Here you will see a complete breakdown of all the differences between arrows and bullets. So, by the end of this article, when it comes to the topic of arrow vs. bullet you will know which is better.
So, let’s begin this article with the main takeaways before going deeper into the subject.
As a general rule:
- Bullet has a higher speed than an arrow
- A bullet has higher kinetic energy than an arrow
To put it broadly in more words:
The main difference between an arrow and a bullet is in their aerodynamic properties and purpose. While they are similar in terms that both the arrow and the bullet spin while in flight to improve their accuracy the high kinetic energy of the bullet causes more severe damage to the target than an arrow. The higher speed of the bullet also means its penetrating power is greater than that of an arrow.
Now that you have seen the summary of the topic arrow vs. bullet, let’s delve deeper into the details and differences that make one better than the other.
How Do Bullets And Arrows Work?
How They Are Similar – Arrow vs. Bullet
This will be hard to believe but both arrows and bullets have a couple of things in common. They are both aerodynamically shaped projectiles that are propelled from a weapon with the intent to hit the desired target.
Both spin while in flight for added accuracy over longer distances. The bullet spins because the inside of the gun or rifle has ridges or “rifles” that spin the bullet while it travels through the barrel of the gun. This spin continues when the bullet leaves the barrel and this helps the bullet maintain its course.
An arrow can spin as well. Unlike with the bullet, the arrow spins because of its fletchings. Fletchings are aerodynamically shaped stabilizers placed on the back of the arrow that help the arrow cut through the air more efficiently and even help the arrow spin while in flight.
The direction of the spin or even how much it spin is determined by the type of fletching and even how its placed. You can see more here for a detailed breakdown.
Suffice it to say the spin stabilizes both the bullet and the arrow while they are in flight. Now, since you’ve seen how they are similar let us see how the bullet works first before continuing with the arrow.
How Does A Bullet Work?
Bullets are metal projectiles that are propelled by a gun or a rifle with the help of a propellant. The weapon ignites the propellant which causes a controlled explosion inside the weapon and the resulting force of the explosion propels the bullet down the barrel and to the target.
Below you have a short video of just 21 seconds demonstrating this concept perfectly. Just press, play and see for yourself.
The original video can be found here. The premise is simple. The bullet is an aerodynamically shaped object which is propelled down the barrel by the explosion that results from the weapon (gun or rifle) igniting the propellant (gunpowder).
The average bullet moves to its target at a speed of 1700 mph. That’s fast! That high speed means the bullet has enormous kinetic energy compared to an average arrow. We will touch on that a little later but in essence, this high kinetic energy translates into the bullet actually causing much more damage when it hits human/animal flesh.
You will see what I mean when we get to the piercing power of the bullet a little later on.
How An Arrow Works?
An arrow is a projectile whose purpose is to efficiently absorb the energy from a released bow and use that energy to travel through the air, and pierce the target.
An arrow travels through the air with a speed of between 150 mph to 200 mph. The speed is greatly influenced by the draw weight and the type of bow that is firing the arrow.
While traveling through the air the arrow is stabilized by its fletchings, which in some cases even make the arrow spin for added accuracy over longer distances. For an in-depth look at vanes go here.
Here is a slow-motion look at how an arrow moves when fired.
Just press play. It’s just six seconds. As you can see an arrow also wobbles while in flight. It’s supposed to do that. Every arrow you see is “bendable” to a certain point. The degree to which an arrow can bend while in flight is called a spine. The more an arrow bends the more “spine” it has.
The main point is the arrow bending while in flight helps with the accuracy of the arrow. You can see more details about the bending of the arrow here.
Kinetic Energy Of The Bullet Vs An Arrow – And Why This Matters
As you can imagine the difference between the kinetic energy of an arrow versus a bullet is large.
According to Brittanica: “Kinetic energy is a form of energy a particle or an object has by reason of its motion.”
The faster the motion the higher the kinetic energy and the more damage the object makes. All you need to know is that since the bullet moves faster through the air it has higher kinetic energy, which means higher destructive and piercing power than an arrowhead.
We will get into penetration a little later. The main takeaway from this section is for you to realize the difference between the damage a bullet causes versus an arrowhead.
If We Go Into Detail This Means That
When an arrow hits the target it acts as a high-speed knife. It pierces the target causing little damage beyond the arrowhead. It pierces the target leaving everything around it intact.
The bullet is different. Much different! The high kinetic energy we spoke of earlier does make the bullet pierce the target but the excess kinetic energy sends shockwaves through the target. If it’s human/animal flesh the damage is horrendous. The shockwave from the bullet ruptured blood vessels causing internal damage beyond belief.
Take a look at this short 7-second video where you can see the entire effect the bullet has on a human body.
After entering human/animal flesh the bullet even turns on its axis causing greater internal damage, breaking bones sinews, and everything in its way. Now you can see why in the battle of arrows vs. bullets – the bullets won!
So, after taking a look at the kinetic energy of arrows vs. bullets the next logical step is that we look at the piercing power of an arrow and a bullet.
What can an arrow pierce through and what can a bullet?
The Piercing Power Of Arrows vs. Bullets
Now, this is going to be fun! We are going to take a look at common questions on just what exactly can an arrow pierce. And what can a bullet?
Obviously given the higher kinetic energy of a bullet, any bullet will pierce more things than an arrow but still, there are some surprising exceptions.
So, let us look into the question of whether an arrow can pierce armor. Obviously given that arrows were used in warfare for centuries, you would think that yes it is possible. But is it? Let’s find out.
Can Arrows Pierce Armor?
While arrows could pierce thinner armor worn by soldiers on their arms and legs, they could not pierce the breastplate armor worn by knights in the late medieval period.
This 8-second video demonstrates the whole situation quite quickly.
The English longbow. One of the strongest bows in human history could not pierce the armor worn by knights to protect their torsos. And that was when they were shooting straight at the target. With no arch.
The issue is armor like that was extremely expensive. So only the highest nobles were able to afford that. The other soldiers relied on much less protection in the form of cloth armor or chainmail.
So could arrows pierce those lighter forms of protection?
Yes, arrows can pierce chainmail quite easily. As well as other forms of lighter armor.
The vast majority of arrow-related injuries on the battlefield came from the arrow hitting the lighter armor on the hands and legs, a lucky shot hitting an opening in a knight’s sight. Or perhaps simply by shooting at a horse, which threw the knight to the ground.
So, arrows can pierce chainmail but they can not pierce heavy armor worn by knights in the medieval period. Just the lighter armor. One of the reasons for that was the material used to make arrowheads
What else can an arrow pierce?
Can an arrow pierce modern armor?
Let’s find out.
Arrow vs. Bullet – Can An Arrow Pierce Modern Armor?
An arrow shot from the bow with a high draw weight can and does penetrate modern body armor like Kevlar.
This is the surprising part. You would think since it can stop a bullet that an arrow would be no match but in fact, body armor functions on the premise of absorbing the high kinetic energy of the projectile thus stopping it.
An arrow functions as a fast-flying knife, it penetrates with low kinetic energy. Hence why the arrow goes through the body armor. You can see the video demo of that here.
So, that is a surprising part.
Now, if an arrow can pierce the body armor of modern times, how about a crossbow?
Yes, a crossbow can pierce modern body armor at close range quite easily.
Arrow Vs. Bullet – Why The Bullet Defeated The Arrow
The bullet proved more useful on the battlefield due to the fact it proved more able to pierce any armor worn by the enemy’s soldiers. Alongside that, the fact that it was easier and cheaper to train a soldier to fire bullets than to fire arrows meant that the bullet deserved its place on the battlefield.
Thank you for reading this article. if you wish to continue learning I suggest you take a look at my article on the history of archery, right here.