Paper shotgun shells can deliver nostalgia, performance and style
Monday, January 07, 2019
When it comes to upland wingshooting style, one of the most overlooked goodies is paper shotgun shells. There’s been a revival in paper shotgun shells of sorts to the extent that now several large manufacturers such as Federal, Rio and Fiocchi have started making them again after leaving the market to specialty brands such as RST and Sellier & Bellot for decades.
Show up for a quail hunt in your Range Rover Defender with a nice side-by-side, dripping Barbour and your golden British lab, and your shooting party will certainly be impressed by your style. Then open a box of paper shotgun shells and the experience is taken to an entirely higher level.
Starting in about 1877, the cheaper and lighter paper shotgun shells began displacing shotgun shells made of brass — the material of choice for rifle and pistol shells of the time (and today).
Major ammunition manufacturers such as Federal Premium Ammunition have started making paper shotgun shells again.
The water-resistant, wax-impregnated paper shotgun shells remained the mainstay until the early 1960s when Remington introduced the plastic hulls that continue to dominate.
The paper shells used fiber wads and a cardboard or cork disc under the rolled crimp to help weatherproof the payload. Although not a priority at the time, the paper shells were friendlier to the environment and better yet exuded a lovely aromatic fragrance when the gun was cracked open.
Ammunition giant Rio is among the latest companies to introduce paper shotgun shells. Don’t be confused by the box. Even though it says target loads, these paper shells can also be used for upland wingshooting.
The new interest in paper shotgun shells is largely driven by nostalgia, but in the field these shells can perform as well as most plastic shells. Some people argue that the paper actually patterns the shot stream better than plastic.
Paper shotgun shells are pretty easy to buy, mostly online. They can cost two-to-three times more than the standard plastic shells stocked in big-box retailers. There’s also an active online market for vintage paper shotgun shells although its caveat emptor since humidity and rodents can damage poorly stored ammo.
Paper shotgun shells are available in most popular gauges. You can also find empty paper shotgun shell hulls if you opt to reload your own. It’s probably not wise to shoot paper shells in your semi-automatic shotgun, though, since they make be more likely to jam the gun’s action.
Vintage paper shotgun shells like these Winchesters from 1900 were packed in lovely decorative boxes that have given rise to a collectors market for the boxes and the shells.
If you’re interested in paper shells perhaps the best way to get started is by ordering a box or two online to see how they shoot. Load them into your shotgun and try patterning them against a paper or steel target for a comparison against plastic. After taking several shots check the inside of your barrels and receiver, since they may be dirtier than plastic.
Of course, the full nostalgic experience of paper shotgun shells is best enjoyed with a vintage side-by-side on upland birds. And even if that kind of shotgun is not always available to you, at least may score some style points with your shooting buddies hunting game birds over dogs.
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