A ricochet is a rebound, bounce or skip off a surface, particularly in the case of a projectile
A projectile is any object projected into space by the exertion of a force. Although a thrown baseball is technically a projectile too, the term more commonly refers to a weapon....

. The possibility of ricochet is one of the reasons for the common firearms safety rule  "Never shoot at a flat, hard surface."


The likelihood of ricochet is dependent on many factors, including bullet shape, velocity (and distance), target material and the angle of incidence.


Bullet construction has a major factor in determining both the likelihood of ricochet as well as where the bullet will travel afterward. Hard bullets have a greater tendency to penetrate than softer ones. Bullets that break up, such as varmint hunting bullets have a low risk of ricochet. The lower chance of ricochet is one of the reasons the newer .17 HMR
.17 HMR
.17 Hornady Magnum Rimfire, commonly known as the .17 HMR, is a rimfire rifle cartridge developed by the ammunition company Hornady in 2002. It descended from the .22 Magnum by necking down the .22 Magnum case to take a .17 caliber bullet, and it is more costly to shoot than traditional .22...

 round with its frangible
A material is said to be frangible if through deformation it tends to break up into fragments, rather than deforming plastically and retaining its cohesion as a single object...

 bullet has gained popularity against the older non-fragmenting .22 WMR
.22 WMR
The .22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire, more commonly called .22 WMR, .22 Magnum, or simply .22 Mag, is a rimfire rifle cartridge...



Ricochets are often more common with low-power calibers such as .22
.22 Long Rifle
The .22 Long Rifle rimfire cartridge is a long established variety of ammunition, and in terms of units sold is still by far the most common in the world today. The cartridge is often referred to simply as .22 LR and various rifles, pistols, revolvers, and even some smoothbore shotguns have...

 or .177 calibre
.177 calibre
.177 caliber is the smallest size of pellets widely used in air guns, and is the only caliber generally accepted for formal target competition. It is also sometimes used for hunting small game, and in field target competition, where it competes with .20 caliber and .22 caliber rifles...

, which can have trouble penetrating some materials, although a ricochet can occur with any caliber. Higher velocity projectiles have a tendency to either penetrate the target, and/or to break-up on contact with it.

Target material

Bullets are more likely to ricochet off flat, hard surfaces such as concrete or steel, but a ricochet can occur on almost any surface, including grassy soil, given a flat enough angle of impact. Materials that are soft, give easily, or can absorb the impact, such as sand, have a lower incidence of ricochet. Though it may not be obvious, bullets easily ricochet off water; compare stone skipping
Stone skipping
Stone skipping is a pastime which involves throwing a stone with a flattened surface across a lake or other body of water in such a way that it bounces off the surface of the water. The object of the game is to see how many times a stone can be made to bounce before sinking.-Names:In North America...



The angle of departure, both vertically and horizontally, is difficult to calculate or predict due to the many variables involved, not the least of which is the deformation of the bullet caused by its impact with the surface it strikes. Ricochets will almost always continue on a somewhat diagonal trajectory to their original trajectory, unless the impact is against a flat surface perpendicular to the angle of incidence (or approach), in which case the angle of reflection depends on the other variables involved.


Ricochets are a common hazard of shooting because the bullet that ricochets poses a serious danger of causing collateral damage
Collateral damage
Collateral damage is damage to people or property that is unintended or incidental to the intended outcome. The phrase is prevalently used as an euphemism for civilian casualties of a military action.-Etymology:...

to animals, objects, or even the person who fired the shot.

In rare cases, ricochets can return to the shooter. This can occur when the object struck possesses enough resistance to withstand the impact of the bullet, and its surface is perpendicular to the shooter. Alternatively, elastic targets such as rubber tires shot with lower power weapons can return the slug along the line of fire even when struck at an oblique angle. Some bullets are designed to deform at the nose, which is the main reason for the bullet ricocheting at such an extreme angle and returning in the shooter's direction.

External links

Recommended reading

  • Federal Bureau of Investigation, "Bouncing Bullets," FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, Vol. 38, Oct. 1969, pp. 1–9.
  • Garrison, D.H., "Crown & Bank: Road Structure as it Affects Bullet Path Angles in Vehicle Shootings," AFTE Journal, Vol 30, No. 1, Winter 1998, pp. 89–93.
  • Gold, R.E. and Schecter, B., "Ricochet Dynamics for the Nine-Millimetre Parabellum Bullet," Journal of Forensic Sciences, Vol. 37, No. 1, Jan. 1992, pp. 90–98.
  • Haag, L.C., "Bullet Ricochet: An Imperical [sic] Study and a Device for Measuring Ricochet Angle," AFTE Journal, Vol. 7, No. 3, Dec. 1975, pp. 44–51.
  • Hartline, P., Abraham, G. and Rowe, W.F., "A Study of Shotgun Ricochet from Steel Surfaces," Journal of Forensic Sciences, Vol. 27, No. 3, July 1982, pp. 506–512.
  • Jordan, G.E., Bratton, D.D., Donahue, H.C.H. and Rowe, W.F., "Bullet Ricochet from Gypsum Wallboard," Journal of Forensic Sciences, JFSCA, Vol. 33, No. 6, Nov. 1988, pp. 1477–1482.
  • McConnell, M.P., Triplett, G.M. and Rowe, W.F., "A Study of Shotgun Pellet Ricochet," Journal of Forensic Sciences, Vol. 26, No. 4, Oct. 1981, pp. 699–709.
  • Rathman, G.A., "Bullet Ricochet and Associated Phenomena," AFTE Journal, Vol. 19, No. 4, Oct. 1987, pp. 374–381.
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