Firearms and their Closest Friends – The Cartridges

02 July 2009   |   by Colin Smith   |   Library

It's Cartridge, Not Bullet


A cartridge in firearms refers to a packaged and pre-assembled firearm ammunition that includes:
  • 1) A projectile (bullet or slug)
  • 2) A propellant (typically black or smokeless powder), and
  • 3) A device for ignition (a primer).

A cartridge houses all three in either a plastic, metallic, or (historically) paper casing designed to fit inside the barrel chamber of a particular breechloading firearm. Cartridges provide various advantages, not the least of which include convenience and handling.

The word "bullet" has been popularized in pop culture and has widely come to refer to what is more accurately described as a cartridge. The bullet is in reality only the projectile portion of the overall cartridge.


2023 Standard Catalog of Firearms
2023 Standard Catalog of Firearms

Very broadly, cartridges fit into different categories or classifications based on the location of the primer or the location of the cartridge in the chamber. Countless modern firearms are designed to use this convenient, all-in-one solution for firing a weapon. Here are some examples of important and widely used cartridges:

  • - .357 Magnum- Powerful and used in large numbers by hunters and law enforcement
  • - .22-250 Remington- Popular cartridge for many applications including medium and long-range game hunting
  • - 22 Long Rifle- Target shooting and small game hunting
  • - .300 Winchester Magnum- Hugely popular for big game hunting. Also used for military applications by Navy Seals and many others
  • - .44 Magnum
  • - .45 Colt
  • - .50 BMG
  • - .303 British- The British Empire military rifle used for over 60 years
  • - 30-06 Springfield- Standard issue rifle for U.S. Army for the whole first half of the 20th century
  • - 7 mm Remington Magnum
  • - 9x19 mm Parabellum


Although the first evidence of paper cartridges dates as far back as the 14th century in western Europe, widespread adoption and use was not more prevalent until the 17th century. The cartridge was later used in muzzle-loading weapons used for military purposes and in flint-lock muskets. Over time, advances in other materials and design concepts were forwarded that made possible integrated cartridges, first developed in Paris in the early 1800’s, which featured copper bases, mercury fulminate powder and a round bullet with either paper or brass as a casing. They became the first self-contained cartridges in history. Later, the mide-1900’s saw the advent of modern metallic cartridges. Since this time, cartridge technology has continued to advance, as they have been adopted in most modern firearms, regardless of the end use or application.

The word bullet has been popularized in pop culture and has widely come to refer to what is more accurately described as a cartridge.
signature Colin Smith GUNCC Guest Writer
firing handgun at indoor range