High-brass vs Low-brass Shotgun Shells for Clay shooting?

High-brass vs low-brass shotgun shells for clay shooting

Picture this; it’s 1880, and you live in New York City. That means, like most people, you don’t have running water in your apartment. And if you were to contact someone who is in, let’s say, London, it would take a least two weeks to get them a letter. And, the popular side-by-side shotguns being made by Westly Richards and Parker Bros at this time feature centerfire shells.

Now let’s talk about the present. There is indoor plumbing everywhere, and you can instantly connect to practically anyone, any place, any time. Yet shotguns, even the newest models still feature centerfire shells.

So, isn’t it strange that we’re still using this ancient technology in our bird rifles despite how much the world has changed?

Well, let’s take a look at the different types of shotgun shells for clay shooting: high-brass vs low-brass shells, and break down some of these terms so that you may better understand your shotgun or make a well-informed purchase the next time you visit your local firearm store.

Shotgun Shells Explained

Shotgun Shells Explained

Shotgun shells as we know them today have come a long way since their first outset in the 1860s. They have evolved and developed into the sophisticated and efficient cartridges we know today, covering a wide range of applications at a relatively close range.

Originally, they resembled a brass rifle or pistol case with straight walls and different ways to secure the overshot wad in place as well as lead pellets that were tightly packed within.

It’s important to state that shotguns are basically designed to discharge a “pattern” of numerous small pellets, known as “shot.” This makes it a bit more practical to strike a moving or flying target than it would be with a single bullet fired from a pistol or a rifle.

Another thing worth mentioning is that a shotgun’s shotshell is built differently than a handgun or rifle cartridge. This is because it uses many pellets rather than a single bullet.

As a result, the shotgun’s shotshell is made up of a hull that houses the primer, powder, shot wad, and a quantity of shot rather than the brass case that houses the primer, powder, and bullet, as used in rifle or handgun cartridges.

Still, much like pistol and rifle caliber sizes, you may come across several different shotgun bore sizes, sometimes known as “gauges,” and even gauges with varied shell lengths. And all of these gauges can be loaded with a wide range of shot sizes.

So, having said that, what’s the difference between lower brass and high brass shotgun shells for clay shooting? Well, before you can answer that, you need to know what both terms mean.

Here’s what you need to know:

High-Brass vs Low-Brass Shotgun Shells: Overview

High-Brass vs Low-Brass Shotgun Shells Overview

As you probably already know, there are two main types of shotgun shells used for clay shooting: high-brass and low-brass. High-brass shells are typically used for trap and skeet shooting, while low-brass shells are typically used for sporting clays and bird hunting.

High-brass types are generally made with a higher powder charge than low-brass shells, which gives them more muzzle velocity and energy. This makes them better for long-range shooting.

Low-brass shells, on the other hand, have a lower powder charge and lighter loads, which makes them more suitable for short-range shooting.

That said, both high and lower-brass shells have their advantages and disadvantages, so it’s important to choose the right type of shell for the type of shooting you’ll be doing. You might want to ask a knowledgeable friend or visit a local gun shop if you’re not sure about this.

High vs Low-brass Shotgun Shells: What’s the Difference?

High vs Low-brass Shotgun Shells What’s the Difference

As earlier mentioned, low brass usually has a lower powder charge and lower velocity, and they are meant to be used for small games or targets such as sporting clays and bird hunting.

For big game or defensive hunting loads where you want a lot of energy transmission down range into the target, high brass options are considered more efficient as they are associated with extra powder in the load.

Most target shells come with a lower brass, but of course, high brass hunting loads are still available. To determine the velocity (or the equivalent in drams) and shot load, you should check the numbers found at the end of the box.

You may also determine if a shell is high or low brass by adding these two factors together. Anything that has 1 1/4 oz. or more of lead in a 12 ga. game shell is categorized as “high brass.”

Otherwise, choosing a shotgun shell based on the brass notion—high or low—is just like purchasing a pickup truck simply because you like the color.

High or Low brass: Which is Better?

High or Low brass Which is Better

From what we have gathered, it is possible to get the same powder/shot load from both high and lower brass. So, what are the benefits (or drawbacks thereof) associated with shot shells made of high brass vs low brass?

Higher-brass shells are said to be better and more powerful than low-brass, and because of this, ammunition manufacturers tend to raise prices for this kind of ammo.

However, there’s something you might want to know: not all high-brass shells differ from their low-brass counterparts. Some manufacturers try to charge you more money for fewer shells by using the excess brass.

Furthermore, high-brass moving more lead at a faster rate is usually more powerful than you necessarily need. So why would you pay more really? And it won’t make you shoot better?

Instead, work with your lower-velocity, low-brass options and spend your money on practice rounds at a nearby club. This is especially useful if you’re having trouble breaking clays or taking down birds.

A shell cannot be necessarily more powerful than another simply because it has a higher brass casing. The strength of the shell or the speed of the payload no longer depends on the height of the brass.

Even though the modern shells are made of plastic and brass with plastic wads, certain field or hunting loads, particularly those from England, are still loaded in paper and brass casings with felt wads for biodegradability.

That said, though, there is still a bright side to this high-type casing. Even though the plastic casing doesn’t actually provide much strength, it does make it easier for shooters to distinguish between various cartridges.

Also, considering that more expensive, greater performance loads almost always feature higher brass options, there may also be some hype or confidence component at play. But we’re just generalizing here, hope you get the point.

Putting it simply, higher-brass target shells are considered more powerful than low-brass target shells.

Shotgun Shell: Brief History

Shotgun Shell Brief History

Low brass and high brass have their roots in “the good old days.” In fact, the origins of the shotgun shell can be traced back to the early 1800s.

The first recorded use of a shotgun shell was in 1833 when a French gunsmith named Casimir Lefaucheux invented a self-contained paper cartridge that could be used in a shotgun.

Lefaucheux’s cartridge was made of paper and contained a lead ball and a small amount of black powder.

In 1845, another French gunsmith, Eugene Lefaucheux, invented a brass-cased shotgun shell that could be reloaded. This type of shell quickly became popular in Europe. In 1866, the first American-made shotgun shell was produced by the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. This shell was made of brass and contained a lead slug.

Over the next few decades, shotgun shells underwent a number of changes. In 1887, the first smokeless powder shell was introduced. This type of shell was more powerful than black powder shells and did not produce as much smoke. In 1897, the first plastic-cased shotgun shell was introduced, and they are still used today.

The older, slower-burning powders would munch through the paper hulls in the higher-power shells, which would be bad since it would harm the camber, and thus the need for high brass.

The need for high brass in high-power shells decreased ass powder improved, but this did not affect the notion of high vs low brass. In fact, the concept of high vs low brass was still in use even when shotgun shells were made of paper.

These shells contained “high brass” to reinforce the hull since heavier payload employed slower burning powders that would really burn through the paper hull.

Shotshells with paper hulls, however, suffered from pinholes as the powder burnt through the paper hull.  As a result, the brass base was extended up the side of the case to cover the whole volume of powder within, preventing such pinholes.

Due to the increased volume of black powder within these shotshells, they had a high brass base, which made them great for hunting larger animals like deer and larger birds like ducks, geese, and turkeys.

Shotshells for sporting purposes (such as trap and skeet) and small-game bird hunting (such as dove and quail), meanwhile, had a lower brass base to hide the less-concentrated black powder inside these rounds.

Low brass bases would require significantly less volume to use modern smokeless powder than the same amount of black powder. But due to tradition, long-range shotshells are still associated with a high brass base.

In modern shells, the notion “high vs low” serves just as a very general classification of heavy, quick shells (referred to as “high brass”) vs lesser loading in newer shells (“Lower brass”).

As we’ve already mentioned, most modern shells for shotguns are composed of a payload and a plastic and brass case. Today, the lead shot is mostly contained in plastic shells, which also serve as an excellent gas seal to enable the powder to burn efficiently and produce the explosion and expansion that causes the payload to accelerate up the barrel.

Myths Around High Brass vs. Low Brass Shotgun Shells

Myths Around High Brass vs. Low Brass Shotgun Shells

If you are a new shotgun hunter or you’re just getting started in shooting clays, some of the things you’re likely to notice in your local firearm store are packs of shotshell ammunition marked as “high brass.”

Some old wives’ tales around this “high brass”- which for the sake of this article refers to the part of the shotshell that contains the plastic hull and primer- just won’t go away. I’ll explain.

When starting off in clay pigeon shooting, you may across some misconceptions implying that the power or velocity of the shotgun load could be determined by the variation in the height of the brass rim. Some would even argue that longer brass results in hotter shells and faster shots, i.e. high brass is always more powerful than lower brass.

Well, maybe that used to be true sometimes back but not anymore. Look, when purchasing shotgun ammunition, pay attention to the labeled velocity and payload of shot (often stated in ounces) of the shell and disregard the height of the brass rim.



The debate over high-brass vs low-brass shotgun shells is an ongoing one. Some shooters believe that high-brass shells are more accurate, while others prefer the lower recoil of lower-brass shells. As with most debates, the answer is that it depends.

Simply put, high-brass shells have a higher powder charge than lower-brass shells, which gives them more muzzle velocity and energy, making them ideal for long-range shooting. Low-brass shells have a lower powder charge, which makes them more suitable for short-range shooting

We hope this article was helpful in deciding which shotgun shells are appropriate for your clay shooting outing.

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Lisa Hayden-Matthews

Lisa Hayden-Matthews

An avid Skier, bike rider, triathlon enthusiast, amateurish beach volleyball player and nature lover who has never lost a dare! I manage the overall Editorial section for the magazine here and occasionally chip in with my own nature photographs, when required.

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