How Does a Bullet Work?


When you pull a gun's trigger, the bullet flies out of the barrel and hits the target. Sounds simple, right? In reality, a tremendous amount of planning, precision and equipment go into having this three-step process come off seamlessly each and every time.

Becoming a Bullet

  • While the first bullets were simple lead balls, modern bullets are more likely to contain at least two layers, known as a core and a jacket. These jacketed bullets have a strong metal alloy that protects the inner core of the bullet as it exits the gun barrel and flies toward its target. The core is usually made of lead, but may also contain lead pellets, steel, plastic or rubber. The protective jacket around the core consists of alloys commonly composed of copper, brass, bronze, steel or aluminum. The jacket must fit the bullet perfectly to ensure balance to make the bullet fly straight.

All Fired Up

  • A bullet won't go anywhere until it's put inside a casing with primer and a propellant -- usually gunpowder. The gun's firing pin strikes the primer, creating a small explosion that ignites the gunpowder. The burning gunpowder creates rapidly expanding gasses that exert tremendous pressure behind the bullet. forcing it forward and out of the gun. The bullet's well-balanced design causes it to project in a straight line from the barrel, making it essential to keep your gun pointed in a safe direction at all times.

Put a Spin on It

  • Grooves in the gun's barrel -- known as rifling -- also help a bullet maintain a high degree of accuracy as it sails through the air toward its target. The grooves exert friction on the bullet's jacket, causing it to spin either to the right or the left, depending on its design. The gun barrel starts out as a solid steel rod with a hole drilled down the middle. Machining tools make anywhere between four to 16 grooves down the inside of the barrel to create the rifling.

Hitting Home

  • The bullet's shape determines what happens when it hits its target. When purchasing bullets for your gun, you'll have a choice between several shapes. Round-nosed bullets tend to retain their shape, and the high velocity at which they're traveling causes them to exit the back of a soft target without stopping. Because of the high level of penetration of these bullets, they're useful for law enforcement situations where a bullet may need to pass through heavy clothing or other objects and still have enough velocity to disable a perpetrator. Hollow-point bullets expand quickly once a target is hit and do more internal damage. This type of bullet is good for hunting and personal defense. A wide range of bullets combine these two traits, allowing for varying degrees of penetration and expansion.

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