Physics of Firearms Essay

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A firearm, in the most basic form, consists of a barrel, an action, a firing mechanism, a stock and a sighting device. No matter the form of the firearm, the same basic principles of physics and chemistry apply. The study of these principles is called ballistics. There are three types of ballistics, internal, external, and terminal. Internal ballistics is the study of the flight of a projectile inside a firearm. External ballistics is the study of the flight of a bullet after leaving the muzzle and until it hits the target. Terminal ballistics is the study of the effects of a projectile on a given target. Because this essay deals with the flight of the bullet, terminal ballistics will not be discussed.

Internal ballistics is the study
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This is also the same as the diameter of the barrel and is usually measured in hundredths of an inch. For example, a 30 caliber gun corresponds to a 0.300 inch distance between the lands.


As the bullet leaves the gun, it has a certain kinetic energy determined by the mass of the bullet and the square of its velocity (K=1/2mv^2.). According to Newton �s third law: "for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction" (F1=-F2.) In the case of a rifle, the bullet leaving the barrel is the action and the free recoil is the reaction. Although the mass of the bullet components and their velocity are the main factors that influence this recoil, acceleration, firearm mass, and the shooter�s mass determine how the recoil is felt by the shooter. The shorter the time the bullet accelerates down the barrel, the harder the kick felt by the shooter. Also, if the mass of the gun is greater, the lower will be the recoil. This is also true of the shooter. A shooter with a larger mass will feel less recoil than the one with a smaller mass. This is why most target rifles are of a small caliber and heavy construction.

To demonstrate this, the following calculations show the free recoil generated by a small caliber target rifle (1.06J) and a large caliber big game hunting rifle (53.54J).

Free Recoil
Free recoil is the result of the propulsive force of the

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