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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Arms, Ammo, and Accuracy

In the entire world of guns I doubt any arm is as picky about it’s ammunition as is an air gun.  Any centerfire rifle I own (and I own a bunch) will shoot acceptably with any off the shelf ammo I buy.  Any centerfire pistol will do the same.  I’d be willing to wager that if we drove to Fort Sill Oklahoma and asked the artillery units if their Howitzers were picky about ammo they’d give us a resounding “no.”  Heck...I bet even Apache attack helicopters can be fed any 30mm ammo in the supply chain and it will work just fine.  Ever heard an M1A1 tank crew complain that “these 105mm shells won’t group worth a flip.” haven’t.  Perhaps because they don’t need groups of 105’ usually does the trick...but I digress.  

When it comes to air guns’s a very different deal.  

How many people have come home with a new air gun and a tin of pellets only to be disappointed when the gun pukes atrocious groups all over the paper at 10 or 15 yards.  Heaven forbid they step it out to 20 or 25 yards.  

The natural human reaction at this point is to blame the gun.  “Man, what a piece of junk!” they might say.  Many will return the gun to the store, swearing to never buy that brand again.  Others will keep it and just cuss it as long as they own it.  A much smaller group though will see this poor performance for what it generally is...the first step in your search for the holy grail...the perfect pellet for your particular gun!

Allow me to ask you a personal question...did you find your wife on the first date with a girl that you ever had?  Almost universally the answer to that question is “no”.  You didn’t find your perfect mate on the first random cast you took.  It probably took a whole lot of tries before  you found “the one.”

So it generally goes with finding the perfect mate for your air gun.  Guns can be picky about which pellets you match them up with.  Some guns like light pellets, others heavy, still other prefer a certain shape above all else.  The  first thing you need to understand is that you’ll have to experiment with different pellets before you find the right one for your gun.  The odds of you printing excellent groups with the first random pellet you buy at the store are pretty slim.  When you buy your new air gun, accept the fact that there will be some trial and error experimentation to find the right ammo.  Heck...embrace get to shoot a whole bunch for cheap!  

Many guns that are declared garbage, or junk, or even worse by their owners, could be absolute tack drivers once the proper pellet is found.  I’m not kidding you when I say that a gun can look defective based on the patterns it throws with one ammo, and look like a highly tuned and accurized machine with another pellet.

When you buy a new air gun, commit to trying a half dozen or more pellets to see what it likes the best.  Several manufacturers sell “sampler” packets that contain a small variety of pellets in one box.  This allows you to minimize the expense of your search.  It’s no fun buying 500 of one type of pellet only to find out that it’s not “the one” after firing the first 10 rounds...leaving you with 490 pellets you won’t use.

I had always heard this advice and I knew in theory that it was probably true...but eventually I had my turn at bat.  I got a gun that didn’t shoot right.  At 25 yards the gun was all over the 5.5 inch target...heck sometimes it didn’t even hit the target.  Not to worry though...I know about sampler packets and I was convinced I’d have the problem solved in short order.

I first went through a 4 pellet sampler from Crosman.  Nothing printed well.  That was surprising, I figured one of those would easily print good groups as I’ve always had good luck with Crosman Premiers.  Oh well, off to the next sampler...this one from RWS.  I went through perhaps 5 or 6 more pellets...with no luck.  The patterns were terrible through the gun.  I had yet another sampler packet, this one from H&N.  History has proven to me that of all the pellets in the world...the H&N Baracuda should print a respectable group for me...and it didn’t even come close.  All told I went through 18 different pellets of various makes, shapes, and weights...and I hadn’t found a single pellet that the gun could shoot well.  

Most people would’ve given up on the first or second pellet.  Many more would’ve given up by the sixth.  Not many would’ve stuck around til the tenth.  But my goodness...what type of fool would stick around til the eighteenth pellet?!?!  A man possessed with a burning desire to find the truth, that’s who.

At first it looked like I had exhausted all of my options.  The pellet list looked like an all-star lineup of great pellets...I used nothing buy high quality ammo from a wide range of manufacturers.  However...looks can be deceiving.  With a little help from a friend I learned that I had not really covered as much ground in my testing as I had previously thought.  All of those 18 pellets had one thing in common...they all had a head size of 5.50 mm.  My friend suggested that I try a different head size.  

Many shooters don’t realize that not all .22 caliber pellets are the same diameter.  You can get .22 pellets in a range of head sizes.  For example, you can log on to Pyramyd Air right now and find .22 pellets with head sizes that range from 5.50 to 5.55 mm.  

Air gun barrels aren’t all produced to exact specifications...there is always going to be some variance from barrel to barrel.  With this in mind I decided to make one final push in my bid for accuracy.  I ordered two more tins of with a 5.51 mm head size, and another with 5.53.  If these didn’t work I would take the gun apart, make a trip to Mordor, and do my best Bilbo Baggins impersonation by throwing the pieces into the Crack of Doom so the gun could never curse mankind again. 

The result however, was astounding.  After weeks of tinkering with this gun, weeks of frustration, weeks of research...the answer was plain to see.  The first group I shot with the 5.51 mm head size showed an almost unbelievable result.  My groups prior to this had ranged all over the paper...rarely putting more than 2 pellets touching, and frequently sending flyers off the target all together.  My first group of 5.51mm head size had all pellets touching in one ragged hole.  

I stood there in utter disbelief.  The answer had been air gun had found it’s mate for had found “the one.”

I wanted to stop right then, but I had an unopened tin of 5.53mm heads that I hadn’t shot...and if 5.51 tightened it up this much...I had to know what 5.53mm would do.

I loaded a magazine and began shooting.  The more I shot the more the group opened up.  It appears that 5.51 (and maybe 5.52) was the ticket.  I know that 5.50 and 5.53 are the boundaries for this gun.  The groups you see in this article prove that.  Now that I know the head size constraint, I can start to play with shapes and weights inside these boundaries to see if I can dial it in any tighter.

If I had begun my testing by including various head sizes I’d have discovered this much sooner and with less wear-and-tear...but such is live and you learn. 

So the lesson I hope to leave you with is that if your gun doesn’t shoot great with the first pellet you try...relax...that’s totally normal.  In fact you might not expect to see it shoot great groups until you’ve tried half a dozen or more.  Just stick with it, use sample packs and experimentation as your guides...they will lead you to “the one.”

All of the groups below were shot at 25 yards with the same gun, from the same rest, by the same shooter, in the same calm-wind conditions.  The ONLY variable in this process was the pellet.

8 shots with Baracuda Extreme 5.50 mm.  This is garbage.  It is a useless, random group of holes.

8 shots with Beeman Devestators 5.50 mm.  This doesn't inspire confidence.

8 shots with Baracuda Green 5.50 mm.  Closer...but no cigar.

8 shots with Baracuda 5.51 we have a group to start working with!!!

Just to be thorough, and 8 shot group of 5.53 mm head is opening back up.