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Cartridge (firearms)

Cartridge (firearms)

A variety of rifle cartridges: (1).17 HM2 (2).17 HMR (3).22LR (4).22 Win Mag R/F.22 WMR (5).17/23 SMc (6)5mm/35 SMc (7).22 Hornet (8).223 Remington (9).223 WSSM (10).243 Win (11).243 Win Improved (Ackley) (12).25-06 Remington (13).270 Winchester (14).308 Win (15).30-06 Springfield (16).45-70 Government (17).50-90 Sharps

A variety of rifle cartridges: (1).17 HM2 (2).17 HMR (3).22LR (4).22 Win Mag R/F.22 WMR (5).17/23 SMc (6)5mm/35 SMc (7).22 Hornet (8).223 Remington (9).223 WSSM (10).243 Win (11).243 Win Improved (Ackley) (12).25-06 Remington (13).270 Winchester (14).308 Win (15).30-06 Springfield (16).45-70 Government (17).50-90 Sharps

A cartridge or a round is a type of pre-assembled firearm ammunition packaging a projectile (bullet, shots or slug), a propellant substance (usually either smokeless powder or black powder) and an ignition device (primer) within a metallic, paper or plastic case that is precisely made to fit within the barrel chamber of a breechloading gun, for the practical purpose of convenient transportation and handling during shooting.[2] Although in popular usage the term "bullet" is often used to refer to a complete cartridge, it is correctly used only to refer to the projectile.

Cartridges can be categorized by the type of their primers—a small charge of an impact- or electric-sensitive chemical mixture that is located at the center of the case head (centerfire), inside the rim of the case base (rimfire and the now obsolete cupfire), in a sideway projection that is shaped like a pin (pinfire, now obsolete) or a lip (lipfire, now obsolete), or in a small nipple-like bulge at the case base (teat-fire, now obsolete).

Military and commercial producers continue to pursue the goal of caseless ammunition. Some artillery ammunition uses the same cartridge concept as found in small arms. In other cases, the artillery shell is separate from the propellant charge.

A cartridge without a projectile is called a blank. One that is completely inert (contains no active primer and no propellant) is called a dummy. One that failed to ignite and shoot off the projectile is called a dud, and one that ignited but failed to sufficiently push the projectile out of the barrel is called a squib.



The primary purpose is to be a handy all-in-one (projectile, right quantity of propellant, primer) for a shot. In modern, automatic weapons, it also provides the energy to move the parts of the gun which make it fire repeatedly. Many weapons were designed to make use of a readily available cartridge, or a new one with new qualities.

The cartridge case seals a firing chamber in all directions excepting the bore. A firing pin strikes the primer and ignites it. The primer compound deflagrates, it does not detonate (that is, it rapidly burns, but does not explode). A jet of burning gas from the primer ignites the propellant.

Gases from the burning powder pressurize and expand the case to seal it against the chamber wall. These propellant gases push on the bullet base. In response to this pressure, the bullet will move in the path of least resistance which is down the bore of the barrel. After the bullet leaves the barrel, the chamber pressure drops to atmospheric pressure. The case, which had been elastically expanded by chamber pressure, contracts slightly. This eases removal of the case from the chamber.


0.30-30 Winchester case, stages in the drawing process, book; from Hamilton

0.30-30 Winchester case, stages in the drawing process, book; from Hamilton[3]

To manufacture cases for cartridges, a sheet of brass is punched into disks. These disks go through a series of drawing dies. The disks are annealed and washed before moving to the next series of dies. The brass needs to be annealed to remove the work-hardening in the material and make the brass malleable again ready for the next series of dies.[3]

Manufacturing bullet jackets is similar to making brass cases: there is a series of drawing steps with annealing and washing.[3]


The projectile (see below) can be made of virtually anything. Lead is a material of choice because of high density, and ductility.

The propellant was long gunpowder, still in use, but superseded by better compositions, generically called Smokeless powder.

Early primer was simply fine gunpowder poured into a pan or tube where it could be ignited by some external source of ignition such as a fuse or a spark. Modern primers are shock sensitive chemicals enclosed in a small (a few mm) capsule, ignited by percussion. In some instance ignition is electricity-primed, and there may even be no primer at all in such design (the propellant being directly ignited).

The case is commonly made of brass because it is resistant to corrosion. A brass case head can be work-hardened to withstand the high pressures of cartridges, and allow for manipulation via extraction and ejection without tearing the metal. The neck and body portion of a brass case is easily annealed to make the case ductile enough to allow reforming so that it can be reloaded many times.

Steel is used in some plinking ammunition, as well as in some military ammunition (mainly from the former Soviet Union and China). Steel is less expensive than brass, but it is not feasible to reload and reuse steel cases. Military forces typically consider small arms cartridge cases to be disposable, one-time-use devices. However, case weight (mass) affects how much ammunition a soldier can carry, so the lighter steel cases do have a military advantage. Conversely, steel is more susceptible to contamination and damage so all such cases are varnished or otherwise sealed against the elements.

One downside caused by the increased strength of steel in the neck of these cases (compared to the annealed neck of a brass case) is that propellant gas can blow back past the neck and into the chamber. Constituents of these gases condense on the (relatively cold) chamber wall. This solid propellant residue can make extraction of fired cases difficult. This is less of a problem for small arms of the former Warsaw Pact nations, which were designed with much larger chamber tolerances than NATO weapons.

Aluminum cased cartridges are available commercially. These are generally not reloaded as aluminum fatigues easily during firing and resizing. Some calibers also have non-standard primer sizes to discourage reloaders from attempting to reuse these cases.

Plastic cases are commonly used in shotgun shells and some manufacturers offer polymer centerfire cartridges.

Historically paper had been used in the earliest cartridges.


Critical cartridge specifications include neck size, bullet weight and caliber, maximum pressure, headspace, overall length, case body diameter and taper, shoulder design, rim type, etc. Generally, every characteristic of a specific cartridge type is tightly controlled and few types are interchangeable in any way. Exceptions do exist but generally, these are only where a shorter cylindrical rimmed cartridge can be used in a longer chamber, (e.g., .22 Short in .22 Long Rifle chamber, and .38 Special in a .357 Magnum chamber). Centerfire primer type (Boxer or Berdan, see below) is interchangeable, although not in the same case. Deviation in any of these specifications can result in firearm damage and, in some instances, injury or death. Similarly, use of the wrong type of cartridge in any given gun can damage the gun, or cause bodily injury.

Cartridge specifications are determined by several standards organizations, including SAAMI in the United States, and C.I.P. in many European states. NATO also performs its own tests for military cartridges for its member nations; due to differences in testing methods, NATO cartridges (headstamped with the NATO cross) may present an unsafe combination when loaded into a weapon chambered for a cartridge certified by one of the other testing bodies.[4]

Bullet diameter is measured either as a fraction of an inch (usually in 1/100 or in 1/1000) or in millimeters. Cartridge case length can also be designated in inches or millimeters.


US Cartridges 1868 – 1875 (1) Colt Army 1860 .44 paper cartridge, Civil War  (2) Colt Thuer-Conversion .44 revolver cartridge, patented 1868 (3) .44 Henry rim fire cartridge flat (4) .44 Henry rim fire cartridge pointed (5) Frankford Arsenal .45 Colt cartridge, Benét ignition (6) Frankford Arsenal .45 Colt-Schofield cartridge, Benét ignition

US Cartridges 1868 – 1875 (1) Colt Army 1860 .44 paper cartridge, Civil War (2) Colt Thuer-Conversion .44 revolver cartridge, patented 1868 (3) .44 Henry rim fire cartridge flat (4) .44 Henry rim fire cartridge pointed (5) Frankford Arsenal .45 Colt cartridge, Benét ignition (6) Frankford Arsenal .45 Colt-Schofield cartridge, Benét ignition

Historic British cartridges

Historic British cartridges

Paper cartridges have been in use for nearly as long as hand-held firearms, with a number of sources dating their use back to the late 14th century. Historians note their use by soldiers of Christian I, Elector of Saxony and his son in the late 16th century,[5][6] while the Dresden Armoury has evidence dating their use to 1591.[7][5] Capo Bianco wrote in 1597 that paper cartridges had long been in use by Neapolitan soldiers. Their use became widespread by the 17th century.[5] The 1586 cartridge consisted of a charge of powder and a bullet in a paper tube. Thick paper is still known as "cartridge paper" from its use in these cartridges.[8] Another source states the cartridge appeared in 1590.[9] King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden had his troops use cartridges in the 1600s.[10] The paper was formed a cylinder with twisted ends; the ball was at one end, and the measured powder filled the rest.[11]

This cartridge was used with muzzle-loading military firearms, probably more often than for sporting shooting, the base of the cartridge being ripped or bitten off by the soldier, the powder poured into the barrel, and the paper and bullet rammed down the barrel.[12] In the Civil War era cartridge, the paper was supposed to be discarded, but soldiers often used it as a wad.[13] To ignite the charge an additional step was required where a finer-grained powder called priming powder was poured into the pan of the gun to be ignited by the firing mechanism.

The evolving nature of warfare required a firearm that could load and fire more rapidly, resulting in the flintlock musket (and later the Baker rifle), in which the pan was covered by furrowed steel. This was struck by the flint and fired the gun. In the course of loading a pinch of powder from the cartridge would be placed into the pan as priming, before the rest of the cartridge was rammed down the barrel, providing charge and wadding.[14]

Later developments rendered this method of priming unnecessary, as, in loading, a portion of the charge of powder passed from the barrel through the vent into the pan, where it was held by the cover and hammer.

The next important advance in the method of ignition was the introduction of the copper percussion cap. This was only generally applied to the British military musket (the Brown Bess) in 1842, a quarter of a century after the invention of percussion powder and after an elaborate government test at Woolwich in 1834. The invention that made the percussion cap possible was patented by the Rev. A. J. Forsyth in 1807, and consisted of priming with a fulminating powder made of potassium chlorate, sulfur, and charcoal, which ignited by concussion. This invention was gradually developed, and used, first in a steel cap, and then in a copper cap, by various gunmakers and private individuals before coming into general military use nearly thirty years later.

The alteration of the military flint-lock to the percussion musket was easily accomplished by replacing the powder pan with a perforated nipple, and by replacing the cock or hammer that held the flint with a smaller hammer that had a hollow to fit on the nipple when released by the trigger. The shooter placed a percussion cap (now made of three parts of potassium chlorate, two of fulminate of mercury and powdered glass) on the nipple. The detonating cap thus invented and adopted brought about the invention of the modern cartridge case, and rendered possible the general adoption of the breech-loading principle for all varieties of rifles, shotguns and pistols. This greatly streamlined the reloading procedure and paved the way for semi- and full-automatic firearms.

However, this big leap forward came at a price. It introduced an extra component into each round — the cartridge case — which had to be removed before the gun could be reloaded. While a flintlock, for example, is immediately ready to reload once it has been fired, adopting brass cartridge cases brought in the problems of extraction and ejection. The mechanism of a modern gun not only must load and fire the piece but also must remove the spent case, which might require just as many added moving parts. Many malfunctions involve this process, either through failure to extract a case properly from the chamber or by allowing the extracted case to jam the action. Nineteenth-century inventors were reluctant to accept this added complication and experimented with a variety of caseless or self-consuming cartridges before finally accepting that the advantages of brass cases far outweighed this one drawback.[15]

Integrated cartridges

Chassepot paper cartridge (1866).

Chassepot paper cartridge (1866).

The first integrated cartridge was developed in Paris in 1808 by the Swiss gunsmith Jean Samuel Pauly in association with French gunsmith François Prélat. Pauly created the first fully self-contained cartridges:[16] the cartridges incorporated a copper base with integrated mercury fulminate primer powder (the major innovation of Pauly), a round bullet and either brass or paper casing.[17][18] The cartridge was loaded through the breech and fired with a needle. The needle-activated centerfire breech-loading gun would become a major feature of firearms thereafter.[19] Pauly made an improved version, protected by a patent, on 29 September 1812.[16]

Probably no invention connected with firearms has wrought such changes in the principle of gun construction as those effected by the “expansive cartridge case.” This invention has completely revolutionized the art of gun making, has been successfully applied to all descriptions of firearms, and has produced a new and important industry: that of cartridge manufacture. Its essential feature is preventing gas escaping the breech when the gun is fired, by means of an expansive cartridge case containing its own means of ignition. Previous to this invention shotguns and sporting rifles were loaded by means of powder flasks and shot bags or flasks, bullets, wads and copper caps, all carried separately. One of the earliest efficient modern cartridge cases was the pinfire cartridge, developed by French gunsmith Casimir Lefaucheux in 1836.[20] It consisted of a thin weak shell made of brass and paper that expanded from the force of the explosion. This fit perfectly in the barrel, and thus formed an efficient gas check. A small percussion cap was placed in the middle of the base of the cartridge, and was ignited by means of a brass pin projecting from the side and struck by the hammer. This pin also afforded the means of extracting the cartridge case. This cartridge was introduced in England by Lang, of Cockspur Street, London, about 1845.

In the American Civil War (1861–65) a breech-loading rifle, the Sharps, was introduced and produced in large numbers. It could be loaded with either a ball or a paper cartridge. After that war many were converted to the use of metal cartridges. The development by Smith & Wesson (amongst many others) of revolver handguns that used metal cartridges helped to establish cartridge firearms as the standard in the US by the late 1860s and early 1870s, although many continue to use percussion revolvers well after that.[21]

Modern metallic cartridges

(From Left to Right): A .577 Snider cartridge (1867), a .577/450 Martini-Henry cartridge (1871), a later drawn brass .577/450 Martini-Henry cartridge, and a .303 British Mk VII SAA Ball cartridge.

(From Left to Right): A .577 Snider cartridge (1867), a .577/450 Martini-Henry cartridge (1871), a later drawn brass .577/450 Martini-Henry cartridge, and a .303 British Mk VII SAA Ball cartridge.

French Army Fusil Gras mle 1874 metallic cartridge.

French Army Fusil Gras mle 1874 metallic cartridge.

The 8 mm Lebel ammunition, developed in 1886, the first smokeless gunpowder cartridge to be made and adopted by any country.

The 8 mm Lebel ammunition, developed in 1886, the first smokeless gunpowder cartridge to be made and adopted by any country.

Most early all-metal cartridges were of the pinfire and rimfire types.

The first pinfire metallic cartridge metallic cartridge was invented by Jean Samuel Pauly in the first decades of the 19th century. However, it bore little resemblance to the modern rimfire and centerfire cartridges which would be invented in the mid- to late-19th century.

Frenchman Louis-Nicolas Flobert invented the first rimfire metallic cartridge in 1845. His cartridge consisted of a percussion cap with a bullet attached to the top.[22][23] Flobert then made what he called "parlor guns" for this cartridge, as these rifles and pistols were designed to be shot in indoor shooting parlors in large homes.[24][25] These 6mm Flobert cartridges, do not contain any powder, the only propellant substance contained in the cartridge is the percussion cap.[26] In English-speaking countries, the 6mm Flobert cartridge corresponds to .22 BB Cap and .22 CB Cap ammunition. These cartridges have a relatively low muzzle velocity of around 700 ft/s (210 m/s).

French gunsmith Benjamin Houllier improved the Lefaucheux pinfire cardboard cartridge and patented in Paris in 1846, the first fully metallic pinfire cartridge containing powder (and a pinfire), in a metallic cartridge.[20][27] He also included in his patent claims rim and centerfire primed cartridges using brass or copper casings.[17] Houllier commercialised his weapons in association with the gunsmiths Blanchard or Charles Robert.[28][29]

In the United States, in 1857, the Flobert cartridge inspired the .22 Short (another rimfire), especially conceived for the first American revolver using rimfire cartridges, the Smith & Wesson Model 1. A year before, in 1856, the LeMat was the first American (French-designed) breech-loading revolver, but it used pinfire cartridges, not rimfire. Formerly, an employee of the Colt's Patent Firearms Manufacturing Company, Rollin White, had been the first in America to conceive the idea of having the revolver cylinder bored through to accept metallic cartridges (circa 1852), with the first in the world to use bored-through cylinders probably having been Lefaucheux in 1845, who invented a pepperbox-revolver loaded from the rear using bored-through cylinders.[30] However, Samuel Colt refused this innovation. White left Colt, went to Smith & Wesson to rent a licence for his patent, and this is how the S&W Model 1 saw light of day in 1857. The patent didn't definitely expire until 1870, allowing Smith & Wesson competitors to design and commercialise their own revolving breech-loaders using metallic cartridges. Famous models of that time are the Colts Open Top (1871-1872) and Single Action Army "Peacemaker" (1873). But in rifles, the lever-action mechanism patents were not obstructed by Rollin White's patent infringement because White only held a patent concerning drilled cylinders and revolving mechanisms. Thus, larger caliber rimfire cartridges were soon introduced after 1857, when the Smith & Wesson .22 Short ammunition was introduced for the first time. Some of these rifle cartridges were used in the American Civil War, including the .44 Henry and 56-56 Spencer (both in 1860). However, the large rimfire cartridges were soon replaced by centerfire cartridges, which could safely handle higher pressures.[31][32]

In 1867 the British war office adopted the Eley-Boxer metallic centerfire cartridge case in the Pattern 1853 Enfield rifles, which were converted to Snider-Enfield breech-loaders on the Snider principle. This consisted of a block opening on a hinge, thus forming a false breech against which the cartridge rested. The priming cap was in the base of the cartridge, and was discharged by a striker passing through the breech block. Other European powers adopted breech-loading military rifles from 1866 to 1868, with paper instead of metallic cartridge cases. The original Eley-Boxer cartridge case was made of thin-coiled brass—occasionally these cartridges could break apart and jam the breech with the unwound remains of the case upon firing. Later the solid-drawn, centerfire cartridge case, made of one entire solid piece of tough hard metal, an alloy of copper, with a solid head of thicker metal, has been generally substituted.

Centerfire cartridges with solid-drawn metallic cases containing their own means of ignition are almost universally used in all modern varieties of military and sporting rifles and pistols.

Around 1870, machined tolerances had improved to the point that the cartridge case was no longer necessary to seal a firing chamber. Precision-faced bolts would seal as well, and could be economically manufactured. However, normal wear and tear proved this system to be generally infeasible.


The name of any given cartridge does not necessarily reflect any cartridge or gun dimension. The name is merely the standardized and accepted moniker. SAAMI (Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute) and the European counterpart (CIP) and members of those organizations specify correct cartridge names. Cartridge names, when correctly presented, never include a naked leading decimal point.

It is a common misnomer to refer to a cartridge as a certain “caliber,” e.g. “30-06 caliber.” The correct full name for this cartridge is .30-'06 Springfield. The "-'06" means it was introduced in 1906. In sporting arms the only consistent definition of “caliber” is bore diameter. Dozens of unique .30-caliber cartridge types exist.

There is considerable variation in cartridge nomenclature. Names sometimes reflect various characteristics of the cartridge. For example, the .308 Winchester uses a bullet of 308/1000-inch diameter and was standardized by Winchester. Conversely, cartridge names often reflect nothing related to the cartridge in any obvious way. For example, the .218 Bee uses a bullet of 224/1000-inch diameter, fired through a .22-in bore, etc. The 218 and Bee portions of this cartridge name reflect nothing other than the desires of those who standardized that cartridge. Many similar examples exist, for example: .219 Zipper, .221 Fireball, .222 Remington, .256 Winchester, .280 Remington, .307 Winchester, .356 Winchester.

Where two numbers are used in a cartridge name, the second number may reflect a variety of things. Frequently the first number reflects bore diameter (inches or millimeters). The second number reflects case length (in inches or mm). For example, the 7.62×51mm NATO refers to a bore diameter of 7.62 mm and has an overall case length of 51 mm. The commercial version is the .308 Winchester.)

In older black powder cartridges, the second number typically refers to powder charge, in grains. For example, the .50-90 Sharps has a .50-inch bore and used a nominal charge of 90.0 grains (5.83 g) of black powder.

Many such cartridges were designated by a three-number system, e.g., 45-120-3¼ Sharps: 45-caliber bore, 120 grains of (black) powder, 3¼-inch long case. Other times a similar three-number system indicated bore (caliber), charge (grains), and bullet weight (grains). The 45-70-500 Government is an example.

Often, the name reflects the company or individual who standardized it, such as the .30 Newton, or some characteristic important to that person.

The .38 Special actually has a nominal bullet diameter of 0.3570 inches (9.07 mm) (jacketed) or 0.3580 inches (9.09 mm) (lead) while the case has a nominal diameter of 0.3800 inches (9.65 mm),. Hence the name. This is historically logical. The hole drilled through the chambers of .36-caliber cap-and-ball revolvers when converting those to work with cartridges was 0.3800 inches (9.65 mm) and the cartridges made to work in those revolvers was logically named the .38 Colt. The original cartridges used a heeled bullet like a .22 rimfire where the bullet was the same diameter as the case. Early Colt Army .38s have a bore diameter that will allow a .357" diameter bullet to slide through the barrel. The cylinder is bored straight through with no step. Later versions used an inside the case lubricated bullet of .357" diameter instead of the original .38" with a reduction in bore diameter. The difference in .38 Special bullet diameter and case diameter reflects the thickness of the case mouth (approximately 11/1000-inch per side). The .357 Magnum evolved from the .38 Special. The .357 was named to reflect bullet diameter (in thousandths inch), not case diameter. “Magnum” was used to indicate its longer case and higher operating pressure.


Cartridges are classified by some major characteristics. One classification is the location of the primer. Early cartridges began with the pinfire, then the rimfire, and finally the centerfire.

Another classification describes how cartridges are located in the chamber (headspace). Rimmed cartridges are located with the rim near the cartridge head; the rim is also used to extract the cartridge from the chamber. Examples are the .22 long rifle and .303 British. In a rimless cartridge, the cartridge head diameter is about the same as or smaller than the body diameter. The head will have a groove so the cartridge can be extracted from the chamber. Locating the cartridge in the chamber is accomplished by other means. Some rimless cartridges are necked down, and they are positioned by the cartridge's shoulder. An example is the .30-06 Springfield. Pistol cartridges may be located by the end of the brass case. An example is the .45 ACP. A belted cartridge has a larger diameter band of thick metal near the head of the cartridge. An example is the .300 Weatherby Magnum. An extreme version of the rimless cartridge is the rebated case; guns employing advanced primer ignition need such a case because the case moves during firing (i.e., it is not located at a fixed position). An example is the 20mm×110RB.


Rimmed, Mk. VII centerfire .303 cartridge from WW II. Manufactured by Colonial Ammunition Company, New Zealand.

Rimmed, Mk. VII centerfire .303 cartridge from WW II. Manufactured by Colonial Ammunition Company, New Zealand.

A centerfire cartridge has a centrally located primer held within a recess in the case head. Most centerfire brass cases used worldwide for sporting ammunition use Boxer primers. It is easy to remove and replace Boxer primers using standard reloading tools, facilitating reuse.

Some European- and Asian-manufactured military and sporting ammunition uses Berdan primers. Removing the spent primer from (decapping) these cases requires use of a special tool because the primer anvil (on which the primer compound is crushed) is an integral part of the case and the case therefore does not have a central hole through which a decapping tool can push the primer out from the inside, as is done with Boxer primers. In Berdan cases, the flash holes are located to the sides of the anvil. With the right tool and components, reloading Berdan-primed cases is perfectly feasible. However, Berdan primers are not readily available in the U.S.


Rimfire priming was a popular solution before centerfire priming was perfected. In a rimfire case, centrifugal force pushes a liquid priming compound into the internal recess of the folded rim as the manufacturer spins the case at a high rate and heats the spinning case to dry the priming compound mixture in place within the hollow cavity formed within the rim fold at the perimeter of the case interior.

In the mid- to late-1800s, many rimfire cartridge designs existed. Today only a few, mostly for use in small-caliber guns, remain in general and widespread use. These include the .17 Mach II, .17 Hornady Magnum Rimfire (HMR), 5mm Remington Magnum (Rem Mag), .22 (BB, CB, Short, Long, Long Rifle), and .22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire (WMR).

Compared to modern centerfire cases used in the strongest types of modern guns, existing rimfire cartridge designs use loads that generate relatively low pressure because of limitations of feasible gun design — the rim has little or no lateral support from the gun. Such support would require very close tolerances in design of the chamber, bolt, and firing pin. Because that is not cost-effective, it is necessary to keep rimfire load pressure low enough so that the stress generated by chamber pressure that would push the case rim outward cannot expand the rim significantly. Also, the wall of the folded rim must be thin and ductile enough to easily deform, as necessary to allow the blow from the firing pin to crush and thereby ignite the primer compound, and it must do so without rupturing, If it is too thick, it will be too resistant to deformation. If it is too hard, it will crack rather than deform. These two limitations — that the rim is self-supporting laterally and that the rim is thin and ductile enough to easily crush in response to the firing pin impact — limit rimfire pressures.[32]

Modern centerfire cartridges are often loaded to about 65,000 psi (450,000 kPa) maximum chamber pressure. Conversely, no commercialized rimfire has ever been loaded above about 40,000 psi (280,000 kPa) maximum chamber pressure. However, with careful gun design and production, no fundamental reason exists that higher pressures could not be used. Despite the relative pressure disadvantage, modern rimfire magnums in .17-caliber, 5mm, and .22-caliber generate muzzle energy comparable to smaller centerfire cartridges.

Today, .22 LR (Long Rifle) accounts for the vast majority of all rimfire ammunition used. Standard .22 LR rounds use an essentially pure lead bullet plated with a typical 95% copper, 5% zinc combination. These are offered in supersonic and subsonic types, as well as target, plinking, and hunting versions. These cartridges are usually coated with a hard wax for fouling control.

The .22 LR and related rimfire .22 cartridges use a heeled bullet, where external diameter of the case is the same as diameter of the forward portion of the bullet and where the rearward portion of the bullet, which extends into the case, is necessarily smaller in diameter than the main body of the bullet.

Semi-automatic vs. revolver cartridges

Most revolver cartridges have a rim at the base of the case that is larger than the case body is and which seats against or into the cylinder block to provide headspace control (to keep the cartridge from moving too far forward in the cylinder chamber) and to provide for easy extraction.

Nearly every semi-automatic pistol cartridge is “rimless,” or more precisely has a rim of the same diameter as the case body. An extractor engages this rim by entering a cannelure near the base of the case. A few designs, known as "semi-rimmed" have a rim that is slightly larger than case body diameter but these function as a rimless design. All such cartridges headspace on the case mouth (although some, such as .38 Super, at one time seated on the rim, this was changed for accuracy reasons), which prevents the round from entering too far into the chamber. Some cartridges have a rim that is significantly smaller than case body diameter. These are known as rebated-rim designs, and almost always allow a handgun to fire multiple caliber cartridges with only a barrel and magazine change.

For a visual comparison of similar-diameter handgun cartridges with different rim designs, see 380 ACP (semi-automatic) vs. .38 Special (revolver).

Bullet design types

A cutaway showing a Japanese Navy 7.7 mm rimmed rounds as fired by the Type 92 and Type 97 machine guns—copies of Vickers and Lewis designs. The round is effectively interchangeable with .303 British.

A cutaway showing a Japanese Navy 7.7 mm rimmed rounds as fired by the Type 92 and Type 97 machine guns—copies of Vickers and Lewis designs. The round is effectively interchangeable with .303 British.

  • 12 gauge/70 mm standard shotgun buckshot ammunition loads. Listed here from largest to smallest shot size. Loads typically offered in the 70 mm length hull (many other loading options are available). 000 Buck: 8 lead pellets (0.36 in or 9.1 mm) 00 Buck: 9 lead pellets (0.33 in or 8.4 mm, 12 pellets for Magnum load) 0 Buck: 12 lead pellets (0.32 in or 8.1 mm) 1 Buck: 16 lead pellets (0.30 in or 7.6 mm, 20 pellets for Magnum load) 4 Buck: 27 lead pellets (0.24 in or 6.1 mm)

  • Shotgun slug: Slugs can be made of solid lead, copper, or a composite of any of various materials. Slugs are stabilized in flight by rifling in the barrel, which causes the slug to spin, or are stabilized as a dart is by the weight center of balance being forward of the aerodynamic center of balance, sometimes with assistance from fins. Solid or hollow-point slugs are available but, due to the relatively low velocity, hollow-point slugs often demonstrate relatively low expansion.

  • Baton round: a generally non-lethal projectile fired from a riot gun.

  • Armor Piercing (AP): A hard bullet made from steel or tungsten alloys in a pointed shape typically covered by a thin layer of lead and or a copper or brass jacket. The lead and jacket are intended to prevent barrel wear from the hard core materials. AP bullets are sometimes less effective on unarmored targets than FMJ bullets are. This has to do with the reduced tendency of AP projectiles to yaw (turn sideways after impact).

  • Flat Nose Lead (FNL): Similar to the above, with a flattened nose. Common in Cowboy Action Shooting and plinking ammunition loads.

  • Full Metal Jacket (FMJ): Made with a lead core surrounded by a full covering of brass, copper, or mild steel. These usually offer very little deformation or terminal performance expansion, but will occasionally yaw (turn sideways). Despite the name, a FMJ bullet typically has an exposed lead base, which is not visible in an intact cartridge.

  • Glaser Safety Slug: The Glaser Safety Slug dates back to the early 1970s. The inventor, Colonel Jack Cannon, named it for his friend Armin Glaser. Over the years, these projectiles have evolved from crude, hand-produced examples to mass-production; however, the basic concept has remained the same: copper jackets filled with bird shot and covered by a crimped polymer endcap. Upon impact with flesh, the projectile is supposed to fragment, with the birdshot spreading like a miniature shotgun pattern. The standard "Blue" Glaser uses a rather fine birdshot that only gives 5 to 6 inches (130–150 mm) of penetration in flesh. The "Silver" Glaser adds another 1 to 2 inches (30–50 mm) of penetration with the use of slightly larger birdshot. Due to reduced penetration in flesh, some have theorized that the Glaser would be ideal where over-penetration of a projectile could be hazardous to bystanders. For instance, the Glaser might be entirely contained within an arm. However, for the same reasons, terminal performance of Glaser bullets can vary dramatically, producing impressive successes and equally spectacular failures depending on the angle at which the target is struck. Glancing hits on hard surfaces will result in fragmentation, reducing the risk of ricochets. However, the Glaser can penetrate barriers such as drywall, plywood, and thin sheet metal if struck nearly head on.

  • Jacketed Hollow Point (JHP): Soon after the invention of the JSP, Woolwich Arsenal in Great Britain experimented with this design even further by forming a hole or cavity in the nose of the bullet while keeping most of the exterior profile intact. These bullets could theoretically deform even faster and expand to a larger diameter than the JSP. In personal defense use, concerns have arisen over whether clothing, especially heavy materials like denim, can clog the cavity of JHP bullets and cause expansion failures.

  • Jacketed Soft Point (JSP): In the late 19th century, the Indian Army at Dum-Dum Arsenal, near Kolkata, developed a variation of the FMJ design where the jacket did not cover the nose of the bullet. The soft lead nose was found to expand in flesh while the remaining jacket still prevented lead fouling in the barrel. The JSP roughly splits the difference between FMJ and JHP. It gives more penetration than JHP but has better terminal ballistic characteristics than the FMJ.

  • Round Nose Lead (RNL): An unjacketed lead bullet. Although largely supplanted by jacketed ammunition, this is still common for older revolver cartridges. Some hunters prefer roundnose ammunition for hunting in brush because they erroneously believe that such a bullet deflects less than sharp-nosed spitzer bullets, regardless of the fact that this belief has been repeatedly proven not to be true. Refer to American Rifleman magazine.

  • Total Metal Jacket (TMJ): Featured in some Speer cartridges, the TMJ bullet has a lead core completely and seamlessly enclosed in brass, copper or other jacket metal, including the base. According to Speer literature, this prevents hot propellant gases from vaporizing lead from the base of the bullet, reducing lead emissions. Sellier & Bellot produce a similar version that they call TFMJ, with a separate end cap of jacket material.

  • Wadcutter (WC): Similar to the FNL, but completely cylindrical, in some instances with a slight concavity in the nose. This bullet derives its name from its popularity for target shooting, because the form factor cuts neat holes in paper targets, making scoring easier and more accurate and because it typically cuts a larger hole than a round nose bullet, a hit centered at the same spot can touch the next smaller ring and therefore score higher.

  • Semi Wad Cutter (SWC) identical to the WC with a smaller diameter flap pointed conical or radiused nose added. Has the same advantages for target shooters but is easier to load into the gun and works more reliably in semi-automatic guns. This design is also superior for some hunting applications.

  • Truncated Cone, Round Nose Flat Point, etc. Descriptive of typical modern commercial cast bullet designs.

The Hague Convention of 1899 bans the use of expanding projectiles against the military forces of other nations. Some countries accept this as a blanket ban against the use of expanding projectiles against anyone, while others[1] use JSP and HP against non-military forces such as terrorists and criminals.[33]

Common cartridges

A variety of common pistol cartridges. From left to right: 22 LR, .22 WMR, 5.7×28mm, 25 ACP, 7.62×25mm Tokarev, 32 ACP, 380 ACP, 9×19mm Parabellum, 357 SIG, 40 S&W, 45 GAP, 45 ACP, .38 Special, 357 Magnum, 45 Colt

A variety of common pistol cartridges. From left to right: 22 LR, .22 WMR, 5.7×28mm, 25 ACP, 7.62×25mm Tokarev, 32 ACP, 380 ACP, 9×19mm Parabellum, 357 SIG, 40 S&W, 45 GAP, 45 ACP, .38 Special, 357 Magnum, 45 Colt

Ammunition types are listed numerically.

  • [.[22 Long Rifle]] (22 LR): A cartridge that is often used for target shooting and the hunting of small game such as squirrel. Because of the small size of this cartridge, the smallest self-defense handguns chambered in 22 rimfire (though less effective than most centerfire handguns cartridges) can be concealed in situations where a handgun chambered for a centerfire cartridge could not. The 22 LR is the most commonly fired sporting arms cartridge, primarily because, when compared to any centerfire ammunition, 22 LR ammunition is much less expensive and because recoil generated by the light 22 bullet at modest velocity is very mild.

  • .22-250 Remington: A very popular cartridge for medium to long range small game and varmint hunting, pest control and target shooting. The 22-250 is one of the most popular cartridges for fox hunting and other pest control in Western Europe due to its flat trajectory and very good accuracy on rabbit to fox sized pests.

  • .300 Winchester Magnum: One of the most popular big game hunting cartridges of all time. Also, as a long-range sniping round, it is favored by US Navy SEALs and the German Bundeswehr. While not in the same class as the 338 Lapua, it has roughly the same power as 7 mm Remington Magnum, and easily exceeds the performance of 7.62×51mm NATO.

  • 30-06 Springfield (7.62×63mm): The standard US Army rifle cartridge for the first half of the 20th century. It is a full-power rifle cartridge suitable for hunting most North American game and most big game worldwide.[34]

  • .303 British: the standard British Empire military rifle cartridge from 1888 to 1954.[35]

  • .308 Winchester: the commercial name of a centerfire cartridge based on the military 7.62×51mm NATO round. Two years prior to the NATO adoption of the 7.62×51mm NATO T65 in 1954, Winchester (a subsidiary of the Olin Corporation) branded the cartridge and introduced it to the commercial hunting market as the 308 Winchester. The Winchester Model 70 and Model 88 rifles were subsequently chambered for this cartridge. Since then, the 308 Winchester has become the most popular short-action big-game hunting cartridge worldwide. It is also commonly used for civilian and military target events, military sniping and police sharpshooting.

  • .357 Magnum: Using a lengthened version of the .38 Special case loaded to about twice the maximum chamber pressure as the 38 Spc., the 357 Magnum was rapidly accepted by hunters and law enforcement. At the time of its introduction, 357 Magnum bullets were claimed to easily pierce the body panels of automobiles and crack engine blocks (to eventually disable the vehicle).[36]

  • .375 Holland & Holland Magnum: designed for hunting African big game in the early 20th century, and legislated as the minimum caliber for African hunters during the mid-20th century.[37]

  • .40 S&W: A shorter-cased version of the 10mm Auto.

  • .44 Magnum: A high-powered pistol cartridge designed primarily for hunting.

  • .45 ACP: The standard US pistol round for about one century. Typical 45 ACP loads are subsonic.[38]

  • .45 Colt: A more powerful 45-caliber round using a longer cartridge. The 45 Colt was designed for the Colt Single Action Army, circa 1873. Other 45-caliber single action revolvers also use this round.

  • .45-70 Government: Adopted by the US Army in 1873 as their standard service rifle cartridge. Most commercial loadings of this cartridge are constrained by the possibility that someone might attempt to fire a modern loading in a vintage 1873 rifle or replica. However, current production rifles from Marlin, Ruger, and Browning can accept loads that generate nearly twice the pressure generated by the original black powder cartridges.

  • .50 BMG (12.7×99mm NATO): Originally designed to destroy aircraft in the First World War,[39] this cartridge still serves an anti-materiel round against light armor. It is used in heavy machine guns and high-powered sniper rifles. Such rifles are intended for destroying military matériel such as sensitive parts of grounded aircraft and armored transports. Civilian shooters use these for long-distance target shooting.

  • 5.45×39mm Soviet: The Soviet response to the 5.56×45mm NATO cartridge.

  • 5.56×45mm NATO: Adopted by the US military in the 1960s, it later became the NATO standard assault rifle cartridge in the early 80s, displacing the 7.62×51mm. Remington later adopted this military round as the .223 Remington, a very popular cartridge for varminting and small game hunting.

  • 7×64mm: One of the most popular long range varmint and medium- to big-game hunting cartridges in Europe, especially in the countries such as France and (formerly) Belgium where the possession of firearms chambered for a (former) military cartridge is forbidden or is more heavily restricted. This cartridge is offered by European rifle makers in both bolt-action rifles and a rimmed version, the 7×65mmR is chambered in double and combination rifles. Another reason for its popularity is its flat trajectory, very good penetration and high versatility, depending on what bullet and load are used. Combined with a large choice of different 7 mm bullets available the 7×64mm is used on everything from fox and geese to red deer, Scandinavian moose and European brown bear equivalent to the North American black bear. The 7x64mm essentially duplicates performance of the 270 Winchester and 280 Remington.

  • 7 mm Remington Magnum: A long-range hunting cartridge.

  • 7.62×39mm: The standard Soviet/ComBloc rifle cartridge from the mid-1940s to the mid-1970s, this is easily one of the most widely distributed cartridges in the world due to the distribution of the ubiquitous Kalashnikov AK-47 series.

  • 7.62×51mm NATO: This was the standard NATO rifle round until its replacement by the 5.56×45mm. It is currently the standard NATO sniper rifle and medium machinegun chambering. In the 1950s it was the standard NATO cartridge for rifles, but recoil and weight proved problematic for the new battle rifle designs such as the FN FAL. Standardized commercially as the 308 Winchester.

  • 7.62×54mmR: The standard Russian rifle round from the 1890s to the mid-1940s. The "R" stands for rimmed. The 7.62×54mmR rifle cartridge is a Russian design dating back to 1891. Originally designed for the Mosin-Nagant rifle, it was used during the late Tsarist era and throughout the Soviet period, in machine guns and rifles such as the SVT-40. The Winchester Model 1895 was also chambered for this cartridge per a contract with the Russian government. It is still in use by the Russian military in the Dragunov and other sniper rifles and some machine guns. The round is colloquially known as the "7.62 Russian". This name sometimes causes people to confusion this round with the "7.62 Soviet" round, which refers to the 7.62 × 39 cartridge used in the SKS and AK-47 rifles.

  • 7.65×17mm Browning SR (32 ACP): A very small pistol round. However, this was the predominant Police Service Cartridge in Europe until the mid-1970s. The "SR" stands for semi-rimmed, meaning the case rim is slightly larger than case body diameter.

  • 8×57mm IS: The standard German service rifle cartridge from 1888 to 1945, the 8×57mmIS (aka 8 mm Mauser) has seen wide distribution around the globe through commercial, surplus, and military sales, and is still a popular and commonly used hunting round in most of Europe, partly because of the abundance of affordable hunting rifles in this chambering as well as a broad availability of different hunting, target, and military surplus ammunition available.[40]

  • 9×19mm Parabellum: Invented for the German military at the turn of the 20th century, the wide distribution of the 9×19mm Parabellum cartridge made it the logical choice for the NATO standard pistol and SMG round.

  • 9.3×62mm: Very common big game hunting round in Scandinavia along with the 6.5×55mm, where it is used as a very versatile hunting round on anything from small and medium game with lightweight cast lead bullets to the largest European big game with heavy soft point hunting bullets. The 9.3×62mm is also very popular in the rest of Europe for Big game, especially driven Big game hunts due to its effective stopping power on running game. And, it is the single cartridge smaller than the 375 H&H Magnum that has routinely been allowed for legal hunting of dangerous African species.

  • 12.7×108mm: The 12.7×108mm cartridge is a heavy machine gun and anti-materiel rifle cartridge used by the Soviet Union, the former Warsaw Pact, modern Russia, and other countries. It is the approximate Russian equivalent of the NATO .50 BMG (12.7×99mm NATO) cartridge. The differences between the two are the bullet shape, the types of powder used, and that the case of the 12.7×108mm is 9 mm longer and marginally more powerful.

  • 14.5×114mm: The 14.5×114 mm is a heavy machine gun and anti-materiel rifle cartridge used by the Soviet Union, the former Warsaw Pact, modern Russia, and other countries. Its most common use is in the KPV heavy machine gun found on several Russian Military vehicles.

Snake shot

CCI .22LR snake shot loaded with #12 shot

CCI .22LR snake shot loaded with #12 shot

Snake shot (AKA: bird shot, rat shot and dust shot)[41] refers to handgun and rifle cartridges loaded with small lead shot. Snake shot is generally used for shooting at snakes, rodents, birds, and other pests at very close range.

The most common snake shot cartridge is .22 Long Rifle loaded with #12 shot. From a standard rifle these can produce effective patterns only to a distance of about 3 metres (10 ft) - but in a smoothbore shotgun this can extend as far as 15 metres (50 ft).

Caseless ammunition

An example of caseless ammunition. This disassembled round, the 4.73×33mm, is used in the Heckler & Koch G11 rifle.

An example of caseless ammunition. This disassembled round, the 4.73×33mm, is used in the Heckler & Koch G11 rifle.

Many governments and companies continue to develop caseless ammunition (where the entire case assembly is either consumed when the round fires or whatever remains is ejected with the bullet). So far, none of these have been successful enough to reach the civilian market and gain commercial success. Even within the military market, use is limited. Around 1848, Sharps introduced a rifle and paper cartridge (containing everything but the primer) system. When new these guns had significant gas leaks at the chamber end, and with use these leaks progressively worsened. This problem plagues caseless cartridge and gun systems to this day.

The Daisy Heddon VL Single Shot Rifle, which used a caseless round in .22 caliber, was produced by the air gun company, beginning in 1968. Apparently Daisy never considered the gun an actual firearm. In 1969, the ATF ruled it was in fact a firearm, which Daisy was not licensed to produce. Production of the guns and the ammo was discontinued in 1969. They are still available on the secondary market, mainly as collector items, as most owners report that accuracy is not very good.[42]

In 1989, Heckler & Koch, a prominent German firearms manufacturer, began advertising the G11 assault rifle, which shot a 4.73×33 square caseless round. The round was mechanically fired, with an integral primer.

In 1993 Voere of Austria began selling a gun and caseless ammunition. Their system used a primer, electronically fired at 17.5 ± 2 volts. The upper and lower limits prevent fire from either stray currents or static electricity. The direct electrical firing eliminates the mechanical delays associated with a striker, reducing lock time, and allowing for easier adjustment of the rifle trigger.

In both instances, the "case" was molded directly from solid nitrocellulose, which is itself relatively strong and inert. The bullet and primer were glued into the propellant block.


Dardick 1500 with trounds

Dardick 1500 with trounds

The “Tround” (“Triangular Round”) was a unique type of cartridge designed in 1958 by David Dardick, for use in specially designed Dardick 1100 and Dardick 1500 open-chamber firearms. As their name suggests, Trounds were triangular in cross-section, and were made of plastic or aluminum, with the cartridge completely encasing the powder and projectile. The Tround design was also produced as a cartridge adaptor, to allow conventional .38 Special and 22 Long Rifle cartridges to be used with the Dardick firearms.

Blank ammunition

Blank cartridges:7.62×51mm NATO (left)9×19mm Parabellum (right).

Blank cartridges:7.62×51mm NATO (left)9×19mm Parabellum (right).

A blank is a charged cartridge that does not contain a projectile, alternatively uses a non-metallic (for instance wooden) projectile that pulverizes when hitting a blank firing adapter. To contain the propellant, the opening where the projectile would normally be located is crimped shut and or it is sealed with some material that disperses rapidly upon leaving the barrel.

This sealing material can still potentially cause harm at extremely close range. Actor Jon-Erik Hexum died when he shot himself in the head with a blank, and actor Brandon Lee was famously killed during filming of The Crow when a blank fired behind a bullet that was stuck in the bore drove that bullet through his abdomen and into his spine. The gun had not been properly deactivated and a primed case with a bullet instead of a dummy had been used previously. Someone pulled the trigger and the primer drove the bullet silently into the bore.

Blanks are used in training, but do not always cause a gun to behave the same as live ammunition does; recoil is always far weaker, and some automatic guns only cycle correctly when the gun is fitted with a blank-firing adaptor to confine gas pressure within the barrel to operate the gas system.

Blanks can also be used to launch a rifle grenade, although later systems used a "bullet trap" design that captures a bullet from a conventional round, speeding deployment. This also negates the risk of mistakenly firing a live bullet into the rifle grenade, causing it to instantly explode instead of propelling it forward.

Blanks are also used as dedicated launchers for propelling a grappling hook, rope line or flare, or for a training lure for training gun dogs.

The power loads used in a variety of nail guns are essentially rimfire blanks.

Dummy rounds

23×152mm cartridge, drill round

23×152mm cartridge, drill round

Drill rounds are inert versions of cartridges used for education and practice during military training. Other than the lack of propellant and primer, these are the same size as normal cartridges and will fit into the mechanism of a gun in the same way as a live cartridge does. Because dry-firing (releasing the firing pin with an empty chamber) a gun can sometimes lead to firing pin (striker) damage, dummy rounds termed snap caps are designed to protect centerfire guns from possible damage during "dry-fire" trigger control practices.

To distinguish drill rounds and snap-caps from live rounds these are marked distinctively. Several forms of markings are used; e.g. setting colored flutes in the case, drilling holes through the case, coloring the bullet or cartridge, or a combination of these. In the case of centerfire drill rounds the primer will often be absent, its mounting hole in the base is left open. Because these are mechanically identical to live rounds, which are intended to be loaded once, fired and then discarded, drill rounds have a tendency to become significantly worn and damaged with repeated passage through magazines and firing mechanisms, and must be frequently inspected to ensure that these are not so degraded as to be unusable—for example the cases can become torn or misshapen and snag on moving parts, or the bullet can become separated and stay in the breech when the case is ejected.


9 × 19 mm Mek-Porek

9 × 19 mm Mek-Porek

The bright-colored Mek-Porek is an inert cartridge base designed to prevent a live round from being unintentionally chambered, to reduce the chances of an accidental discharge from mechanical or operator failure. An L-shaped flag is visible from the outside, so that the shooter and other people concerned are instantly aware about the situation of the weapon. The Mek-Porek is usually tethered to its weapon by a short string, and can be quickly ejected to make way for a live round if the situation suddenly warrants. This safety device is standard-issue in the Israel Defense Forces.[43]

Snap cap

An assortment of snap caps of varying calibers.

An assortment of snap caps of varying calibers.

A snap cap is a device which is shaped like a standard cartridge but contains no primer, propellant or projectile. It is used to ensure that dry firing firearms of certain designs does not cause damage. A small number of rimfire and centerfire firearms of older design should not be test-fired with the chamber empty, as this can lead to weakening or breakage of the firing pin and increased wear to other components in those firearms. In the instance of a rimfire weapon of primitive design, dry firing can also cause deformation of the chamber edge. For this reason some shooters use a snap cap in an attempt to cushion the weapon's firing pin as it moves forward. Some snap caps contain a spring-dampened fake primer, or one made of plastic, or none at all; the springs or plastic absorb force from the firing pin, allowing the user to safely test the function of the firearm action without damaging its components.

Snap caps and action-proving dummy cartridges also work as a training tool to replace live rounds for loading and unloading drills, as well as training for misfires or other malfunctions, as they function identically to a live "dud" round that has not ignited. Usually one snap-cap is usable for 300 to 400 clicks. After that, due to the hole at the false primer, the firing pin does not reach it.

See also

  • Ammunition

  • Ammunition box

  • Antique guns

  • Handloading

  • List of handgun cartridges

  • List of Magnum pistol cartridges

  • List of rifle cartridges

  • Nitrocellulose

  • Percussion cap

  • Shotgun shell

  • Snake shot

  • Table of handgun and rifle cartridges


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