Lead Free Airgun Pellets
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- Last updated: 26/09/2022
No level of shooting has been spared the ‘lead-free’ treatment and airgunners are now possibly being faced with a lead ban also. Where does this leave us in terms of viable lead-free options? Well, truthfully there is not a lot to choose from. There are a few manufacturers of lead-free pellets but lead pellets and airguns are synonymous with each other and the choice is huge, unlike lead-free. However, here are a selection of lead-free pellets I could source for review.
Most non-toxic pellets are a single component and profiled like their lead pellet counterparts i.e. H&N’s FTTs, but made from a Zinc alloy. Alternatively, they are made from a compressible synthetic body with an alloy head section, like the Prometheus.
What is common to both is the weight for the size of each calibre is lighter than its lead counterpart. For example, FTT lead weighs 8.6-grains in.177 and 14.8-grains in .22 but only 5.6-grains in .177 and 9.4-grains in .22 for their non-lead equivalents. It’s true that you can achieve some higher velocities with these lighter pellets but velocity is not everything, accuracy and consistency are.
BSA Greenstar pellets in 4.5mm/.177 weigh 6.64-grains and in 5.5mm/.22, they weigh 12.96-grains. This is your typical, domed-headed, waisted pellet that is made from a tin alloy and thus lead-free and eco-friendly. They are designed to mimic a standard airgun pellet in shape but are still lighter due to the material used.
Next up are the G1, G2 and G25 by Prometheus, who are probably chuckling to themselves as they were the first lead-free and synthetic pellet makers in the UK. The design sees an alloy head and synthetic skirt and therefore they are quite long for each calibre. The G1 is .177 calibre and weighs 8.02-grains, the G2 is .22 and weighs 17.15-grains and unsurprisingly, the G25 is in .25 calibre at 32.40-grains (see chart). You can get various other Prometheus pellets of differing weights and profiles but this was all I could muster at the time.
H&N FTT Green (Field Target Trophies) are a great pellet that in lead weighs 8.6-grains in .177 and 14.8-grains in .22. The non-toxic versions weigh 5.6-grains in .177 and 9.4-grains in .22. The overall length is 6.02mm in .177 and 6.52mm in .22, but their classic, domed and waisted design remains the same.
The H&N Barracuda is another classic H&N design. They are heavier than the FTTs, with the .177 weighing 6.4-grains and the .22, 12.4-grains. Overall length is 6.62 and 8.63mm, respectively. RWS has also released two lead-free variants; the Hyper dome and HyperMax.
The Hyperdome is a classic, domed and waisted pellet, now weighing 5.4-grains in .177 and 10.8-grains in .22. The HyperMax has a pointed design like the Superpoint and weighs 5.6-grains in .177 and 10.8-grains in .22. The overall length for both is 6.94mm in .177 and 8.24mm in .22.
I used a control sample of good old lead FFT pellets in both calibres to give a comparison between lead and non-lead pellets.
Lead is used for a reason, as it grips the rifling, deforms into the barrel dimensions and has enough weight for continued momentum. Tin-based pellets are pretty hard and tend to grip less in the rifling, which is why some rifled barrels in differing calibres shot the lead-free pellets better than others.
As expected, the traditional lead FTTs all shot very well. At 30 yards, 5-shot groups from the .177 Venom Varminter measured 0.55”, while the ones from the .22 Venom HW77 Hunter Custom measured 0.42”. Velocity and energy were equally as good, with 782 fps | 11.68 ft/lbs and 586 fps | 11.29 ft/lbs, respectively.
Switch to the non-lead variants and you will see that the .22 calibre pellets achieved a better accuracy all around from my test rifles. The best accuracy went to the H&N FTT Green .22 with 0.50”, 30 yard groups for 741 fps | 11.46 ft/lbs. Second best were the H&N Baracuda Green .22 at 638 fps | 11.21 ft/lbs with 5-shots in 0.55” - impressive.
The .177 variants came third with the H&N FTT Green producing 0.70” groups at a speedy 974 fps | 11.80 ft/lbs. Fourth place went to another .22 pellet, the RWS Hyper Domes, which produced 0.75” groups and 664 fps | 10.58 ft/lbs.
Other than the H&N FTT Green .177 pellets, the other .177 non-lead were a bit hit and miss. Both the H&N Baracuda Green and RWS Hyperdomes shot 0.95” 30 yard groups at 877 fps | 10.93 ft/lbs and 966fps | 11.19 ft/lbs, respectively. The RWS HyperMaxes shot some 0.90” groups but often they had a big flier opening the groups to over 1.25”. All high velocity but I suspect not engaging the rifling so well as the slower .22 variants.
As you can see, the Prometheus all had larger groups and again they were either loose or tight in the rifle’s barrel, which certainly hampered both velocity and accuracy. Best were the Prometheus G2 at 551 fps | 11.7 ft/lbs and 0.85”. Yes, the G25 is really a FAC pellet due to its heavier, 31.8-grains weight, and only the Eliminator shot reasonably well with 1.0” groups and 576fps | 23.4 ft/lbs. I did notice some of the Prometheus were tight on the plastic skirt and then a good push and they engaged the rifling OK. But I did have two shed their skirts from the head section as I found them rattling in my sound moderator!
The BSA Greenstar are really nice pellets, showing great consistency for weight and shape. Again, I had better groups with the .22 calibre than the .177s, a trend it seems with lead-free. The best groups went to the .22s with 0.65” at 630 fps | 11.6 ft/lbs - very healthy. The .177 were shifting at 814 fps but only produced 9.4 ft/ lbs of energy (light pellet) and 0.90” groups. I had several 4-shot groups of 0.75” which were then spoilt by a flier. I did try the .22 Greenstar in another HW80 with similar results, and also an Eliminator FAC which produced 24.5 ft/lbs and 0.65” groups. I guess the extra power splayed out the skirt a bit more to engage the rifling better?
One worry with lead-free pellets is that they will lose velocity and thus energy at normal air rifles ranges when compared to standard leadtype pellets. So, is this true?
I took the best lead-free tested, which were the H&N FTT Green .22, and compared their trajectory to that of a lead FTT pellet. The Ballistic Coefficient (BC) of the lead FTT is 0.0190, whilst the lead-free equivalent is 0.016. Note there is a 5.4-grain difference between the 14.8-grain lead FTT and the non-lead 9.4-grain FTT pellet. (See Drop Table)
You can see that the lead version of the FTT retains more energy at 50 yards (5.5 ft/lbs compared to 4.9 ft/ lbs). The FTT Green starts out fast at 741 fps but that’s due to the 9.4-grain weight difference between the pellets. Despite the non-lead Green FTT having less energy at 50 yards, because it started out a lot faster, it did shoot flatter at -4.07” at 50 yards, compared to the lead FTT of -6.54”. Also, the wind drift figures show that there is not a lot to compare between them! However, I have found that when out in the field the lead-free always seem to drift more and drop more than the calculated results suggest, so I will test these pellets for BC values out of different guns to double-check.
Just to see, I did shoot some of the better lead-free pellets in a Falcon FAC-rated air rifle and here are the results. (See FAC-Rated Table)
As already mentioned, lead is used for a reason. Some of the non-toxic designs do not have enough lubricity and rifling engagement for correct sealing or stability, but these tested lead-free varieties shot very well indeed at FAC levels. In fact, I think that extra kick up the rear from the more powerful air discharged, expands the rear skirt better for a more consistent sealing between pellet and bore.
It was interesting to find that some of the lighter, non-lead pellets struggled to get near to 31 ft/lbs, compared to the standard lead pellets, except for the heavier Baracuda Green, as expected. I shot some Baracuda lead pellets for comparison at 893fps | 32.3 ft/lbs and managed some 0.451” groups. I also used some lead FTTs at 944 fps | 28.5 ft/lbs, which produced some 0.598”, 30 yard, 5-shot groups.
Well, there are the results, make of them what you will. Personally, I am sticking to the lead pellets until I am forced not to. Availability and price are another factor, with a tin of 250 typical FFT lead pellets going for £6.49, whilst the equivalent lead-free FFT Green are £12.99 for 200 pellets!
Every rifle is different, so I would buy some of the sampler packs you can buy online now and suss out what and what does not work in your gun.
Uttings - Airgun Pellets - www.uttings.co.uk
C H Weston’s - Airgun Pellets, Secondhand
Guns - www.airgunexpress.co.uk
FA Andersons - Airgun Pellets, Secondhand
Guns - www.faanderson.co.uk
BSA Guns - BSA Pellets - www.bsaguns.com
John Rothery - H&N pellets – www.bisley-uk.com
RUAG - RWS pellets - www.ruag.com/en
Hawke Optics - Hawke Scopes - uk.hawkeoptics.com
Prometheus Pellets - www.ihunter.co.uk
Pellets - www.farmcottagebrands.com