When we discuss range dangers, the primary consideration is always a bullet over the berm or one that flies unfettered without the target or backstop stopping it. However, ricochet is also a grave danger. I have personally witnessed the effects of ricochet; I realize that ricochet can be dangerous. While scientifically predictable, ricochet is sometimes surprising.
Since I spent a good bit of my adult life wearing a badge, many of the incidents I observed were in the field as we might say. As just a few examples, in one incident I fired a 230-grain .45 ACP at a vehicle side glass only to see it leave a long mark on the curve of the glass and deflect away.
On another occasion, a 210-grain .41 Magnum fired into a car door at a very slight downward angle. The bullet hit the heavy seat backing of a 1960s Chrysler vehicle and bounced through the roof almost exactly perpendicular to the ground. In the only occasion in which hostile gunfire actually wounded me, a shot bounced from the ground and struck my leg.
I am no stranger to ricochet—you may say I have made the intimate acquaintance!
Few shooters understand ricochet and ricochet potential well, which may lead to problems for shooters, ranges and neighbors. Bullets do not bounce like rubber balls; they deflect at an angle. You own every bullet and must take responsibility for this.
You must construct the ranges to avoid or eliminate ricochet. Some of the factors to understand are…
- Bullet type
- Angle of incidence
- Velocity and Energy
A fair question may be which bullets have the greatest potential for deflection?
Round nose bullets are among the most offensive. Spherical projectiles, such as buckshot, are similar. If the bullet goes into a berm, bullet shape doesn’t matter. If they strike a hard surface, including the ground, the bullet shape matters a lot, which is why we must do our best to avoid and eliminate ground shots.
Velocity is an important component of the equation. High velocity bullets penetrate more and with proper bullet design are more likely to fragment. The single bullet type to avoid for best safety is the RNL (round nose lead) bullet at low velocity.
The surface impacted is also worthy of consideration. Water is likely to produce ricochet, much like a skipping stone across the surface. Depending on the angle of incidence, almost any surface produces a ricochet with a RNL or spherical bullet. Many of us have fired at an old fence post or hardened wood. This surface is among the few that often produces a bounce back to the shooter.
A low velocity RNL load such as the .32 Smith and Wesson with a 98-grain bullet at 650 feet per second is particularly offensive. Up the velocity to the .32 Magnum and the bullet penetrates and doesn’t bounce back. Add a SWC (semi wad cutter) or JHP (jacketed hollow point) bullet and you are in much better shape for safety.
Angle of Incidence
The angle of incidence is the angle at which the bullet meets the surface. A low angle of incidence produces a likely ricochet and the angle of departure may be low or the bullet may rise into the air.
Steel targets with a chain allowing the target to give a little when the bullet meets the target, deflecting the bullet into the ground, are among the safest of all targets. Just the same, do not get too close, as bullet fragments are dangerous to 20 feet or more.
Among the greatest dangers is when the angle of incidence and the angle of departure match. It is rare to see 180-degree refraction, although it happens.
When a projectile is stabilized by the rifling spin is subjected to certain conditions spin is cancelled. Sometimes the bullet reverses, with the base moving forward. This is known as progression or tumbling. A bullet may even ricochet in a lateral direction depending upon bullet spin.
Velocity and Energy
There is always a loss of velocity and energy when a projectile ricochets. The bullet is always less stable after deflection. It may even depend upon how the bullet moves through the air as to the range of a ricochet. After a great deal of research into the situation it is more beneficial to be concerned with a bullet that flies over the berm or which leaves the range than a ricochet.
Most ricochets play out and are no longer dangerous within a few hundred yards. The missed rifle round that goes over the berm, however, retains its original energy and range. The problem to address is missed shots. Short-range ricochet inside the confines of the range is more dangerous to you and others on the range than long-range ricochet, per my research and experience.
Ricochets may happen with any firearm and are most likely with long velocity lead bullets; they are least likely with high velocity frangible bullets.
Plan accordingly and let safety always be your guide.
What are your best suggestions for staying safe at the range. Share them in the comment section.