There are many different types of airgun pellets available in each caliber. Almost every pellet can be classified into one of four “food groups.” These are: wadcutter, hollowpoint, pointed, and domed. Inevitably, they’re going to be some pellets that don’t fit perfectly in just one group, but they are few and far between so we will focus on the mainstream variety of pellets on the market today.
Before we just jump in, I want to take a moment and talk about the importance of only using quality ammunition in your airgun. In the same way you wouldn’t want to put inferior motor oil into your engine, you don’t want to put inferior pellets into your airgun. It’s important that pellets be a consistent size and weight if you’re going to have any accuracy. Pellets that are inconsistent cannot only cause accuracy issues but can also potentially damage your spring powered airgun.
Now there are tools that you can use to measure and weigh each pellet such as a jeweler scale and a set of micrometers, but that gets to be a little bit ridiculous unless you are competing in an airgun competition. There’s a much easier way to get a basic understanding of how a tin of pellets is working in your spring powered airgun. When you insert the pellet into the breach you should have some resistance and this should remain constant between each pellet. The pellet should sit flush with the breach of the gun and not have any of the skirt protruding from the rear of the breach. If you find that some pellets are easier to seat than others out of the same tin than that tin of pellets is going to give you inconsistent accuracy. Lastly, always check the back of the pellet, called the pellet skirt, for deformities. Some pellets have thinner skirts they can be easily damaged and can cause accuracy issues.
With that out of the way, let’s go ahead and get started talking about pellet types and what they’re best used for.
A wadcutter pellet is distinguished by its perfectly flat head. These are typically used for precision target shooting as they leave a perfectly round hole in the target making it very easy to score on a shot card. These can also be effective on game at very close range, but because of their poor ballistic coefficient, their accuracy and energy tends to drop very quickly. Virtually every pellet manufacturer makes a wadcutter pellet. In fact, the pellet that I use as a baseline for all of my velocity tests is the RWS hobby pellet which is a relatively light weight, lead wadcutter pellet. It has a great uniform size and weight perfect for testing baseline velocities.
What distinguishes a hollowpoint is exactly as the name describes. The head of the pellet has a hollow void that is designed to enhance expansion on impact. These pellets are basically exclusively designed with hunting in mind. The concept is that as the pellet makes contact with its intended target, the hollow in the head of the pellet will cause the diameter of the pellet to increase making a larger wound channel, resulting in a more humane kill. Generally, hollowpoint pellets are effective at medium range and tend to become less effective and long range.
Pointed pellets are a class of pellet that has a sharp point for its head. These pellets promise enhanced penetration over accuracy or expansion. In my tests I have found pointed pellets to be the least accurate of all the pellet groups. However, there are always those exceptions where they proved to be the best in a particular airgun. The RWS super points are a good example of a pointed pellet that can surprise you. Since you never really know what’s going to be the best pellet in your airgun it’s always good to have a variety, and these should be a part of that inventory.
Our last pellet group is going to be the domed pellet group. These pellets are generally the most accurate and have the flattest trajectory because of their shape. They are designed to maintain energy and accuracy over a long range.
They are a good all around pellet regardless of your shooting discipline. For example, they are good for target practice, hunting, pest control, and general all-around plinking. There are many different types of domed pellets on the market. Some of my favorites are: JSB exact, H&N field target trophy, RWS Superdome, Crosman premiers, and the list goes on.
So how you get all of the four basic “food groups” into your pellet inventory without breaking the bank? Well, I’m a huge fan of the sampler packs offered by many manufacturers. Here are some examples, H&N has sample packs in both .177 caliber and .22 caliber, RWS has a great sampler in .177 caliber, and Gamo also has a .177 caliber sample pack. Picking these samplers up will allow you to test several different pellet shapes, sizes, and weights in your airgun for a fraction of what it would cost to buy individual tins of each. It’s a great way to find out what is going to work the best in your particular airgun.