Tracers -- how do they actually work?


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ArmedBear
December 22, 2008, 09:32 AM
I got some .22LR tracer ammo, and it's really cool to shoot it -- it's really a good learning tool. I don't have to imagine trajectory and velocity; I can see them. I highly recommend the stuff to anyone who is curious about these things, and the snow we've gotten lately has provided a great opportunity to shoot them without fire danger.

What I did find was that, occasionally, it wouldn't light up when shot from a handgun.

How does tracer ammo work?

What is the agent that burns/lights up?

How is it ignited?

Thanks to anyone who knows!

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moooose102
December 22, 2008, 09:55 AM
i am not sure HOW it works. just be sure that it is legal to shoot in your state. i bought some, and found out later that in michigan, it is unlawful to shoot. so, if i get caught touching it off, i get a nice hefty fine. isn't that nice?!

BigBlack
December 22, 2008, 10:34 AM
I heard a little monkey sits on the end of the barrel and lights them with a match?

Just kidding I would like to know the answer as well!

Frog48
December 22, 2008, 11:10 AM
I read somewhere that the incendiary substance is ignited by friction against the air. Not sure if its true or not, but seems logical.

Brian Williams
December 22, 2008, 11:14 AM
From wikipedia
A tracer projectile is constructed with a hollow base filled with a pyrotechnic flare material, often made of phosphorus or magnesium or other bright burning chemicals. In US and NATO standard ammunition, this is usually a mixture of strontium salts and a metal fuel such as magnesium. This yields a bright red light. Russian and Chinese tracer ammunition generates green light using barium salts.

Tracers can never be a totally reliable indicator of a gunner's aim, since all tracer rounds have different aerodynamics and even weight from ordinary rounds. Over long ranges, the stream of tracer rounds and the stream of ordinary rounds will diverge radically, especially given that a tracer bullet's mass decreases over time, because the tracer material in its base burns and vaporizes. Although advances in tracer design have diminished this problem, it still exists in modern ammunition.

crushbup
December 22, 2008, 11:32 AM
They use phosphorous, I believe, which is ignited by the air friction. The phosphorous is on the base of the bullet.

ETA: Beaten to it

jjohnson
December 22, 2008, 11:46 AM
The "trace" element in a tracer round IS like flare material - and is ignited by the really hot gases that propel the bullet. Tracers used by the US tend to have a high "ignition requirement" most likely for the sake of safety. For that reason, the military tracer ammo uses powders that generate more heat than would be required. So, if you're buying US Milsurp pull-down tracers, you need to power them with 'hot powders' to assure ignition. That doesn't mean they won't burn with any powder behind 'em, but they're more likely to ignite with powders formulated for tracers. Have a look at www.patsreloading.com - he sells powder pulled from tracers that you can use reloading to assure ignition.

Mind you, tracers work in both directions. If you're shooting AT something, the trace is visible on THAT end as well, which can make you a target in combat situations.

ArmedBear
December 22, 2008, 01:40 PM
In US and NATO standard ammunition, this is usually a mixture of strontium salts and a metal fuel such as magnesium. This yields a bright red light. Russian and Chinese tracer ammunition generates green light using barium salts.

Fascinating cultural connection: note that, in American sci-fi movies, the good guys' weapons tend to shoot red beams, and the bad guys' weapons are green or blue.

Strontium it is, then (I used to do a little amateur pyrotechnics as a kid).

Thanks!

AFAIK it is legal here. It's strongly discouraged during fire season, but with a snowpack on the ground and more snow falling, I figured this would be the time to try it out.

WRT the traces matching standard ammo, I figured that much. I just think it's interesting to take a shot and see what your trajectory really looks like in space and time.

which can make you a target in combat situations.


True enough. Of course, so can standing in the open, shooting a .22LR revolver one-handed.:D I plan to avoid both, should combat occur.

jjohnson
December 22, 2008, 02:06 PM
Well, yes, our stuff actually is almost always red trace. Chicom and Soviet Bloc, green trace, at least up to 12.7mm MG ammo. I don't know about the heavier stuff.

Yeah, the combat end of it is interesting (unless you're IN it :eek: and that's more than just "interesting":what:). You can figure out the good guys and bad guys by trace color, which can be good or bad, depending on the situation. As
most military things, there's a good thing and bad thing with tracers, as they will help you direct your fire at the same time helping the enemy direct theirs.

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