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Card wads, made of felt, leather, and cork, as well as paperboard, were all used at various times.

Some companies have produced what appear to be all-plastic shells, although in these there is a small metal ring cast into the rim of the shell to provide strength.Often the more powerful loads will use "high brass" shells, with the brass extended up further along the sides of the shell, while light loads will use "low brass" shells.Card wads, made of felt and cork, as well as paperboard, were all used at various times, gradually giving way to plastic over powder wads, with card wads, and, eventually, to all plastic wads.Starting in the 1960s, plastic cases started to replace paper hulls for shotgun shells; by the 1980s, plastic cases had become almost universal.Early shotgun shells used brass cases, not unlike rifle and pistol cartridge cases of the same era.

These brass shotgun hulls or cases closely resembled rifle cartridges, in terms of both the head and primer portions of the shotgun shell, as well as in their dimensions.Shot cups, where used, are also almost universally plastic.The shot fills the shot cup (which must be of the correct length to hold the desired quantity of shot), and the shotgun shell is then crimped, or rolled closed.The shot is typically contained in a small container inside the shell casing.A shotgun shell can contain a single, large projectile known as a shotgun slug.The brass does not actually provide a significant amount of strength, but the difference in appearance provides shooters with a way to quickly differentiate between high and low powered ammunition.