M.bovis BCG vaccination against tuberculosis (TB) notoriously displays variable protective efficacy in different human populations. In non-human primate studies using rhesus macaques, despite efforts to standardise the model, we have also observed variable efficacy of BCG upon subsequent experimental M. tuberculosis challenge. In the present head-to-head study, we establish that the protective efficacy of standard parenteral BCG immunisation varies among different rhesus cohorts. This provides different dynamic ranges for evaluation of investigational vaccines, opportunities for identifying possible correlates of protective immunity and for determining why parenteral BCG immunisation sometimes fails. We also show that pulmonary mucosal BCG vaccination confers reduced local pathology and improves haematological and immunological parameters post-infection in animals that are not responsive to induction of protection by standard intra-dermal BCG. These results have important implications for pulmonary TB vaccination strategies in the future.