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What’s in a Name: Common Mistakes in Gun Terminology

Shooting

What’s in a Name: Common Mistakes in Gun Terminology

I’m constantly getting questions about what various gun terms mean. Even those individuals who have been in the sport for a good period of time occasionally slip up and out of ignorance or, sometimes expediency, slip in a wrong description or definition. I thought it might be interesting and, hopefully informative, to go over a few from time to time. So without further ado, here’s the first batch.

Bullet
This is the hunk of lead, copper or whatever that comes out of a gun’s barrel. Bullets can also be called “projectiles” or “shot,” though the latter is somewhat archaic and nowadays normally refers to the small pellets fired from a shotgun. There seems to be an increasing misusage of the term “bullet,” and many people (from the man on the street through filmmakers and novelists to even some supposedly knowledgeable gun writers who should know better) say “bullet” when what they really mean is “cartridge.” In modern parlance, a cartridge or “round” contains the bullet, powder, case and primer in one tidy package. In days of yore, before the self-contained cartridge, it referred to a paper, skin or fabric packet that included the powder and bullet, priming provided externally, usually by flint and steel or a percussion cap. Cartridges are not bullets, and vice-versa.

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