A bullet can travel between 600 and 2,000 miles per hour. Factors affecting a bullet’s speed include caliber, the weight of the bullet, the length of the gun barrel, and the amount and type of gunpowder in the cartridge.
Rifle bullets typically fly faster than handgun bullets.
I am an engineer and a competitive shooter, and I reload my own ammunition. From working on the physics used in ballistic calculations to measuring the speed of my own ammunition, I have real-world experience with the speed of bullets.
Below we will review how fast common bullets travel and what factors affect their speed. Keep reading to learn some unique examples and when a slower bullet is actually better.
How Fast Does a Bullet Travel?
Speed can be measured in various ways, but in the US, bullet speed is usually measured in feet per second (fps). Since most people do not have a good feeling about how fast a foot per second is, we have converted all the bullet speeds to miles per hour (mph).
A bullet achieves its highest speed just as it exits the barrel of a gun. After this, gravity and the drag from the air immediately start to slow it down until it falls to the ground or hits something. There are a lot of other factors that affect a bullet’s speed and trajectory once it leaves the barrel. Humidity, ballistic coefficient, and wind all come into play.
So that I won’t bore you with the physics of ballistic calculations, we will just concentrate on muzzle velocity – or the speed of the bullet as it exits the barrel.
The bullet speed you typically see on an ammo box is muzzle velocity. This is measured with a chronograph.
A chronograph has two light sensors set at a known distance apart. It works very quickly to calculate the speed from the time it takes a bullet to pass from one sensor to another.
A chronograph is an important instrument for people like myself who reload their own ammo. I measure the speed of my bullets at about 4-6 feet from my gun. In my experience, it gives me more accurate readings and protects my chronograph from damage from the muzzle blast. While there is a slight drop in speed, for my purposes of checking the speed of my ammo, it works well.
For the speeds in this guide, I used my Lyman Reloading Handbook as a reference.
How Fast Does a Handgun or Pistol Bullet Travel?
Handgun and Pistol bullets typically travel slower than rifle bullets. This is mainly because the cartridges are smaller and the barrels are shorter.
Below is a table showing the most common handgun and pistol bullets and the average speed for each in both fps and mph.
How Fast Does a 22 Bullet Travel?
The most common 22 bullet is the .22 LR rimfire cartridge. These bullets travel at about 1070 fps or 730 mph.
Some other cartridges with similar caliber bullets to the .22LR travel much faster. The .17 HMR bullet, for example, travels at around 2375 fps, or 1619 mph. These are mainly used for long-range small-game hunting.
How Fast Does a 9mm Bullet Travel?
The average 9mm bullet travels at around 1150 fps or 784 mph.
9mm bullets have a fairly wide range of speeds and can be purchased or loaded for subsonic speeds. You can also purchase various bullet weights and high-power +P and +P+ rounds. These rounds have more gunpowder in them, creating higher bullet speeds.
On the fast end, a 90 grain +P+ bullet travels at 1550 fps or 1056 mph.
On the slow end, a 150 grain subsonic bullet travels at 1000 fps or 682 mph.
Our guide on the best 9mm pistols has a range of handguns with different barrel lengths. Smaller concealed carry guns will have a slower speed than larger competition guns.
How Fast Does a 45 Bullet Travel?
The average 45 bullet travels at around 886 fps or 604 mph.
The most common 45 bullet is the .45 Auto or 45 ACP. These bullets can range in weight from 135 grain to 230 grain, the most common being 185 grain and 230 grain. While not as common, higher power +P rounds are available.
On the fast end, a 185 grain +P bullet travels at 1000 fps or 681 mph.
On the slow end, a 230 grain bullet travels at around 750 fps or 511 mph.
How Fast Does a Rifle Bullet Travel?
Rifle bullets are the fastest bullets since they have a larger cartridge that can hold more gunpowder. More gunpowder also means more recoil, and rifles are easier than handguns for the shooter to control.
Rifles also have longer barrels than handguns, which increases the bullet’s speed.
How Fast Does a 5.56 Bullet Travel?
A 5.56 bullet travels around 3180 fps or 2168 mph.
The most common AR15 round and the military standard is the 5.56 M193. In our full ammo cost and guide, we discuss the differences between the M193 and the M855 rounds.
The 5.56 is essentially a higher-power version of the .223 Remington round.
How Fast Does a 5.7 Bullet Travel?
A 5.7 x 28 bullet travels around 2034 fps or 1387 mph.
This cartridge can be used in both rifles and handguns. Fabrique Nationale (FNH) developed their P90 rifle and the Five Seven Handgun around this cartridge for NATO.
The speed of this bullet from the P90 rifle can be as high as 2800 fps or 1909 mph.
How Fast Does a 223 Bullet Travel?
A 223 bullet travels around 3020 fps or 2059 mph.
Many different bullet weights and types are available for the .223 Remington cartridge. My reloading handbook lists over 15 bullets with speeds from 3400 fps (2318 mph) down to 2240 fps (1527 mph).
This cartridge is virtually the same as the 5.56 cartridge but usually has a lower speed.
How Fast Does a 243 Bullet Travel?
A 243 bullet travels around 3100 fps or 2114 mph.
Similar to the 223, this bullet has many different bullet types. My reloading handbook lists over 10 different bullet weights and types with speeds from 3700 fps (2522 mph) to 2500 fps (1705 mph).
How Fast Does a 270 Bullet Travel?
A 270 bullet travels around 2990 fps or 2038 mph.
Mainly considered a hunting rifle round for thin-skinned game, it is commonly compared to the 30-06. My reloading handbook lists speeds from 3350 fps (2284 mph) to 2400 fps (1636 mph).
How Fast Does a 30-06 Bullet Travel?
A 30-06 bullet travels around 2800 fps or 1909 mph.
The 30-06 Springfield was the most popular rifle in America before the AR15. This is probably because it was used by the military for the famous M1 Garand. My reloading handbook lists speeds from 3350 fps (2284 mph) to 2500 fps (1705 mph).
How Fast Does a 7.62 Bullet Travel?
A 7.62 bullet travels around 2250 fps or 1534 mph.
This cartridge was made famous by its use in the Russian-developed AK-47. My reloading handbook lists speeds from 1800 fps (1227 mph) to 2400 fps (1636 mph).
How Fast Does a 50 cal Bullet Travel?
A 50-cal bullet travels at around 2850 fps or 1943 mph.
The 50 caliber BMG cartridge is a huge cartridge compared to most other common rifle cartridges. It is used in the famous Barrett 50 caliber sniper rifle and is one of the most powerful commercial rifle rounds available.
As you can see, the speed of this bullet is just as fast as most smaller bullets, but it weighs substantially more, up to 750 grains!
Factors That Affect Bullet Speed
Below we will review the factors that affect a bullet’s speed. Some have a greater effect than others. We will mainly concentrate on what affects the bullets’ muzzle velocity and not the speed downrange.
All of these are interrelated with a lot of overlap.
To boil it down into one simple statement, a smaller bullet with more gunpowder in the cartridge will travel faster than a larger bullet with less gunpowder.
Caliber and Cartridge Type
This has the biggest effect on the speed of a bullet. In general, smaller calibers with long cartridges will travel faster than larger calibers with short cartridges. There are two reasons for this.
Smaller caliber bullets weigh less. Since they weigh less, it takes less force to make them move. So, they travel faster.
Rifle Cartridges are usually longer than a handgun and pistol cartridges. This allows more gunpowder to be loaded. More powder means more power to make the bullet travel faster.
Similarly to how a smaller bullet will travel faster than a larger bullet, a heavier bullet of the same caliber will travel slower than a lighter bullet.
Bullet weight is measured in grains. Grains is a very old unit of measure and one of the smallest. Each caliber of bullet will usually have different bullet weights to choose from.
For years I experimented with my handgun competition ammo to find what worked best for me. For 9mm, there are 90, 115, 125, 135, and 147 grain bullets available.
For example, I can load a 115-grain bullet to achieve a certain speed. If I simply change to a 135 or 147 grain bullet, the resulting speed will be slower.
Gun Powder Amount and Type
It is obvious that the more gunpowder there is in a cartridge, the faster a bullet will go. But the type of powder also makes a difference.
While the speed gunpowder burns is a complicated subject, we can say that in most cases, a slower burning powder in a rifle will make the same bullet go faster than a faster burning powder. This is because as the bullet travels down the barrel, the gunpowder continues to burn and continues to accelerate the bullet.
This is mainly useful for people who reload their own rifle ammo for competitions. Handgun shooters and anyone who buys their ammo really don’t need to worry about the type of gunpowder. Often, ammo manufacturers don’t disclose the type of gunpowder they use.
Barrell length will affect how fast a bullet travels. As we mentioned earlier, as soon as a bullet leaves the gun barrel, it begins to slow down.
As the bullet travels down the gun barrel, it continues to accelerate as the combustion gasses from the burning gunpowder expand. This is dramatically more true between a handgun and a pistol.
Some cartridges, like 9mm and 5.7mm, have guns made for them in handgun and rifle configurations. The same bullets shot from the rifle will be faster than the bullets from the handgun.
But, even between rifles and handguns themselves, there can be different barrel lengths. For example, common rifle barrels range from 16” to 20”, while handguns usually range from 3” to 6”.
While not as much of a factor inside the barrel as it is after the bullet leaves the barrel, bullet type and shape affect the speed of a bullet.
As the bullet travels down the gun barrel, it fits very tightly. There is a considerable amount of friction between the bullet and the inside of the barrel. More friction means a slower bullet.
Most bullets are coated with either a copper or polymer coating to reduce friction. This helps lubricate and allows them to slide through the barrel with less friction. A pure lead bullet with no coating will travel slower because of the added friction.
Once the bullet is in the air, a more aerodynamic bullet shape will travel farther than a less aerodynamic bullet. For example, a pointed boat tail bullet will travel farther than a hollow point bullet (but I digress).
Why Does Bullet Speed Matter?
There is always a great debate over what is better for hunting and self-defense. A larger bullet or a faster bullet. Well, as with most answers to a debatable question, it depends.
Basic physics gives us a simple equation. Force = Mass * Velocity(squared). We can consider this for a bullet, with the mass and speed of the bullet exerting a force on a target.
Just looking at this, we can see that mass certainly has an effect on the force. But the speed has a much greater influence since it is squared.
However, there is a practical aspect to consider. You can’t just load up a .223 cartridge with a ton of powder to make it super-fast and deliver more force than any bullet known to man. The action and the barrel of a gun can only withstand so much pressure.
Using this equation, you can see why the US military adopted the 5.56 cartridge as the choice round. It is a smaller caliber but was designed to be faster than most other cartridges. In the end, it will deliver more force to the target.
When to use Subsonic Bullets
Subsonic ammunition is a special consideration when using a suppressor on your firearm.
Movies have portrayed suppressors as “silencers” only used by hitmen or someone committing a crime. Movies are not real life. But I digress (again).
Since most bullets travel greater than the speed of sound, they create a small “sonic boom” as they travel through the air. No matter how good your suppressor is, a bullet traveling faster than the speed of sound will create a loud cracking sound as it travels through the air.
So, if you do have a suppressor and would like to not use hearing protection, purchase or load your ammo so the bullet travels slower than the speed of sound (1128 fps or 767 mph.)
Now that you know how fast a bullet travels and all the factors to consider, what next?
Learn more about the total cost of firearms ownership with our How Much Does Ammo Cost and How Much Does a Gun Cost guides.
Also read our Guide on Handguns for Self-defense, as well as our other Self-Defense Guides and Reviews. Our full Gun Safe Guide has the best gun safes of every size and includes a discount code for 5% off!