On this blog, we’ve discussed both air gun pellets and BBs, but have you ever wondered, what’s the difference between air gun pellets and BBs?? After all, the guns that fire these types of ammunition can look very similar. Are air gun pellets and BBs more alike than you thought?
Air gun pellets and BBs are very much two different kinds of ammunition. What is the difference between air gun pellets and BBs? What separates one from the other is:
- Magazine fit
If you’re new to the world of air guns, we encourage you to check out this article. In it, we’ll dive deep into the differences between air gun pellets and BBs.
Whether you decide an air rifle or a BB gun is best for you, you’ll have a better idea of which you want by the time you’re done reading.
What’s the Difference Between Air Gun Pellets and BBs?
Air Gun Pellets
The first and most apparent difference between air gun pellets and BBs is their shape. There are several varieties of air gun pellets, including slug pellets, diabolo pellets, hollow point, pointed, domed, and wadcutter pellets.
Here’s an overview of these.
- Slug pellets: A slug pellet has more of the traditional bullet shape or one that’s cylindro-conoidal. Bullets in this style have existed since 1832, when Captain John Norton first made them. Cylindro-conoidal ammunition has a base that’s hollow for bullet expansion when fired. Slug pellets feature these as well as a cannelure, or a type of bullet channel or groove. Some people liken slug pellets to Minie balls, which are not ball-shaped despite their name.
- Diabolo pellets: Then there are diabolo pellets, also known as wasp waist pellets. These have a more distinct shape compared to slug pellets. A diabolo pellet is named after a type of prop used in juggling and circus performances. It consists of two cups attached to resemble an hourglass. With a diabolo pellet, the waist is slim, the skirt (or the rear of the pellet) is hollow with thin walls and a shape like a funnel, the end profile has a cone or pointed end (as well as being hollow), and the nose is round.
- Hollow point pellets: Next, we’ve got hollow point pellets. These have a broader base, but the main design flourish is in the head. The rounded shape boasts a cavity in the center that’s hollowed out. When you’re firing an air gun with hollow point pellets, the head can expand. If hunting, this is ideal.
- Pointed pellets: With a more straightforward design and shape compared to the other air gun pellets we’ve discussed thus far, pointed pellets are another excellent option for hunting. Also often used in plinking, these pellets have the same wide base, as well as a nose with a pointed edge. That provides the pointed pellet excellent velocity retention.
- Domed pellets: Also known as round nose pellets, domed pellets are practically identical to hollow point pellets. The only exception is that with domed pellets, you’re missing that hollow center. Instead, they have a rounded head. This increases the aerodynamic qualities of this pellet, letting it maintain its energy better. That’s why some hunters favor domed pellets as well.
- Wadcutter pellets: Last but not least, you might opt for wadcutter pellets. These are hard to mistake with the other air gun pellet types we’ve covered because they look so different. Yes, there’s still the wide base, but wadcutter pellets don’t have a pointed or rounded head. It’s completely flat. This design allows the pellets to puncture holes in some targets, especially those made of paper. You can also use wadcutters for plinking, target shooting, and in some shooting contests.
Whether you favor the slug pellet, the diabolo style, or another type of pellet for your air gun, none of these look anything like a BB. This BB gun ammunition is a small, rounded metal ball first founded in 1886.
That’s really all there is to a BB. There are different sizes and materials, sure, both of which we’ll discuss shortly, but a BB is about as recognizable and straightforward as it gets. It would be quite tough to confuse it with an air gun pellet unless that pellet was squashed down after use.
Next, let’s go over the dimensions of both BBs and air gun pellets. Here, there are more similarities than in design and shape.
BBs had an average diameter of 0.180 inches when they first appeared on the market in 1886; then they shrunk to 0.175 inches sometime during the 20th century. Their size has gotten only marginally smaller into the 21st century, with some BBs retailed today at about 0.173 inches in diameter. Others are even smaller, about 0.171 inches. The bigger ones have a diameter of 0.177 inches, which is quite a healthy-sized BB.
Air Gun Pellets
Air gun pellets, like other ammunition of its kind, are measured by caliber. This reflects the size and diameter of the pellet, yes, but also the bullet cartridge’s projectile or slug diameter. The versatility in caliber does vary depending on the type of air gun pellet we’re talking about here. Some are as small as 0.177 inches, which is about 4.55 millimeters.
You can also get air gun pellets in sizes like:
- 0.20 inches (5 millimeters)
- 0.22 inches (5.5 millimeters)
- 0.25 inches (6.35 millimeters)
- 0.30 inches (7.62 millimeters)
- 0.357 inches (9 millimeters)
- 0.45 inches
- 0.50 inches
Before we can talk about the respective weights of air gun pellets and BBs, we have to explore the materials used for these types of ammunition. After all, the material informs the weight.
For a long time, lead was the primary material choice for making BBs, and you can still buy these metal balls made of lead today if you wanted to. That said, this metal is not used nearly as often anymore.
If you’re using an air gun to fire your BBs, then it’s preferable to shoot with steel BBs instead. These probably won’t look silver, though. Instead, they’ll have a brownish, coppery look. That’s because many BB manufacturers will cover the steel balls with a copper coating. This keeps the ammo from corroding, which can happen with pure steel.
Moving away from metal, you can also buy airsoft BBs. Don’t be fooled; these can still cause as much damage to other people or property as metal BBs could, but they weigh a little less. If you do go the airsoft route, you have two options: biodegradable and non-biodegradable BBs.
Designed to be better for the environment, biodegradable BBs can begin disintegrating if mixed with carbon dioxide and water in roughly 47 days, maybe up to 90 days. They must be kept indoors, ideally at a recycling facility, for this to happen. The BBs can still biodegrade if they’re left outdoors, but it may take longer than 90 days.
To break down like this, biodegradable BBs have a polylactide or polylactic acid-base. Both are a type of plastic. Added to the construction of these BBs are starches and corn products.
Unlike biodegradable BBs, non-biodegradable BBs will not dissolve no matter how much time you give them indoors or outdoors. Their acrylonitrile butadiene styrene or ABS plastic base is not conducive to benefiting the environment.
Air Gun Pellets
What about air gun pellets? What are these made of? Like BBs, you can sometimes still find lead air gun pellets at gun shops and online. Used much more often these days is a malleable lead that’s mostly comprised of a lead alloy without high antimony. Since the alloy is so soft, processing the pellets is exceptionally easy.
The weight of your ammunition is incredibly essential, as it influences the amount of force necessary to push the projectile out of the air gun. Now that you know more about the different materials used to produce BBs and air pellets, it should be easier for you to understand the various weights of these ammo types.
Weight is expressed as grains in the world of projectiles. For each ounce, there’s 437.5 grains. This is an important distinction, as grains do not necessarily consider the cartridge weight, but only that of your projectile.
BBs are quite lightweight in general unless you have big fat ones. Lead BBs should weigh more than airsoft projectiles, but size can play a role in that. Let’s start with some examples of lead BB weights and then move on to airsoft pellets.
Should you get a 6,000 count of 0.177 caliber copper BBs, these will weigh 5.1 grains. One grain is 0.000142857 pounds, so 5.1 grains translates to 0.00728571 pounds. That makes these BBs stupid light.
What about airsoft BBs? Whether these are biodegradable or non-biodegradable, there are several weights you’ll see again and again, like 0.12 grams and 0.20 grams. Lots of airsoft BB manufacturers will sell theirs at weights such as 0.25 grams, 0.28 grams, 0.30 grams, and 0.40 grams as well.
This range puts airsoft BBs in three weight classes: light, mid-range, and heavy. Light airsoft BBs are those 0.12 grams and up. Airsoft guns operating at 250 frames per second with spring-loading can fire these lightweight BBs exceptionally well, especially up close.
Any airsoft BB that weighs 0.20 to 0.28 grams is considered mid-weight. While you don’t have to shoot super up-close with mid-weight airsoft BBs, you can’t really go super long distance, either.
That’s reserved for heavy BBs, such as those that are 0.30 or 0.40 grams. Besides their great traveling distance, these airsoft BBs also have impressive stability when in flight. You’ll often see them fired from airsoft sniper rifles.
Air Gun Pellets
Okay, so that’s BBs. Air gun pellets are going to weigh more and thus have a higher grain count. For instance, should you get a set of 500 domed diabolo air gun pellets at 0.22 caliber and a head size of 5.52 millimeters, these weigh 18.13 grains. That’s still only 0.00259 pounds.
A pack of 500 hollow point pellets at 0.177 caliber weighs 7.9 grains or 0.00112857 pounds. If you like pointed pellets, 200 of these at 0.177 caliber is 8.0 grains even.
Yet another difference between air gun pellets and BBs is their behavior. With their often-metal bodies, BBs will ricochet or bounce around a lot when fired. That’s why they’re favored for plinking, a type of target practice that involves shooting at soda bottles, logs, tin cans, or pretty much whatever you want that’s safe.
The round shape of BBs reduces their aero dynamism. If you’re trying to hunt with BBs, you might find you miss a lot more because of that. Also, the bounceback of the BBs can scare away more sensitive prey, especially if you hit the ground or other hard surfaces accidentally. Target traps can keep the ricochet from getting too dangerous, but you have to make sure you find a trap that’s designed for BBs, as these traps are more frequently used for air gun pellets.
Speaking of these pellets, what kind of behavior can you expect out of them? You’ll get far less ricochet than you would with BBs due to the softened lead alloy bodies of the pellets. That doesn’t mean they don’t bounce at all, but it’s far less than BBs.
Accuracy is also less of a problem, but it can be affected depending on the type of air gun pellets you buy. The better the quality of the pellet, the more accuracy you can generally expect. That’s due to the aero dynamism of air gun pellets, which is far greater than BBs.
What about how the ammunition fits in the magazine? That’s one more difference between air gun pellets and BBs. When loading up your gun’s magazine, you can sort of stack your BBs on top of each other. With air gun pellets, you can’t really do that.
For that reason, the magazine styles tend to differ depending on the ammunition. With BB guns, you’ll find a stacked or stick ammo magazine. This allows you to do the above-mentioned stacking of your BBs. After all, in packs of thousands at a time, you want to get your fill of these small projectiles.
Air rifles and a lot of other air guns have a rotary type of magazine. This limits your rounds to about eight unless you have a double-sided stick style of air gun magazine. In that case, then you could fire 16 shots at a clip.
While it can vary depending on the manufacturer and the type of ammo, generally, you can expect to pay more for air gun pellets than BBs. That’s partially due to the size and weight of a pellet as well as its design.
Let’s do some price comparisons, shall we? If you bought the 6,000 pack of 0.177 caliber copper BBs at 5.1 grains, you’d pay about $10. Steel BBs at a count of 1,500 that are 0.177 inches and 5.1 grains cost roughly $4. Zinc-plated BBs, which are probably made of steel as well, cost $8 for 4,000 of them at 0.177 caliber and 5.1 grains.
You can get a huge quantity of BBs for a very low price, which is awesome. By stocking up, you’ll enjoy hours of plinking in your backyard or even hunting for small game (remember, accuracy may be an issue here). Just be safe and watch out for the ricochet!
Air Gun Pellets
Here are some air gun pellet prices. For 500 domed diabolo jumbo pellets that are 0.22 caliber and 18.13 grains, you’d pay about $20. Pointed polymag pellets that are 16 grains and 0.22 caliber cost roughly $17 for 200 of them. A hollow point set of pellets, 500 total, that are 14.3 grains and 0.22 caliber retail for about $10.
There’s not a ginormous price jump between BBs and air gun pellets, at least not in the examples provided. If you get into the very high-quality ammunition, the price jump can be even greater.
What is the difference between air gun pellets and BBs? Air guns pellets and BBs differ in many ways. For starters, just take a look at the shape of these two types of ammunition, as it varies wildly. From there, the size, weight, behavior, and price of the ammo continues to diverge further and further from one another.
If you’re looking into getting a pellet gun or a BB gun, the information in this guide should provide you a lot of useful information.