What’s The Best Airgun Pellet For Hunting?
In the second part of this mini-series, we’ll answer the question “What’s the best airgun pellet for hunting?”
As a reminder, this article that was originally generated by Airgun Depot. The company graciously gave approval for it to be published in HAM in a slightly modified form.
The first part covered pellets for target shooting and plinking.
Thanks Airgun Depot!
Best Hunting Pellet Choices: Domed Pellets
For hunting, airgunners usually fall into one of two camps. One group desires the gun/pellet combination that shoots the fastest. The other swears by one specific pellet or another in terms of taking the game of their choice.
Below, JSB King Heavies are a great long range hunting pellet in .25 caliber if you have a very powerful air rifle.
So let’s look at some of the pellets that can be used for hunting. These range all the way from multi-purpose domed designs to two-part pellets. There are also frangible or semi-frangible pellets that are designed to mushroom on impact with devastating results.
Here’s my opinion. Accuracy is king when hunting with an airgun! Placing that pellet on target at a lower velocity will always be more lethal than missing the target at a higher velocity.
Domed pellets typically have good penetration but limited expansion, as we can see from a comparison of these H&N Field Target Trophy domed pellets. The left one has retrieved from firing into a ballistic soap block. The right pellet is unfired.
Remember the saying from the firearm world? A hit with a .22 is better than a miss with a .44!
Also a heavier pellet is generally more desirable for hunting as more energy will be transmitted by the pellet into the target on impact.
In .177, heavier pellets would weigh about 10 grains or higher. For a .22 pellet, figure about 18 grains or more for a good heavy weight pellet.
The weight of a heavier pellet allows hunters to use the higher-velocity guns on the market, yet still keep the pellet below the speed of sound for optimum accuracy. This results in the most foot-pounds of energy (Ft/Lbs) being delivered to the target.
You can take a high-powered .177 caliber breakbarrel and shoot a very light pellet of 6 grains or so out of it, and you will have some awesome velocity. That pellet will doubtless break the sound barrier and have a supersonic crack that makes the gun sound like a firearm!
Below, some lead-free pellets have great manufacturing quality and accuracy potential when shot at an appropriate Muzzle Velocity.
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H&N Baracuda Green Pellets .22 Cal 12.35 Grain
This is a basic issue with alloy – or other non-lead pellets – when fired at high velocity. Without doubt, the pellet will end-up downrange somewhere. But it’s most unlikely you will be pleased with the accuracy…
When that light pellet breaks the sounds barrier (at around 1100 FPS), the sonic wave plays havoc with its flight path. If you take that same high-powered .177 caliber breakbarrel and shoot a much heavier pellet out of it, the resulting reduction in velocity will translate into superior accuracy. This of course is what allows the hunter to hit his target in the desired kill zone.
I have hunted with a variety of pellet types in different airguns that range in power from about 600 fps to some real barn burners pushing pellets over 1100 fps. That experience has shown me that when I am pushing a pellet at top speeds, I get better accuracy with heavy, round-nosed pellets, regardless of the caliber.
If I lower the velocity down into a more sedate range of 750-900 fps, many of the mid-weight pellets such as the JSB Exact Diabolo and H&N Field Target Trophy provide excellent results.
Note that this advice about FPS and accuracy exactly corresponds with that determined in the Big HAM Accuracy Review that was based on the results of HAM test reviews.
Best Hunting Pellet Choices: Hollowpoint Pellets
Hollow point pellets are available in most popular calibers. They provide a second option for the airgun hunter.
But in order to take advantage of the hollow-points design, you need to use them in the higher-powered airguns that push the pellet along at a really good pace. Without the higher velocity, the expansion of hollow-point pellets is negligible, and you aren’t really gaining any advantage over a domed pellet in terms of knock-down power.
Below, the Crosman Premier Hollow point is a popular, value-priced pellet.
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Crosman Premier Hollowpoint 14.3 Grain, 500 Ct
At low power, the hollow-point pellet hits much like the wadcutter. That isn’t necessarily bad since the flat impact surface translates excellent force to the game you are shooting. And if a particular brand of hollow-point pellet shoots best in your airgun, by all means use that one!
Best Hunting Pellet Choices: Frangible And Two-Part Pellets
Then there’s the dedicated hunting pellets that you’ll find available from many manufacturers.
One type uses a separate tip that separates from the pellet body upon impact. Well-known examples are the Predator Polymags and H&N Hornet (below).
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H&N Hornet 16 Grain Pellets .22 Cal 200 Ct
The other – the JSB Hades is a notable example – uses a molded pattern head that causes the pellet to mushroom or shatter in the target. Photo below.
Both these types of pellets aim to transmit the maximum amount of energy into the target upon impact. The result is a devastating wound that achieves a one-shot, ethical kill.
Below we see below, Hades pellets mushroom on impact.
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And slugs? Well, that’s another, entirely different story…
So what is the best airgun pellet for hunting?
In the end, that’s down to your preference. But you can use the advice above for general guidance.
Keep in mind the target you are shooting, the power of your airgun, and the type of penetration desired. Then you can begin to zero-in on the type pellet you will want to use.
Also each individual airgun is different so its best to get several different types of pellets and test them in your particular air rifle or pistol and see what it likes best. The most important thing is to test for accuracy!
For ethical airgun hunting, you’ll need to find a pellet that works with you and your gun to deliver the level of accuracy need at your maximum hunting range. Achieve that and you’ve found the best airgun pellet for hunting, for you…