Cartridges in Flight

"We fire the whole bullet! That's 65% more bullet per bullet!"
Cave Johnson, Portal 2 Trailer #3: "Turrets"

In Real Life, there are four components to a munition: a casing, an explosive primer, the propellant, and the projectile bullet. Only the last of these is expected to leave the barrel through the muzzle. The other components are either reduced to ash (as with the propellant) or removed from the chamber to make room for the next munition. Some guns keep the spent casing in a rotating cylinder, but most weapons are automatics, which eject the casing from the weapon. There are also guns with "caseless ammunition", which use a solid propellant which doesn't need a metal casing to hold it.

Not all artists understand this.

Some works of fiction, particularly illustrations, will depict a bullet in flight as being the entire munition... casing, primer, bullet and all. This is a blatant mistake to anyone who has ever seen a weapon fire.


  • In Digimon Tamers, Beelzemon's bullets were always shown this way.
  • Done in the title sequence to Sands of Destruction when Rhia fires her revolvers at Morte.
  • Early on in Dragon Ball Z, Raditz catches an entire rifle bullet (casing and all), fired from a farmer's shotgun.
  • Averted in Sword Art Online during the Phantom Bullet arc. It specifically goes to show several bullets in flight sans casing, and even shows the comparitive calibers correctly (Sinnon's .50 BMG versus the .385 Lapua Magnum round from Death Gun in the scope snipe.)

Comic Books
  • Superman: Birthright features a scene where Superman watches bullets fly towards him. The artist was sure to include dimpled primers and manufacturer's stamps on the bottom of the projectiles. Those go on the bottom of the cartridge, not the bullet itself.
  • Batgirl: Deathwish depicts a character shooting a complete cartridge (bullet and casing combined) out the barrel of a rifle. The casing had a neck and rim, which make this even more daft.
  • The Lone Ranger inverts the trope in his Dynamite comics incarnation, where he is often seen handling or loading his trademark silver bullets—but just the bullets. Without a casing, primer, or propellant, how a piece of inert metal leaves the gun is not explained. note 
  • A cover of Wizard Magazine featured Wolverine covered in bullet wounds... except the bullets were sticking out of him, and were obviously the entire munition, complete with indentation from firing pin.
  • While it's hard to say given there may be weird things about Cybertronian technology going on, Transformers: Generation 2 had a cover where Optimus Prime appears to have caught a few rounds with his face and head. As in, the entire cartridge, rim, primer, and all, sticking out of his face.


Live-Action TV
  • The opening credit roll for Chuck. Possibly forgivable for the little guy riding the round, but...
  • At least one episode of the 1970s Wonder Woman series had Lynda Carter intercept a howitzer round in mid-flight — casing and all.
  • A bullet fired by Deadshot in Smallville.
  • Shown in El Chapulín Colorado. One episode revolved around our clumsy hero wearing a wig made of Samson's actual hair. This not only gave him nigh invulnerability, but when one of the bad guys fired a bullet he caught it with his teeth. As in caught the entire bullet, casing, prime and all. The thing looked pristine.

  • Seen in this album cover for Iron Maiden's 'Aces High', the bottom of a cartridge is stuck in the frame of the plane's cockpit on the left side, with manufacturer stamp and undimpled primer.
  • The music video for Japanese-American singer nano's "Bull's Eye" makes this mistake.

Recorded and Stand-Up Comedy
  • One of Gabe Kaplan's jokes about his high school was his assertion that his school was so tough, they didn't use guns: they inserted the bullets manually. This may explain the Wolverine cover of Wizard, mentioned above.

Video Games
  • Deliberately invoked and lampshaded in the Portal 2 turret trailer, quoted above. The munitions are launched using a powerful spring mechanism rather than a combustible propellant. Consequently they're much weaker than most guns, to the point where Chell, who doesn't wear much more than a cloth jumpsuit, can take several rounds to the body and survive. One wonders where the muzzle flash comes from, though.
  • Averted in Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas, where guns will eject casings as they're fired (and in the latter, you may collect them to craft new bullets). However, Fallout 2 plays it straight in one peculiar instance. If you take Marcus to the doctor in Vault City, he'll remove a massive amount of munitions that have ended up lodged in Marcus' thick hide over the years, and give it to you. It is all received as intact and usable. Apparently, Marcus walked around with several pounds of bullets and a few unexploded grenades stuck in his back.
  • The icons for the "Deep Impact" and "Double Tap" perks in Call of Duty: World at War show the entire cartridge in flight, rather than just the bullet as in their icons in the previous game. This continues for the "Hardened" perk's icon in Call of Duty: Black Ops.
  • Super Mario Bros.: Bullet Bills (based off artillery shells in design) fly with their casings intact. Later games show some sort of booster on their back end when visible, suggesting they're more like rockets or gyrojets than bullets.
  • Given its Troperiffic presentation, it's no surprise Team Fortress 2 does this with the Demoman's Grenade Launcher—each grenade round is launched with some kind of chemical propellant given that it's got a muzzle flash, but the projectile that flies out is exactly the same as the projectile that's loaded—in fact, the back of each one displays a dimpled primer even before they're loaded, nor are any casings ever ejected. Interestingly, Valve managed to get it right with the image for the "Artful Dodger" Scout achievement only showing bullets mid-flight, yet flub it with the later "Hipshot" Sniper achievement image that clearly shows intact rimmed cartridges being fired.
  • Implied with the description for the Minigun in Unreal Tournament 2004, where its Secondary Fire (slower fire rate, but with explosive rounds) is noted as because the weapon is capable of firing both caseless and cased rounds; apparently Epic mistook the difference between the two in reality.

Web Comics

Western Animation
  • Pick an old-school cartoon. Shotguns would usually release a cloud of little round pellets, but with very few exceptions, any other guns would fire whole cartridges.
  • In The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror episode segment "Homer³", Chief Wiggum fires his pistol into the third dimension. The bullets appear in 3d, casing and all, before being sucked into the black hole.

Real Life
  • Apparently, AFP and Yahoo! News also do not understand this.
  • This would make sense actually with the Gyrojet, considering The Other Wiki defines a cartridge as a single metallic case housing a bullet, primer, and propellant (the bullet is the case... in this case).
  • There is an American Civil War-era bullet (the Minié ball) that resembles a typical (albeit squatty) shell. Since these are musket bullets, the whole bullet would have been fired.
  • The "Volcanic" lever-action pistol and rifle (predecessors of the far more successful Henry and Winchester lever-action rifles) used a cartridge that consisted of a Minié with gunpowder in the cavity on its rear, and a primer covering it. Thus, the casing and projectile were combined into a single piece of lead. This didn't work so well because there wasn't room for much gunpowder and thus velocity was rather low. But it did still result in an entire "cartridge" flying out of the barrel.