We’ve all heard the saying “faster than a speeding bullet,” but how many of us are sure we know how fast that is? And this is an important question, too, because a bullet’s speed has necessary hunting, sport, and military applications. So, then, how fast does a bullet travel?
A bullet’s caliber determines its speed, with the .222 Remington round traveling at over 3165 feet per second (2,155 miles per hour) .22 LR bullets travel at roughly 1,500 fps (1,022 mph) while 9mms exit the barrel at about 1,200 fps (820 mph). On average, bullets move at 1,700 mph or 2,493 fps.
There’s more to know about bullet speed than four statistics, though. Read on to understand what bullet speed means precisely and all the factors that affect it. Not only that, but we’ll also show you the speeds of America’s most common bullets when they exit the barrel and after they’ve flown one hundred yards.
Understanding Bullet Speed
Unfortunately, there isn’t one standardized term to refer to speed. You could record the speed in anything from kilometers per hour to yards per minute.
However, feet per second (fps) and miles per hour (mph) are the most common American measurements for bullets. We’ll be using those throughout this article.
Bullet speed is also typically recorded in mph as the shot’s speed leaving the barrel. This moment is when the cartridge’s propellant stops acting on the round and when it can hit a target. This speed is muzzle velocity.
It doesn’t stop there, though. Guns are complex devices, so there’s a lot of other terminology surrounding them that we’ll need to know. The most important two are caliber (diameter of the bullet, measured in inches or millimeters) and grain (weight of the shot, measured in grams).
So, you might see a box of .45 ACP that’s advertised as having a muzzle velocity of 1,100 fps or 750 mph. As we’ll learn later, this speed is pretty slow for a shot.
Factors Affecting Bullet Speed
Several factors affect how fast a bullet flies. We’ll focus on those that you can change yourself since you can improve these the next time you shoot.
By far, the most critical factor affecting bullet speed is caliber. Caliber is the bullet’s diameter (usually measured in either inches or millimeters) for those not in the know. So, 9mm, .308, and .22 are all different calibers.
Caliber affects bullet speed because it determines the maximum size of the projectile and how much propellant can fit in the cartridge. Because of that, larger calibers of bullets will typically travel slower since the shot is heavier.
Keeping this in mind, the table below will help us see the average speeds of different rounds. I’ve arranged the table by caliber size in ascending order.
|Bullet||Caliber (in)||Muzzle Velocity (fps)|
|.222 Remington||0.222 (5.56 mm)||3167 (2,159 mph)|
|.22 LR||0.223 (5.7 mm)||1,500 (1,022 mph)|
|5.56/223||0.224 (5.7 mm)||3,160 (2,155 mph)|
|7.62×39 Russian||0.3 in (7.62 mm)||2363 (1,611 mph)|
|.30-06 Springfield||0.308 (7.8 mm)||2,850 (1,940 mph)|
|.308 Winchester||0.308 (7.8 mm)||2,650 (1,800 mph)|
|.380 ACP||0.355 (9.0 mm)||1,125 (767 mph)|
|9mm||0.355 (9.0 mm)||1,200 (820 mph)|
|.356 Winchester||0.356 (9.1 mm)||2,460 (1,677 mph)|
|.38 SPL||0.357 (9.1mm)||1,100 (750 mph)|
|.357 Mag||0.357 (9.1 mm)||1,500 (1,022 mph)|
|10mm||0.400 (10.17 mm)||1,300 (885 mph)|
|.40 S&W||0.400 (10.2 mm)||1,200 (820 mph)|
|.45 ACP||0.452 (11.5 mm)||1,100 (750 mph)|
|.50 BMG||0.510 (13.0 mm)||3,000 (2,050 mph)|
We can see these statistics in the table above. Although that isn’t absolute, smaller calibers tend to be significantly faster than larger calibers.
The fastest bullets (excluding the rimfire 22 LR) are between 5.56 mm and 7.8 mm. The .222 Remington comes out on top with an astonishing 3167 fps, or over 2,150 mph!
We use these small rounds for hunting, long-range sport shooting, and military use. So, it makes sense why they’d be the fastest overall. They all have lightweight bullets with large amounts of propellant and, often, slow-burning powders.
The exception here is the biggest round on the list, the .50 BMG, which travels at an incredible 3,000 fps. It is so fast because, despite being heavy, its caliber allows for a massive cartridge with many propellants.
Of course, the caliber isn’t the only factor for bullet speed. While it is the most important, the overall bullet style also affects it.
The more aerodynamic the round, the more velocity it can achieve. So, boat tail rounds (which have a narrow tip widening to a streamlined base) will be sleeker and faster than round nose bullets.
Likewise, pointed bullets will experience less resistance than hollow points, which curve inward and have more surface area overall.
Full metal jackets also fly faster since metal plating acts as a lubricant inside the barrel. On the other hand, lead round nose bullets are much slower since they create more friction while they’re inside the barrel.
Not only that, but bullet grain (weight) is also relevant. This factor can differ even within the same caliber. Lightweight bullets will travel more quickly since less energy is required to move them.
Barrel length also plays a vital role in bullet speed. Longer barrels allow the propellant to act on the shot for more time, accelerating it more. Therefore, the projectile exits a longer barrel with comparatively higher velocity.
Because of that, rifles will always shoot faster than pistols of the same caliber firing the same ammunition.
Keeping the barrel clean will also reduce friction inside it, so you can expect your shots to be slightly slower after a long day of shooting.
Last, what type of round you’re shooting can also impact the speed. High-powered shots have more propellant and so will fly faster.
Furthermore, centrefire rounds (like the 5.56/223) will travel faster than rimfire rounds (the .22 LR, for example.) The burst of energy is concentrated behind the bullet’s center instead of around its edges with centerfire.
Bullets Decelerate Over Time
Muzzle velocity is called that for a reason. As soon as it leaves the barrel, a bullet will decelerate. It experiences air resistance, and the propellant energy pushing it forward dissipates. Because this deceleration occurs, a bullet’s speed will be far slower after, say, one hundred yards.
That doesn’t mean a bullet stops being dangerous, though. As we know, a bullet from over a hundred yards can still kill (it won’t do the same damage as a point-blank shot, though.)
We can look at the table below and see how some of the most popular rounds decelerate. Unsurprisingly, the round nose .22 LR 9mm decelerates the most. They lose roughly 300 fps of speed over 100m.
|Caliber||Muzzle velocity (fps)||The speed at 100 yds (fps)|
|.22 LR||1,500 (1,022 mph)||1,128 (769 mph)|
|9mm||1,200 (820 mph)||960 (655 mph)|
|.30-06 Springfield||2,850 (1,940 mph)||2,597 (1,771 mph)|
|.308 Winchester||2,650 (1,800 mph)||2,598 fps (1,771 mph)|
The above table doesn’t factor in weather, barometric pressure, elevation, or what direction the wind is blowing and how strong it is. You can’t change any of these factors on your own, but remember, you will have to deal with them if you’re shooting outside.
Due to that, take the table as a best-case scenario. Depending on the conditions, your bullet could be somewhat slower.
Bullets don’t decelerate equally, either. You need to take their caliber and bullet-style into account. As we can see on the table, boat tail rounds are more aerodynamic and will slow down less because of air resistance.
Regardless of other factors, you can expect your shot to lose between 8% and 25% of its starting muzzle velocity after it’s flown one hundred yards.
To conclude, caliber is the most critical factor when determining a bullet’s speed or muzzle velocity, with small calibers being the fastest. For example, the .30-06 Springfield has a muzzle velocity of 2,850 fps (1,940 mph).
Other factors affect bullet speed, such as the weather, barrel length, or cartridge power, but these are ultimately less important. Regardless of those factors, the average bullet moves at about 2,495 fps (1,700 mph) and loses roughly 16.5% of its momentum after one hundred yards.