Ballistics Behind The Curve

Instead of my 10-finger stumble over the keyboard to magically make letters appear on the screen, I’m pecking away with my left trigger finger and it sucks. I got a total right shoulder replacement last week, putting the right wing out of business for a few weeks.

Ah-ha! Some of you are thinking — recoil got him. Wrong, arthritis got me. Actually it started in my left shoulder over 10 years ago and I seldom shoot left-handed. I wouldn’t shoot a .45 left-handed, though, as the pain generated was enough I couldn’t be sure of not dropping the gun. However, that only lasted about six months. Then it was simply pain and loss of motion.

About 2 years ago, it hit on the right shoulder with a vengeance. Strangely, I never felt pain from recoil of anything I shot, including .458 Win and heavy .50 Alaskan loads in an Encore pistol, as late as about eight weeks ago. Heavy rifles never bothered me either. I have arthritis in other bone structures but none in hands, wrists or elbows. The right is most important to me, so that shoulder is now largely titanium and plastic. The left will get the same treatment in a few months.

Doc says after recovery I’ll be able to shoot anything I like. Wonder if he knows what heavy recoil is? Take a look at the 950JDJ on YouTube. I did a lot of heavy manual labor prior to becoming an adult and wonder if that could be a contributing factor? Doc says “possibly.” Also says “possibly” when I ask if recoil did it. He feels more likely hereditary, but no one actually knows. This was said without knowing my mother’s side of the family had severe arthritis problems. So don’t worry about it, you get it or you don’t.


During WWII, Germans lead the way with ultra-high velocity projectiles, and we haven’t come
too far since. Nonetheless, our own big guns, like these 16″ big-boys on a battleship,
won the war. Yet, we still use exploding gunpowder to shoot charges out of barrels of
guns on ships — and in our handguns.

Failure To Catch Up

Loafing, reading and just plain goofing off got me to thinking ballistics, and the lack of significant progress since WWII in that field, compared to almost any other field of endeavor, including raising chickens. In my opinion, the German antitank guns of that era were generally superior to any others in that conflict due to extremely high velocities obtained from a wide variety of calibers, all combined with excellent sights. They had limited numbers of outstanding projectiles, but those were in very limited supply, and ordinary projectiles were the norm. We are talking about simple kinetic energy projectiles, not the fancy exotic dart-type saboted projectiles used in our 120mm tank guns. Those are launched in the 5,800 fps range.

Much of today’s ammo technology is based on fairly ancient concepts, like explosions
pushing lead bullets down barrels. You’d think we’d have gotten further along than
this Pistolet de Gendarmerie An IX from a couple of hundred years ago!
Photo: Courtesy Jonathan Marmand

Ancient Ammo

The German 88 (3.46″) was a variable purpose weapon — antiaircraft, antitank and even antipersonnel. It was quite good in all those roles and capable of 3,700 fps with a 16.1-pound projectile, and 3,300 fps with a 22.9 pounder. They could hit tanks at up to 3,000 meters. Then look at the 2.8cm SP2 B41 taper-bore round running a 4.5-ounce projectile at 4,600 fps. The projectile started at 1.1″ and exited the taper bore at .79″ (20mm). The 7.5cm Pak 44 (2.95″ reducing to 2.16″) achieved 4,265 fps with one projectile, and 4,900 fps with another. Weight was around 4 pounds. Considerably higher velocities were achieved experimentally. Conventional propellants and saboted projectiles peak at around 5,800 fps.

The above is early 1940s technology. The vast majority of our ammunition in handguns and rifles currently in use with the latest and greatest guns originated in the early 1900s, with only quite moderate ballistic increases. Handguns and rifles in the $2,500 to $5,000 range are common — all using mostly antiquated ammunition technology. Why? At the very least military sniper rifles could benefit greatly by improved ballistics. Shall we challenge ’em to come up with something better? You bet.
By J.D. Jones

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