What is Trajectory?

What is Trajectory?

Trajectory refers to the path that a bullet follows through the air from the muzzle of a firearm to the target. Understanding a bullet's trajectory is essential for achieving accurate shot placement, as various factors can influence the bullet's flight path, and the effects are amplified over distance.

Components of Bullet Trajectory

A bullet's trajectory can be broken down into several components:

  • Muzzle Velocity: The speed at which the bullet leaves the firearm's muzzle directly impacts its trajectory. Higher muzzle velocities generally result in flatter trajectories, while lower velocities lead to more pronounced bullet drop.
  • Bullet Drop: As the bullet travels through the air, gravity pulls it downward, causing it to lose altitude over time. This decrease in altitude is known as bullet drop and becomes more significant at longer distances.
  • Wind Drift: Wind can cause a bullet to deviate from its intended trajectory, with crosswinds having the most substantial impact. Understanding and compensating for wind drift is essential in long-range shooting.
  • Spin Drift: As a bullet spins in flight, it experiences gyroscopic forces that cause it to drift laterally. This effect, known as spin drift, is typically more pronounced in long-range shooting and can impact shot placement.

Factors Affecting Trajectory

Various factors can influence a bullet's trajectory, including:

  • Bullet Shape and Design: The shape and design of a bullet can impact its flight characteristics. Bullets with a high ballistic coefficient, typically featuring a more streamlined shape, experience less drag and have flatter trajectories.
  • Environmental Conditions: Air density, temperature, and humidity can all affect a bullet's flight path, as they influence the bullet's drag and stability in the air.
  • Altitude: Shooting at higher altitudes can result in flatter trajectories due to reduced air density, which decreases drag on the bullet.

Tools for Analyzing Trajectory

Shooters can use various tools and resources to analyze and better understand a bullet's trajectory:

  • Ballistic Tables: Manufacturers often provide ballistic tables or charts that detail a bullet's expected trajectory for specific muzzle velocities and environmental conditions.
  • Ballistic Calculators: Ballistic calculators, available as smartphone apps or standalone devices, can provide elevation and windage adjustments based on the shooter's firearm, ammunition, and environmental conditions. These calculators help compensate for bullet drop, wind drift, and other factors that influence trajectory.
  • Chronographs: By measuring a bullet's muzzle velocity using a chronograph, shooters can gain valuable information to help predict and understand a bullet's trajectory more accurately.


  • Take your pick! Everyone talks about Trajectory...
  • Cleckner, R. (2016). Long Range Shooting Handbook: A Beginner's Guide to Precision Rifle Shooting. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.
  • Litz, B. (2011). Applied Ballistics for Long Range Shooting. Applied Ballistics LLC.
  • Barsness, J. (2006). The Big Book of Ballistics. Skyhorse Publishing.
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