Selecting the Best Shotshell Hulls for Reloading

Selecting the Best Shotshell Hulls for Reloading

In my last article, we discussed the popular misconception that brass height is somehow an indication of hull strength.  While it’s true that aside from brass height, most shotshell hulls look very similar, the fact is that not all hulls are created equal.  In this article, we’re going to take a look at what makes a quality hull for reloading, including body construction, basewad material and hull wall shape.  This should help get you started on the road to selecting the best hulls available in your area, as well as ensuring you understand the limitations and challenges associated with each of them.

Although there are literally hundreds of hulls out there, I’ve selected a handful of the most common for use in this article.  These include a Winchester AA Plus, Winchester AA, Winchester Universal, and a Federal Field & Range.

Body Construction

The first thing we’re going to talk about is hull body construction.  This is arguably the most important factor in determining a hull’s suitability for reloading.  There are two basic types of hull bodies including one-piece, and two-piece.

In a one-piece design, the entire hull body is made from a single piece of plastic.  This design is prized by reloaders since the internal base of the hull is actually molded from the hull body, making it extremely durable and strong (no seams).  The Winchester ‘AA Plus’ branded compression-formed plastic is a perfect example of one-piece construction.  Were you to cross-section one, you’d quickly note that everything from the hull walls, to the base, and even the primer pocket are made from one solid piece of plastic.  The superior strength of this design allows these hulls to be reloaded many, many times, which is why they feature so prominently in modern reloading literature.

In a two-piece design, the hull body is made from a plastic casing with a separate, bonded basewad that’s usually glued into place.  Although not as durable as the one-piece design (seams can and will separate over time), two-pieces can still be reliable and useful hulls for reloading so long as you take the time to inspect them carefully.  Winchester’s ‘Universal’ branded polyformed plastic hulls with plastic basewads are an excellent example of a modern, two-piece design.  Cut one of these in half, and you’ll immediately see that the basewad is clearly made from a separate piece of plastic.  Many two-piece hulls are simple to spot as the basewad coloring will differ from the hull walls, however this is not always the case.  In some two-piece designs, for example Winchester’s ‘AA’ branded HS plastic hull with a plastic basewad, the hull and basewad are virtually identical in coloring.  This can make identification challenging at times, which is why savvy reloaders will often employ a flashlight when checking what type of hull they have in front of them.  The easiest way to spot these is to look for the edge where the basewad meets the body; if you can spot a seam, you’ve got a two-piece.

When reloading two-piece hulls, it’s critical that you inspect the internal basewad closely every time you’re working with them.  If the basewad is beginning to separate from the hull wall, or looks deformed or damaged in any way, throw it out.  Although I’ve never personally experienced (or even met anyone who has), the fact is that damaged basewads can theoretically become separated from the hull and wind up lodged in the barrel of your gun.  It probably goes without saying that this is less than ideal.

Before moving on, I’d like to take a moment here to stress that although one-piece hulls are definitely the most durable, the two-piece variety are still very reliable, and can be reloaded many times as well.  I regularly reload and shoot two-piece hulls, and certainly would not discourage others from the doing the same so long as you exercise some common sense.

Alright, with hull bodies covered lets move on to basewad materials.

Basewad Materials

As we’ve already discussed, the basewad is the internal portion at the bottom of a shotshell hull.  Basewads are responsible for retaining the primer, as well as supporting the powder charge, so they’re obviously a pretty important component.  Just as hulls can be made from different materials, so too can basewads.  Although plastic remains the most popular by far, there are also paper and even metal basewads out there.  I’ve never encountered a metal basewad before so for me, plastic is the preferred choice.  Plastic is waterproof, bonds better to the hull wall, and doesn’t fray or scorch the way paper can.  Open up a Winchester ‘Universal’ branded polyformed plastic hull and you’ll immediately see a bright, white plastic basewad.  Hulls with plastic basewads tend to be more durable, and can be reloaded more times than those with paper basewads.

Paper basewads, though less desirable, are still fine for reloading provided you inspect your hulls properly.  Cut a Federal ‘Field & Range’ branded plastic hull with paper basewad in half and you’ll have no trouble spotting the difference.  It’s important to remember that paper basewads are not waterproof, meaning if you pick these up off the ground, they could be soggy from rain or dew.  Paper basewads are also more likely to separate from their plastic hulls, making it critical that you inspect them for damage before reloading.  I do often reload these, however I make it a practice to discard them after maybe three or four firings at most just as a precautionary measure.

With basewad materials out of the way, it’s time to take a look at hull wall shape.

Hull Shape

Hull wall shape is probably the single most overlooked aspect of hull selection, which is a shame because it probably has the greatest impact on accuracy and consistency.  Hull wall shape refers to the angle, and internal diameter of the hull walls, particularly where they meet the base.  There are two types of hull wall shape: straight-walled, and tapered.  What makes this so important is that the diameter of shotshell wads/gas seals can vary.  Using the wrong one in your reloaded shell can impact pressure, velocity, and accuracy.

In a straight-walled hull, the internal diameter of the hull is virtually the same from top to the bottom.  As the name implies, the walls are essentially completely straight.  If you were to bisect a  Federal ‘Field & Range’ branded plastic hull, you would see that the diameter of the hull is nearly identical all the way down.  As a result, this hull works best with wads designed for straight-walled cases.  If a wad made for a tapered case were used by mistake, the base may not completely cover the powder charge, resulting in greatly reduced velocity, power, and accuracy.

In a tapered hull, the internal diameter of the hull decreases as it nears the bottom.  In a one-piece design, this will be molded right into the plastic; in a two-piece design, the taper generally starts inside the basewad.  Winchester’s ‘AA’ branded HS plastic is a great example of a tapered hull.  When using tapered hulls, optimum results will be obtained by using wads designed specifically for tapered walls.  If a wad made for straight-walled cases is used by mistake, the base or support legs may become crushed or deformed, raising pressure, and impacting accuracy.  Likewise, straight-wall wads can scrape against the seams of the plastic basewad, causing them to separate or become jammed.

Summary

Body construction, basewad material, and wall shape all play important roles in determining a hull’s suitability for reloading, as well as it’s accuracy and safety.  Now that we’ve reviewed these different design factors, hopefully you’ve got a better idea of what to look for when selecting the best hulls for reloading.

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