Ballistic Matching
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Basic Information

Ballistic matching is the branch of forensic science that involves examining spent bullets to match them either to the weapon from which they were fired or to another round fired from the same weapon. As well as gross features such as calibre and the number and spin direction of the rifling, more detailed examination can reveal fine marks unique to a given weapon. Marks left on cartridge cases can also be revealing if these can be recovered.

A true match requires a fully intact round, fired under test conditions (usually into a water tank) which can then be matched to the (typically deformed) spent rounds found at the scene - this obviously requires possession of the suspect weapon, without which the best that can determined is usually a probability of a match. Self fragmenting-rounds and other things that deform on impact make the job harder, as do smoothbore weapons such as shotguns.

Pre-firearms, a knowledgeable person may be able to examine an arrow or similar round and discern clues about its maker, although less so about the firer or the weapon from which it was fired.

(note this term can also be applied to various forms of optimising ammunition to improve accuracy).


1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • A non-scientific investigator may be able to use the Law of Contagion to link a spent round to the weapon the fired it … or even the person that made it with a handmade round like an arrow.
  • The classic is tying several shootings together because the same weapon was used in them and left the same traces behind on the bullets.
    • Which puts a wrinkle into buying black market firearms. You can never be entirely sure of the history of the weapon and what else may be tied to you by it.
  • This is why you police your brass - as noted, the marks left on the case can be distinctive.
    • It's also surprisingly common - and easy - to recover fingerprints from spent brass.
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