Have you ever heard of the phrase faster than a speeding bullet? Well, let’s just say that it is not easy to achieve! Bullets often achieve a speed well over that of sound. But what factors affect a bullet’s speed? More importantly, how fast does a bullet travel when fired? Let’s find out!
How Fast Does A Bullet Travel?
Bullets from different calibers travel at different speeds. A rifle’s bullet speed is the fastest (1,200-4,000 fps), followed by a shotgun (1,200-1,600 fps), and then the slowest we have, the handgun (950-1,500 fps).
Considering a rifle bullet that travels at 2,600 feet per second (1,800 miles per hour), that would be more than twice the speed of sound. Hence, the term supersonic loads, which means the load will produce a force large enough to propel the projectile faster than the speed of sound.
Main Factors That Impact A Bullet’s Speed
The main factors that affect a bullet’s speed are all part of the caliber’s ballistics and characteristics of the cartridge and its bullet.
Velocity, or the rate at which an object changes from one position to another, is what we use to determine the ‘speed’ of a bullet. Velocity depends on numerous things, some we have control over, like cartridge characteristics. And some are at the mercy of nature, like wind and air resistance. So we will only be discussing that which we have control over:
Load (Amount and Type of Powder)
Burning gunpowder produces expanding gas, which in turn produces a force large enough to propel a projectile out of the barrel. The amount and type of gunpowder will determine, in part, how fast a bullet travels. In our comparison of 25 06 vs 30 06 rounds we found gunpowder played a huge role in bullet speed. The heavier the load (more gunpowder), the faster the bullet. Also, fast-burning gunpowder will produce a faster bullet.
Gun barrel length also affects the speed of a bullet. There are spiral twists inside the barrel of a gun, known as a rifling twist. These spiral twists cause the bullet to rotate, making it more aerodynamic. This allows the bullet to achieve higher velocities than simply when it has to punch its way through the air.
A longer barrel will enhance the bullet rotation effect, making it even more aerodynamic -allowing the bullet to fly faster and have a high velocity. Therefore, rounds like the 357 vs 10mm will not be as fast as popular rifle rounds.
The bullet weight also impacts the speed of a bullet. A heavier bullet will need a larger initial force to produce the same velocity as a lighter bullet. If the load amount is unadjusted, then the bullet will be slower. As a general rule, lighter bullets are the fastest bullets when fired from the same caliber, but the cartridge load should also be taken into account.
Popular Rifle Calibers Bullet’s Speed
1) .22 LR (Rimfire Cartridge – Very Light Bullet and Load)
- Muzzle velocity – 1,200 fps
- 50 Yards – 1,069 fps
- 100 Yards – 982 fps
- 150 Yards – 917 fps
2) 6.5 Creedmoor (Medium-Sized Cartridge)
- Muzzle Velocity – 2,700
- 100 Yards – 2,484
- 200 Yards – 2,278
- 300 Yards – 2,082
- 400 Yards – 1,895
- 500 Yards – 1,721
3) .223 Rem/5.56 NATO (Small cartridge)
- Muzzle Velocity – 3,425
- 100 Yards – 2,899
- 200 Yards – 2,430
- 300 Yards – 2,007
- 400 Yards – 1,634
- 500 Yards – 1,325
4) .308 (Heavy cartridge)
- Muzzle Velocity – 2,600
- 100 Yards – 2,457
- 200 Yards – 2,282
- 300 Yards – 2,113
- 400 Yards – 1,952
- 500 Yards – 1,799
So let’s break down the difference in the data mentioned above. The .22 produces the slowest projectiles as it is a small rimfire cartridge. Therefore it does not have the capacity to have heavy gunpowder loads. Hence cannot produce a force large enough to propel the projectile beyond 1,500 feet per second.
A 6.5 Creedmoor is a much heavier cartridge than the .22. It is also a centerfire cartridge. This means the ignition of the propellant is much more uniform and efficient. Be sure to read up on the difference between the rimfire & centerfire rounds. The gunpowder capacity is also much higher than the .22.
The .223 has a low bullet weight, 50 grain. Much smaller than the 140-grain bullet of the 6.5 Creedmoor. Therefore it has the ability to produce much higher velocities at close range.
This is where it gets interesting. The .308 has a slower initial velocity than the 6.5 and .223 because it uses a heavier projectile (180 grain). We saw in our comparison of the 6.5 vs 350 Legend, the 6.5 is a fast round! However, the amount of gunpowder the .308 has is also higher than the other mentioned cartridges. Allowing it to still produce a considerable force.
But because the bullet is so heavy, it has a higher energy load and is able to maintain that energy better. This enables the .308 bullet to have higher speeds than any other of the cartridges mentioned at ranges of 300+ yards.
Popular Pistol Calibers Bullet’s Speed
1) .45 ACP
- Muzzle Velocity – 835
- 25 Yards – 817
- 50 Yards – 800
- 75 Yards – 784
- 100 Yards – 768
2) .380 ACP
- Muzzle Velocity – 990
- 25 Yards – 955
- 50 Yards – 924
- 75 Yards – 895
- 100 Yards – 870
- Muzzle Velocity – 1,145
- 25 Yards – 1,092
- 50 Yards – 1,048
- 75 Yards – 1,011
- 100 Yards – 979
The same principle counts for handgun loads. The .45 ACP uses 230-grain bullet weights with not much extra gunpowder compared to its opposition. Hence, the lowest-speeding bullet. We saw in our analysis of how far the 22 bullet travels that bullet weight plays a major factor. The 9 mm has the highest velocity as it uses its gunpowder load and bullet weight the most effectively.
Overview Of A Speeding Bullet
1) What Are Ballistics?
If you are new to gun terms, ballistics means the study of determining a caliber’s performance in terms of a set of vector and scalar values as its bullet travels through the air. These values include velocity, energy, trajectory, etc. In our recent post, we compared the ballistics of the 223 vs 3006 Springfield rounds.
2) Muzzle Velocity Explained
Muzzle velocity is the force (measured in feet per second) with which a bullet exits a barrel. The higher the muzzle velocity, the faster the speed of a bullet. Muzzle velocities are also the first actual measurement we can take of how fast a bullet travels.
3) Muzzle Energy Explained
Muzzle energy (measured in foot per pound) is the energy when a bullet leaves the muzzle (front opening) of a gun barrel. This is also the first measurement we can take of a bullet’s energy. When we compared the 300 Blackout and 6.5 Grendel cartridges, we found that the 6.5 Grendel produced far more energy.
4) Bullets Trajectory
A bullet’s trajectory is the flight path a bullet travels. Contrary to belief, a bullet does not travel in a straight line. Instead, it follows a curved flight path. It initially rises in elevation, then flattens out before it ultimately drops in elevation until it hits the ground.
The flatter a cartridge’s trajectory, the better because it means the bullet’s flight path can be more accurately guessed, and therefore the shooter’s accuracy is also better.
Are Bullets Faster Than Sound?
That depends on what gun the bullet is fired from. Most handgun cartridges have subsonic loads, meaning the velocity they produce is less than the speed of sound (1,087 fps). Most rifles produce supersonic loads. Thus, the bullet travels faster than the speed of sound (1,087 fps).
Bullet Speed In Mach
What is Mach? Well, a Mach number is the ratio between the object’s speed in a given medium to the speed of sound in that same medium. Because we shoot bullets outside, Mach 1 will almost always be 1,087 feet per second or 761 miles per hour. To put this into perspective, a 50 Caliber bullet will have a supersonic speed of Mach 3.
Frequently Asked Questions
How fast does a bullet travel in mph?
How fast is a 9mm bullet mph?
How fast does a 50 caliber bullet travel in mph?
How fast is an AK 47 bullet?
How fast is sniper bullet?
Has a gun ever been fired in space?
Several factors influence a bullet’s speed, from the gunpowder amount to the barrel length. This is why small rounds like handgun ammunition have a low speed, and a large round like rifle ammo has a fast speed. The speed matches the use case, a handgun weapon is for close-range self-defense situations. In comparison, a rifle is used for shooting a target at long distances. So there you have it! Bullets travel fast – faster than the speed of sound!
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