bullet indentation on metal plate

What Happens When a Bullet Hits Metal?


Understanding what happens when a bullet hits metal is not only scientifically intriguing but also important for personal safety, law enforcement, and military defense. In this guide, we'll explore the key aspects of this interaction, including the type of bullet, the metal target, the bullet's speed, and the angle of impact. Let's get started.

Different Bullet Types and Their Reactions


bullets scattered on table
Credit: Envato Elements/ Bykfa

Understanding what happens when a bullet hits metal requires an understanding of bullet types. Not all bullets react the same way upon impact with metal, as the bullet composition significantly influences the reaction.

Full Metal Jacket (FMJ) Rounds

Primarily used in military and police operations, Full Metal Jacket (FMJ) rounds are characterized by their unique structure. At their core, they consist of soft lead surrounded by a harder metal shell, typically copper or steel.

When an FMJ round collides with a metal target, the goal is penetration. The bullet aims to bore through the metal, with the degree of success depending on other variables such as the bullet's velocity and the type and thickness of the metal. However, it's important to note that FMJ bullets may not always succeed in piercing the metal target, and instead, may deform or ricochet depending on conditions.

Hollow Point Bullets

Next up are hollow point bullets, which are specifically designed to inflict maximum damage on soft targets. Unlike full metal jacket (FMJ) bullets, hollow points exhibit a distinct behavior when they encounter metal. 

Rather than attempting to penetrate the target, these bullets tend to flatten or "mushroom" upon impact, significantly increasing their surface area and enhancing the transfer of energy to the target. As a result, the bullet undergoes considerable deformation, potentially causing significant damage to both the bullet and the metal surface it strikes.

Frangible Bullets

Frangible bullets are distinct types of bullets with unique characteristics. These bullets are composed of compressed metallic powder, which breaks apart upon impact. The key advantage of frangible rounds is their ability to prevent over-penetration of targets, making them particularly suitable for specific shooting environments like indoor ranges or close-quarters combat.

When frangible bullets strike metal surfaces, they disintegrate into numerous small fragments. This fragmentation significantly reduces the risk of dangerous ricochets while maximizing the energy transfer to the metal. Consequently, frangible bullets often cause substantial surface damage, effectively distributing the bullet's energy across a wider area upon impact.

Note: Since bullet ricochets are common with metal targets, you want to avoid bullets that are more likely to be dangerous like steel core bullets, armor-piercing rounds, and green-tip bullets.

Type of Metal: What Does it Mean?


metal targets aligned at a distance
Credit: Envato Elements/ MargJohnsonVA

The nature of the metal that the bullet encounters plays a pivotal role in determining the outcome of the collision. Different metals, each with its unique set of physical properties, react differently when struck by a bullet.


As a commonly used material for pistol shooting, rifle rounds, and body steel armor, steel is renowned for its hardness and high tensile strength. It is these characteristics that primarily dictate how a bullet interacts with it.

When you shoot steel targets, one of two things is likely to happen: the bullet will either penetrate the steel or ricochet off its surface. The exact outcome depends on several factors, including the bullet type, bullet velocity, and the steel's thickness. Be sure to exercise caution when engaging in shooting steel targets, as the potential for bullet ricochet poses an extremely dangerous situation, especially if the bullet redirects towards the shooter.


In contrast to a steel target, aluminum is a softer, less dense metal. It has lower tensile strength and hardness, meaning it is less resistant to deformation.

When a bullet strikes an aluminum target, it is likely to penetrate, leaving a clear hole. The softer nature of aluminum also often causes the metal around the impact site to bulge outward, a phenomenon known as 'tensile petalling.' In situations where the bullet does not penetrate, it can still cause significant deformation of the aluminum surface.


Titanium presents another interesting case. While it's not as hard as steel, titanium has a superior strength-to-weight ratio, making it an excellent material for applications that require strength without the weight penalty.

When a bullet hits titanium, it can behave similarly to steel, potentially causing the bullet to ricochet or penetrate, depending on the bullet's speed, size, and type. However, titanium's superior strength can result in less deformation of the metal around the impact site compared to softer metals like aluminum.

The Speed and Angle of Impact


man aiming with at target with a gun
Credit: Envato Elements/ Rawpixel

The bullet's velocity and the angle of impact are crucial variables in understanding what happens when a bullet hits metal. These factors significantly influence the interaction between bullet and target, often determining whether the bullets ricochet, penetrate, or deform.


The bullet's speed or velocity significantly contributes to the outcome of its collision with metal. The greater the velocity, the more kinetic energy the bullet possesses, resulting in a higher potential for penetration or deformation. However, if the speed is too high, the bullet may disintegrate on impact due to abrupt deceleration and excessive stress, especially with softer lead bullets.

Angle of Impact

The angle at which the bullet strikes the metal target also determines the end result. A bullet hitting a target perpendicularly has the greatest chance of penetration or deformation. However, if the bullet strikes at a steep angle, it's more likely to ricochet off the surface and cause bullet fragments, particularly on harder metals like steel. This situation can be both dangerous and unpredictable.


The collision between a bullet and metal is a complex interplay of multiple physical factors that significantly impact our everyday world. By delving deeper into these dynamics, we gain a better understanding of the underlying science and, in turn, can contribute to enhancing safety measures.

And while you delve into the fascinating world of ballistics, why not maximize your target practice sessions with EasyShot? EasyShot offers a range of high-quality paper shooting targets designed to enhance your shooting skills. Shop with us today.

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