Ammunition, or “ammo”, by simple definition consists of the various external components required to fire a projectile from a firearm. The most traditional and common ammo used in firearms consists of three primary components:
the part that shoots out of the gun at the target
the source of the explosion that will propel the projectile
the source of ignition for the explosion
In the earliest firearms, gunpowder would be poured down a hollow tube (the “barrel”) with one solid end (the “breach”) and one open end (the “muzzle”). Gunpowder would be poured into the muzzle followed by a rock that would be shoved down the barrel. A fuse would then be inserted through a small hole in the breach. The fuse would be lit with a spark or open flame, the fuse would then ignite the powder causing an explosion whereby the expanding gases would propel the projectile out of the muzzle and toward it’s target. That process is the basis for all firearms and is still how they function today – albeit in a more refined form.
Evolution of the Bullet
Over the early centuries of firearms, the primary projectiles used were simple round stones. Eventually, as metal-working became more refined – somewhere around the 16th century – round metal balls began to be used as projectiles in firearms. These metal balls, typically made of lead, varied only in diameter but otherwise didn’t differ much from their stone ancestors. Early versions were typically fired from a type of rifle called a “musket” and were often referred to as “musket balls”. However, still a simple round ball, this was the origin of the term “round” when referring to a fired projectile.
As the centuries passed, these simple musket balls continued to be the primary projectiles used in firearms. It wasn’t until the early 19th century after some advances were made in understanding aerodynamics when the modern “bullet” began to take shape. While a few early designs were tested and used, the first widely used bullet design was created by Frenchman Claude Étienne Minié and was known as the “Minié ball” (pronounced “mini” if you’re not French). The Minié ball saw widespread use in the American Civil War and is believed to have caused 90% of battlefield casualties during the conflict.