Understanding shotgun cartridges: the five components explained


There are five components to a shotgun cartridge, and they are as follows:

  • Primer
  • Powder
  • Wad
  • Shot
  • Case


The primer or cap in the end of a cartridge is hit by the firing pin when the trigger is pulled,


This ignites the powder, generating heat and causing the powder to explode and propel the shot towards the target.


The “Wad” refers to the small disc of material that separates the powder from the lead shot – there are a number of different types of wad, primarily fibre’ which is biodegradable and plastic.

Manufactures are currently exploring alternatives to plastic wads. The wad is pushed down the barrel behind the shot when the powder is ignited by the primer.

The wad creates a seal to help the pressure reach an adequate level, and helps prevent the shot (usually Lead) being damaged by the explosion.


The shot is the component of the cartridge that will actually hit your target and typically consists of a number of small, perfectly round pellets. Of these pellets in the region of 70% come out above the barrel and 30% below.


The case is what encompasses all of the above; they’re typically made from plastic and are crimped at the end to manage the pressure and pattern of the shot.

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