Anyone who’s ever been to a gun range has read the posted signs or heard the warning from range workers: “Please clean up your brass.” But what do they mean by “brass?” For someone new to the shooting sports world, all the word “brass” refers to is the brass casing component of a handgun or rifle ammunition cartridge. The cartridge itself contains a bullet, primer, gunpowder, and that casing.
These days, though, ammo cartridges may sometimes also feature casings made of aluminum rather than brass, and here’s why:
If you go by total sales, there’s little doubt that brass is king when it comes to brass vs aluminum ammo cartridges. Brass has been the metal of choice for ammo casings for so many years now. It’s hard to conceive of a time when the golden yellow metal wasn’t an integral part of a handgun’s or rifle’s ammunition. Brass is also a good metal for an ammunition cartridge because it’s robust and easy to form. Using brass, you can shape a casing to fit all ammo calibers or sizes.
A potential downside to brass, though, is that it isn’t the most inexpensive of metals. But all is not lost when it comes to brass ammunition and its potential costs because there are a lot of pros to brass:
Brass Ammo Pros
- If you know how to do it correctly, you can use your expended, empty brass ammo casings and clean and then reload them with fresh gunpowder, a new primer, and a new bullet.
- Called “reloads,” these newly-refilled used brass ammo casings can often, though not always, help cut down on the cost of buying ammunition.
Other Brass Ammo Pros
I admit that I like brass for my ammo because I can reload my spent casings and often save a few dollars (sometimes a lot of dollars). But there are other pros to using brass as your ammunition’s casing, including:
- When fired, brass ammo casings expand evenly, filling your gun’s chamber and creating more consistent forward pressure, something that helps ensure reliable and predictable bullet velocity and trajectory.
- As a metal, brass is also smoother and won’t create as much friction in your gun’s firing chamber.
- The smoothness of brass as a metal helps ensure equally smooth feeding from your gun’s magazine to its firing chamber and then out its ejection port.
- Even in revolvers or single-shot firearms, it’s usually easier to extract a spent brass casing once you’ve fired it.
- Due to its composition, brass is also corrosion-resistant. Rust is an enemy of both a firearm and its ammunition.
Brass Ammo Cons
Other than its relative cost when compared to other metals, there are few downsides to brass. Here are a couple of minor cons, though:
- Brass isn’t completely immune to corrosion, so it’s not maintenance-free, and ammo made from it can still rust.
- Though it’s not a huge factor if all you’re doing is going to a gun range, brass ammo adds up in terms of weight. Soldiers have complained for many decades about the weight of all the brass ammo they’ve had to carry.
Depending on size or caliber, aluminum is another metal used for ammunition casings. The metal itself is a compound derived from bauxite ore, the common-common metal found in the Earth’s crust.
Aluminum Ammo Pros
- Because it’s so common, aluminum is also inexpensive. This metal is second only to iron/steel in terms of all the things we make from it.
- Aluminum has good strength and durability, and it doesn’t rust or corrode. How many times have we seen a house covered in aluminum siding that’s decades old and yet remains attractive?
- It’s softer than brass, so aluminum is also easy to shape or form around a bullet and the other components of an ammo cartridge.
- There’s no discernible difference in ballistics, so aluminum ammo is just as effective as brass ammo in practice, self-defense, and hunting applications.
- Though more important in military or police environments, aluminum is the lightest ammo casing around when carrying a lot of ammo matters.
For me, the biggest pro as far as aluminum ammo goes is cost because casings made from it are just cheaper than those made from brass. I shoot a lot, and the price of ammo is important. It’s less expensive for me to go the range and use aluminum ammo than if I went with only brass. Unfortunately, there’s one more reason why aluminum ammo casings are cheaper, and it’s a significant downside or con if you reload your ammo.
Aluminum Ammo Con
- Aluminum ammo casings are one-shot-only, meaning they can’t be reloaded or reused.
Once an aluminum casing expands in a gun’s firing chamber, that’s it for it. It can’t be reformed or otherwise used as a reload casing. It won’t properly expand and then seal in the gun’s chamber again, making the casing ineffective as a reload candidate. However, if you don’t reload, then aluminum may be for you, especially if you shoot a lot.
Brass or Aluminum?
Which metal you should favor — when looking at brass vs aluminum ammo — is more a matter of personal choice than anything else. Both metals perform about the same in most ammunition situations, except for reloading capability. Because I reload when I can, I go with brass ammo, but that’s just my personal preference. There are also plenty of occasions when I buy aluminum ammo, though, and enjoy the cost savings over its brass counterpart.