- 1 Safely Storing Ammo
- 2 What is a Bullet?
- 3 What Are Bullets Made Of?
- 4 Bullet Design
- 5 Parts Of A Bullet Cartridge
- 6 How Does A Bullet Work?
- 7 How Do Bullets Travel?
- 8 How Fast Can A Bullet Travel?
- 9 Types Of Bullets
- 10 Wrapping Up
Bullets have altered the course of history. Before the invention of gunpowder, people used to fight their enemies on the battlefield with crude weapons such as spears and swords. Nowadays, you don’t have to get in contact with your enemy as you can shoot him from far away.
So how does a bullet work? This beginners guide will share plenty of information to familiarize yourself with the parts of a bullet, bullet speed, design and different types of bullets.
Safely Storing Ammo
You probably already have ammo. Before we get into basic bullet terminology, we need to cover a big safety precaution surrounding guns and ammo.
First, you should store your ammo inside a gun safe or ammo container. There are plenty of ammo storage options out there.
IMPORTANT: Make sure you store your ammo separately from your firearms! Storing your gun and ammo together is a big gun safety red flag! Don’t do it!
Can’t stress enough the importance of ammo and gun safety! Now let’s bite the bullet!
What is a Bullet?
A bullet is a metal projectile, mostly a metal cylinder, that is shot from a firearm. It is usually part of an ammunition cartridge. The cartridge is the object containing the bullet to be inserted in the gun. Also, there are four parts to a bullet. You’ll get to that section in a little bit.
What Are Bullets Made Of?
Bullets are made of a variety of materials. The traditional bullet core material is lead alloy which sometimes contains antimony. Bullet jackets are made of gilding metal which is an alloy of zinc and copper, or pure copper.
Additionally, there are many more materials used in bullets nowadays such as bismuth, aluminium, plastics, copper, bronze, tin, steel, plastics and tungsten. Bullet lubricants include oils, waxes and moly (molybdenum disulfide). Modern oil and wax formulas are never made public. Moly is a recent lubricant innovation which sticks to the metal on contact.
Grease and oil are also used in bullet manufacturing process to lubricate the bullet during pressing and machining steps. Lubrication prevents damage to the machinery or the bullet by allowing the machinery and the ammunition to move against each other without sticking. Afterwards, solvents are used to remove oil and grease from the bullet.
Ammunitions are used for different purposes such as military, self-defence, law enforcement, target shooting or marksmanship and hunting, each requiring different bullet performance. Bullet design depends on firearm design and vice versa considering that the bullet must fit the barrel correctly.
A tiny bullet will bounce around the barrel and not exit in a straight line or can’t engage with the rifling in the barrel thoroughly. On the other hand, a huge bullet will be stuck in the barrel and can cause firearm explosion due to the pressure.
The powder in the cartridge must also match the bullet weight so that it is fired at the correct speed. Bullets are designed depending on data collected from the previous testing or firing of rounds such as accuracy after hitting the target, the speed of the shot, penetration and damage to the target, effectiveness at a given range, and precision where more than one bullet from the same type produce similar results.
Bullets have a pointed and a sharper tip to provide greater penetration. Some tips are designed to expand on impact, and these bullets are banned from military use but can be used for hunting, law enforcement and seal-defence. Soft materials may be used to make the entire bullet or the tip, but other design features can assist in bullet expansion.
Hard material such as shank behind the softer tip pushes it forward to expand more providing more penetration. The hollow point is another feature that allows the extension. The hollow tip expands outward when the bullet hits the target. Additionally, some rounds have separable parts and sabots, which are sleeves surrounding the cartridge during firing but they fall off soon after leaving the firearm. Sabots enable high velocity for smaller bullets being fired from larger guns compared to when fired from smaller firearms.
Parts Of A Bullet Cartridge
The modern bullet cartridge consists of four components.
- Bullet Casing. The container holding together the other ammunition components and it is usually made of steel, brass or copper.
- Bullet Primer. A chemical compound that ignites the gunpowder during the firing process. It may be placed either in the centre of the base or the rim of the case.
- Gunpowder. A chemical mixture that converts to an expanding gas after burning rapidly.
- Projectile. The expelled object from the barrel which is usually the bullet.
How Does A Bullet Work?
Bullet cartridges are designed to be relatively safe until you fire them. After pulling the trigger, the small explosive charge in the primer is ignited by a spring mechanism that engages a metal firing pin into the back-end of the cartridge. The primer then ignites the propellant which is the primary explosive occupying about two-thirds of the typical cartridge’s volume.
A lot of gas is generated as the propellant chemicals burn. The sudden increase in gas pressure splits the bullet from the end of the cartridge. This forces the bullet down to the gun barrel at extremely high-speed. The rest of the cartridge is left in its position while the bullet is fired from the gun. It has to be ejected after firing either automatically or manually to make way for the next cartridge and next shot.
Watch this awesome video explaining how a bullet works!
How Do Bullets Travel?
Bullets spin around very fast as they emerge due to the spiralling grooves cut into gun barrels.
A spinning bullet acts like a gyroscope which is a sort of stubborn spinning wheel always trying to keep turning the same way. When trying to tilt a gyroscope while it is spinning, it will keep on resisting any force applied, and soon after letting it go it will tilt back the other way.
It is very hard to deflect objects when they are spinning which is called gyroscopic stability or inertia. A bullet behaves in a precisely similar way. When the bullet is spinning through the air, it follows a straight path thus being hard to deflect and more chances to reach the target accurately.
Bullets are thought to be travelling in perfectly straight lines, but this is not the truth. As the bullet goes through the air, several different forces act on it. Bullets follow more straight line over short distances.
Over long distances, they travel in a slight downward curve as a result of gravity drugging them towards the ground as they go along. The spinning gyroscopic motion and air resistance complicate things too.
Frequently, the person firing wobbles the slightly because of recoil when the bullet emerges. When all these factors add up, they make the bullet follow a complicated corkscrew path as it travels through the air.
Again, another awesome video to watch!
How Fast Can A Bullet Travel?
When bullets fly through the air, they travel at incredible speeds. The average bullet speed is 2,500 feet per second which is equivalent to 1,700 miles per hour which are over twice the speed of sound. In this case, the bullet hits you before even hearing the gunfire.
Types Of Bullets
There are PLENTY of different bullets out there! We aren’t going to cover ALL of them here, but we will cover the most common types of bullets.
Additionally called rubber baton bullets, these rounds are rubber covered projectiles that can be shot from either riot guns or ordinary firearms.
Since they are not lethal, they are meant to be a replacement to steel projectiles. Like other comparable projectiles created from plastic, wood, or wax, these bullets might be used for animal controls and short-range training. They are frequently used in riots to scatter protesters.
Rubber materials are used in these kinds of bullets because they tend to bounce uncontrollably producing kinetic impact munitions which are intended to cause pain, not serious injuries.
They are expected to produce abrasions, hematomas, and contusions, but sometimes they may cause damages to internal organs, bone fractures or even death. Rubber bullets can be recovered undamaged after firing and reused again if used with a suitable backstop.
Also called plastic baton round (PBR), the plastic bullet is fired from a specialised gun, and it is less-lethal, but sometimes it can cause fatal injuries to the target. They are mostly used for riot control, and they were specifically developed to replace rubber bullets in order to reduce fatalities.
The most widely known type of plastic bullet is Speer plastic bullets. They look like hollow plastic cylinders and they can be found in .44, .45 and .357 mm calibres and are specially designed to be used in handguns, mainly revolvers as the flat nose of the bullet does not fit well in most magazines.
The bullet primer provides propulsion and the slow-moving plastic bullets can be recovered undamaged and reused many times if used with a suitable backstop. For use in .38 special, .44 special versions and revolvers, they include a plastic casing which can be de-primed and primed by hand using minimal tools. Standard brass cases are used for other calibers.
These are bullets intended for use in higher velocity applications, and they generally have a jacketed lead core or plated with cupronickel, gilding metal, steel or copper alloys. The softer core is protected by a thin layer of harder metal when the bullet is passing through the barrel allowing intact delivery of the shot to the target.
On the other hand, kinetic energy is delivered to the target by the hard lead core. Full metal jacket or ball bullets are entirely enclosed in a harder metal jacket except for the base. Some bullet jackets don’t reach out to the front of the projectile, to help expansion and increment lethality. These are called soft point bullets (if the exposed tip is strong) or hollow point bullets (if a hole or cavity is present).
Steel bullets are frequently plated with copper or different metals to prevent corrosion for long storage periods. Synthetic materials such as Teflon and nylon have been used, with constrained achievement, particularly in rifles.
However, for improving accuracy and enhancing expansion, hollow point bullets with plastic aerodynamic tips have been used successfully. Currently, newer plastic coatings for handgun bullets, for example, Teflon coated bullets, are advancing into the market.
These are solid metal bullets made without a jacket, and instead, they are made of a solid block of metal, mostly a copper-zinc brass alloy or pure copper.
Historically, any bullet made from one type of metal is called a monolithic bullet. Monolithic bullets are quite better than jacketed or lead bullets as they are more environmentally friendly compared to the toxicity associated with other bullets.
By nature, modern monolithic bullets are very effectual for hunting purposes especially the larger game such as moose and bear. They often penetrate more deeply since these bullets retain their shape and size far better than other alternatives.
Additionally, these bullets have also gained popularity for hunting varmints and smaller animals due to their feature to retain their mass so well. This bullet will not cause any damage to the meat of the hunted animal which is a benefit when you have small targets generally having little meat.
Also, monolithic bullets have gained popularity in world shooting competitions as they have high accuracy for ideal target shooting bullets.
The simplest form of bullets is simple cast, swaged, extruded or otherwise fabricated lead slugs. At speeds higher than 1000 feet per second, lead is deposited at an ever-increasing rate in rifled bores. Alloying the lead with a small percentage of antimony or tin reduces this effect, but with time, it becomes less effective as velocities are increased.
A gas check, which is a harder metal, such as copper, is placed at the back of the bullet to decrease deposits. When the bullet is fired at higher pressure, it protects the rear of the bullet from melting, but this is also not very effective.
There bullets are also under scrutiny for being associated with causing poisoning or other lead related health problems from exposure.
Copper bullets can extend to a larger diameter and do so consistently regardless of being discharged through an assortment of moderate materials, particularly overwhelming apparel. The capacity of a strong copper bullet, for example, the TAC-XP to expand regardless of overwhelming garments and at moderately low-speed is difficult to coordinate in a more conventional lead core bullet.
Plated bullets can be made from a lead bullet that is extruded into a wire which is then swaged into a core. The cores are then copper plated and restruck again.
Although the restruck process is not common in the market, it produces a plated bullet which is more uniform, with a shorter finish and more precise diameter for better shooting and good-looking bullet.
Hopefully you are more familiar with bullets and how bullets work. Do not hesitate to ask questions when buying your ammunition if you are new to owning firearms. It should be simple to get the required ammo and it is important to use the correct ammunition for your firearms. Additionally, ensure your gun and bullets are stored in a safe place.
Found my passion for firearms while serving in the United States Army. I served active time and currently still in the reserves. I earned the German Schützenschnur, or German Armed Forces Badge for weapons proficiency while stationed in Germany, earning a Bronze medal for that event. I built this firearm blog to educate beginners on shooting gear, firearms, safety, firing fundamentals, and all other sorts of firearm topics.