Airgun Slugs, The Ammunition Of The Future?
There’s no doubt that airgun slugs are a hot topic right now. Compared to traditional diabolo – waisted – airgun pellets, airgun slugs offer improved accuracy at long ranges, combined with greater downrange impact due to a higher Ballistic Coefficient.
At the recent 2019 Rocky Mountain Airgun Challenge, HAM Publisher Stephen Archer had the opportunity to talk to Florian Schwartz, the CEO of airgun pellet manufacturer H&N Sport. That’s Florian, below. Of course the topic was slugs!
Here’s how the conversation went…
Hard Air Magazine: Florian, it’s great to see you again here in Utah! As you know, there’s two competitions here specifically for slug shooting. Airgun slugs are obviously gaining a lot in popularity. What’s H&N doing about slugs?
Florian Schwartz: Steve, it’s great to see you again also! Maybe we should start at the beginning and explain what slugs are and how they differ from diabolo pellets…
As everyone knows, traditional airgun pellets have a distinct head, waist and skirt. That familiar diabolo shape! Airgun slugs are different because they have no waist. In fact, they have quite a similar shape to the bullets fired in cartridge firearms.
Slugs are longer than diabolo pellets and they are heavier. Although they can be fired in conventional airguns, they work best in barrels which have been specially developed for slug use.
H&N Sport has been producing lead bullets for reloading firearms ammunition for over 30 years – along with airgun pellets, of course. This means that we have a huge amount of experience in designing and manufacturing ammunition that’s extremely similar to slugs.
Hard Air Magazine: It’s great to know that H&N has so much background experience. But why slugs now?
Florian Schwartz: Obviously we’ve been looking at slugs for airgun use for some time. However, we clearly confirmed market demand for slugs at the January 2019 British Shooting Show. Airgun shooters obviously want slugs and they want them now!
As a result, we prioritized slug development as a key component of our product mix. Fortunately, we have recently installed a 100 Meter indoor test range in our factory featuring an automated electronic assessment system. This is ideal for our slug development activities…
So we made some initial designs and showed these at the IWA OutdoorClassics show in Germany in March (above). The reception to our initiative was overwhelming – you even reported about it in Hard Air Magazine!
Hard Air Magazine: So what’s happened in the months since then?
Florian Schwartz: Actually, Steve, quite a lot!
We have been working with FX Airguns on slug gun development. FX SmoothTwist barrels are specifically designed to shoot pellets – much improved performance is available with a dedicated slug barrel and FX is working with us on that.
Basically, the airgun’s magazine has to be capable of accepting the projectile. And then the barrel requires a much faster twist rate than is usable for pellets.
We’re supplying FX with airgun slugs for their development and testing programs. There’s no doubt that slugs can be a real game-changer for airguns!
Hard Air Magazine: Can you tell us more about how slugs perform in air rifles?
Florian Schwartz: Because the ballistics of slugs are so different from diabolo pellets, we see some strange results…
Groups shot at 100 Yards can be smaller than those at 50 Yards. Yes, it’s true! This is because the slug gains stabilization as it flies through the air.
Typically, slugs perform well in .22 and larger calibers.
In .22 caliber, slug guns need to produce a Muzzle Energy of 40 Joules or higher. We have achieved excellent results with Muzzle Velocities between 920 and 940 FPS in .22 caliber. So really they’re only for use in powerful PCP air rifles. But, of course, there’s more of these being introduced every month!
And because the Ballistic Coefficient for airgun slugs is much better than for traditional diabolo pellets, there’s much greater impact downrange. The trajectory is flatter and they’re less affected by crosswinds also.
Typically, we’re seeing Ballistic Coefficients of around 0.075 for .22 caliber slugs. This compares to a typical 0.033 for diabolo pellets like H&N Baracuda Match in the same caliber. That’s a HUGE difference!
This makes slugs ideal for hunting and long range target shooting. They could also be ideal for shooting reactive targets at variable distances. Just like the Speed Challenge we see here at the Rocky Mountain Airgun Challenge!
We’re working on .22 caliber slugs first with FX. Next will be .25 caliber. We expect to see similar benefits in larger calibers.
Hard Air Magazine: Are airgun slugs difficult to manufacture?
Florian Schwartz: Slugs need to be made on completely different machinery to diabolo pellets. In fact, the machinery is just like that for firearms bullets and we have it already.
The production process is also different to pellets. We have an huge expertise in bullet production which helps us a lot with slugs. So H&N is ideally-positioned to manufacture highly accurate airgun slugs in volume.
Because slugs are solid – without the flexible skirt of diabolo airgun pellets – the exact diameter becomes very critical. It’s very important to match the slug size exactly to the barrel’s bore diameter.
We also find that a special lead alloy is beneficial in manufacturing slugs. So there are many differences…
Hard Air Magazine: Do you have any other comments about airgun slugs?
Florian Schwartz: There’s no doubt that eye-popping accuracy is possible with airgun slugs fired from dedicated slug barrels from high power PCPs. We’re testing different slug designs and are very excited about future possibilities for this new airgun technology!
Hard Air Magazine: Florian, thanks for talking to us again. Now we’ll all understand a lot more about airgun slugs!