General Question

tekn0lust's avatar

Can a bullet discharge if dropped?

Asked by tekn0lust (1868points) January 26th, 2008

Is it possible to drop a bullet in such a way that it will discharge? If it did what would happen? Would it just explode like a fire cracker since there is no barrel to travel out of?

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16 Answers

GD_Kimble's avatar

it’s unlikely that a dropped shell would discharge, but it’s possible if it struck the ground just so. The likelihood increases with the age of the bullet.
and it wouldnt pop like a firecracker, the slug would still travel away from the casing with the same velocity as if it were fired normally, just with very little ballistic accuracy

Spargett's avatar

At the base of a bullet there is a small round circle, called the primer (See Diagram) Normally in a gun the firing pin hits the primer in the middle, which in turn ignites the the gunpowder and sends the bullet traveling from the barrel.

If you were to drop (more like throw) the bullet in a way that some sharp concentrated object hit the primer just right, it could discharge. But it’s not easy to do, think something more along the lines of using a nail and hammer on it and still having a hard time.

And if it did discharge, it wouldn’t be that dangerous. More like a firecracker since the explosion isn’t compressed (gun barrel), and there is nothing (gun barrel) channeling the bullet with the (highly compressed) explosion behind it. All of the force would expand outwards 360°, dissipating extremely fast in an exponential fashion.

There’d be a pop, a quick flash, and the bullet would plop over on the ground somewhere. It’s certainly not like movies.

mikeyC's avatar

Im saying Yes as well for all of the above. However, you might like to also note that adding them to a fire is also NOT a good idea. Why do I tell you this ? Because when I was a young lad my mother ( bless her heart) threw a box of old 22 shells into the trash . And at that time (early 70s ) we burned our trash . OMG !!! Hit the deck !!! Bang bang bang more bang and bang again it was very scary. I was with my friend both of us were like 11 yes old. It was one of the chores on the farm to take the trash to the burn barrel. Mom a and us boys learned the hard way that day . Thank God we lived.

Poser's avatar

@mikeyC—Did you witness any bullet holes from this episode? I tend to doubt the “bullets in the fire” danger. As Spargett mentioned, without the compression and channeling of the explosion as in a gun barrel, physics would teach us that an exploding bullet would be relatively “harmless.” I put that word in parenthesis because even the primer of bullets can be harmful, as I discovered playing with shotgun shell primers as a kid. I still have the scar on my hand where the primer casing blew off and hit me. Of course, I was using a screwdriver and a hammer to pop them, so I stand in defense of my original position. Bullets in a fire are relatively harmless.

When you compare the relative masses of a bullet’s casing and the slug, the casing is typically less. Therefore, when the gunpowder explodes, the lighter casing would tend to go farther (and faster) than the more-dangerous slug. Because of the poor aerodynamic characteristics of a bullet’s casing, it would slow down very quickly upon being flung away by the explosion. That’s not to say it wouldn’t be dangerous, but I think that, standing several yards away, you’d be fairly safe.

mikeyC's avatar

I do not know if you understood these bullets were all metal . I was there , I say don’t put any bullet into fire NO NO NO . I just don’t want a inquisitive kid to well you know . Like you said casings and those kind I have seen but these were small like all steal. And I did not stand up to see if you get my drift . You should have seen my face I was scarD!!! Like lady O says

Spargett's avatar


The fact that you were really scared didn’t make them any more dangerous than they are normally.

Poser's avatar

I’m not doubting that putting the bullets in the fire was impressive and probably very scary. I’m pretty sure, however, that it sounded much more dangerous than it actually was—especially to an eleven year old (for instance, Fright Night, scared the bejeesus out of me when I was eleven. Now it just makes me laugh). It doesn’t change the fact that the lead of the slug is much heavier than the steel of the casing, and a casing flying through the air—while dangerous—is probably not deadly unless you are standing very close to the hot bullets.

pattyb's avatar

Mythbusters just did this, put bullets in fire perhaps you can catch a repeat. By the way, they explode like firecrackers, they do not fire as they would out of a gun..

mikeyC's avatar

umm maybe an eye! Think
one mans danger anouther mans toy? He he , every play with matches ? Now were getting real hardcore. Thanks for your impressive knowlege on such an upscere subject . When I woke up today I never would have dreamed if I be here. Your amazing , really thanks for all the good tips! Have a good night

GD_Kimble's avatar

I don’t know about throwing shells into a fire, but I question the assertion that bullets lack enough velocity to do much harm if they arent discharged from a muzzle. When I was about 10, I put a bullet in a vice and struck the primer with a hammer and nail (saw it in a movie and I was a poorly supervised kid) and even if it lacked full power, it still had enough oomph to blow a hole in my dad’s fence.

Poser's avatar

But the vice provided the “compression” needed to keep the energy of the explosion from being absorbed by the casing, rather than the slug. Remember Newton? For every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction? If you are able to immobilize the lighter casing (such as in a gun barrel or vice), the only reaction to the action of the igniting gunpowder is for the slug to go flying.

GD_Kimble's avatar

Ah, I see. I misread the bit about the casings going flying instead of the slug.. You win again, Science (shakes fist in air)

worriedmom's avatar

I am reading this out of concern, as I recently dicovered that a student at my son’s elementary school has been discovered to be carring bullets to school in his back pack. And the school asserts that he is technically not doing anything wrong, because they could not really do any harm. I am thinking a school full of kids, a bus full of kids, one wrong move, one kid hurt at all is to much to make it no big deal!

throwbulletatground's avatar

I did this in 1983 with a 7.62mm round I stole from shooting with cadets. First stood it upright on ground and threw big rocks onto it, everything tried did not detonate it. Finally picked it up and threw it hard at the ground a couple of foot in front of me. It detonated as loud as a rifle, my friend and I cycled off swearing never to repeat such a stupid thing.
No idea where the bullet or shell casing went, if either of us had been hit we would have been seriously injured or killed, no doubt whatsover.

Cherieray's avatar

My neice dropped a box of reloaded ammo (45 ACP). One in the package exploded and put metal in her leg. It can happen! The bullet was still there on the floor, just the casing was destroyed and in several pieces. She still has the metal in her leg today, that was in 2003.

fredTOG's avatar

We used to put rim fire 22. in a drinking straw and throw them up high and boom when they hit the pavement .

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