Bullets

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Ammunition is something that fascinates me.  Growing up on American films, you see a lot of different types of guns.  Role playing games are full of books of guns, each with their own characteristics and attributes.  Authors often mention the kind of gun a character is carrying or using.  In the Army, I had to memorize various attributes and characteristics of the M15A1.  The focus is always on the weapon, and never on the ammunition, except to discuss whether there is enough.
The reality is that ammunition is a whole field of study.  Hand loaders will readily tell you that there are entire encyclopedias about ammunition, with reams of paper filled with tables about tolerances and specifications.  It's a science, and since it's a science dealing with explosives, there's a degree of accuracy required that is intimidating.  From the case tolerances, to the projectile attributes, to the powder characteristics, to the primer -- all of these can be tweaked within certain specifications to produce bullets with an enormous variety of performance characteristics and ballistic behavior.

To give you an idea of the amount of variety, check this partial list of options:
  • The bullet weight, measured in grains; there are usually around 4 standard weights for any given caliber of bullet, but there are often a dozen available.  E.g., 100, 115, 130, 150 grain.
  • The bullet construction.  E.g., hollow point, full metal jacket, soft point, round nose, semi-jacketed, frangible, armor piercing, tracer, incendiary, synthetic jacketed, lead, wadcutter.  There are, I kid you not, 70 or 80 different variations here alone.
  • The propellant (gunpowder). Again, there's a lot of variation here in how fast it burns, how much you use, how dirty it is (how much carbon it leaves on your gun).  I don't know how many different formulations there are, but there are a bunch of them, and they can have widely different performance characteristics.
  • The casing.  This is, possibly, the least variable component, since the tolerances are fairly strictly defined.  Dimensions, thickness of walls, etc. are all specified in the SAAMI specifications.
  • Primers.  I don't know anything about primers; I'm guessing the only variability here is price and reliability.
Given the number of variables and the choice in each variable, the number of permutations is enormous.  The practical (measurable) performance differences are probably much smaller, but even so, choosing ammo is a chore.  Mostly, for me, it used to boil down to buying the cheapest ammo for plinking, and then I have a box of higher quality ammo for... whatever.

I currently have a selection of ammunition that I'm playing with.  Mostly, I shoot PMC.  I just like it; it's cheap, clean, and reliable. It isn't, however, always available, so I have a motley assortment of brands at the moment.

From left to right:
  • PMC .308 Win, which I shoot out of my RFB. Muzzle velocity 2780 ft/s, muzzle energy 2522 ft*lb.
  • Remington HTP .357 Magnum 125 grain semi-jacketed hollow point, for the 686+, 1450 ft/s, 583 ft*lb
  • Federal 38 special 130 grain FMJ, for the 686+, 810 ft/s, 189 ft*lb
  • Hornady Critical Duty 9mm P+ 135 grain hollow point FTX, 1110 ft/s, 389 ft*lb
  • Hornady Critical Defense 9mm 115 grain hollow point Flexlock, 1115 ft/s, 341 ft*lb
  • Winchester 9mm Luger FMJ 115 grain FMJ, 1190 ft/s, 362 ft*lb
  There's a lot going on there.

Copyright © Sean Elliott Russell

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