Come on, man — you’ve got to be kidding Nope, they are actually really still here. Flashback to the 1950s and duck hunting or just shotgunning in general. Paper shells were the norm. When fired, they had a particular smell or aroma that was special and really brings back early memories. I was just a kid, but I can still remember the smell — kind of sweet toasted walnuts and burnt wax or candles mixed together. Nothing like plastic shells.
Actually paper shells go way back. They were commercially introduced in the 1870s as a lower cost and lighter alternative to brass shells. Commercial versions were lightly coated with wax to help with water resistance. They remained widely used until the introduction of plastic shells in 1960. In muzzleloading class, the instructor had us make some shotgun shells using the paper from a phone book page. If you were really careful, they worked just fine.
I didn’t realize it, but the paper shells really never did die out completely. Companies such as RST in Friendsville, Pa., cater to paper shell aficionados, offering options in a range of gauges, including some with No. 6 shot (very popular with ring-necked pheasant hunters).
We don’t have wild pheasants here in Florida. But in the northern and prairie states, pheasant is a real popular hunt with dogs that make it a true art form. I have hunted pen-raised pheasants in Florida but it’s not the same (just like pen-raised quail can’t begin to match wild birds).
The interest in paper shells with some real serious shotgunners remained strong enough that even some of the large manufacturers have rolled out new versions lately. Last year Federal revamped its Gold Medal Grand Paper brand, and RIO Ammunition introduced its line of Vintage 1896 paper shells. Kind of like some old wine that tastes really good.
While the old shooters like me find them, nostalgic the young shotgunners say, “Wow, these are really cool.” Nostalgia aside, there are other reasons that the paper shells persist. They have kept a following in the ever-popular world of trap and skeet because the softer hulls can reduce felt recoil compared to plastic. In high-volume tournaments, shooters’ shoulders maybe only get a little yellow instead of black and blue.
As environmental concerns about plastic continue to grow, paper shells may well be in a position for a bigger future. Despite all our efforts to pick up our plastic shell casings, many times for various reasons they (or at least some of them) get left behind. With more hunters becoming conservation-minded, biodegradable products can’t help but become more popular — especially around water.
All this being said there are still some problems with the paper shell casings. They cost more at the present to produce, and even when coated with wax, some guns (especially auto-loaders) have problems digesting the paper hulls reliably. I have, however, read some good reports of shooters who really liked how the RIO shells shot and performed on clay birds.
I recently got to give some a try, and you should too. When you yell “Pull!” and the clay bird shatters, don’t forget to take a whiff of the smell. For me, it brought back good memories of the old days and good duck hunts or pheasants rising out of a field and, of course, old great gun dogs too.
Billy Carl is an NRA-certified firearms instructor and is available for individual instruction in firearms safety and concealed carry classes. Contact him at 941-769-0767 or through J&J One Stop Gun Shop at 2324 Tamiami Trail, Port Charlotte.