Defining Terms: What is "Ballistics"?

Never mind boxing; ballistics is the real "sweet science"!

by
posted on February 18, 2024
ballista_-psf.jpg

The word "ballistics" is derived from the Greek word ballista, which was an ancient military siege engine resembling a large bow stretched with cords and thongs and employed to hurl stones. These days, ballistics may be defined as the science of the motion of projectiles in flight, as well as the analysis of the flight characteristics of a projectile.

Additionally, ballisticians study the processes within a firearm as it is fired, along with the end result of a projectile (or multiple projectiles) striking a target. As a result of centuries of cumulative ballistic investigation, shooters and hunters are now able to obtain a working knowledge of both the expected and actual performances of firearms and ammunition. The science of ballistics is usually divided into three sequential parts: interior, exterior and terminal.

Interior ballistics may be defined as the study of the processes within a firearm as it is fired, and the firign characteristics of a firearm or cartridge. Exterior ballistics may be defined as the science of the motion of projectiles in flight, and the flight characteristics of a projectile. Terminal ballistics may be defined as the study of projectiles as the y strike, penetrate and—in the case of military, security or hunting use—incapacitate or kill the target. In plain terms:

  • Interior ballistics studies phenomena that occur inside the firearm;
  • Exterior ballistics studies the bullet as it flies through the air; and
  • Terminal ballistics studies the bullet as it strikes and penetrates the target.


Of the three types of ballistic studies, interior ballistics probably remains the most mysterious for the average shooter. This is because what goes on inside the chamber and bore of a firearm is usually accessible only with specialized equipment. While a knowledge of interior ballistics will enhance any shooter's ability to get the most out of his or her guns and loads, it must be remembered that it's still largely an empirical science.

In the end, optimizing the performance of a particular gun and load usually comes down to careful experimentation—and for many shooters, that's where the fun is. 

More like this from around the NRA

Latest

Sc Dnr Dove Season
Sc Dnr Dove Season

5 Things to Ask Your Dove-Hunting Guide

Dove season is coming sooner than you know! Here's what to figure out ahead of time.

Coyote Pretty: Springfield Armory's New 1911 DS Prodigy Pistol Colorway

Springfield has just released this popular pistol in a Cerakote Coyote Brown finish ... and the last thing you could call it is "coyote ugly."

Wild Table with Savage Arms: Antelope and Black Bean Flautas

You're in for a treat with this latest recipe from Wild Table with Savage Arms!

Too Hot? 4 Fun Outdoor Activities for After Sunset

When it's too hot to go outside and "touch grass" during the day, waiting for sunset might just be the ticket.

Video Review: Davidson's Exclusive Ruger GP100

The hardy, reliable, hard-hitting wheelgun already has dozens of variants. This one, however, is special.

Trump’s Running Mate, JD Vance, is a True Second Amendment Champion

Vance's Senate record proves that he is willing to back up his spoken support for the 2A with his actions and his votes.

Interests



Get the best of NRA Family delivered to your inbox.