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Anatomy Of A Rifle Cartridge By: Lyndon Combs

Recently I had the rather aggravating problem of having a bullet to become lodged in the barrel of one of my rifles! It was due to some powder that was either contaminated, or old... I know that it was one of these two reasons as I had weighed the cartridges after the batch was completed.... I had also ruled out the primer as it had the steam to push the bullet into the barrel... Now onto the subject of this article as well as the reason for it being written. You see as I mentioned this problem in passing to people I was surprised by just how many thought that I had some kind of explosive dangerous problem! That this bullet lodged in the barrel was in some way going to go off, and hurt someone!! This is why I decided to write this little article on just what makes up a rifle cartridge, and what actually does the work!

First I have a drawing that is labeled with the basic components of a rifle cartridge that I have included below:


Now as you see I have a line pointing at the pointed end of the cartridge... that is the bullet, or projectile that normally flies from the barrel to strike what the shooter is aiming at down range. Now once this piece of the cartridge comes to a halt, or has no pressure behind to drive it ... well it is just a hunk of metal, and can do nothing more... as with my barrel I had a chunk of metal lodged in the barrel, and as long as I added nothing that would put that metal into flight again it was harmless. Now when confronted with a problem like this never try to put anything behind the projectile like another bullet or more powder as this turns the rifle into a bomb, or at least will start the bullet moving....  then it is dangerous! Below you will see a picture of an actual bullet that has not been loaded into the cartridge.....

How did I get the hunk of metal out of my barrel?? Well in the end it just took some Copper solvent, a long drill bit, and a cleaning rod to push the projectile out of the barrel.

Now let's look at the main body of the cartridge... the case!!I have included a picture of one without any other parts of the cartridge attached.

 Now the case is what holds the powder, and all the components that make up a rifle cartridge, or any ammunition. You have at the head a small hole that holds what is known as the primer, and starts the whole process of setting the bullet into flight.... when struck hard enough they will ignite, and flash into the body of the case setting the powder off... thus dislodging the bullet from the neck of the cartridge, and sending it down the barrel. I have included a picture of the primer hole, as well as one with the primer inserted.

You will see what is labeled as the neck... this is where the bullet is pushed into, and then crimped (rolling, or bending the very edge of the cases mouth into the bullet) into place above a loaded charge of powder. Now I am not getting to into this part of the process as it can get technical... but when the bullet is in place it will be held firmly until the primer is struck, and will seal off the powder in the case to the elements.

The last part is the shoulder... not this is usually only found on rifle cartridges, but there are some types of cartridges.... this is a bend in the case created to form the neck to the proper diameter for the bullet.... in many cases it is part of what keeps the cartridge case from moving forward during ignition..... again we will stop there as it can get a little technical.

I hope that this sheds a little light onto just what makes up a cartridge, and eases some peoples worries about ammunition... the best way to be safe with any firearm is to educate yourself about them. 


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