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You Always Hear the Bullet

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"If you hear the shot, you're still alive."

Bang! Hit! Fall to ground!

This trope describes the standard order of sound effects whenever someone gets hit by a bullet: gunshot sound, then exploding squib to simulate the hit. In real life, because most bullets travel faster than the speed of sound, the order is actually the bullet hitting, then the sound of the gunshot catching up.

Note that this only applies when one is standing at a distance and someone is shooting at you; Anyone standing next to the shooter will not experience a significant enough lag between the events to notice much of a difference, unless the bullet travels a very long distance (light being much faster than sound or a bullet).

This trope is so common, it may be considered an Omnipresent Trope. Indeed, most of the examples below are notable as aversions of this trope rather than indications of the countless times this appears in media as the standard effect for simulated gunfire.

Related is the sound effects of a silenced weapon. While in real life, the explosion of the bullet is muted, you will still hear the mechanical noises of the gun itself. In TV land, these guns are completely and utterly silent. Instant Thunder is this concept applied to thunder strikes. See also The Coconut Effect.

NOTE: As of March 9, 2010, this page almost only lists aversions of this trope, ranking it a dead horse.


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    Comic Books 
  • Averted in The Killing Joke. The shot that paralyzes Barbara Gordon has no sound effect. It is never heard (although that's an artifact of the Signature Style of Alan Moore, which does away with onomatopoeia).

    Fan Works 
  • In Pok√© Wars: Dawn of a New Era, Dawn kills three Fearow with long range shots. It is explicitly stated that the sonic booms came after the fatal shots.
  • Followed faithfully in Cuanta Vida, a Team Fortress 2 fancomic, to such a degree that even bladed weapons have a visible sound effect whenever employed. The only exception is the one story turnpoint shot. Probably justified, as they're in an environment slightly modified from the "2fort" map, so the maximum engagement range is a couple of hundred metres.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In most movies, the sound heard by the person being shot at is more like the sound the person firing the weapon should hear. In particularly bad examples, the gunshot will be accompanied by a ricochet sound, even when there is nothing for the bullet to ricochet off of. This has been frequently used in Bollywood and various Otherwood productions, to a point where many grow up thinking bullets ricochet when just fired from guns.
    • Also, despite this trope's name, hearing the bullet traveling through the air and hearing the report of the gun that fired it are two different things. In reality you do hear bullets "whiz by" when they pass nearby, even if the sound of the actual gunshot hasn't reached you yet. As two characters said in Black Hawk Down:
    Grimes: Why aren't you shooting?
    Waddell: We're not being shot at yet.
    Grimes: How can you tell?
    Waddell: A hiss means it's close, a snap means-
    Waddell: Now they're shooting at us!
  • Averted in the 1972 Clint Eastwood film Joe Kidd: when Kidd and a band of Mexican revolutionaries come under fire at extreme range by a sniper using a scoped buffalo rifle the sequence is shown in proper order (muzzle smoke - bullet sound - gunshot) reflecting the relative speeds (light, bullet, sound) involved.
  • Averted in Quigley Down Under. At one point you see three mooks drop dead, and then you hear the gunshot. Quigley had watched for hours, waiting until three guys stood in a row, so he could pull it off.
  • Averted in the Korean War film The Front Line: it is a major plot point that a North Korean sniper is nicknamed by Alligator Company as "Two Seconds" because two seconds always pass between the bullet hitting its target before the gunshot is heard. The sound delay allows Lt. Kang to realize the sniper consistently shoots from a distance of approximately 680 meters away. During a later battle when the gunshots are being heard much sooner upon bullet impact, it's a telltale sign Two Seconds is close by.

  • Averted in an early Animorphs book: Jake hears two shots during a fight in a Yeerk-held hospital - but doesn't hear the one that hits him.
  • Averted in the novel Freedom and Necessity by Emma Bull and Steven Brust, where one character observes that she falls down, realises she's been shot, and then hears the bang.
  • In a particular Lillith Saintcrow book, the main character gets annoyed with herself for flinching at the sound of a gunshot, reminding herself that if she heard the shot, it means it didn't hit her.
  • Quite deliberately averted in The Dresden Files. Kincaid once stated that if he wanted to kill Dresden, he'd use a supersonic round from a sniper rifle to do it, so that Dresden would die before he heard the bullet and realized he needed to ready a death curse. At the end of Changes, Dresden is shot and killed by a supersonic sniper bullet.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Averted in Breaking Bad in "Bug" when Gaff carries out a sniper attack on Gus Fring's men to send a message to Gus for the cartel. He first snipes one guy in the head, the man falling dead before the gunshot sound reaches Gus's men. Throughout the rest of the scene, there's a delay between the bullets landing and the gunshot.
  • Also averted in Better Call Saul when we see shootings from a distance. In the season 2 finale, "Klick," when Mike is watching the Twins kill the truck driver through his sniper scope, there's a long delay between the shot and Mike hearing the bullet. Also seen in the season 4 finale "Winner" when Mike kills Werner, where there's a delay between the muzzle flash of Mike's gun and the gunshot sound. And in season 5's "Bag Man," when Mike is using his sniper rifle to pick off the cartel hitmen trying to steal Lalo's bail money from Jimmy, there's a delay between the shots hitting their targets and the echo of the shot.
  • Nicely averted in an early episode of Boardwalk Empire, in which Richard Harrow snipes one of Jimmy's enemies while dining. The first indication of the shot is the sound of the bullet shattering a water pitcher. Everybody in the restaurant looks around in confusion for a beat before we see the victim with a hole in his face, and then the hole in the window, and Harrow a block away.
  • Leave it to the ultra-realistic Band of Brothers to avert another gunfire trope. Winters gets winged in the leg by a random shot that has no sound effect associated with it.
  • Averted in the final episode of The Sopranos. One interpretation of the ending is that Tony Soprano was killed in reprisal for killing another mob boss previously, and the screen immediately cuts to black because he died. The clue is in a conversation Tony and Bobby have earlier that season, where Bobby explains that bullets travel so fast that if it's a headshot, your brain can't even register the sound of the gun having been fired before you're dead. A few episodes later, Silvio is in a very similar situation where he survives a public whacking only because he wasn't the intended target, just a diversion. He goes deaf in the moment and it takes his brain a split second to recognize where the sound came from.
  • A noted early episode of M*A*S*H called "Sometimes You Hear The Bullet" has an old friend of Hawkeye writing a book from the soldier's perspective, which he will call "You Never Hear the Bullet." When he later is shot and the bullet turns out not an Instant Death one, he tells Hawkeye with some irony, "I heard the bullet," and then dies, leaving Hawkeye shattered. This episode is noteworthy as being the first in the series to examine the serious consequences of war (and in a much less heavy-handed way than would be commonplace in later years).
  • Averted in a first-series episode of Life, when a hostage taker in a bank is shot by a police marksman: you hear the shattering of a glass window first, followed by a reverberating distant report. SFX carry this event, since you never see the window or the sniper; the only cue that the shot's coming is a voice over the radio saying "I'm in position".
  • Averted on NCIS, when Caitlin Todd is sniped through the head at the end of Season 2—the bullet punches through her a half-second before Gibbs and Tony hear the gunshot.

    Video Games 
  • Averted in the tactical first-person shooter game Operation Flashpoint and its sequels in the Arma series (including Arma 2's famous DayZ mod), in which sound travel time is simulated, so it's entirely possible to be killed by a bullet before the report of the rifle that fired it reaches you. All other sounds follow the same rules, so if a huge explosion takes place a few kilometers away from, the sound reaches you several seconds later.
  • The flavor text for Unreal Tournament III's Sniper Rifle averts this, mentioning that the NEG Marines say "any shot you hear is nothing to be worried about." It's played straight in-game, however: the bullets are hitscan, the sound is instantaneous, and the rounds are all tracers, so you know where the sniper shot from too.
  • Also averted in Battlefield 2. Tested with an M95 .50cal AMR from about 400m away. The bullet impacted half a second before the shot was heard. The bullet's initial speed was set to about 850m/s.
  • Speaking of the Barrett, this is also averted in one portion of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 - at one point halfway through, you are treated to a flashback to Call of Duty 4, specifically the mission where the player as Captain Price shot at Zakhaev from a mile away, with the player now viewing from someone who was within the target area. If you pay attention to the hotel, you can see the muzzle flash from Price's rifle a full three seconds before Zakhaev's arm flies off, followed about half a second later by the actual firing sound.
  • Averted in the first Brothers in Arms game when a soldier is shot in the head by a sniper while the squad is resting at the top of a church. The soldier's head simply blows open and he falls from the roof, with the distant sound of a gunshot following shortly after.
  • Outrider's standard victory taunt in Call of Duty: Black Ops III mentions this - "One shot, one kill. Won't even hear it coming." The Call of Duty series otherwise plays this straight, however, where there is no sound traveling. If you're far away enough from someone that you can't hear their shots exactly when they're fired, you're not going to hear the bullets until the killcam shows you your death from their perspective (and that's assuming you're also not far enough that their bullets won't disappear mid-flight, although unless they're using a shotgun that's generally rare in most maps).

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    Real Life 
  • Despite what many people here think, not all bullets are supersonic. A .45 ACP (used in the Colt M1911 and the Thompson, among many others) is significantly slower. Even within a caliber, different manufacturers produce different loads. Special ammunition to fire bullets below the speed of sound are sometimes manufactured; certain 9mm rounds are designed for subsonic speed, and are commonly used with silenced weapons. In short, some guns, especially older ones and handguns, will actually follow this trope.
    • Of course, such subsonic rounds or firearms are often especially kept subsonic for use with a suppressor, meaning that there's almost no noise to go by (guns specifically chosen for their ability to perform quietly can actually get reasonably close to being a Hollywood Silencer). There's also the issue that while the rounds may not be supersonic, they still travel at a high subsonic speed; so while the sound may get to you before the bullet, it usually beats it to the mark by a margin shorter than the human reaction time. Essentially, while this trope would be technically correct under such cases, it's still of no real practical use. The reason why subsonic bullets are used in silenced weapons is that supersonic bullets produce a significant sonic boom while travelling. No suppressor on earth could do a thing about quieting that if the bullet is still moving at a supersonic speed by the time it clears the muzzle - the best one can do is to restrict the velocity of the bullet before it leaves the barrel, so it never goes supersonic in the first place.