1.1 The designer of modern ammunition is confronted by many problems and Restrictions. The following are some of the requirements for a round:

a. Limited size and mass.

b. The ability to withstand rough handling and exposure.

c. Safety in storage, transport and use.

d. A reasonably high muzzle velocity, maintained over long distances.

e. The ability to function correctly during rapid and sustained fire.

f. Must be cheaply and quickly manufactured.

g. Moderate chamber pressure.

1.2 The following factors relating to the care of ammunition have an effect on the ballistics of the weapon:

a. Ammunition that has been carefully looked after is accurate, and will deliver good results.

b. Any needless or rough handling of ammunition will give rise to inaccurate fire and stoppages, e.g.:

    • Dirty Ammunition. Causes difficult extraction and malfunction of the working parts of the weapon.
    • Normal ejection does thus not take place, and there may also be changes in the chamber pressure during the ignition of the propellant.
    • Wet or Oily Ammunition. The normal ejection of the case does not take place. There is also a change in chamber pressure during the ignition of the propellant.
    • Ammunition Left in the Hot Sun. The case and propellant warms. This causes quicker ignition of the propellant and an increased chamber pressure, which in turn causes a higher muzzle velocity.
    • Ammunition Dented and Damaged. This makes seating in the chamber difficult – a stoppage may arise. If the case does not seat properly, the functioning of the round is not normal. Extraction is also more difficult.

Components of handgun ammunition

1.3 The term “round” is also used to refer to ammunition. The word round is often used when reference is made to a single” piece” of ammunition. The term round was probably derived from military where semi-automatic and automatic rifles are used, and where the automatic loading of ammunition into the firearm is referred to as a new round (cycle) that is loaded.

Cartridge case

1.4 The cartridge case is made out of a metal compound, usually brass or copper.

1.5 All the components of the round are housed in the cartridge, together in the chamber, which is situated in the barrel of the firearm.

1.6 The function of the cartridge is to contain the expanding gasses that are created when the round is fired, and to direct the bullet forward towards the muzzle of the firearm.

1.7 Empty cartridges are often reloaded, and re-used. The reloading of cartridge, however, is a very exact science and should only be attempted by someone with the necessary training and experience to do this.

 1.8 There are two types of cartridges namely rim-fire cartridges or center-fire cartridges. The names of these two types are derived from the location of the primer. The best way to see is to look at a spent cartridge, after it has been fired.  The place at which the back of the cartridge was hit by the firing pin- -indicated by a small dent – will show if it was hit on the rim or in the center of the cartridge. 


1.9 The primer is the metal device situated at the bottom of the cartridge case and contains an explosive compound. The function of the primer can be likened to a spark plug found on an internal combustion engine. Similar to the spark plug that initiates the combustion in the piston chamber.

1.10 The primer can be activated by both heat and pressure. When activated, a small detonation causes a flash, which ignites the propellant in the cartridge.

1.11 Centre-fire cartridges are subdivided into two categories:

a. Burden primer (Two flash holes) Cartridges with this type of primer can normally not be reloaded with a home reloading kit.

b. Boxer primer (One flash hole) Cartridges with this type of primer they can be reloaded with home reloading kits.

1.12 The term flash hole refers to the small holes on the inside of the cartridge through which the flash caused by the primer as it ignites actually burns.


1.13 The propellant is a highly flammable substance situated inside the cartridge in front of the primer. There are different compositions of propellant that are used, depending on the application of the firearm. The propellant normally consists of nitro-cellulose compound and is often referred to as a smokeless powder.

1.14 As the propellant ignites, it burns rapidly. This cause tremendous pressure that is build up in the cartridge, directly behind the bullet. All of this takes place so fast that it can almost be compared with a mini explosion inside the muzzle of the firearm.

1.15 Pressure caused by the expanding gasses is caught up inside the cartridge and the chamber of the firearm, and will be released into the direction where there is the least resistance – direction of the bullet. This causes the bullet to be forced through the barrel and out of the muzzle of the firearm at a very high speed.

1.16 The bullet is the only item in the muzzle of the firearm that moves when the shot is fired. The cartridge remains behind in the chamber of the firearm while the bullet is propelled forward because of the igniting propellant and the resultant pressure build-up.


Many different bullets can be found. Apart from commercially manufactured bullets there are people who practice the reloading of ammunition as a hobby. Different types of bullets are used due to the effect that the bullet will have on the target.

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