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Ammo Comparison - Pellets Vs. BBs

What's the Difference?

Pellets and BBs are very different from each other. Each ammo type has it's uses and in this article we will describe the differences between the two, but before we do we also want to set the stage by briefly outlining the different gun types.

Pellet Guns vs BB Guns

The easiest definition is:

  • A bb gun shoots round, metal bbs
  • A pellet gun shoots metal pellets that typically have a head and a cone shaped skirt

There are many different types of metals used in bbs and pellets which we're going to explore further.


Where did the term "BB Gun" come from anyway? From Wikipedia: "While it is often stated that "BB" stands for "ball bearing", this is not the case. The original BB guns used the BB sized lead shotgun shot, midway between B and BBB size. BB shot was nominally 0.180 inches (4.57 mm), but tended to vary considerably in size due to the high allowable tolerances for shotgun shell use. Around 1900, Daisy, one of the earliest makers of BB guns, changed their BB gun bore diameter to .175 inches (4.45 mm), and began to market precision made lead shot specifically for their BB guns. They called this "air rifle shot", but the "BB" name was already well established, and everyone continued calling the guns "BB guns" and the shot "BB shot" or just "BBs"."

BBs are usually made of steel and therefore tend to ricochet much more than pellets. BBs are usually used for plinking in the backyard. Because BBs are round they are not very aerodynamic and therefore are not very accurate which make them less than ideal for hunting or pest control. BBs are best used for recreational shooting and just having fun. There are some really innovative and cool bb guns on the market today. The EAA Drozd bb gun is a select fire air pistol that shoots BBs in 6 round burst, 3 round burst or single shot semi-automatic. With the switch set to 6 round bursts its like firing a full auto machine gun and is a lot of fun. In general bb guns are not very accurate but Daisy has manufactured one bb gun that claims to be the most accurate bb gun in the world. Check out the Daisy Avanti 499 bb gun.

BBs should always be shot in a safe location where ricochet is not a problem. If you shoot a BB at concrete or a hard surface it is sure to ricochet which can be very dangerous. Pellet traps are available to make shooting BB guns safe. However, many traps are made for pellets only and are not designed to stop the ricochet of a BB. Use the Crosman 850 target trap for safe bb gun shooting. It is designed for both bbs and pellets.


Pellets evolved after BBs and most pellets today are made in the Diablo shape.

From Wikipedia: "The diablo pellet can have a flat, round, hollow or pointed tip, followed by a taper to a thin waist. From the waist back, the pellet is hollow, and flares out to full diameter. The head, or solid part in front of the waist, is usually sized to fit the bore just touching the rifling. This keeps the pellet centered in the bore, while keeping the friction low. The skirt is thin and made of a soft, deformable material, usually lead, although some pellets use tin or even plastic. When fired, the skirt will obturate to fit the bore and provide a good seal, and engage the rifling, thereby providing a spin. In a smoothbore barrel, the skirt will still flare to provide a tight seal, but since there is no rifling the pellet will not spin. In this case, the solid head in the front and hollow skirt in back will prevent the pellet from tumbling and provide some accuracy."

Pellets are generally made of lead or a mixture of lead and other metals. Since lead is a soft material the chances of ricochet with a pellet are a lot less than a BB. Pellets do ricochet but most of the energy is lost upon impact. Pellets have a much more aerodynamic shape which makes them extremely accurate. Pellets come in all different shapes, weights, and sizes. There are superdome, superpoint, super-h point, wadcutters (flat head) and variations on each. Generally a domed or pointed pellet is best for hunting. Wadcutters or flat-heads are best for target shooting. Using a high quality pellet really does make a difference in how accurate your airgun can be. Each air rifle is different. It is best to try a variety of high quality pellets such as RWS, Crosman, or Beeman to see which type your air rifle likes the best. A lot of competition shooters swear by the Crosman Premier pellets (in the brown box) and claim them to be the most accurate. Also, the uniformity of a pellet will affect accuracy. High quality pellets are manufactured in such a way that each pellet in the tin will be uniform to the next ensuring accuracy from shot to shot. If you are just shooting for fun or plinking in the back yard any pellet will do but if accuracy is important then use a high quality premium pellet for best results. I personally like RWS pellets and find them to be accurate and uniform. Never use off brand pellets in your airgun as there is a good chance that you will damage your airgun. Airgun Depot only sells pellets from respected and proven manufacturers.

Gamo has recently released a new pellet called PBA (performance ballistic alloy) which is made of a lightweight ballistic alloy material. PBA ammo is very lightweight which allows it to achieve 20 - 25% increase in speed over lead pellets. You do lose some accuracy with PBA ammo because it tends to wobble at supersonic speeds but at short range this pellet can be a highly effective pellet for hunting. Gamo has even taken down a 200 lb wild bore with 3 shots using the Gamo Hunter Extreme and PBA ammo.

The weight of a pellet is also an important factor when selecting a pellet for your air rifle or pistol. As a general rule, low powered airguns require a lighter pellet because they lack the force necessary to propel heavier pellets effectively. You should stick with pellet weighing 6 - 8 grains for low powered airguns. The rule is true in reverse for high powered air rifles. High powered magnum air rifles can propel pellets up to 1600 FPS. At these speeds light weight pellets don't stand a chance. Use a heavier pellet (7.9 grain or heavier) to achieve the best accuracy in a high power air rifle.