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Nickel vs Brass Casing for Carry Ammo and Reloading

Nickel vs Brass Casing

If you enjoy big game hunting or shooting at the range, you may fire cartridges with nickel cases or pick up a few off the ground. This often leads shooters to a few questions that need to be answered:

Why is some ammo nickel-plated?

What is the difference between a nickel-plated brass and a brass casing?

Can you reload nickel plated brass casings?

It is perfectly safe to fire a nickel plated brass casings in your firearm, and the nickel plating provides increased corrosion resistance and smoother feeding into the chamber.

Although the benefits of nickel plated cases are often leveraged for hunting and defensive ammo, there are some drawback to consider when it comes to reloading.

In this article we will take a detailed look at both nickel and brass cases to help you understand the benefits and drawbacks of each.

What is the difference between a nickel-plated brass and a brass casing?

The difference between nickel-plated brass and brass casings is that nickel-plated brass has a thin layer of nickel electroplated to the surface of a plain brass case.

Brass Cases

The development of brass cased ammo over 200 years ago was a huge leap forward in firearms technology. It provided a robust, consistent cartridge case that has been used on the battlefield, in law enforcement, and with civilians to excellent effect.

Brass Cases

Unlike steel cases, brass casings are malleable which means they can expand and stretch to form to the shape of the chamber. This forms a tight seal around the mouth of the barrel, preventing gas and unburnt powder to flow backward into the chamber. This results in an extremely consistent handgun and rifle cartridges that can be reformed and fired again through a process known as handloading.

Pros of Brass Casings


Probably the biggest advantage of brass cases is how reusable they are. Brass, by nature, is malleable which means that fired cases can be reloaded multiple times. Standard brass is extremely rugged and resilient which is why it was chosen for handgun and rifle cartridges.


Compared to nickel cases, brass cases are generally less expensive. The process to produce brass cases is well over two centuries old and the 70% copper/30% zinc alloy mixture is easy to source. Although steel cases are the least expensive of the three, brass cases are a good compromise and there are numerous sources of once-fired brass for handloading.

Brass Cases


Brass cases are known for their extreme reliability under extreme weather and temperature conditions. The expansion of the case to form to the chamber has been well-documented, which is why high end match-grade ammo from Remington, Federal, Winchester, and Hornady generally uses brass casings for all ammo calibers.

Cons of Brass Casings

Tarnish and Corrosion

Perhaps the only downside to regular brass is its tendency to tarnish when consistently exposed to the elements, stored in adverse conditions, or handled excessively. For cowboy action shooters who store their ammo in leather belt loops, this corrosion issue for regular brass is more apparent as extended contact with the chemicals used for tanning increases the rate of corrosion.

Nickel Plated Brass Cases

Nickel cased ammo is the solution to the tarnishing issue experienced with brass cases. Although some shooters might misunderstand the name, nickel cases are, in fact, brass cases that have a thin layer of nickel chemically bonded to it through a process known as electroplating.

Nickel Cases

Nickel is extremely resistant to corrosion and has a lower coefficient of friction. This is why many high-end self-defense loads, like Federal Hydra-Shok and Speer Gold Dots, are now loaded in nickel cases.

There are a lot of benefits to nickel cases, however, there are some drawbacks that primarily affect handloading that need to be addressed.

Pros of Nickle Cases

Corrosion Resistance

One of the biggest benefits of nickel cases is their inherent corrosion resistance. Nickle plated brass casings can be handled consistently or stored on a leather gun belt for extended periods of time and show zero signs of tarnish.

Lower Coefficient of Friction

Another benefit of nickel cases is that they have a higher surface lubricity than standard brass. This means that nickel plated brass cases will generally feel slicker, have improved feeding into the chamber for a semi-auto, and provide easier case extraction from a revolver like a 357 Magnum. This is one reason why many ammo manufacturers have started offering defense loads in nickel plated cases, as they are generally more reliable.

Ease of Cleaning

Nickel Cases

If you are into reloading, nickel cases are easier to clean than brass casings. During cleaning, brass cases typically require a polish to be added to the tumbling media to remove any tarnish. However, for nickel cases, a quick clean in the tumbler with untreated media should be more than enough to clean off any dirt, unburnt powder, or debris in the cases to make them look brand new.

Visually Different

The final benefit of nickel cases is that they look different than brass cases. If you like to save your cartridge cases for reloading, keeping your cases separate from other shooter’s cases at the range can be a pain. However, if you’re shooting nickel cases, you can easily distinguish them from a pile of brass ones and pick up your cartridges for future reloading.

Nickel cases are also useful to differentiate between two types of reloads. For example, if you’re in bear country and carry defensive loads for your hunting rifle, you could handload your hunting ammo in brass cases and your bear ammo in nickel cases. This way they are easily identifiable without having to label them in any other way.

Cons of Nickel

More Expensive

Nickel Cases

There are a lot of benefits to using nickel plated brass cases, however, one major drawback is that they are more expensive. The electroplating process takes additional time and materials to complete, thereby increasing the price. Therefore, the majority of practice ammo, like Remington UMC FMJ, is loaded in plain brass cases: because it’s cheaper.

Less Malleable

Although brass is extremely malleable and can be reloaded numerous times without issue, the addition of nickel to the exterior of the case makes it slightly more brittle.

The main problem comes during the reloading process, where the case mouth is flared open to accept a bullet during resizing and then subsequent crimping onto said bullet to secure it in place. As nickel is less malleable than brass, multiple trips through the sizing die can prematurely weaken the case mouth, and the potential for a split case increases.

It’s hard to spot a case that is weakened before you run it through your reloading dies. However, if you have a split case during resizing, you’ll feel a distinct difference in the stroke of the reloading arm. If by chance you don’t catch the split case during resizing, you will likely feel a distinct difference when seating the new bullet and catch the broken cartridge case then.

Handloaders often report achieving 10 or more reloads for brass cases and about 5 for nickel cases. Your results may vary as this is just an average and may not reflect your reloading experience.

Nickel Cases

Potential To Damage Reloading Dies or Firearms

Depending on the quality of the electroplating process, it is possible for some of the nickel to flake off and end up in your chamber or reloading dies. If this occurs, the flakes can scratch future cases.

To combat this, extra care needs to be taken when inspecting your cases before reloading. If any nickel cases appear suspect, it is advisable to discard them.

Can You Reload Nickel Cases?

Yes, nickel cases can be reloaded.

However, it is advisable to use titanium or carbide reloading dies as nickel can damage standard steel reloading dies. This typically only applies to rifle dies, as most handgun resizing dies are made from carbide already.

Nickel plated cases also have a propensity to get stuck in reloading dies, therefore it is advisable to ensure that you are using enough case lubricant to prevent a stuck case.

Final Shots: Nickel vs Brass Cases

Brass Cases

There are a lot of benefits to shooting nickel plated brass cases. They have higher corrosion resistance than brass and feel slicker when loaded into the chamber of your semi-auto handgun or revolver. This is the main reason why many defensive loads are now nickel cased.

Most of the downsides to nickel cases center around reloading. As nickel is harder than brass, it has the potential to damage your reloading dies and generally, nickel cases will have a shorter lifespan than brass cases.

If you have zero aspirations to handload your own ammo, you should not be concerned about running nickel cases through your firearms as most issues arise after multiple reloads of the same cases. However, if you do reload, just inspect your nickel cases before a reloading session and you should not experience many issues except the occasional split case.

Regardless of your preference in ammo casing, make sure you stock up on ammunition here at Ammo.com and I’ll see you on the range!

Chris Dwulet
Written by
Chris Dwulet

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