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A SHORT TREATISE ON AMMUNITION FOR THE NEW SHOOTER

By

The Elitist

Copyright 1995 All Rights Reserved

Ammunition is to a firearm what ink is to a pen. If you have no ink, your pen won't write, and if you have no ammunition, your gun is little more than a stubby and inefficient club. No gun is better than the ammunition it fires, and some basic knowledge about ammunition types is important.

Cutting Through The Fog of Nomenclature

Here are some basic terms that are worth discussing right off the bat, as you will hear them constantly:

The term round is one you'll hear constantly. It dates back to the days of muzzle-loading muskets, which in most cases literally shot round balls, not the more familiar elongated bullets of modern firearms. "Round" is still used to refer to the ammunition used in a gun, and nowadays we speak of a gun that holds "10 rounds" or of a "15-round magazine". In modern parlance, one round of ammunition is a complete unitized package, ready for firing, which consists of the following components:

The cartridge case , into the base of which is inserted cartridge case, into the base of which is inserted

The Primer whose role is to ignite Primer whose role is to ignite

The Powder charge , which generates the gas to propel Powder charge, which generates the gas to propel

The Bullet , which is the only piece that actually comes out of the muzzle of Bullet, which is the only piece that actually comes out of the muzzle of the gun.

The term cartridge is also frequently heard. We speak of a gun that is "chambered for" (i.e, specifically

adapted to fire) some particular cartridge, as in, "My pistol is chambered for the .38 Special cartridge." The

term is often used specifically, but it can also be used generically, as in " cartridges."

modern

guns fire self-contained

All the components of a round of ammunition are important; but the bullet is the one that, ultimately, does the work. Bullet design is important, and so we'll look at it first.

The Bullet

As with so many terms dealing firearms, the word "bullet" is ultimately derived from French. It comes from boulet, literally a "little ball". Once again, this is a term that refers back to the round projectiles old-time guns fired. Spherical bullets aren't used much these days, especially not in handguns. The typical bullet is, well, "bullet-shaped": that is, it's vaguely conical, usually with a flat base and a rounded or tapered nose.

Why not round balls anymore? Because elongated bullets are heavier than spherical ones of equivalent diameter, and the additional mass gained by using elongated bullets is important to proper function (see below).

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Untitled http://civic.bev.net/shawnee/ammo.html A selection of bullet types, all in .38 caliber. From left to right: lead

A selection of bullet types, all in .38 caliber. From left to right: lead target wadcutter; lead semi-wadcutter, "Keith" type; lead semi-wadcutter with a copper "gas check" on the base; lead round nose; lead round nose, flat-point; half-jacketed semi-wadcutter, hollow point; jacketed hollow-point; jacketed hollow point.

Bullets for defensive use fall into three general categories: solid, hollow point and soft point.

Solid bullets are just what their name implies: solid bits of lead (or in some cases a lead core surrounded by a harder metal jacket). Soft point bullets are jacketed, but allow the lead core to protrude through the front of the jacket. Hollow points (which may or may not be jacketed) have a cavity in the nose. The purpose of exposing lead or cupping the nose is to facilitate expansion of the bullet on impact; and so, to distinguish them from solid bullets, the last two are collectively referred to as "expanding bullets." (See below).

Measuring Up

Bullets are made in many different sizes, and the unit of weight in the USA is the grain, an ancient measurement used by apothecaries for centuries. There are 7000 grains per avoirdupois pound. Powder is measured in the same way. European ammunition makers use the much more sensible metric system and measure things in grams.

The diameter of the bullet in the US system is measured (nominally and with many exceptions) in hundreths

of

size, about 0.44". In fact the actual diameter varies from the nominal, and it's best to think of these as relative,

not absolute measurements.

an inch

so

a "twenty-two" bullet is (roughly) 0.22" in diameter, while a "forty-four" bullet is twice that

In the European system again, things are more logical, and a "9mm" bullet is indeed nine millimeters in

diameter, and so forth.

What The Bullet Is For

Put as simply and brutally as possible, a bullet's function is to kill. It does this by physically damaging important structures in the body, and especially by severing arteries, veins, and nerves. This disruption causes loss of blood flow to vital organs; and loss of neuronal control of movement and coordination.

You can (and should) immediately forget anything you may already have heard or that some ill-informed galoot tells you about "hydrostatic shock" or "energy dumping." Neither of these terms has any relevance to the real world, though both sound like they ought to be true. It's their intuitive appeal that causes both of them to persist.

To read a reasoned, insightful, and rational diatribe against these two notions, click here.

Putting Them Where It Counts: Shot Placement, Shot Placement, Shot Placement!

Bullet placement is the single most important factor in effecting a quick kill/stop . No other factor is so important. Regardless of the choice of caliber or bullet type, proper shot placement is vital to success.

A bullet that hits a major center of nervous activity, such as the brain or the upper spine, is almost invariably

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lethal, and usually instantly so. If the bullet hits a major blood channel, such as the heart or the aorta, death is generally very rapid, taking place within a few seconds of impact. Fast as death from a hit in the heart is, it is noticeably less so than with a hit in the brain or spine. If the hit is in the lungs, and none of the major blood vessels in the chest is ruptured, death may take several minutes to occur, during which time the person or animal shot is capable of some degree of movement. A hit in the peripheral areas such as a leg, shoulder, arm, etc. may be disabling, and may even be (eventually) fatal; but usually it isn't, and the victim almost always retains considerable mobility and capacity to respond. It follows from these facts that bullet placement is the single most important factor in effecting a quick kill/stop .

I can't stress too strongly that the most effective bullets are those that are placed correctly, and which hit a vital organ, regardless of bullet design. But perfect placement is hard to achieve, especially under stressful or less-than-ideal conditions, and that's why we have expanding bullets: to increase the chances of hitting something important.

Increasing The Odds

Several bullet designs have evolved that are usually quickly lethal even with less-than- perfect placement. The hollow point and soft point bullets, and their variations, are examples of this. By expanding (or "mushrooming") on impact with tissue, they increase their diameter, and thus the likelihood that they'll contact and injure a vital structure. Such bullets are often covered with a hard metal jacket, and since they're spinning rapidly the sharp edges of the jacket can act like a saw (or an arrowhead) and cut blood vessels and nerves. The front of the bullet can (and does) bull through internal organs like a snowplow, and achieve the same effect.

It's Getting Pretty Deep, Here

Penetration is a major factor in proper bullet performance. The "hydrostatic shock" and "energy dumping" theories mandate a light bullet moving at very high velocity. Some ammunition designed along these lines with so-called "premium" or "high-performance" bullets have impressively large levels of energy on paper, but relatively limited penetration and they are thus less likely than a heavier bullet to perform adequately. The slower, heavier bullet, the one that achieves deep enough penetration to reach vital organs, will be the most consistently effective one, all other things being equal.

How Deep Can It Get Before It's Too Deep?

It does not matter to effectiveness if the bullet exits. So long as it contacts something vital, it matters not a whit whether a bullet stays inside the body cavity or not. A bullet which doesn't exit and "dumps its energy" into the body, cannot kill any more effectively than one which traverses the victim and exits. The most effective bullet will be the one that expands and penetrates all the way through, taking large pieces of things like the spinal colum with it on the way out. So there is really no such thing as "overpentration" but "underpenetration" is a real problem, especially if your target can shoot back.

Bigger Is Better

If to be reliably effective a bullet has to get in to where it can hit something important, large-diameter, heavy bullets are clearly better choices than light ones. All other things being equal, a heavy bullet will penetrate deeper than a light one, and it is much more likely to reach a vital organ. Lightweight, high-velocity expanding bullets not infrequently will stop within a few inches of the point at which they enter. They will sometimes fragment on impact on the first contact with a bone, say in the arm, the shoulder blade, or even the

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sternum of the chest, and never go deep enough to hit anything that matters.

But heavy, solid bullets--even at somewhat lower velocities--will go much deeper, sometimes all the way through. Keep in mind that humans are pretty big animals (about the size of a deer) and in relation to the size of the animal all handguns are underpowered compared to shoulder weapons.

There are physical limits to the size and power of a gun designed to be fired with one hand, and even a .357 Magnum or .44 Magnum is a pipsqueak compared to, say, a shotgun. (If you don't believe this, try popping off a 12-gauge while holding it with one hand; it's even money that the recoil will be strong enough to make you lose your grip on the gun.) With any handgun, therefore, a very great premium is placed on bullet penetration.

To assure adequate penetration, a bullet has to retain as much of its mass as possible and 14" to 16" of penetration is the minimum needed to assure that a bullet will consistently get deep enough to do more or less immediately lethal damage.

OK, OK, I'm Convinced. But How Does It Affect My Selection Of Ammunition?

In terms of penetration, solid bullets are most efficient. They tend to retain their mass and momentum, and they usually go deep. Expanding bullets, if solidly enough constructed to retain most of their mass, penetrate well; but if they are too solidly constructed sometimes they can't be driven fast enough to expand properly. This is one drawback to shooting them in short-barreled handguns, which always have lower muzzle velocity than long-barreled ones.

And That's Why You Shouldn't Use a .22 For Defensive Purposes

The lack of penetration is the major reason why smaller calibers aren't very effective: they have low levels of energy to begin with, and they shoot light bullets. In most cases they haven't got enough power to penetrate deeply, nor enough to cause reliable expansion of hollow point or soft point types. Yes, properly placed shots from a .22 or a .25 will kill instantly; but putting one of these teeny-weeny bullets in exactly the right spot isn't easy.

But, as you move up the caliber scale to the .38 Special/9 mm/.45 ACP range, the size and mass of the bullets increase, and hence penetration improves, even though velocities are much the same. In short-barreled pistols, a .38 Special, a .45 ACP, and a .22 Long Rifle bullet all have similar velocities, somewhere around 700-800 feet per second. Of the three, the .45 is demonstrably the best killer because its very heavy bullet (230 grains, compared to 158 grains for the .38 and 40 grains for the .22) gets down in there where it can do some good (or harm, depending on which way you look at it). In addition, the larger diameter bullets are more likely to hit a vital structure.

Add to the superior penetration of large caliber bullets a decent expanding design that retains its mass and greatly increases its diameter, and you have a potent "stopper" for self defense.

What About "Premium" Ammunition?

The problem of constructing a bullet that will penetrate well and expand reliably is a tough one, and over the years a number of proprietary designs have been developed.

In the late 1980's the FBI (as a result of a major shootout where their standard ammunition failed to do its job) developed a series of standards and testing procedures that has led the ammunition industry to develop

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new designs. These bullets, sold under various trade names, are now coming onto the civilian market. In most cases, hard data on actual effectiveness (usually obtained through retrospective studies of actual shootings, and by post-mortem examinations of the shootees) has been lacking. Some designs that have been around for many years have been "tested" enough in actual use so that some accurate assessments of effectiveness are possible, but most of them haven't. You should take the manufacturer's claims about effectiveness of a particular bullet style with a grain of salt.

I'm personally skeptical about any proprietary bullet that claims to "dump energy" in the target, most especially including the so-called "pre-fragmented" bullets such as the Glaser "Safety Slug". Aside from their very high price, which precludes extensive practice sessions, the notion that a bullet should be "pre" fragmented--or fragmented at all--makes no sense to me. Proper bullet performance includes deep penetration and wide expansion, and the pre-fragmented bullets are advertised as doing neither. They rely on the false premise of "energy dumping" (and on the gullibility of buyers) and have no really extensive record. At something like $3.00 per shot, I would give these a definite miss.

The Cartridge Case

The case serves to hold everything together into a neat package, but its really important function is to seal off the chamber of the gun to prevent gas leakage. The burning of powder generates high-pressure gas (anywhere from 9,000 to 25,000 pounds per square inch) and the case has to seal it in. Cases are usually made of high-grade brass, though they may be of aluminum, steel, and occasionally other material. Brass is elastic and when the gas pressure builds up, the case expands to grip the walls of the chamber tightly. When the bullet has left the barrel, and pressure drops, the elasticity causes the case to contract again, so that it can be removed easily.

Cases come in several forms: rimmed and rimless are the most common. A rimmed case has a flange around its base (or "head") which prevents it from entering too far into the chamber. This flange also serves as a place for the gun's extractor to make contact, and draw it out of the chamber. Most (not all) revolvers use rimmed cases, and so do a few autoloaders. Most autoloaders function better with the rimless type, however. The .38 Special is a typical rimmed design.

A rimless case has a rim, actually; but it's the same diameter as the body of the case. The extractor snaps into

a groove that's machined into the head of the case. Cases of this type usually are prevented from entering the

chamber too deeply by having their mouths butt up against the rearmost portion of the rifling. The 9 mm Parabellum and .45 ACP are both rimless cases.

A semi-rimmed case is a type midway between these two. It looks like a rimless case, but the base is

actually slightly larger than the case body's diameter. Not too many calibers use this style of case. Among common calibers that do are the .25 ACP, the .32 ACP, and the .38 Super Automatic.

Cases may be centerfire or rimfire types. Anything .25 caliber and above will be a centerfire type, with a separate primer inserted into a pocket in the base. Centerfire cases may be rimmed, rimless, or semi-rimmed. Rimfire cases don't have separate primers, and they are always of the rimmed type. The rim of these cases is actually hollow, and the priming material is distributed into it. The ubiquitous .22-caliber ammunition is rimfire, about the only type still made in the USA.

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if it's a rimfire caliber) and causes an explosion. The flame from the primer ignites the main powder charge.

Powder, or "smokeless gunpowder" as it's correctly called, is a nitrated cellulose material. It's technically not an explosive, but it does burn very quickly, especially when it's confined tightly. Once it's ignited it burns faster and faster as the pressure builds up ("progressive burning") and develops very high gas pressures. Burning curves can be adjusted in various ways, and powders used in handgun ammunition are generally "faster" than those for rifle cartridges, because the short barrels of pistols provide less time for pressure to build. ("Fast" and "slow" are relative terms, and all of the events from primer ignition to emergence of the bullet take place withinat mosta few milliseconds.) When it's not confined, smokeless gunpowder is very safe to handle, and very hard to ignite. By the way, it isn't really "powder" at all; that's another old term that's persisted. Smokeless powders are actually formed into flakes, spheres, or short sticks, depending on their intended burning characteristics.

A Glossary of Ammunition Terms

ARMOR-PIERCING: A type of bullet designed to penetrate hard or soft body armor, and/or tough objects like automobile bodies. The term is actually very imprecise and hard to define, as there are many variables involved. Virtually any centerfire rifle bullet can penetrate soft body armor (especially when firing full metal jacketed bullets) and so could be considered "armor piercing," even if the intended purpose of the bullet is hunting or target use. There are many types of true AP ammunition in both handgun and rifle calibers, most of which are unimportant for sporting or defensive use, and some of which are illegal to sell to the general public.

BALL: Once almost exclusively a military term, this is now frequently used in a civilian context as well; it means a bullet that is solid or non-expanding in nature. In early firearms, projectiles were round lead balls, and the usage has persisted. "Ball ammunition" in rifle cartridges usually means full metal jacket bullets, but in handgun cartridges the term may also include solid lead bullets. The French word "balle" is the origin of this term (and also of the word "bullet," from "boulet," a little ball.)

BOAT-TAIL: A bullet that's tapered at the base, to reduce wind cavitation in the back is called a "boat-tail" from its resemblance to the stern of a ship. These bullets are almost exclusively used in rifles, and tend to have flatter trajectories and higher retained velocities at long range than conventional flat-based bullets.

BULLET: This is what comes out of the muzzle of the gun when you pull the trigger; a single projectile fired from a handgun or rifle. Bullets may be made solely of lead alloy, or they may be composite structures with a lead core and a surrounding "jacket" of copper/nickel alloy. Different styles and shapes of bullets are used for different purposes, e.g., defensive shooting, targets, hunting, etc. Although virtually all handgun and rifle cartridges are designed to shoot single bullets, sometimes special multi-projectile loads are seen. See CARTRIDGE. Ignorant news people sometimes say things like "The criminal was apprehended with a gun

that held 15 bullets," when they really mean one that held "

15 cartridges."

CALIBER: A means for designating the size of the bullet fired by a particular gun. In theory, there are two methods of measuring caliber: hundredths of an inch, and millimeters. To speak of a gun as being ".22 caliber" means that the bullet fired by it is approximately twenty-two hundredths of an inch in diameter. A "9 mm" pistol fires a bullet nine millimeters in diameter. Unfortunately, over the years, standardization of bullet diameters has led to a nomenclature that doesn't quite correspond to physical fact, and there are many instances in which the nominal bullet diameter and the actual bullet diameter don't coincide. For example, in a perfect world, all ".38 caliber" handguns would fire a bullet of that size; but in this imperfect world, none of them do: in fact, the "typical" .38 caliber bullet is somewhat smaller than its nominal diameter. The situation is much better with metric-designated bullets, and a "9 mm" or "10 mm" is really nine or ten millimeters in

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diameter. Caliber designation is very confusing, and it's best to think of the numbers as expressing relative sizes, not absolute ones. Thus a .38 is smaller than a .44 or .45; and a .32 is smaller than a .38. The actual bullet diameter is unimportant in this sense. The term caliber is also frequently used as a synonym for "cartridge" and you will often see guns inscribed with something like this: "CALIBER .38 S&W SPECIAL" or "CALIBER .45 AUTOMATIC" as a means to designated exactly which cartridge they are chambered for.

CARTRIDGE: A complete "unitized" round of ammunition, i.e., one case containing a powder charge, a primer, and a projectile (or projectiles). The term "bullet" is often misused (especially in the news media) to mean "cartridge". Of course, all unfired cartridges have bullets in them, but the two terms aren't synonymous, and shouldn't be confused.

CASE: The brass, steel, or aluminum cylinder that enclosed the powder charge, and into which the primer and bullet are seated. Shotgun cases are usually made of plastic, and sometimes of heavy paper. Whatever the material, the function of the case is to expand upon firing, sealing off the chamber of the gun and preventing gas leakage (a process called "obturation"). Since the bullet is movable, and the case isn't, the bullet comes out of the end of the barrel driven by the gasses behind it. Needless to say, a case failure or rupture (a very rare occurrence, but it does sometimes happen) will leak hot high-pressure gas into places where it isn't supposed to be, and it may do some damage to the gun or shooter.

CAST BULLET: A bullet made by pouring molten lead alloy into a mold, and allowing it to harden. Cast bullets are inexpensive, and the fired ones, if recovered, can be re-melted and the metal used again. Factory ammunition rarely uses cast bullets; if the cartridge is loaded with a lead bullet, that bullet is usually produced by an extrusion process. Cast bullets are mostly used by people who load their own ammunition.

CENTERFIRE: A cartridge is said to be centerfire if its primer is located in the center of the case head, usually as a removable unit. Most calibers of ammunition are of this type. See RIMFIRE.

"DUM-DUM": This is a layman's term for expanding bullets of any type, and it's widely used, always incorrectly, by the media. The name derives from a British military installation in India (Dumdum Arsenal) where soldiers who wanted to improve the effectiveness of their ammunition developed the closed-base, soft poit design for rifle bullets. The story goes that they "filed off the points of the bullets." In fact, since military rifle bullets usually have pretty heavy jackets, this would be a useless procedure, that would at best result in inaccuracy, and at worst can destroy a gun. Since the base of full metal jacket bullets isn't closed (the nose is) filing off the nose makes the bullet an open-ended cylinder with a lead core. The core can, and often does, blow out, leaving the jacket stuck in the barrel. If another round were to be fired behind that, the lodged obstruction would at least bulge the barrel, and might cause the gun to burst. No sensible person would willingly use home-made "dum-dums" for any purpose, especially when safe and reliable expanding bullets are available.

FULL METAL JACKET: Some bullets are composed of a lead core and an overlying jacket of copper-nickel alloy. If the nose of the bullet is completely covered by the metal jacket, so that no lead is exposed, this is a full-metal-jacketed bullet. The core has density and weight, and the hard jacket reduces fouling of the gun and increases penetration power of the bullet. Since they don't expand at all, FMJ bullets tend to make neat holes, and (all other things being equal) they will penetrate more deeply than other types. Military bullets are usually full-jacketed, but hunting bullets never are. Military bullets are designed to kill cleanly or to produce a clean wound, in accordance with the Geneva Conventions and Hague Protocols on warfare. Hunting bullets (which are usually hollow point or soft point styles) are designed to do the maximum damage possible, and to kill as rapidly and effectively as possible. Many pistols (especially military-style autoloaders) function best with FMJ ammunition. FULL METAL JACKET is synonymous with BALL in speaking of military ammunition. A variant is the TOTAL METAL JACKET bullet, in which the base is enclosed as well as the rest of the core.

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GAS CHECK: A thin disc of hard metal crimped onto the base of a lead bullet. Gas checks are made to fit the exact groove diameter of the gun, and their function is to prevent gas leakage past the base of the moving bullet. Leaking gas is hot enough to partially melt a lead bullet, and the higher the velocity the more the problem. The gas check permits a cast bullet to be shot at somewhat higher velocity than would otherwise be possible. It is a design intermediate between the simple lead bullet and the jacketed types.

HOLLOW POINT: A hollow-point bullet has a cavity formed in the tip, as a means to initiate expansion when it contacts a target. This increases the diameter and the killing power of the bullet. Hollow point bullets may be made solely of lead, or they may be jacketed; and they may have the hollow cavity formed as part of a SOFT POINT, see below.

JACKET: A thin copper-nickel sheath formed around the core of a bullet. The jacket is hard and slick, compared to the lead of the core; and so the bullet is more resistant to mechanical deformation by the action of the gun. Another reason for jacketing a bullet is to prevent it from breaking up on impact with the target, and dissipating its effect. The jacket may completely cover the core except at the base (full jacket) or it may be closed at the base and open at the tip or nose (as in a soft point bullet). Some bullets have jackets that cover only the base, and the lead portion forms the bearing surface that grips the rifling of the barrel. This type is called a HALF-JACKET. Jacketed bullets have certain advantages: they can be fired at higher velocities than lead bullets, and they usually function more reliably in autoloaders. To offset these, they have disadvantages of comparatively high cost, a tendency to wear out rifling faster than lead, and to deposit stubborn fouling in the bore of the gun which requires a lot of effort to remove.

MAGNUM: A "magnum" is an extra-large size of champagne bottle, 2-1/2 times the size of an ordinary bottle. In 1935, when Smith and Wesson introduced their new handgun cartridge aimed at police and hunters, they wanted a jazzy name to indicate that it was much larger than anything else available; and so their marketing department decided that ".357 Magnum" would be a clever and catchy name. The ploy worked, and since then many other companies have hitched their wagon to this particular horse, and so we have ".44 Magnum," ".32 Magnum," and even ".22 Magnum" calibers, as well as many others. The term has come to mean any cartridge that's significantly more powerful than others firing bullets of similar size.

+P and +P+: Some ammunition is loaded to higher than standard pressure, to boost velocity and energy. Such rounds are designated by these two codes, with the "+P+" designation the more powerful of the two. Some lightweight guns, especially small revolvers, aren't really suitable for use with these more powerful rounds, and it's a wise idea to check and see whether the manufacturer has issued any guidelines about whether you can use this type of ammunition in your gun. You can use industry- standard ammunition of the appropriate caliber in any gun in sound condition, and this is the best thing to do if you're in doubt.

PRIMER: A small cup-like container inserted into a pocket at the end of a cartridge case. It carries a shock-sensitive explosive compound (typically lead styphnate) which explodes when the firing pin hits the outside of the cup. The flame from this explosion ignites the main powder charge.

RIMFIRE: Some cartridges contain their priming compound not in a separate primer, but evenly distributed around the circumference of the case head, in the fold formed when the case is drawn. The firing pin pinches the rim of the cartridge case, causing the primer to ignite and set off the main powder charge. This system of ignition is suitable only for relatively low-power ammunition, and nowadays anything larger than .22 caliber is usually centerfire ammunition. Before WWII, however, rimfire calibers up to .50 were fairly common, and this older ammunition is still occasionally encountered, even though it's no longer manufactured.

ROUND: One complete unitized cartridge. Boxes of ammunition will be marked as holding "50 rounds" or "20 rounds" and magazines will be spoken of as holding 10 rounds, 5 rounds, and so forth. Basically a synonym for "cartridge."

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ROUND NOSE: A bullet whose front end is shaped into a blunt, rounded form, as distinct from a flat, conical, or tapered shape. See SPITZER and WADCUTTER. Round nose bullets may be soft points or hollow points, or they may be solids.

SHELL: An imprecise term often to denote ammunition in general, but it is sometimes applied to empty cartridge cases, especially those used in shotguns.

SMOKELESS POWDER: Nowadays all common gunpowder is made of nitrated cellulose, which long ago was dubbed "smokeless" to distinguish it from what we today call "black powder," a mixture of sulphur, saltpeter, and charcoal dating from the 12th Century. Until the late 19th Century, black powder was all there was, and in addition to making clouds of white smoke, it's dirty to use, and fouls a gun very quickly. It's also limited in the power it can generate. Modern nitrocellulose-powder ammunition is much more effective than black-powder loaded types (even in the same calibers) because smokeless powder is inherently more energetic. It's also much less hazardous to handle, much less flammable, and much cleaner than black powder, as well as non- corrosive and less damaging to the gun.

SOFT POINT: a soft-point bullet is one that has some lead exposed at the tip. This facilitates expansion as it enters the target, and causes the diameter of the bullet to increase rapidly. It thus does more destruction, and kills more effectively. Soft point bullets usually have a metal jacket and a lead core. See also HOLLOW POINT and "DUM DUM".

SPITZER: A bullet whose nose shape is a gracefully curving arch, ending in a fairly sharp point. The term is originally German, and is almost exclusively applied to rifle bullets. Handgun bullets are typically much shorter and blunter than rifle bullets of equal weight. Spitzer bullets may have a flat base, or they may be boat-tailed; they may be full metal jacketed, soft points or hollow points, as well.

TRACER: Tracer bullets contain a flammable compound in their base which permits a shooter to see the path of the bullet in flight. They have little use for sporting or defensive purposes, but are very important in military applications. A machine gunner can "walk" his fire into a target by watching where the tracers he shoots are going, and so achieve greater effect. Tracers are dangerous to use sometimes: the burning material can ignite forest fires, and their use is prohibited in some areas.

WADCUTTER: A type of bullet originally designed for target shooting, and still mostly used for this purpose. Wadcutter bullets have very sharp, square edges, and are cylindrical in shape. They cut very neat holes in paper targets. They will also make nice round holes in tissue, and sometimes they are used as defensive bullets, since they tend to be pretty effective killers. They usually don't feed well in autoloading pistols, but can be used in all revolvers. A variant form is the SEMI-WADCUTTER, which has a cylindrical body surmounted by a conical nose section, but which retains the sharp shoulder. True wadcutters are almost always made of lead, but the semiwadcutter style is frequently seen in a jacketed soft point type. They may also be hollow-pointed.