Which Shotshell Hulls Should I Use?

So Many Decisions…

Remington STS. Winchester AA. High brass/Low brass. Paper/Plastic. Field/Magnum/ Light/Handicap. The list goes on. So many different types of reloading components available. Where to start to find a combination that’s good to reload and good to shoot? Let’s start with what we know: If you’re reading this information, you probably want to reload a lot.

Be Careful Using Promotional Loads from Discount Stores!

They are often great values to buy and shoot once. But low price comes at another cost: They are usually made with a paper insert at the base of the hull. That insert will eventually detach. Some people say only reload them once. Others say three or four, max. The problem is if the insert detaches when the shell fires, it can lodge in the gun. You may not notice, either because you are using an autoloader and can’t see down the barrel, or because you aren’t in the habit of checking your two-holer. When you fire next, you run the risk of damaging or blowing up your gun. The promos are good deals, but you can’t reload them as long as some other shells.

Which Hulls Last the Longest?

In 12 and 20 gauge, it’s a close race between Winchester AA and Remington Premier STS. Both are top quality. When hulls go bad, they weaken and lose the ability to create consistently strong chamber pressures. That’s due both to weaker crimps, and cracks in the hull walls. I’ve seen ballistic research that shows little decrease in pressures for these two shells at up to ten or even more reloads. Of course, your mileage may vary. You will get fewer reloads if you step on them, use unusually heavy powder charges, have wet hulls, etc. So buy some good shells (or once-fired hulls, at a few cents each).

Use your head here, and your eyes, too, and inspect your spent hulls. You can do this the instant you take them out of your gun, or when you’re pouring them into the box on the reloading bench, or as you reload. I prefer not to interrupt my rhythm to inspect them while reloading, so I inspect them after I’ve just shot them.

One Note on 28 gauge

My personal opinion is that the Winchester AA 28 gauge hull outperforms the Remington STS. Winchester’s seems thicker, the crimp stays open better after firing, and it stays closed better after crimping. Also, I’ve had an unusual problem with shot spills in the Remington STS 28s. The wad doesn’t always seem to seat completely in, although I have everything set right and I completely bottom out on the downstroke. MEC couldn’t give an explanation. When I switched to Winchester 28s, the problem entirely disappeared. It may have to do with the seemingly thicker hull walls. Maybe you won’t experience it (please tell me), but I have, repeatedly.


It’s a good policy to reload as few shell types as you can. MEC makes a valid point that shells vary in their dimensions, capacity, etc., and you’re asking for problems by just running through your reloader whatever the cat brought home. Find and stick to a shell/powder/hull/shot combination that works in your reloader and in your gun. Only when you’re completely comfortable with one should you branch out into other combinations.

Keep in mind that some shells are shorter than others for what appears to be the same load. Make note of those shells and don’t use the short ones in the future, unless you have lots of them and want to go to the trouble of recalibrating your reloader to make the shells work.

Watch Out For Wet Hulls

If you shoot an autoloader year-round and shells fall on the ground, you’re going to get some wet shells. Let them dry out thoroughly before reloading, or you will have wet, useless powder or primers and you won’t know it until they don’t work. I have a ceiling-high tower of boxes with shells in them. I mark the date I collected the shells, and whether the conditions were at all wet. Then I use the oldest box, and throw out ones with obvious rust.

Some people recommend running shells through the washing machine before using them. This is excessive, stupid and dangerous:

  • Excessive: I’m unaware of any ballistic data showing that shell performance is improved by this.
  • Stupid: You are undoubtedly coating the inside of your washer over time with lead particles that will be on your clothes, including your kids’. Lead and kids don’t mix.
  • Dangerous: As mentioned above, some economy shells can come apart under moisture and you may not notice an obstruction in an autoloading shotgun, thus creating a blockage that could blow up your gun.

Save any manic washing urges for your socks.