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A shotgun shell is a self-contained cartridge often loaded with multiple metallic "shot", which are small, generally spherical projectiles. The shells consist of a paper or plastic tube mounted on a brass base holding a primer. The shot is typically contained in a small container inside the shell casing. Shot has traditionally been made of lead, but steel, tungsten or bismuth is frequently used due to restrictions on lead. A shotgun shell can contain a single, large projectile known as a shotgun slug. They can also be made with specialty non-lethal rounds such as beanbag rounds, and rubber. Shotguns have an effective range of about 45 meters. An old non-lethal round consisted of a shotgun shell loaded with rock salt, which could inflict very painful, but rarely deadly, wounds, and was popular for scaring away trespassers.Other rounds include:

Ferret rounds: rounds designed to penetrate a thin barrier (e.g. a car door) and release a gas payload.
Bolo rounds: two large lead balls attached by a wire.
Piranha rounds: shells full of sharp tacks.
Dragon's breath rounds: shells full of chemicals that burn when fired, and can ignite a flammable target at close range.Most shotgun shells are designed to be fired from a smoothbore barrel, but dedicated shotguns with rifled barrels are limited to lead slugs or sabot slugs as "shot" would be spread too wide by the rifling. A rifled barrel will increase the accuracy of sabot slugs, but makes it unsuitable for firing shot, as it imparts a spin to the shot cup, causing the shot cluster to disperse. A rifled slug uses rifling on the slug itself so it can be used in a smoothbore shotgun.

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