The Oxford dictionary defines a cartridge as "a case containing a charge of propellant explosive for firearms or blasting, with bullet or shot if for small arms." Other terms, such as ammunition, round of ammunition, or round, are also used for cartridges and are equally acceptable. Bullet, however, is wrongly used in this context and should be reserved for the projectile only.

A round of ammunition consists of a primer, propellant, and bullet, all of which are contained by a cylinder-shaped cartridge case (shell, case). Instead of a single bullet, shotgun ammunition typically contains numerous spherical lead balls which are totally enclosed within the cartridge case. Shotgun cartridges are usually made of plastic with a metal base. Cartridges for rifled firearms are usually made of brass with the base of the bullet inserted into the neck of the cartridge case.

Figure 1.1 gives cross-sectional views of ammunition for rifled bore and smooth bore firearms.

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