Determining muzzle velocity without a chronograph

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Posted May 3, 2014 by muzzlevelocity in ballistics

Ammunition manufacturers have long touted the muzzle velocities of their proprietary rounds as a major selling point. For example, when the .250-3000 Savage was introduced in 1915, much ado was made about the fact that the round could propel an 87-grain bullet to a velocity of 3,000 f/s.

This begs the question, how did gun companies, wildcatters, and firearms buffs determine muzzle velocity in the days before electronic chronographs were extant? One method, dating back to 1742, was by using a device known as a ballistic pendulum.

In short, the device works by firing a projectile at a pendulum of a known mass, measuring the movement of that pendulum, and then doing a whole lot of math to determine the projectile’s velocity. We’re definitely grateful for the fact that all we have to today is fire a bullet over an electronic gadget.

This interesting video goes a little more in depth on how to use (and) make a ballistic pendulum.


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