Plated Pellets


Dear Technoid,

Has the difference between copper and nickel plated shot been explored? In this world of competing marketing campaigns, I want to be able to see past the hooey and know the real “technical lowdown”.

I used to shoot copper plated shot, but recently Fiocchi ammunition was made available to me (nickel plated). I want to know if I took a step up or a step down.

Thanks, Bret

Dear Bret,

Well, how does the nickel plated shot pattern compared to the copper plated shot when you patterned it? What! You didn’t pattern it? You want me to pattern it for you? I wouldn’t dream of depriving you of that pleasure.

Frankly, to confess, I am defensive because I don’t know what the actual difference in performance (if any) is between nickel and copper plated shot.  When I am caught “in flagrante ignorantia” I tend to dig in my heels and become stubborn. I’ve always been a personal devotee of the axiom “If a little ignorance is good, more has to be better.”

The coating on a lead pellet is there to provide lubricity. This does a few of things for the pellet.

1) It is supposed to lessen setback deformation and also the deformation that occurs when the shot is squeezed down in the choke. It does this by allowing the individual pellets to slip around each other as they go up the barrel and hopefully jam up less. This means more round pellets and better patterns.

2) To a lesser degree, the plating may improve aerodynamics by improving the smoothness of the pellet’s surface when moving through the air. I don’t know to what extent this happens or how much it really matters.

3) For hunters, the plated pellets provide better penetration in the bird. Due to the smoother exterior and rounder shape, they slip through the bird more easily. I notice that when I shoot a pheasant with copper plated shot, I get fewer of those grey feather balls wrapped around the pellet. I also get better penetration through the body cavity of an escaping bird.

One thing that plating does NOT do is to harden the pellet. The plating, nickel or copper, is far too thin for that. The pellet’s hardness is dependent on it’s lead alloy, specifically on the amount of antimony used in the mix. That said, plated pellets tend to be made from harder alloy. Plated pellets are a premium pellet, so it makes sense that they would use the harder, and more expensive, lead alloy mix.

I often see copper plating on larger hunting-size pellets and nickel plating on smaller clay target sizes. I don’t know if that’s tradition (the original copper plated pellet was Winchester’s “Lubaloy”, a favorite of hunters) or if there is a performance/economic difference.

Of course, none of the preceding drivel answers your question about the difference between copper and nickel plating. One of these days I should really give Federal a call and find out the real answer. Or I could pattern. Or you could call Federal and do the patterning and tell me. Or some sharp eyed SR reader who spots this could tell us. There’s a Junior Technoid Order of the Palm (3rd class) in it for someone who does the work. The coveted JTOP (3rd) will be emailed to the deserving person in its own genuine hand painted plastic pocket protector/display sleeve.

Best regards,

Bruce Buck
The Technoid writing for Shotgun Report, LLC
(Often in error. Never in doubt.)

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