This question https://physics.stackexchange.com/a/193472/93888 explains what would happen after a cartridge is ignited: the bullet gets propelled by the gases in one direction and the cartridge (with the person, in the case of the question) in the opposite direction.

But would a cartridge explode/ignite if hit from the side (the rear part where the gunpowder is, not the side of the bullet) or the front by a bullet? Or is the rear the only side able to start the reaction?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The primer and gun powder are located at the rear of the cartridge. It's probably possible that a significant impact somewhere other than the rear of the cartridge can cause the reaction to take place, but I am no expert on firearms and ammunition. Have a look at the Wikipedia page on rimfire ammunition and the illustrations there in particular. $\endgroup$ Aug 17, 2016 at 14:52
  • $\begingroup$ The cartridge has usually a significant amount of gunpowder. I meant a lateral impact on the rear part, where gunpowder is. I update the question. $\endgroup$
    – FarO
    Aug 17, 2016 at 15:35

1 Answer 1



Unfortunately, the correct answer is “it depends.” Small arms cartridges struck by small arms projectiles generally do not ignite – but they do sometimes.

The issue is quite important in the armed forces. If you come under enemy fire, the last thing you want is for a near miss to cause your own ammunition to explode. There has been formal research on the subject for decades. However, it can be quite difficult to prevent.

There are formal test protocols to assess the safety of new ammunition types, and they can involve munitions struck by a range of different “stimuli” from various distances, points of impact and angles. Depending on the exact set-up, the response can vary from 100% explosion to barely scratched.


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