By Bryan Litz, Chief Ballistician For Berger Bullets
A Better Ballistic Coefficient
For centuries now, science has been helping us gain a more accurate understanding of our world. The branch of science we care about as shooters is known as ballistics. The science of ballistics is well developed and understood by those who study it, but the tools and information being used by average shooters is not necessarily optimal for the shooter’s applications.
In other words, there is a better, more accurate way for shooters to use ballistics to help them predict trajectories and hit targets. The purpose of this article is to present a better way for shooters to calculate ballistics.
What is a Ballistic Coefficient?
Most shooters, especially long range rifle shooters, are familiar with the Ballistic Coefficient (BC). Without getting into the math, I’ll define the ballistic coefficient in words as: The ability of the bullet to maintain velocity, in comparison to a ‘standard projectile’.
A high BC bullet can maintain velocity better than a low BC bullet under the same conditions. All measures of ballistic performance including drop and wind deflection are related to the bullet’s ability to maintain velocity. In short; the higher the BC, the better the all-around ballistic performance of the bullet will be.
How a Ballistic Coefficient is Used
Details of ballistic trajectories can be predicted with computer programs using all the relevant variables, including BC. As with all prediction programs; the accuracy of the outputs depends on the accuracy of the inputs. Here is where we have to examine the real meaning and implications of using a Ballistic Coefficient to characterize the bullet’s ability to maintain velocity.
It’s a relatively well known fact that the BC of a bullet is different at different velocities. Not many shooters know why it changes, or what the consequences are. To understand why a BC changes at different speeds, we have to go back to the definition of BC, which is: The ability of the bullet to maintain velocity, in comparison to a ‘standard projectile’. It’s the ‘standard projectile’ part of the definition that we need to key in on. What is the ‘standard projectile’? What does it look like?
To date, the ‘standard projectile’ used to define BCs for the entire sporting arms industry is the G1 standard projectile. The G1 standard projectile which is shown in Figure 1 has a short nose, flat base, and bears more resemblance to a pistol bullet or an old unjacketed lead black powder cartridge rifle bullet than to a modern long range rifle bullet.
Figure 1. The G1 standard projectile.
The reason why the BC of a modern long range bullet changes so much at different velocities is because modern bullets are so different in shape compared to the G1 standard that its BC is based on. In other words, the drag of a modern long range bullet changes differently than the G1 standard projectile, so the coefficient relating the two (the ballistic coefficient) has to change with velocity.