The term ballistics refers to
the science of the travel of a
projectile in flight.
The flight path of a bullet
includes: travel down the
barrel, path through the air,
and path through a target.
How much damage the
projectile can produce is
dependent upon the length of
the barrel. Higher velocities
can be generated with a longer
chamber. Rifles cause more

In the 18th century, gunsmiths
discovered that putting spiral
grooves in the bore would impart
a spin to the bullet that improved
accuracy markedly.
Modern weapons have metal
lands and grooves with a twist
inside the barrel of the gun, called
rifling. This rifling is slightly
different for each weapon,
imparting different patterns of
deformation on the bullet. These
patterns can be used to identify a
particular weapon used in a crime.

Ammunition consists of
projectiles, such as bullets
and shot, together with
their fuses and primers, that
can be fired from guns or
otherwise propelled.
When shot from a gun, the
bullet cartridge either stays
in the chamber or is ejected
after firing.

Bullets are made of lead;
sometimes jacketed with
brass, copper, or steel.
Bullet size is determined by
the diameter which is called
the caliber or gauge. In
general, the larger the
diameter, the more damage
that is inflicted.

Gunshot Residue
Whenever a gun is fired, the
shooter gets sprayed with an
invisible blast of chemical
residues that are byproducts of
the incomplete combustion of
gunpowder, primer, and
lubricants. This is called
gunshot residue.
Gunshot residue can also be
found on the victim’s body or
clothing. Depending upon how
far away the victim is from the
weapon, different types of
residue are seen.

Firearms Evidence
If a bullet is recovered from the scene or
from the body, it may be compared to
bullets obtained by test-firing the
suspected weapon. This is done with
similar ammunition.

Bullets are marked in the 12 o’clock
position so that a reference point can be
Test firings are then made into a tank of
water. The bullets are recovered and
compared for similar lands and grooves.
This can be very difficult if the bullet has
been deformed after firing.

Two Types of Bullet Characteristics
Class characteristics refers to the
type of caliber and rifling. Rifling
pattern may turn to the right or
left, with a given rate of twist. The
number and depth of grooves can
vary also. The same type of gun will
produce class characteristics.
Individual characteristics refers to
imperfections within the barrel of a
particular gun. These comparisons
allow a particular bullet to be linked
to a specific firearm.

Class Characteristics
• Bullet Type

• Bullet Caliber
• Bullet Weight
• Lands and Grooves
• Rifling
• Cartridge Case

• Head Stamp

Individual Characteristics
• Striae

• Firing Pin Marks
• Breech marks
• Extractor marks
• Ejector Marks
• Chamber Marks

Ballistics Limitations
Bullet and cartridge markings
cannot be used with shotguns,
since they fire shot-containing
cartridges. In many cases the shot
rides inside a plastic sleeve that
prevents it from ever touching the
barrel, and even in cases where the
shot does touch the barrel, the
random movement of the shot
down the barrel will not leave any
consistent marks.
However, shotgun cases can still be
examined for firing pin marks.