We’re not referring to those shotshells containing stainless (or not) steel shot, designed by environmentalists to embugger waterfowl and upland hunters. We’re talking about shotshell cases that were made of stainless steel, to let owners safely fire modern black powder loads in ancient — even Damascus-barreled — breech-loading shotguns.
They were once manufactured by a company in Yuba City, California (one suspects an offshoot of the then-beginning-to-struggle SoCal aerospace industry) named Conversion Arms, Inc., and promoted nationally. But since then, they’ve vanished without a trace.
Here’s what the late John T. Amber, for many years editor of Gun Digest, wrote about them in the 1979 annual:
Stainless steel shotshells
Modern smokeless powder shotgun cartridges are a no-no for old shotguns made long ago – the outside hammer guns, with or without Damascus (twist) barrels, even many early hammerless guns – and factory loads powered by black powder are hard to find, impossible to locate in many areas.
Now there’s a good solution – Conversion Arms, Inc. (PO Box 449, Yuba City, CA 95991) has just introduced all-stainless steel 12-ga. shotshells (2 ¾” and 2 ½”) formed at the base to take standard number 11 percussion caps. No loading or priming tools are needed – simply fill with black powder, 50 to 70 grains of FFG being suggested, add a card wad or plastic shot cap, pour in 1¼ oz. of shot, place a card was over the pellets and push the cap on the integral nipple.
You can, of course, vary the shot load, too, but in any setup use a fair amount of pressure on the over-powder wad and on the over- shot wad for best combustion and performance. A wooden dowel or “short starter” works well, and snug-fitting cork or felt wads can be substituted if space permits.
CAI sells these S. S. shotshells for $7.95 each or two for $14.95 postpaid, and a detailed instruction pamphlet on their use is included. They’re guaranteed for life.
Of course, a lifetime guarantee may not be for your lifetime, but the company’s — whichever comes first. The guarantee only works if the company hangs around. California Secretary of State records show that Conversion Arms, Inc. was registered in 1977 and at some time after that — the records don’t say — was delisted for failing to pay taxes. (That usually happens when the company goes paws up).
Amber’s write-up seems to have been that old journalistic dodge, a paraphrased press release, but it makes us wonder why this idea flopped. We’ve often looked at some beautifully crafted old Damascus gun and passed it up, just because there’s no shooting it. (Maybe there is, now, with cowboy-action driven blackpowder loads. We dunno). But these simple shells would have made it possible to pattern Ol’ Betsy and take her hunting again, and that’s something. Why did they die? Were they too odd a product? Did they appeal to too narrow a public? Was the price too high? In 1979, a cheap imported double-barrel shotgun still listed at $179. The rock bottom of the market, the H&R Topper Youth Shotgun and its Iver Johnson knock-off, were $65 and $55 respectively. It may just be that for the few of us crazies who want to shoot an old shotgun more than the latest trap gun made in a workshop in Italy where Michelangelo once apprenticed in the stock-carving shop, brass black powder cartridges available now are good enough.
This all happened almost 20 years before the Internet went public and interactive, and so, before the event horizon of the net, we were unable to find a single write-up or photo of these things online.
As we mentioned, there is an alternative: although the shells don’t reinforce the chamber the way stainless steel ones did, Rocky Mountain Cartridge sells lathe-turned brass shotshells and a loading kit (.pdf). The prices vary by gauge and length; the chambering of most old American shotguns, 12 gauge 2½”, costs $75.00 for a minimum-order box of ten (.pdf) — the same unit price of one of the Conversion Arms shells, but in deflated 2016 dollars. The loading kit is another $60 or so.