Can Air Rifle Pellets Be Traced?

Can Air Rifle Pellets Be Traced

If you own a handgun or another firearm, its barrel is rifled. This means it has grooves and spirals throughout. When shooting the gun, these markings are conveyed onto each bullet, making them identifiable and thus traceable. What about your air rifle? Can Air Rifle Pellets Be Traced?

While air rifle barrels also have grooves and spirals, pellets are not traceable in the same way as firearm bullets. Further, some air guns and rifles use pellets that are known as non-tracers. These are darker so the shooter can’t locate the pellets. 

In this article, we will discuss the basic tracing process of firearm bullets, then discuss if this is possible with air rifle pellets. We’ll also get into the difference between tracing and non-tracing pellets to dispel any confusion. Keep reading, as you won’t want to miss it!

How Are Firearm Bullets Traced?

When a firearm is produced, its barrel undergoes a process called rifling. With this, the manufacturer adds grooves and spirals to the barrel using electrolytes, swaging, and cutting.

Depending on the firearm in question, the grooves and spirals will look different. They always twist, but it can be in different directions and quantities. For example, a firearm may have as many as eight grooves and spirals as well as more or fewer.

If you shoot the firearm, the rifling details get transferred to the bullet. Since the rifling is one-of-a-kind, that makes your bullets traceable. In fact, in a situation where a crime is suspected, a criminal investigator could look into the bullet’s rifling to get a clue into which firearm the bullet came from. 

Yes, just from these grooves and marks alone is it possible to determine the firearm model and even the brand. As for linking that firearm to you specifically, a forensic examiner specializing in toolmarks and firearms would have to rely on a comparison microscope.

This tool allows the examiner to look at the bullets in much closer detail. They’d also use comparison bullets shot from the same suspected make and model of the gun and then pair it with the one you fired.

Since a comparison microscope has dual scopes, the examiner can compare and contrast the two bullets at once. The rifling on the two bullets should not be identical, although they may have similar markings.

This examination can point the criminal investigation team in the right direction for deducing whose firearm it may be. 

Can the Same Tracing Be Applied to Air Rifles, Can Air Rifle Pellets Be Traced?

Air rifles and guns have barrels that come rifled as well, as we said in the intro. There are several types of air gun rifling, including polygonal, microgrooving, and grooves and lands rifling. Let’s talk about these more now.

Polygonal Rifling

If your air rifle or firearm is capable of firing pellets and BBs, then that barrel should have polygonal rifling. Since the 19th century, this form of rifling has been a feature in air guns and rifles. 

The bore has a polygon shape carved into it, hence the name. When the rifling twists, the whole polygon does. Without any lands, the polygon shape remains intact.

That said, if you fire with lead pellets using an air rifle with microgrooving in the barrel, you get more accuracy than you do with one that has polygonal rifling. 

Microgroove Rifling

Speaking of microgrooving, the brand Marlin created and trademarked the word microgroove sometime in the 1950s, although this rifling also dates back to the 19th century.

With microgrooving, your air rifle’s barrel has a groove and spiral land pattern with a narrow width and lower land heights. 

Due to the design of the rifling, your pellets are less likely to deform upon firing. This can promote greater accuracy with your shots. Further, when the pellet is rifled, its resistance goes down.

This also allows it to create a more efficient bore seal as the seal’s width and depth lessens. 

Grooves and Lands Rifling

The same grooves and spiral lands we discussed in the last section can be applied to air rifle barrels as well. Well, not the exact same kind, as firearms and air guns are different from one another. 

With air rifles, the lands are cut into the ridges until the corners are squared off yet raised. These spirals have a twist rate, or the bore inches necessary for one full rotation around the projectile. For example, you can have a twist rate of 1:16 or one-in-sixteen, which you’ll see a lot in .22 air rifles. 

Just because rifling exists in both air guns and firearms does not necessarily mean it’s used the same way. As you can see from the above, rifling in air rifles and guns is more about accuracy when firing and less about identification. 

What Are Tracing Air Rifle Pellets and How Are They Different from Non-Tracing Pellets?

Now, here’s where it gets confusing, as there are many types of air rifle pellets on the market, including tracing and non-tracing pellets. To clear up any questions, we’ll go into detail on both pellet types now. 

Tracers or tracing pellets glow in the dark. This occurs due to charges, a type of device within the pellet that illuminates it as you fire. You can then easily see where the pellet is, as it’s lit up.

Available in both biodegradable and non-biodegradable forms, tracer pellets are ideal for air gun enthusiasts and hunters who shoot once the sun goes down. 

Most tracer units are found within the hop-up unit or magazine of the air gun and may even be obscured to look like a suppressor. 

Compare those to non-traceable pellets, which are just as the name implies. These are purposely made to be difficult to find. They don’t light up for one, but they’re also painted or tinged a dark hue so you can’t easily collect them or determine where they come from in the dark. 

Still, non-tracer pellets are not intended for nefarious use, such as criminal activity. Instead, if competing with other hunters, these pellets obscure your pellet path so you’re harder to find.

That said, non-tracer pellets can be more harmful than helpful for some air rifle enthusiasts. After all, not being able to see your own pellet trail can sometimes be problematic. Also, non-tracer pellets are notorious for being poor quality. 

Safe Shooting Rules and Tips

Just because air rifles can’t be traced the same way firearms can doesn’t give you a license to get reckless. Make sure you always keep these rules and safety tips in mind as you fire your air rifle, be that at a firing range or on your own property.

Read my blog on some top safety tips for you to keep in mind.

Never Aim the Muzzle at Another Person

From yourself to anyone else you’re shooting with, keep the air rifle muzzle away from them. Even if you’re not being serious, others might not know it’s a joke.

You could accidentally shoot your rifle and hurt and possibly even kill someone else. If not, the other air rifle owner might take your actions as a threat and retaliate as appropriate.

Protect Your Ears and Eyes

We’ve discussed this on the blog before, but air rifles can be hard on the eyes and ears. Some louder air gun models when fired repeatedly or over long periods could possibly put you at risk for hearing damage. 

A stray pellet, misfire, or other incident could cause severe eye injuries and even potential blindness, so keep your eyes safe as well.

Use Your Air Rifle Safety

Air rifles and guns have a safety feature for a reason. This is intended for when you’ll soon fire your rifle but haven’t yet. Whether you’re discussing hunting strategy, waiting for game, or taking a break, put the safety on in any of your downtime. 

Don’t Reuse Damaged Pellets

If your pellets come out deformed, squished, or otherwise wrecked, they have no more use to you. If you try to cram them back into the barrel, they could get stuck. Trying to dislodge them may cause serious injury, so avoid the whole hassle in the first place.

Why you shouldn’t reuse pallets? I’ve written a more detailed blog post on this.

Prevent Ricochet

Ricochet occurs when you fire your air rifle on concrete and even the surface of water. As your pellet rebounds, its trajectory becomes difficult to ascertain. This could again lead to injury for yourself as well as other passersby. 

Only Fire in Clear Areas

In the excitement of hunting game, don’t forget to make sure the area around where you’ll shoot is clear. You don’t want any people around, so tell fellow hunters to clear the space. Also, avoid firing in environments that could cause ricochet or other hazardous situations. 


So can air rifle pellets be traced? Air rifles and firearms alike are both rifled. This process involves adding grooves and spirals to the gun’s barrel. For firearms, this can be for identification purposes, whereas with air rifles and guns, they’re rifled for more accurate shooting.

Tracer and non-tracer pellets exist, but it’s generally agreed upon that it’s much harder to trace air rifle pellets than firearm bullets.

Still, don’t get lax when you fire. In some states, air guns are treated as firearms, and so any crime committed with one could carry a serious punishment. 

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