What is Ballistics?

by
posted on March 22, 2020
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. Next week, we'll cover the typical firing sequence within the firearm to help dig into more detail on this sweet science.

Latest

Federal Sweepstakes Winner Lede
Federal Sweepstakes Winner Lede

Federal's 100th-Anniversary Sweepstakes Winner Announced

The venerable ammunition manufacturer just gave away over 54,000 rounds of ammo!

Throwback Thursday: John Ruthven, 20th-Century Audubon

“I’ll keep painting as long as birds fly and I can lift a brush.”

Reviewed: Stoeger XM1 .22 PCP Air Rifle

One shot on a squirrel and this is our reviewer's new favorite air rifle. Could it be yours, too?

10 Rules For Off-Road Vehicle Safety

ATVs, side-by-sides and dirt bikes are great...if you know and practice these rules.

8 Home Security Tips You Forgot During Quarantine

Heading out on vacation again (finally)? Send the burglars a postcard that says, "Not Today, Buddy."

How to Sharpen an Axe

A sharp axe is a safe axe.

Interests



Get the best of NRA Family delivered to your inbox.