If lead pellets are the most accurate and best for airgunners, why do we need lead-free options? Well, some states have passed laws banning lead hunting ammo of any kind. Additionally, because of the concern over the toxicity of lead ammo, many youth shooting programs have been shelved as they simply can’t compete using lead-free alternatives. At least that’s how things looked a few years ago.
Lead-Free Ammo Options Yesterday
If we look back to the mid-2000’s, there were very limited lead-free options for airgunners. Most choices centered around Sabot ammo with plastic husks topped with some sort of metal insert. A good example that still seems to be available is the Crosman Red Flight. The problem with this type of lead-free airgun pellet is that they were terribly inaccurate. They may work in a pinch up close, but anything past 5 or 10 yards and you were out of luck.
Crosman wasn’t the only company to give this concept a try. Gamo had their “lethal” pellets that were incredibly lightweight, which produced some impressive FPS numbers but failed on accuracy. Given that most of these lead-free pellets were marketed as hunting pellets, it’s no wonder they never went truly mainstream. If you don’t have accuracy, then how can you hunt effectively?
Gamo continues to produce a line of lead-free pellets in their PBA line. PBA stands for Performance Ballistic Alloy. These ultra-light pellets are what Gamo uses to get their max FPS numbers for marketing. The focus is not on accuracy but rather on how fast they can get them to fly out of the barrel. And Gamo is not the only company that follows this trend. When looking at an airgun spec sheet, pay close attention to the disclaimers next to the FPS claims. Most of the time, the highest number will have something next to it stating that it was achieved using lead-free, i.e. alloy pellets. Unfortunately, most manufacturers keep the pellet that was used to get those numbers private. Gamo is an exception to that rule. Nearly all their max FPS numbers are achieved using their PBA Platinum pellet. While still not a good measure, at least you know what was used in testing and can purchase that exact pellet if you want to do your own testing.
Lead-free Starts to Turn the Corner
Let’s jump to the late 2010’s. Watching more and more youth shooting programs close, one company sought to tackle making a truly accurate match-grade lead-free pellet, and the GTO line from Predator Pellets was born. This initial offering was the GTO .177 match wadcutter, which not only equaled lead pellets for accuracy, but in some cases, proved to be more accurate. Predator Pellets, armed with the experience and proof that lead-free could be as accurate as lead, began creating other lead-free options.
Lead-free for Today’s Airgunner
After the success of the GTO Match pellet, Predator Pellets set out to create a lead-free precision and hunting pellet, and the GTO Domed pellet was born. The GTO domed hunting pellet is available in .177, .22, and .25 calibers and not only delivers higher FPS than most lead pellets and comparable accuracy, but does so even at longer ranges.
The success of the GTO line of pellets encouraged other manufacturers to pick up the lead-free torch. H&N for example, now has an impressive array of lead-free offerings. The most significant difference between the GTO and H&N pellets vs. the Gamo and Crosman pellets is their focus on accuracy over velocity. If you want to achieve max FPS, something like the Gamo PBA Platinum pellet is a top choice. But if you are looking for accuracy and hunting performance, you need more weight for flight stability and energy on target.
Last Words on Lead-free… For Now…
Lead-free pellets are still a difficult sell amongst airgunners. Lead pellets are cheaper, and most perform better than their lead-free counterparts. But at least we have options. One nut that has yet to be cracked is an accurate lead-free slug. Predator Pellets teased us a few years back with a prototype of a lead-free knockout slug, but that has yet to come to market. Hopefully, it won’t be too long before we’ll have even more great lead-free options.