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Vapor trails and varmint rifles

Discussion in 'Rifle Country' started by MLC, Dec 31, 2002.

  1. MLC

    MLC Well-Known Member

    I have read about high velocity rounds leaving a contrail type streak in the air and wondered what type of conditions were required for this phenomena? Muzzle velocity, humidity, temperate and lighting are important I'm sure. Has anyone seen this first hand? I am working up some 4000fps loads in my 6mm and remembered reading about his somewhere.

    I recall now reading in a gun rag about 10 years ago an article on 4K+ velocites. They had pictures showing a contrail from muzzle to target, also there were orange/red streaks from the excessive velocity loads.
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2002
  2. Gordon

    Gordon Well-Known Member

    Oh yes it is real; if you use "blitz" or other super frangible bullets out of their velocity range. I have seen it from 110grain .357 bullets over 3000fps. If you approach 4000fps with bullets advertised as blowing up at Mach 2 you will get it. A rough bore or dirty barrel makes it happen sooner. Damp weather doesnt help. Phenomena is unpredictable and aint no tracer. I forgot that fast twist make 55 grain "blitz" bullets do it in full throttle .223 loads-sometimes.:uhoh:
  3. 3 gun

    3 gun Well-Known Member

    Last time I saw this happen was with my 22 Mag. More weather and light, than round dependent.
  4. telewinz

    telewinz Well-Known Member

    I had it happen one time when I was shooting an AR15. The bullets looked just like white tracers, really neat.
  5. Fatelvis

    Fatelvis Well-Known Member

    I saw it about 10 yrs ago. A guy was shooting a 22 Cheetah and its velocity was in the 4K range, he said. I didnt doubt it. Never saw it since!
  6. wyote

    wyote New Member

    If you are shooting long range (300 to 700 yards) it's not uncommon at all to see the vapor trail. Just set up behind the shooter with a spotting scope or at least 10X bino's on tripods. This can also be done with a video camera set on the hightest power.

    The bullet doesn't have to be going 4000 fps to see the vapor trail. I've seen vapor trails on everything from 45 colt to 338 win mag. The 7 stw and the 22-243 are 2 of the best to watch.
  7. Steve Smith

    Steve Smith Moderator Emeritus

    Wyote got it, at least I think so. I commonly see the trail of the bullet (every shot in fact) when I am at a match watching through my scope and a shooter is firing. I dunno if it's some "vapor trail" or what, but I can definitely see where each bullet is going, and where it impacts. Get right over and right behind the shooter.
  8. Gewehr98

    Gewehr98 Well-Known Member

    At a 500 meter match one morning...

    My spotter could see EVERY round of my 6.5-06 heading towards the targets. He calmly gave me bullet path status as the rounds hit or missed their little steel targets. He was set up to my left, fairly close to the barrel of the rifle. Worked quite well, as a matter of fact. Sometimes, he'd laugh and tell me it was gonna be a hit, before the round smacked the steel. Good spotters are so hard to find these days. ;)
  9. jsalcedo

    jsalcedo Well-Known Member

    tuna can .38 special target

    I used to shoot a lot of 38 special target loads I assume the velocity was somewhere around 600 FPSand they had next to no recoil or smoke.

    When the sun was setting off to my left I could watch each round zip to the target as the sun glinted off the lead round.

    I may be wrong but it looked like 2/10th of a second to go 25 yards
  10. HSMITH

    HSMITH Well-Known Member

    I think there are two different phenomena being discussed here. One is the wake of the bullet seen through optics like a match shooter spotting. I have seen this and it can be seen on EVERY shot if the light is good. Quite normal.

    The second one I have seen on a couple different occasions, and that is a contrail that is visible to the naked eye. You see the path of the bullet without optics as a white streak, that may or may not start and stop as the bullet flies. I have seen it where the contrail starts at the muzzle and fades away within 200 yards, but I have also seen it start at 50 yards or so and then go a very long ways out. In all instances that I can recollect somewhat clearly the humidity was VERY high and light was strong. I have only seen this occur with 50 BMG and 7.62x51, with 50 being at least 75% of it.

    My SWAG at what it is: As the air is compresed by the supersonic bullet passing the moisture in the air is forming water droplets, and we see the light reflected off of the water droplets. I have seen this on low level aircraft as well when very close to or beyond the sound barrier.

    Any other guesses as to what it is?
  11. Larry Ashcraft

    Larry Ashcraft Moderator Staff Member

    HSmith; you are right, there are two phenonema being discussed here. I've seen bullets fired from a .45 auto when the sun was behind me. If you watch the target being fired at at the moment of firing, you can actually see the bullet.

    I have seen the vapor trails also, but in my case a friend had loaded Hornady SX's for a Mini 14. They left a neat white trail. The tight 1:7 twist of the Mini was ripping the thin jackets right off and the lead would disintegrate in the air. (it says right on the box of bullets "not for use in Ruger Mini 14))
  12. Redlg155

    Redlg155 Well-Known Member

    Never got to see one on a varmint rifle.

    Now If you stand behind a 155 mm howitzer using "green bag" propellant you can actually see the round leaving the tube and follow it for a fraction of a second.

    Good Shooting
  13. MLC

    MLC Well-Known Member

    Let me know next time you go to the range, I'd love to see that!;)
  14. hps1

    hps1 Well-Known Member

    Have never seen the contrail phenomenon but coaches use the bullet trace to keep their shooters in the black on team
    matches regularly, and as gewehr98 said, can tell whether the shot will be on target or not by where the arc of the shot breaks.

    Darndest thing I have seen was at Camp Bullis coaching a 300 yd team match (shooter was firing either 30-06 or
    .308). The sun was just right so that each shot fired by my shooter appeared as if you had run a shiny copper wire
    from muzzle to target. IIRC, the sun was fairly low from about 10 o’clock.

  15. HSMITH

    HSMITH Well-Known Member

    The indoor range I go to has a couple lanes with lighting just right, you can see 38 specials and 45 acp pretty easily. I have not had much luck seeing the faster bullets.
  16. Southla1

    Southla1 Member In Memoriam

    In as much shooting as I have done I have never seen a vapor trail. We used to watch 45 and 38 rounds all the time both with the naked eye and a spotting scope during pistol matches.

    One time when the sun was just right there were 3 of us that saw the bullet from a 25-06 go down range. It was as hps1 described. It looked like a wire going from the rifle to the target.

    PS: I hate to admit this because it ages me but that was in the days BEFORE Remington made the 25-06 a "non-wildcat".
  17. RugerOldArmy

    RugerOldArmy Well-Known Member

    FWIW, I seem to remember reading that military spotters (sniper teams) use this, having, as I remember, optics slightly out of focus to see it better.
  18. rero360

    rero360 Well-Known Member

    I've also seen this with the MK19, its pretty cool, have also seen .45s and .40s go down range as well, haven't had a chance to watch a round go down range using the trail.
  19. rbmcmjr

    rbmcmjr Well-Known Member

    Naval 5"/54 exhibits that as well, given enough humidity.

  20. Medusa

    Medusa Well-Known Member

    It is supposed to do with humidity, when the air is oversaturated with water vapour then the passing bullet might cause the condensation of the excess water, thus creating the vapour trail, similar to vapour chamber detector where passing particles are visualised like that.

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