I tend to talk about new guns, accessories, scopes, binoculars, shoot sticks, pellets, and hunting techniques. But this week I’m going to take a look at the steps some shooters take with respect to preparing and loading their pellets in order to achieve the best results; sizing, lubing, and seating the pellets in their guns. To be honest, while I’ve tried all these methods in the past, the manufacturing quality and tight tolerances of todays pellets generally negate the need …. at least for my style of shooting. If you’re a competitive shooter you may have a different opinion.
Pellet To Barrel Fit
Pellets come in many sizes, even for a specific caliber, and at in the extreme case a pellet can have such a loose fit that it falls through the barrel. If the pellets are too small it will bounce around in the barrel exiting the muzzle at different angles on every shot, which wrecks havoc on accuracy. Conversely, if the pellet is too large for the barrel it requires that it be forced into place when loading. When this occurs, the head of the pellet is deformed which negatively impacts its aerodynamic characteristics. This is the reason why premium pellet manufacturers go to great lengths to insure narrow production tolerances and consistent dimensions. Many serious target shooters actually go so far as to use a tool to size their pellets, though I must admit that I’ve never done this, but maybe if I was a competitive shooter. Some guns have a slightly over sized breech which facilitate quicker and easier loading, though may allow some blow-by which reduces the efficiency and velocity generated, but usually to a relatively small degree. Most of today’s guns have a choked barrel, which is a slight constriction at the muzzle of the barrel. This forces the skirt of the pellet to engage the rifling very closely as it is propelled out the barrel improving accuracy. Most skirted pellets will work in either choked or unchoked barrels as the malleable skirt will expand or compress to accommodate either configuration. However, solid bullet style projectiles may have to be for either a choked or unchoked barrel specifically.
Some shooters use a lubricant to improve performance and keep their guns barrels clean and rust free. There is some debate as to whether there is an advantage to lubricating pellets before shooting them, and my experienced has been mixed. In some of my guns I have noted a slightly increased velocity and tighter groups, in some guns no change, and in some a degradation of accuracy. I would suggest that if you do decided to lube your pellets, that the gun be tested for accuracy and over the chronograph for velocity measurement to see which way it takes the performance of your gun(s).
There are a number of commercial lubricants available, such as FP10, Napier Pellet Lube, and Wiscombe Airgun Honey. There are also a number of readily available alternatives such as Slick 50, transmission fluid, and some airgunners have even used furniture wax and reported good results, though I have shied away from this because of the high water content. I have been using a concoction that a friend of mine whips up, finding that it improves shot to shot consistency and giving a slight bump in velocity. The fluid is primarily mineral oil with a small amount of ingredients which reduce friction. This fluid will keep the rust out of your barrels, but don’t use too much or let it sit too long as it can become pretty gunky. An advantage of many of the commercial offerings is that they have ingredients that are used specifically to inhibit rust and break down any build up of gunge in the barrel Whether you use a commercial or home brewed lube, make sure it doesn’t include any type of oil that can combust and cause the gun to diesel. Regardless of what lubricant is used, the best way of transferring it to the pellets is to spay it lightly on a rag, then fold the rag over and rub the pellets between your hands. You only want a light coating, there is no need to saturate the pellets as this is in fact counterproductive. After the pellets have been lubricated, pour them back into the tin until your ready to shoot.
Twenty or thirty years ago the conventional wisdom was that you had to size your pellets to wring the best accuracy out of your guns. This was because the manufacturing process of the time did not produce the same uniform pellet as is achieved today. There are some brands of pellets that still have consistency problems and I think these can be improved by sizing. Using a pellet sizer provides a bit more uniformity, and when the size is matched to your airgun, they can reduce your groups a bit. However I don’t believe that this improvement is important in the context of a hunting gun and think simply buying better pellets makes sense.
Almost all high-quality adult airguns these days have choked muzzles, which squeezes the pellet down at the muzzle by one-half of a thousandth of an inch or so. This effectively sizes all the pellets which make the preliminary sizing operation redundant.
A pellet seater is simply a plastic or metal instrument that has a ball on the end of a spike a few inches in length. This is used after the pellet has been pressed in to the breach by hand. The ball is used to push the pellets skirt into the rifling. In most cases, the use of this device to push the pellet deeper into the rifling results in a better air-seal between the pellets skirt improving the consistency and accuracy yielded by their guns. This can also result in a slight bump in the power output of the gun, which to North American shooters is of little relevance, but to shooters in other countries can be the difference between the legal or illegal power output.
The seater I use is a little plastic gizmo that I picked up attached as a free give-away to an airgun magazine I bought while on a business trip to the UK, however it is easy to make one or use something like a plastic swizzle stick. Obviously, a seater only works with a single shot gun, and the loading port design of even some single shots will preclude the use of the seater. The net improvement may be outweighed by the extra step in loading when in the field hunting. It is worth a try in your favorite hunting gun so you can make an informed decision as to if you want to use one or not. I don’t use the seater when hunting, however I will use it in some guns when bench testing to wring the best accuracy possible.