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Does the AR-15 Bullet Tumble? Fact vs. Myth

There’s tons of misinformation about the capabilities of the AR-15 and what it can do when its shots land on soft targets. Unfortunately, there’s a definite uptick in mass shootings with the weapon, and knowing facts from fiction could save your life one day. So does the AR-15 bullet tumble?

The .223 and 5.56 bullet used in AR-15s tumbles when it contacts the body. This tumbling is a by-product of the location of the shot and the ammunition used. Tumbling can be cured using a higher grain, 62 to 77 grn are the least likely to tumble.

When it comes to the ballistics of rifles and grains used to load rounds, you get into serious math and physics that goes over lots of shooter’s heads. But don’t let that stop you from learning the truth! So read on and learn all you need to know about the AR-15 bullet and how it tumbles.

Why the AR-15 Bullet Tumbles

Ballistics is an exciting science that teaches us many things about firearms and the rounds we shoot through them. But unfortunately, what ballistics tells us about tumbling is that the round loses the speed required to maintain straight flight when it impacts. The lack of trajectory causes the back end of the bullet to rotate and creates the gaping holes we hear about on the news.

A few ways that bullets from the AR-15 lose momentum are:

  • Impact – The most obvious way the AR bullet loses momentum is when it contacts a target. When the rifle fires, it can hit targets at close to 600 yards. The impact from a bullet inside a hundred yards is like being hit with a 350lb offensive lineman moving three times faster than the speed of sound.
  • Distance – As mentioned earlier, the AR-15 has a range of about 600 yards. When it comes to the end of this range, the bullet will begin to wobble and possibly become erratic. Some say it resembles firing a smooth bore rifle that has no rifling to increase accuracy.
  • Grain – A bullet packed with higher grains of gunpowder makes the bullet travel slower but retain greater distance because of the ballistic coefficient. The ballistic coefficient refers to the bullet’s ability to decrease air resistance. When the bullets aren’t loaded with the correct grain, they have less momentum.

The main reasons that bullets lose momentum are pretty common. When hunting for a game, it is important that meat is saved and not spoiled with collateral damage from a wobbly bullet. Make sure to load the rounds correctly or buy higher grain shells to prevent spoiling good meat.

Here’s a video going over this topic in detail, with more info below:

Does a 5.56 Bullet Tumble?

Absolutely. When some Army big wigs saw the damage done to the target while firing with the new 5.56, they began to study its flight. They found that after rounds lose momentum, they begin to lose integrity and wobble.

When a round is fired within the rifle range, it only tumbles when it impacts. Not as it flies through the air until it loses momentum.

One of the biggest things going against the 5.56 is the bad press it got from Drill Sergeants and gun nuts during its introduction to the armed forces. While firing, some DS claimed the bullet didn’t keep a stable flying pattern and was lobbed. This started the rumor that 5.56 tumbles in flight instead of when it makes contact.

I use either Brownells, Palmetto State Armory, or Optics Planet to buy parts, that way I always know what I’m getting and that it will actually show up.

Do Rifle Bullets Tumble?

Because of their shape, rifle bullets tumble. They are an oblong plinth shape that begins to wobble when they lose momentum or come into contact with a soft target. This is because the kinetic energy in a bullet carries it a long way, and when it impacts, that energy is dispersed in waves that leave gaping wounds in the target.

A few reasons why rifle bullets tumble are:

  • Shape – The shape of the bullet is going to have a significant impact on the flight pattern. Their long shape makes the front and back sections fight against gravity. As a result, as the bullet slows down or hits a target, these large ends will spin like a top.
  • Size – Another big thing that causes bullets to tumble is their size. A large bullet will lose momentum and break the flight path faster than a smaller caliber or specialized projectile. Gravity works in both instances to drag the speeding projectile back to Earth.

Rifle bullets are subject to the same laws of gravity as everything else. Just because they are fired from high-powered rifles and defy our sense of vision doesn’t mean they are supernatural. Wobbling is part of firing rifles; knowing what your rounds are capable of is just as important as the accuracy of your weapon.

.223 of 5.56 – What’s the Difference?

5.56 is another name for .223 ammo. The Army shifted to using this ammo in the Vietnam era on a shady business deal between the Pentagon brass and American arms manufacturers. They are sized differently because the NATO 5.56 round requires more grains of gunpowder than the .223 counterpart.

Does the M-16 Bullet Tumble?

The M-16 fires the NATO 5.56 like all the other AR platform rifles. Most of the AR-style rifles we see today are based on the M-16A2, the semiautomatic burst firing weapon used in the jungles of Vietnam.


The AR-15 fires either .223 or 5.56 ammunition subject to wobbling when it makes contact with targets. This wobbling is known to cause horrible wounds and could also destroy any meat you are trying to preserve. So don’t go into the woods with ammo that will shred your game and leave you with no food for the freezer.

Wobbling in bullets happens because of a lack of momentum on the round combined with the effects of the projectile’s oblong shape. The shape is important because when the shooting arc deteriorates, the bullet will begin to wobble as the forces of gravity take hold.