What is the Difference Between Air Gun Pellets and BBs?

BBs and air gun pellets both are so similar yet so different. The guns that fire them have a lot in common as well. The guns even look similar. BBs and air gun pellets are might look very similar to you but in reality, are completely different.

What factors determine two ammunitions to be different from one another? Where exactly are they contrasting? BBs and air gun pellets are very different ammunitions in terms of:

  • Shape
  • Size
  • Weight
  • Material
  • Behavior
  • Magazine fit
  • Price

If you are new to the world of air guns, things might be a tad bit dizzy for you initially. Don’t worry, we have everything covered. In this piece, we shall cover the differences between BBs and air gun pellets. On reaching the end of the article, you will be able to figure out what is best for you- BB gun or air rifle.


Air Gun Pellets

The most noticeable and obvious difference between BBs and air gun pellets is their appearance. Their shape is different and can be observed by merely a glance. There are many types of air gun pellets like the wadcutter pellets, domed, pointed, hollow point, diabolo, and slug pellets.

A brief overview of them are as follows:

  1. Slug pellets – Slug pellet is essentially the traditional bullet that we have. It has a cylinder-conoidal shape. This shape was invented as early as 1832 by Captain John Norton. Bullets of such shape have a base that is hollow for bullet expansion when it is fired. Cannelure or another type of bullet, like the groove also has this feature. There are some who prefer Minie balls to slug pellets. Even though it has ‘ball’ in its name, it is not exactly shaped like that.
  2. Diabolo pellets – Also called wasp waist pellets, Diabolo pellets are another form of air gun pellet that come in very handy. These have a more comprehensive shape than compared to Diabolo pellets. These pellets derive their name from a kind of prop used by circus performers during juggling. It has a pair of cups attached in a way that they look like an hourglass. A diabolo pellet has the waist slim, the rear of the pellet (also known as skirt) hollow with walls shaped like a funnel. The end profile is conical or pointed or even maybe hollow, with a round nose.
  3. Hollow point pellets – The Hollow pointed pellets are very good for hunting. The pellets have a broad base but have a distinctive head design. The round-shaped firepower has a cavity in the center that is hollow from the inside. When you fire a hollow pointed pellet, under certain circumstances, the head might even expand.
  4. Pointed pellets – These have a much more direct and straightforward design compared to others. Another exceptional option for hunting, pointed pellets have a similar wide base and a pointed nose with an edge. This makes sure that the ammunition has very good velocity retention. It is often used for plinking as well.
  5. Domed pellets – Domed pellets are often called round nose pellets. They are, almost identical to hollow point pellets. The only difference is, they do not have a hollow center. To cancel that out, they have a round head. This lends much better aerodynamics to the bullet. They can maintain their velocity for a long time, over the course of a long-distance. This makes the domed pellets favorite of a lot of hunters.
  6. Wadcutter pellets – You even have the option of wadcutter pellets while opting for air gun pellets. These are impossible to confuse with other types because of their unique appearance. Even though the base is still wide, the head is not a pointed or rounded one. Instead, it is completely flat. This feature ensures that the pellets puncture holes in whatever target they are aimed at. They are a good choice in the events of paper targets. These are generally used in shooting contests and target shooting.

shooting contests and target shooting


It does not matter if you prefer the slug pellet, the diabolo one, or any other type of air gun pellet. BB gun pellets are totally different from any of them. The ammunition for BB gun is mainly a small, spherical metal ball. It was founded in 1886 and to date remains more or less the same.

That is all that constitutes BB gun ammunition. There are differences in terms of material and size, we will get to the, soon, but that about it. BB is as easy to identify as it gets. It is hard to confuse it with an air gun pellet until it gets squashed after use.


Up next, we consider the size of both. This is the only factor that has some sort of similarity.

Air Gun Pellets

Like most other ammunition, air gun pellets are measured in terms of caliber. This conveys the size and diameter of the bullet. The bullet’s slug diameter or cartridge’s projectile can also be estimated by the same. The caliber and its measurement change with the type of gun we are dealing with. It is versatile in nature and can be as small as 0.177 inches to as big as 4.55 inches.

Some of the standard sizes of air gun pellets are:

  • 50 inches
  • 45 inches
  • 357 inches ( or 9 millimeters)
  • 30 inches ( or 7.62 millimeters)
  • 25 inches ( or 6.35 millimeters)
  • 22 inches ( or 5.5 millimeters)
  • 20 inches ( or 5 millimeters)


The average diameter of BBs was around 0.18 inches when they were first founded in 1886. Their size was then reduced to around 0.175 inches during the course of the 20th century, mainly due to the wars fought in the era. In the 21st century, their sizes have reduced to as much as 0.173 inches.

Other BBs have even smaller diameters, around 0.171 inches. The margin determining a big and small BB is almost negligible to the naked eye. The BBs with diameters of 0.177 inches are considered to be bigger BBs.


The weight of the firepower is by far the most effective measure. It directly influences the amount of force necessary to push and project the bullet out of the air gun. Now that you have donned the materials used for the air gun pellets, understanding the weight factor should be easy. The various weights of the ammo are studied to apply them for various scenarios.

Weight is expressed in terms of grains when it involves ammunitions. One grain is equal to 437.5 grains. The distinction is very necessary because the weight reading does not consist of the cartridge but the projectile only.

Air Gun Pellets

Air guns are much heavier than BBs and therefore have a higher grain count. You can get a pack of 500 domed or diabolo air gun pellets with a 5.522mm head size, at 0.22 caliber. These will weigh around 18.13 grains. That is little more than 0.0025 pounds.


BBs are usually lightweight unless you have the fat ones. Lead BBs weigh more than airsoft ones, but size can play an important role in determining the weight.

For example, 6000 pieces of 0.177 caliber copper projectiles weigh roughly 5.1 grains. One grain is around 0.00014 pounds. That means 5.1 grains mean 0.007 pounds. That sounds like a little too light for a bullet, doesn’t it?

Make no mistake that is enough weight to damage anything effectively. Airsoft ones are often sold in weights like 0.40 grams, 0.30 grams, 0.28 grams, and 0.25 grams.

This makes BBs in three categories- heavy, mid-range, and light.


Before considering the weight of the ammunition, we need to consider the material and building of it. At the end of the day, it is the material that determines the weight.

Air Gun Pellets

If you look for it, air gun pellets are available online with detailed information about the product. Mainly led is used to manufacture these pellets. However, in today’s date, lead is amalgamated with antimony to make a malleable alloy. The alloys lend immense softness and luster to the metal make it very easy to process.


Since times immemorial, lead was used to produce weapons. In this case, also, lead was used to manufacture BB gun ammunition for a long time in history. You can still find them online if you look hard enough. Having said that, lead is no more used in the industry as earlier. In fact, it is barely used.

If you want to use an air gun to shoot the BBs, it is advisable that you use steel BBs. They do not look like fine, shining silver. They have more of a sepia tinge. A brownish, coppery texture. This is due to the BB ammunitions being covered in copper. Copper prevents the pellets from being corroded, which is a very common phenomenon in steel pellets.

Apart from metal, you can choose the airsoft BBs. Do not be misled by the ‘soft’ in their name. Airsoft BBs can cause more than substantial damage to people, property, and objects. The only difference is, they weigh a lot less. If you want to go for the airsoft BBs, there are two options to choose from: biodegradable ones and non-biodegradable pellets.

Built to be more environmentally friendly, biodegradable BBs start to get decomposed in about 45 to 47 days if mixed with carbon dioxide and water. This varies due to climate, region, and soil. This may take as long as 90 days under certain circumstances as well. Ideally, they should be kept in a recycling facility. These can be kept indoors as well. The bullets can take more than 90 days to disintegrate if they are left outdoors.

Figure 1Airsoft BBs

To put things under the microscope, biodegradable BBs have polyactide or polyactic acid bases. Both the compounds are a form of plastic. To these, starches and corn products are added to manufacture the pellets.

Airsoft BBs

The non-biodegradable ones will not dissolve no matter what condition you place them in hence their name. The compound ABS (or acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) is not environment friendly and thus does not disintegrate in nature.


Another characteristic difference between BBs and air gun pellets is their behavior when fired. BBs made of metal, will bombard or ricochet off with a lot of force when fired. This makes them the preferred choice in the event of target shooting. It is mostly used in plinking – a kind of target practice that needs you to shot at tins, cans, and even soft drink bottles.

The spherical shape of BBs offers less aerodynamics than air gun pellets. BBs are not suitable for hunting for the same reason. They might bounce back and lose precision in case of long flights. This is where air gun pellets have the upper hand. Their conical shape is much more dynamic and has the same prowess in the long flights. The air pellets also offer far less back thrust and do not bombard off the gun when fired.

Magazine Fit

In the case of BB guns, the magazines are generally in stick or stacked ammo. This way, while loading you can easily stack the BBs in a kind of pile.

Some air rifles and some specially built air guns have a rotatory magazine. You can load eight rounds in these magazines at a time. If you have a double-sided stick magazine, you can at most fire 16 rounds before reloading.

Figure 2BB Gun With 8 Rounds

BB Gun With 8 Rounds


Air Gun Pellets

For about $20 you can get 500 domed pellets or diabolo pellets at 18.13 grains at .22 caliber. They are usually a bit more expensive than their counterpart. The difference between the two, at least in terms of price is not much but if you go for high-quality ammunition, the price can be much higher.


BBs usually come in a huge quantity at a low price. A pack of 6000 copper BBs at 5.1 grains can cost you $10. That is a lot of bullets for $10!


Whichever one you choose to buy, make sure you know the entire details of it. Keep in mind, the purpose and the occasion you will use the pellets for. Not to mention, consider your budget carefully before making your decision. Hope this article helped!

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