Why Are Most Handgun Bullets Round Instead of Pointy?
Why Are Most Handgun Bullets Round Instead of Pointy?
Believe it or not, there’s a lot of science involved in firearms. Countless hours of design and engineering go into the creation of every firearm on the market. Men such as Eugene Stoner, Mikhail Kalashnikov and John Moses Browning all poured many thankless days into testing and refining their firearms. It was this testing and refinement that produced the final finished products we all know and love.
You can probably guess what’s next: The same thing happens with the development of ammunition. Modern ammunition features like grain weights, powder loads, materials used, and even the shape of the projectile are all the result of extensive testing and research.
But is it really as simple as that? Yes and no. There are a lot of factors that go into the design of a round, and oftentimes the shape of the round is dictated by those other factors.
We’ve discussed the importance of grain for a number of factors in previous posts, so there’s no reason to rehash this topic. But the weight of the round is an important part of its overall ballistic profile. Every style of bullet was intended to meet certain goals, whether defensive or otherwise, and the grain is important to those ends.
The long and short of it for handguns is that the barrel of the gun is shorter, so the weight of the round is a bigger factor in how it travels. A round designed with a pointed tip is usually longer and therefore has more material in it. More material means more weight, which requires more velocity to get it where it’s going.
Sure, a heavier round does have advantages in certain settings. But each caliber has to do what it can to maximize performance. Making a 9mm thinner by stretching it to a pointed tip would decrease the overall area striking the intended target. That means it’s going to transfer less energy into that target on impact. The 5.56/.223 round is an excellent example of this; it’s a small round shaped to a point, and as a result, it tends to punch through objects it hits. That continues the energy out past the target.
Pistols have shorter barrels than rifles. Yes, that part is obvious, but the reason this is important with regard to the shape of the round is muzzle velocity. Put simply, pistols can’t create the same kind of muzzle velocity that a rifle can, so the more aerodynamic shape of rifle rounds just isn’t as necessary.
Plus, a greater twist rate is required to achieve the stabilization that the pointed rounds need for the velocity that they are traveling to maintain their accuracy. Due to the shorter pistol barrels, this isn’t necessary.
Now, before someone asks, this is excluding things like AR pistols. The thing about AR pistols is that they are rifle platforms that have been adapted into pistols. Also, no one is making AR pistols with a barrel that doesn’t give the round at least one full rotation — or at least no one serious — so they all have at least the 1:7 twist necessary for stabilization.
Size and Weight
We’ve already talked about the weight of the round when it comes to it being fired, but the overall weight it adds to the gun is an important factor too. Pistols don’t have slings; they’re carried on you, and in many cases are concealed in some way. Plus, with pistols, you are supporting the weight with just the pistol grip — there’s no forend or stock to help distribute the load like with a rifle. In order to fire accurately, you don’t want the gun to be weighed down with heavier rounds.
Bullet size and shape is very important when it comes to how easy or difficult a gun is to handle and operate, in addition to being an important factor in ballistic performance. As we’ve discussed, crafting the rounds tapered to a point would likely make them heavier in general. Even if it didn’t (because they were made thinner), they would still be longer and take up more space in your hand and on your person.
Additionally, if you make the rounds longer, the grip of the pistol would be bigger to accommodate them. This changes everything about the way you operate the firearm and these longer rounds would likely not be as popular as rounds the way they are currently designed. Not to mention the changes it might cause to people’s shooting accuracy and speed.
In case you hadn’t noticed, the size of pistols is becoming a bit of a theme here. This also holds true for the design of how the gun feeds the rounds into the chamber. Pistols are more compact — even the full-sized ones — so every bit of space must be fully capitalized on. By having more rounded bullets, the gun has less to worry about when feeding the round into the chamber. The rounded nature decreases chances for snags and allows for a broader and more shallow feed ramp to save space.
Just so we’re clear, this isn’t a judgement on the efficacy of pointed rounds and how they feed. This is just an attempt to explain the reasons why certain choices were made. Deliberate choices had to be made in designing a gun and the rounds it would fire, so certain trade offs were settled upon. Do round bullets feed better than pointed ones? That depends on a variety of factors and would require its own post, but understand that there was a definite logic to the way common cartridges were designed.
We would be remiss if we did not point out that yes, there are some pointed handgun rounds — that’s right, we’re looking at you FN Five Seven. There are companies working to push the boundaries and develop improvements on traditional styles of handguns and ammunition. Whether they're actually achieving improvements or not is up to you, the end user, to decide.
So, why are most handgun bullets round instead of pointy? They just don’t need to be pointed. When it comes to pistols, and therefore the round they fire, the smaller design is a big reason why the round isn’t tapered to a point. In fact, when it comes to tapered rounds, you could say that it’s pointless (pun very much intended) in a pistol.
Technologies change and improve over time and because of that, none if this is set in stone. Change is a good thing in most cases, and plenty of people are currently working on new designs for firearms and rounds. Will the rounds for handguns remain in the shape they currently are? That remains to be seen, but for now, you know the reasons why they're round.