’t hit what you are aiming at.

Types of air rifle pellets

Round head/diabolo pellets

The most common design of pellet, and generally accepted to be the most accurate, is the traditional round-head or diabolo.

Round head pellet

Pointed pellets

Pointed pellets are often marketed with the promise of greater penetration. In reality, points are more easily damaged in a tin which can result in inaccuracy.

pointed pellet

Flathead / wadcutter pellets

Flathead pellets, or wadcutters, are generally favoured by target shooters as they are more likely to punch clean holes in a paper target. Due to their shape and poor aerodynamics they tend to be favoured over shorter distances.

flathead

Hollow point pellets

Hollow point pellets are popular with some hunters as they are designed to deform on impact to increase the transmission of shock to quarry. Some are designed with a dimple in the nose, others have a cross-shaped indent.

hollow point

Hybrid pellets

Ever eager to offer shooters new innovations, some manufacturers offer pellets that are a hybrid of a plastic or synthetic skirt with a lead, tin or alloy head. Such pellets are usually more expensive and rarely, if ever, match lead pellets for accuracy, though some offer increased penetration, which is not always a benefit.

Hybrid pellet

Slugs

High powered air rifles, often those that require a license to own in most countries, are capable of shooting slugs. These are usually heavier than standard pellets and are solid and bullet shaped. Some have a slight dimple in the tail to aid stability. The design increases the amount of friction in the barrel and higher powered rifles are required to enable desired feet per second velocities to be achieved. Due to their shape, slugs have a greater ballistic efficiency than traditional pellets which means they are more stable in flight and have a more shallow trajectory. In addition, the energy when first fired from the muzzle dissipates more slowly. Slugs are increasingly popular with hunters who use high powered rifles to shoot accurately over longer distances. The barrel on many rifles needs to be adapted to shoot slugs. Some, the FX range for example, have an interchangeable barrel liner so the shooter can alternate between pellet and slug shooting. Having said that, increasingly slugs and hybrid slugs – a design between a pellet and a slug – are available and can be used in traditional pellet barrels.

slugs

Lead free pellets

Several manufacturers offer pellets made from substances other than lead. German manufacturer H&N has a comprehensive lead-free range. Alternative materials are most commonly tin or zinc. Believe it or not, but some pellets have a gold coating. Some copper coloured pellets are simply lead pellets with a copper coloured coating. Non-lead pellets tend to be significantly lighter than their lead counterparts. Whilst this will increase muzzle velocities it does very little to change the actual power of an airgun. Light weight can be an issue in terms of stability at higher velocities and the effect of wind is more pronounced.

lead free pellets

Best pellets for .22 air rifles

The simple answer is that many airguns will perform differently with different brands of pellets. A brand that may be supremely accurate in one rifle may be hopeless in another. Finding the right pellet for your gun is largely a matter of trial and error. You can narrow the field though by trying the most popular brands first, like those made by Air Arms, JSB and H&N for example.

Most accurate .22 pellets

The performance of pellets will vary slightly in different air rifles. A pellet that is accurate in one rifle might be less so in another rifle due to factors such as variances in the way barrels are manufactured. Generally speaking, round head pellets are more likely to be accurate and you should try different brands to see which suits your rifle best.

Best pellets for .177 air rifles

The simple answer is that many airguns will perform differently with different brands of pellets. A brand that may be supremely accurate in one rifle may be hopeless in another. Finding the right pellet for your gun is largely a matter of trial and error. You can narrow the field though by trying the most popular brands first, like those made by Air Arms, JSB and H&N for example.

Most accurate .177 pellets

The performance of pellets will vary slightly in different air rifles. A pellet that is accurate in one rifle might be less so in another rifle due to factors such as variances in the way barrels are manufactured. Generally speaking, round head pellets are more likely to be accurate and you should try different brands to see which suits your rifle best.

Pellet Brands

JSB Pellets

Czech based JSB Match Diabolo, to give the company its full name, is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of pellets with products for every discipline of airgun shooting. Its range covers every calibre from .177 to .35 with a broad selection of different designs and weights, including slugs, in each one. Its most popular pellets include JSB Exact, JSB Hades and JSB Straton.

JSB pellets

Air Arms Pellets

Air rifle manufacturer Air Arms also markets a range of pellets. Although relatively small comprising round head, pointed and heavy round head designs, the range is considered to be some of the best available. Available in .177, .22 and .25 calibres.

RWS pellets

H & N Pellets

Haendler & Natermann, better known as H&N Sport, can trace its origins back to 1825. Based in Hannoversch Münden in the Lower Saxony region of Germany, the company has a huge range of traditional lead pellets as well as lead-free options for hunters and competition shooters alike. Its Baracuda and Field Target Trophy lines are popular and include many different varieties. H&N Sport makes pellets in all calibres up to .35 with a range of designs, including slugs.

H & N pellets

Prometheus Pellets

A number of different manufacturers market pellets under the Prometheus range. Generally the design has a synthetic or plastic skirt which holds a lead or alloy head.

Prometheus

RWS Pellets

German company, RWS Munition is another prolific airgun pellet manufacturer with a wide selection of lead and lead-free products from .177 to .25 calibre. With designs ranging from flatheads to pointed and everything in between, RWS has pellets for both hunters and competition target shooters.

RWS pellets

Gamo Pellets

Spanish airgun manufacturer Gamo also markets a range of .177 and .22 pellets. It also offers a .458 big bore model for extremely high powered air rifles. The range covers many different shapes and designs and includes lead-free products as well.

Gamo pellets

Proshot Pellets

Spain based ProShot has a comprehensive range of .177 and .22 pellets in pointed, semi-pointed, flat head and round head designs. Its brands include ProShot Precision Air Dart, ProShot Precision Magnum and ProShot Precision Pacifier.

ProShot

Spitfire pellets

Airgun company SMK also markets a small range of .177 and .22 roundhead and pointed budget pellets in .177 and .22 calibre.

Spitfire pellets

Diablo pellets

Traditional roundhead pellets are often referred to as diablo design. Several manufacturers make pellets branded as diablos

Long range air rifle pellets

Though manufacturers often claim to make long range pellets, the reality is that each gun will perform better with some pellets than others and a pellet that is accurate at medium distance is likely to perform well at longer distances as well. Certainly, shooters will want to find one make and brand that suits their rifle and stick to it for all eventualities. Heavier pellets are more stable than lighter ones and less affected by wind. Owing to their improved ballistic coefficient and heavier weight, slugs are more consistently accurate at extreme range than pellets.

5.51, 5.52 or 5.53 pellets - which are best?

Measured in millimetres, .22 pellets are 5.5mm. Some manufacturers offer the same pellet in a variety of sizes usually 5.5, 5.1, 5.2 and 5.3mm. There is no hard and fast rule as to which is best. It’s simply a matter of trial and error to see if one size has an edge in consistency and therefore accuracy.

Air rifle pellet scales

Air rifle pellets are made in a range of weights. For example, .177 pellets are usually around eight grains and .22 pellets around 16 grains, though of course heavier and lighter versions are available. A consistent pellet to pellet weight is an important factor with regards to accuracy. As a result, many competition shooters go to the trouble of weighing individual pellets on highly sensitive scales.

Pellet scales

Air rifle cleaning pellets

Felt pellets can be used to clean the barrel of an air rifle as an alternative using a pull through kit. Using the size of felt pellet appropriate to the calibre of the rifle, they are first sprayed with gun oil before inserted into the breech and fired in a safe direction. Felt pellets are only suitable for pre-charged pneumatic rifles as firing a spring powered rifle without a lead pellet (also known as ‘dry firing’) can cause damage.

felt cleaning pellets

Air rifle pellet FAQs

What are air rifle pellets?

Pellets is the name given to the ammunition used in air rifles. Available in a range of calibres, they are typically made of lead.

Do air rifles come supplied with pellets?

Not usually, though some companies offer ‘combo’ deals comprising a rifle, scope and accessories including pellets.

Which shaped air rifle pellets are best?

It really depends on the pellets that best suit the rifle. Generally speaking, traditional round head or dome headed pellets are most consistently accurate.

Are air rifle cleaning pellets any good?

Felt pellets are an effective means of cleaning the bore of your barrel. Using a pull through kit is better though.

How to make air rifle pellets more accurate?

Check to identify any pellets that have been crushed or damaged in the tin. You can also weigh pellets to remove any that are too light/heavy, clean them to remove swarf and use a pellet sizer.

Do you need a license to buy air rifle pellets in UK?

You do not need a license if you are 18 years or older.

How far will a .22 air rifle pellet travel?

Much depends on conditions like the power of the air rifle, weight of the pellet, wind strength and direction and angle at which a shot is taken. Generally pellets are thought to have a range of around 400 metres.

How far will a .177 air rifle pellet travel?

Much depends on conditions like the power of the air rifle, weight of the pellet, wind strength and direction and angle at which a shot is taken. Generally pellets are thought to have a range of around 400 metres.

How fast do air rifle pellets travel?

Much depends on the power/calibre of the air rifle and weight of the pellet. A 12 ft. lbs rifle will shoot a 16 grain pellet at around 580 feet per second. A .177 rifle of the same power will fire an eight grain pellet at around 800 fps.

Can you reuse air rifle pellets?

No.