How to Become a Forensic Ballistics Expert In 5 Steps

Firearms may be the weapon of choice at some crime scenes, and a Forensic Ballistics Expert is hired to find out how they were used, where, when, and what kind of damage the firearms caused.

Forensic Ballistics Expert

In this field, you’ll study fragments, match bullets, and use evidence as a way to understand the beginning, middle, and end of a crime that occurred.

The career of a Forensic Ballistics Expert is not for everyone it takes special education to form adequate knowledge in this field.

Job Description

A Forensic Ballistics Expert has the goal of figuring out which type of firearm was used in a crime and also linking that weapon to a perpetrator.

This can be done by inspecting the bullets, casings, markings on walls and other materials, and even looking at bullet holes in victims.

Along with that, there are plenty of things that a Forensic Ballistics Expert must do daily:

  • Crime scene mapping
  • Laboratory work
  • Collect, preserve, and examine evidence
  • DNA testing
  • Creating diagrams for law enforcement
  • Lifting fingerprints
  • Appearing in court
  • Create reports of findings


The average Forensic Ballistics Expert in the United States makes about $64,737 per year.

When broken down, this comes out to $1,244 per week or $31 for full-time employees.

Those who are at the top of their career will make closer to $116,000 per year.

On average, a Forensic Ballistics Expert at this rate will have a weekly salary of $2,230 and an hourly rate of $55.

You should not expect to make this much money when you are just starting your career.

New Forensic Ballistics Experts will typically have a salary of $36,000 to begin.

This yearly salary breaks down to $692 per week and $17 an hour.

The more experience you have in the field and the higher the population of your city, the more you will likely make as a Forensic Ballistics Expert.

Salary Information by State

State Employed Avg. Annual Salary Avg. Hourly Pay Top 10% Annual Salary Bottom 10% Annual Salary
New Hampshire40$73,250$35.21$89,320$55,850
New Jersey60$59,120$28.42$77,780$48,150
New Mexico160$56,780$27.30$80,870$29,820
New York730$82,100$39.47$104,330$62,510
North Carolina490$51,300$24.67$64,030$38,720
South Carolina130$49,490$23.79$65,890$36,310
West Virginia110$50,120$24.10$66,990$34,710
Puerto Rico130$35,890$17.26$49,030$25,360

Annual Average Salary: Top 10 States

The top earning state in the field is Oregon, where the average salary is $93,900.

These are the top 10 earning states in the field:

  • Oregon - $93,900
  • California - $93,630
  • Illinois - $91,380
  • Massachusetts - $87,500
  • New York - $82,100
  • Connecticut - $81,760
  • Minnesota - $76,890
  • Colorado - $75,150
  • Washington - $74,990
  • Maryland - $74,600
* Salary information based on the May 2022 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey for Forensic Science Technicians, OCC Code 19-4092, BLS.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

How to Become: Step-by-Step

1. Become Educated

Once you are ready to take on the role of a Forensic Ballistics Expert, you’ll first need to become educated on the topic.

This comes in the form of a bachelor’s degree, which will require that you take four years of college classes.

Classes can be taken online or in person, and you may even want to start at a community college to get your general education classes done.

For those who want to complete a bachelor’s degree, the correct program is a requirement for this field.

Look into programs that are heavy in science such as Chemistry, Physics, Biology, and Forensic Science.

Each one will give you the knowledge needed to learn DNA testing, forensic ballistics, and basic chemistry.

Once you have hands-on experience through lab work and also book knowledge, you will be ready for graduation and taking the next step toward gaining a vital role as a Forensic Ballistics Expert.

2. Apply for a Position

Now that you have your bachelor’s degree in hand, it’s time to check online, at your local government agencies, and even crime labs for your preferred position.

You will need to make sure that you know some important aspects of the career when you apply, like:

  • Firearms
  • Calibers
  • Ammunition
  • Trace evidence

It is also important to be able to ascertain which type of gun was used to harm or kill a victim through viewing the wound.

While these characteristics can be learned over time in the career, you will need to have a basic understanding of how this works to become employed.

Expect to have some understanding of the legal system as well, which will help if you ever need to go to court and take the stand as an expert witness.

Once you have all of the above attributes,  you can submit your resume online or in person and wait for the employer to get a hold of you.

3. Complete Physical Exam

Next, you’ll be asked to take part in an interview so that the employer can determine if you are right for the job.

The interview process may be short, where you are asked several questions about your experience and knowledge of the field.

Then, if you have been accepted into the career, it will be time to complete a physical examination as well as a background check and psychological exam.

These can all be done right in your employer’s office and may take several days to receive the results.

Passing these exams will allow you to work as a Forensic Ballistics Expert.

4. Gain Experience

On-the-job training is the best way to become an expert in your career.

You may even need to complete an exam to finish your job training.

This can be done right at your place of employment and your spot in the career may depend on passing this exam.

As a Forensic Ballistics Expert, you’ll learn through doing by attending crime scenes, completing lab work and DNA testing, and speaking with those who have more experience than you.

With more time on the job, you’ll gain insightful knowledge through working in a variety of places to understand firearms, bullets, ballistics, and much more.

5. Become Certified

It is not a requirement to become certified as a Forensic Ballistics Expert, but many who want to advance in their careers take this opportunity.

Through the Association of Firearms and Toolmark Examiners, interested parties can earn a Forensic Ballistics certification.

To be eligible for this credential, you will need to have at least two years of experience in the field and take a competency exam.

It will cost about $50 to sit for the written part of the exam and $200 for the practical application exam.

When you receive the results you will either pass or fail, those who pass are now fully certified.


Education is an important and necessary part of finding a role as a Forensic Ballistics Expert.

To begin this career, you should seek out education through a program that provides a bachelor’s degree.

A bachelor’s degree is a four-year commitment that will start with general education courses and lead into specialized classes in the field you desire.

Take on programs that challenge you in science and forensics such as Forensic Science, Biology, Chemistry, and Physics.

No matter which path you choose, consider taking the following courses to gain the knowledge needed to work as a Forensic Ballistics Expert:

  • Organic Chemistry
  • Principles of Chemistry
  • Calculus
  • Criminalistics
  • Geometry

While in school, it is also important to gain knowledge in certain aspects of the career that you will be physically doing once you earn a role as a Forensic Ballistics Expert.

These areas may include ballistics, microscopy, gunpowder and primer residue, wound ballistics, and evidence handling.

Through your college, they will likely have classes involving these tasks, especially in the Criminology and Criminal Justice programs.

Education doesn’t just have to come in the form of a structured program, you can also familiarize yourself with the career after school.

First, you will want to become familiar with firearms, which can be done safely through classes and even at a gun range.

Learn about the intricacies of each type of firearm, the bullets necessary to shoot them, and the different calibers available.

You will also be under continued education once you gain employment as a Forensic Ballistics Expert when working with a senior employee.

It is also likely that you will be involved in firearms identification training throughout the year.

Within this training, you will complete microscopic comparisons of firearms-related evidence and also crime laboratory procedures.

Working as a Forensic Ballistics Expert means that you will have continued education throughout your entire career.

Licensing & Certification

Once you have several years of experience behind you working as a Forensic Ballistics Expert, you may need some further credentials to spice up your career.

Through certification, you can learn many new things and become specialized in specific areas that will help law enforcement when looking at crime scenes.

With the help of the Association of Firearms and Toolmark Experts, you could possible earn certification in:

  • Forensic Evidence Examination and Identification
  • Toolmark Evidence Examination and Identification
  • Forensic Ballistics
  • Gunshot Residue Examination and Identification

Each of these certifications will cost $50 when you sit for the exam and an additional $200 to apply for practical training.

To be eligible for any of these credentials, you will need to have at least two years of experience working as a Forensic Ballistics Expert.

Plus, you will need to possess a bachelor’s degree and complete a competency exam.

The practical exam will be mailed to your employer, who can complete the exam at any time.

These exams should take about eight hours to complete and consist of completing a two-part process.

The written exam can be done on the same day as the practical exam and is graded by the Certification Committee.

Expect it to take about two weeks to hear back about the results of your certification exams.

Once your exam has been completed and you have passed, you will be officially certified in any or all of the above-mentioned areas.

This certification lasts five years, and once that five years is up, you will need to recertify.

In that time, you will take a proficiency exam which will not cost any extra money to complete.

These certifications will allow you to work in advanced areas of forensic ballistics and promote you within your intended career.

Job Outlook

The career growth for a Forensic Ballistics Expert looks great over the next ten years.

This is due to the growth of Forensic Ballistics Experts’ job opportunities at the rate of 12.6%.

Growth in this field is due to the retirement of Forensic Ballistics Experts who have been on the job for many years and also the need for more understanding of firearms and how they work in crime scenes.

Prepare for a career as a Forensic Ballistics Expert by gaining the right education and learning as much as you can about firearms and how they work differently to better your chances of becoming employed in this realm.

Should You Become

Overall Satisfaction

Those who enjoy science and working in tough and often stressful situations will do best in this career.

If you have a weak stomach, likely, you will likely not find a great passion for working as a Forensic Ballistics Expert.

The hours can be long and undeterminable due to the crime committed.

However, those who work as a Forensic Ballistics Expert say that helping others is the main reason they stick with this career.

Fulfillment in this career comes from helping those in need and using your brain as a scientific tool.

Average Salary

When employed as a Forensic Ballistics Expert, you should expect to have a salary close to $64,737 each year.

This is after you have been working in this field for some time, but those who are just beginning will typically make a salary closer to $36,000.

With education, training, and certification, the career of a Forensic Ballistics Expert could lead to a salary of $116,000.

Those who work full time and in larger cities may find that they have a larger salary than someone who works in a smaller town.

Job Growth Outlook

There will be a 12.6% growth in this career over the next decade, which is higher than many other careers in similar fields.

This is due to the need for more Forensic Ballistics Experts as older employees retire and find new employment.

Plus, the necessity for scientific knowledge will require more experts in the field of forensic science.

If you are looking to start your career as a Forensic Ballistics Expert, definitely think about doing so within the next ten years.

Education Duration

When considering employment as a Forensic Ballistics Expert, you will want to dedicate about four years to your education.

Find a bachelor’s degree program at a local university or even an online college where you can learn all about what it takes to become a Forensic Ballistics Expert.

One of the programs that you will want to enroll in will include:

  • Forensic Science
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Physics

Each of these programs will allow you to earn a bachelor’s degree in four years.

Personal Skills Needed

Forensic Ballistics experts will need certain skills to have success in their careers.

It is important to be a person who loves science and investigating, as well as:

  • Attention to detail
  • Crime scene processing
  • Computers
  • Communication
  • Science
  • Problem-solving
  • Writing
  • Time management
  • Firearms knowledge
  • Ability to work with law enforcement

It is also important to have a strong stomach since you will be looking at crime scenes that may have blood spatter and injured or deceased victims.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long do you have to go to school to become a Forensic Ballistics Expert?

To work as a Forensic Ballistics Expert, you will want to complete a bachelor’s degree.

This will take about four years of your time, and provide you with enough knowledge to complete entry-level careers in forensic science.

You can find many Forensic Ballistics Expert-related programs online or in person at local universities or online colleges throughout the United States.

How much money does a Forensic Ballistics Expert make a year?

When working as a Forensic Ballistics Expert in the United States, you should expect to make an average salary of $64,737 each year.

This can be achieved after several years of experience and knowledge in the field.

Those who are just starting will make less, at about $36,000 each year.

When you have the maximum experience and education in forensic science, firearms, and DNA testing, you could make over $116,000 each year as a Forensic Ballistics Expert.

What skills do you need to have to be a Forensic Ballistics Expert?

When you are ready to work as a Forensic Ballistics Expert, you’ll need special skills to help you with your career.

First, expect to have DNA sampling and basic sciences skills, plus:

  • Computer knowledge
  • Attention to detail
  • Writing skills
  • Ability to speak with law enforcement
  • Forensic skills
  • Firearms education
  • Time management
  • Ballistic skills
  • Investigation knowledge

It will take some time and discipline to work as a Forensic Ballistics Expert, so keep up with your education and mental health throughout the process.

Are Forensic Ballistics Experts in high demand?

Yes, Forensic Ballistics Experts are in high demand due to the amount of firearms that are used in crimes each year.

The need for a Forensic Ballistics Expert in law enforcement is expected to rise by about 12.6% over the next decade.

Those who are looking into this field will have ample opportunities to find careers that satisfy their goals.

Many Forensic Ballistics Experts will be retiring over the next ten years, meaning there will be plenty of openings for new employees.

What kind of education do you need to be a Forensic Ballistics Expert?

Your best bet to find your dream career of working as a Forensic Ballistics Expert is to complete a bachelor’s degree.

This is a four-year degree that starts with general education and then provides knowledge in specific areas like forensics, chemistry, physics, and much more.

A bachelor’s degree in any of these areas can be done online or in person.

You could even begin your education at a community college to learn all the basics and then move on to a university of your choice.

Chelsea Wilson

About Chelsea Wilson

Chelsea Wilson is the Community Relations Manager for Washington University School of Law’s distance learning LLM degree program, which provides foreign trained attorneys with the opportunity to earn a Master of Laws degree from a top-tier American university from anywhere in the world.

Leave a Reply

Search Programs