Guns fire bullets at tremendous speeds due to packing a large amount of energy into a small space. This energy can propel a bullet to travel a considerable distance at impressive speeds, but how far can a bullet travel?
Even expert gun owners might struggle to answer this question as usually, guns are fired at a target and are never given a chance to travel as far as they can go.
So how far will a bullet travel before it loses velocity and falls to the ground? What factors can affect this distance and do different bullets travel for different distances?
In this article, we will answer these questions and look at exactly how a bullet can travel once fired.
How Is A Bullet Fired?
Before we can look at how far a bullet can travel, we should look at what makes it travel at all. Although there are some variations in how different weapons fire, the basic premise is the same regardless of whether it is a handgun or a missile.
Guns are loaded with bullet cartridges that consist of three parts, one of which is the bullet itself. The other two parts are the primer and the propellant.
The primer acts like the fuse on a firework which in turn lights the propellant and it is the propellant that makes the bullet speed through the barrel of the gun.
When you pull the trigger of a gun, a spring mechanism inside the gun hammers a firing pin into the back of the bullet cartridge. This ignites the primer, which in turn ignites the propellant.
As the chemicals in the propellant burn, an enormous amount of energy is produced and this pushes the bullet out of the gun at immense pressure and speed.
What Factors Affect How Far A Bullet Travels?
Not all guns have the same power behind them and there are also environmental factors that can affect the distance a bullet travels. These include:
Temperature can impact both internal and external ballistics. If the gun is cold, the propellant will burn slower than if the casing is warmer. When it burns faster, more pressure and velocity are generated resulting in the bullet traveling further.
Once the bullet exits the gun, it will also be affected by temperature. As cold air is denser than warm air, it will cause more drag and slow the bullet down more quickly.
It is very difficult to predict exactly how wind will affect the distance a bullet can travel as there are so many variables involved. It’s also possible that wind direction and speed can change as the bullet flies.
However, it will certainly affect the distance and a small amount of wind deflection in the early stages of the bullet’s journey will be compounded as the bullet travels further.
If you shoot a gun high into the air, the bullet won’t travel as far as its energy and velocity will be wasted on achieving height. The optimal trajectory to get the most distance for your bullet is about 30 degrees from the horizontal.
This allows the bullet to travel neatly and takes advantage of the aerodynamic design of the bullet, while using all of the firing energy to propel it forward instead of up or down.
How Fast Can A Bullet Travel?
This can vary greatly from gun to gun and bullet to bullet, but the range is generally 1,000 to 3,000 feet per second. On average, it’s around 2,500 feet per second.
To put that into perspective, that’s around three times faster than the average commercial jet aircraft flies. Bullets can often travel faster than the speed of sound, also.
How Far Can A Bullet Travel?
The distance a bullet travels will be affected by the factors we’ve already discussed and also the gun itself. Handguns aren’t built for distance shooting but even a bullet fired from this popular type of gun can travel far.
According to the National Rifle Association (NRA), the most popular handgun in the US is a 9 mm handgun, and a bullet fired from this gun can travel up to 2,130 yards.
That’s 1.2 miles! The second most popular handgun is a Colt .45 and bullets fired from this gun fall just short of a 9 mm as they can only travel 1,850 miles, or about one mile.
If you want a gun that can shoot accurately over longer distances, then a rifle is a good choice. The NRA says the AR-15 rifle is the most popular model in the US and this can manage a distance of around 3,840 yards, or 2.2 miles. It won’t be as accurate and effective at these extreme distances, however.
What Is The Maximum Effective Distance Recorded?
As we just learned, an AR-15 rifle can shoot around 3,840 yards but loses its effectiveness at that distance. The chance of a civilian hitting a specific target with an AR-15 at such a range is very, very low.
With the right gun and the right training, however, people have been able to make shots such as these. According to the BBC, a Canadian special forces sniper was able to take out a target at a range of 3,870 yards during an operation in Iraq in 2017.
In this article, we saw that numerous factors determine how far a bullet can travel. As well as the type of gun itself, factors such as temperature, wind speed, and trajectory can prevent a bullet from traveling as far as it possibly can.
Handguns have an impressive shooting distance but a handgun bullet can still only travel half the distance of a rifle bullet. It’s also important to remember that as distance increases, your accuracy and effectiveness will decrease.