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Cartridges in Flight

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"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 an ammunition round: 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 either burn up (as with the propellant, which provides the explosive force to hurl the bullet down the barrel) or are removed from the chamber to make room for the next round (as with the casing itself and the primer at the bottom of it). Some guns retain the spent casing in a rotating cylinder, others rely on a manually operated mechanism to eject it, and semi- and full automatics use the recoil from firing to eject the casing themselves. There are also guns with "caseless ammunition", which use a solid propellant that doesn't need a metal casing to hold it.


Not all artists understand this.

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

Sub-Trope of Guns Do Not Work That Way.


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  • 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 comparative calibers correctly (Sinon's .50 BMG versus the .338 Lapua Magnum round from Death Gun in the scope snipe).
  • Done in the first opening of the JoJo's Bizarre Adventure 2012-13 anime where the police fire upon Dio for killing George Joestar. The camera pans around the bullets and show the primer and casing despite being fired just seconds before.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood does this with tank shells fired at Sloth. Since this series has generally realistic firearm portrayal (the show has an accurate pistol disassembly and cleaning scene), this is an egregious mistake.

    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.
  • It might be chalked up to the technology of a galaxy a long time ago and far, far away, but Star Wars comic “Anakin and Obi-Wan” shows Obi-Wan attempting to block several bullets from slugthrowers with his lightsaber with one panel showing the bullets as still having their casing on.


  • In Who Framed Roger Rabbit this happens due to the bullets being sentient, sapient and self-propelling. Cartoon logic at its finest.
  • The posters for the first two The Naked Gun films show Frank Drebin standing atop a round in flight (two in the sequel). The third film's poster has him shooting a bullet through both feet at once (it's ricocheting), again with the cartridge on. It's clearly intentional, being a parody series.
  • In an Imagine Spot of UHF parodying Rambo, George Newman catches a bullet in his teeth, chews it up, and spits it out as some sort of machine gun fire. The scene runs 100% on the Rule of Funny, so factual accuracy wasn't really an issue to start with. Lampshaded in the DVD commentary.
  • Tyrell in The Mask does almost the same thing as above to kill his Bad Boss Niko. Given that the eponymous mask's explicit power is to grant Toon Physics to its wearer, it's an extremely rare instance of this being a Justified Trope.
  • Averted in Bite The Bullet. In a bit of frontier dentistry, Gene Hackman removes the projectile and ignites the gun powder so they can use the casing as a makeshift cap. The film's title is slightly inaccurate, but Bite The Casing isn't as cool.

    Live-Action TV 

  • At least one episode of the 1970s Wonder Woman series had Lynda Carter intercept a howitzer round in mid-flight — casing and all.
  • 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.
  • An unusual example on an episode of Gotham: When searching for Victor Fries, Jim Gordon encounters several frozen police officers, one of whom fired on Victor, only to have the bullet frozen inches from the barrel. Gordon proceeds to pluck the fired round from the ice surrounding it, revealing that it is a full cartridge rather than a fired bullet.
  • In an episode of Saturday Night Live hosted by Christopher Reeve, Richard Donner (played by Jim Belushi) puts finalists to play Superman through a ludicrous audition that involves, among other things, perform an actual Bullet Catch with their teeth. The candidate who successfully does it spits out a bullet that's still in its casing.


  • 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.

    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 

  • Justified in the Portal 2 turret trailer, quoted above, where it is shown that the turrets are specifically designed to launch whole cartridges as a result of Aperture's management being totally insane (see, for instance, their insistence that their turrets are good because they fire "65% more bullet per bullet"). The munitions are launched using a powerful spring mechanism rather than by actually firing the propellant. Consequently, they're much weaker than than they would be if fired normally, to the point where Chell, who doesn't wear much more than a cloth jumpsuit, can take several rounds to the body in a relatively short period and survive long enough to get to cover and heal up. One wonders where the muzzle flash comes from, though. That they fired actual bullets at all came as a surprise to veteran players, since Portal turrets were based (down to the firing sounds and projectile graphic assets) on Half-Life 2 turrets, which fire "pulse rifle" ammo.
  • Averted in Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas, where guns will eject casings as they're fired (and in the latter, you can even retain some of them to craft new bullets whenever you have spare gunpowder, primers and lead). 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 regular 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 that deal doubled damage) 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 (e.g. the M16's 5.56x45mm round is more powerful than the G11's caseless 4.7x33mm in reality, but that's not because the 5.56mm somehow blows up when it hits something).


    Visual Novels 
  • The opening title sequence of Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc kicks off with a whole cartridge—the case of which bears a reflection Monokuma's face— flying past the camera and slamming into a silhouette lineup of the Ultimate students. This might be excused by Rule of Symbolism, since having the whole cartridge attached makes it look more like the Truth Bullets used in gameplay, and the case provides a more convenient canvas for the image than the bullet by itself.

    Web Original 
  • Ricky Berwick's video I'M A GUN has him spitting whole rounds.

    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.
    • Also, in Who Shot Mr Burns, the bullet they remove from Mr Burns is an unfired cartridge.
  • Family Guy had this with an anthropomorphized round being shot up into the air. The tip is grey, implying the lead bullet, but the body is brass with a circle for the primer at the bottom.

    Real Life 

  • Apparently, AFP and Yahoo! News also do not understand this. Several news sites printed a story about an Iraqi woman claiming US troops were shooting indiscriminately in Sadr City, holding as "proof" several unfired rounds that she claimed had hit her house. It also didn't help her case that the cartridges appear to be 7.62x39mm, which no weapon in the US inventory fires, but the AKs used by insurgents (and Iraqi police) do. Some observant bloggers noted that the same woman appeared in several stories making similar accusations against the Americans, always with unfired cartridges as "evidence".
  • 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). Depending on how strictly this definition is applied, the earlier Rocket Ball type ammunition used by the lever-action Volcanic weapons (predecessors to the more famous Winchester and Henry rifles) qualifies as well.


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