1874 Deluxe SHARPS .45-70 Buffalo Rifle.
By: Tuolumne Lawman, SASS# 6127
This article was first published in the
the publication of the Single
Action Shooting Society®.
Copyright ©: Tuolomne Lawman &
to think that a single type of rifle could influence history
as much as the Sharps "Buffalo Rifle". When we
say "Buffalo Rifle", it conjures up images of
scruffy, buckskin clad, bearded men carrying their 1874
Sharps 44-77, 45-90, or 50-110 "Poison Slinger"
heavy barreled rifle across the trackless plains in search
of the vanishing North American Bison. Hundreds of these
magnificent beasts would die every day. This decimation
of the "Buffalo" heard changed forever the way
of life for the Native American, removing his source of
food, hide, tools, and warmth. It also fed the onslaught
of white settlers, soldiers, and railroad men, who were
displacing the tribes.
While the venerable
Sharps certainly did not have a monopoly on exterminating
the big beasts, (Remington rolling blocks, Maynards, Ballards,
Springfields, and even the lesser known Wesson's took their
fair share of the bloody harvest) it definitely accounted
for more buffalo hides and hostiles than any other single
Unlike these others, the Sharps was offered in a much wider
assortment of metallic cartridge calibers. One author, Graham
Burnside, catalogued 59 separate calibers and loads ranging
from .36 "mule ear" teat fire to .50- 473-140
with its 50 caliber, 473 grain bullet over 140 grains of
FFG black powder. (author's note: a posse partner of mine,
Sgt. Carter, briefly owed a 50-140 Sharps. He fired the
monster 7 times, then sold it! He was bruised for weeks!)
produced his first single shot, percussion, breech loading
rifle using paper cartridges in the late 1840's. The popularity
of his rifles increased over the next ten years. Prior to
the civil war, the Rev. Beecher, an abolitionist, shipped
Sharps rifles to fellow abolitionists in Kansas in crates
marked "Bibles". This gave the Sharps rifle the
nick-name "Beecher's Bibles". During the Civil
War, the Sharps rifles, with their fast breech reloading
and their deserved reputation for accuracy, were in high
demand. Col. Hiram Berdan issued .52 caliber, model 1859
Sharps rifles to his notorious "Sharpshooters".
In 1866, Sharps
began producing metallic cartridge firing breech loaders.
The first caliber was the .50-70 Government round. The metallic
cartridge Sharps are most readily discerned by the "straight
up and down" breech, as opposed to the slanting breech
of the percussion guns. As the post war westward migration
swelled, so did the flow of Sharps rifles to the west.
Buffalo hunters alike favored the Sharps for it's power.
ED Schieffelin, the prospector who founded Tombstone Arizona
had a Sharps for long range work, and a Henry rifle for
clode up and personal. Bill Tilghman, the legendary US Marshal,
started his career in the west as a buffalo hunter. He is
said to have shot over 7,500 buffalo with his .40 caliber
Sharps. One of these was at a measured distance of over
one mile! In 1874, Billy Dixon, a Buffalo Hunter, was at
an encampment in the Texas panhandle named "Adobe Walls".
A band of Comanche and Cheyenne attacked the encampment.
Dixon shot a warrior with a 50-90 Sharps at an incredible
1,538 yards! An archeological dig of the sight revealed
that there were a number of other Sharps rifles in various
calibers used there.
The Sharps Rifle
reputation still lives today. Look at Tom Selleck's hit
movie "Quigley Down Under" where he portrays an
America marksman armed with a .45-110 Sharps who travels
to Australia. A Sharps is also the main character in an
earlier western movie called "Tell then Valdez is coming".
The star, Burt Lancaster, plays a Mexican lawman with a
Sharps "Big Fifty" that he is quite adept with.
Due to their
scarcity, the scarcity of their brass, and the high cost
for both, very few original specimens of any of the Sharps
rifles are found on today's BPCR firing lines or SASS side
matches. Replicas of the Sharps, however, can be found in
fair quantities. Until recently, you had to wait years and
pay lots of $,$$$ for a domestic made Shiloh or C Sharps,
or buy an Italian made Pedersoli Sharps. They too are excellent,
but still generally retail for over $1,000 (or more) out
the door. For many shooters, even the Italian replicas are
too expensive. This precluded many shooters like myself
from participating in these side matches with a Sharps.
Well good ol' General Grant and his crew at EMF have done
it once again. They are now offering an affordable 1874
Deluxe Sharps .45-70 made by IAB in Gardone, Italy. With
a little shopping for the right dealer, one can be had for
the low $700 range. And boy, pardner' they are sweet! I
couldn't believe how nice they were when I got my sample
from EMF to evaluate. A number of years ago, IAB was being
imported by another firm. They did not have the best reputation.
Well, basically EMF told IAB to shape up, or ship out! It
has certainly paid off. The EMF guns are excellent.
The sample I
got was beautiful. It has a gorgeous firgured, quarter sawed
European walnut straight grip stock and schnabel fore end,
both with cut chequering. It has a 28" full octagonal
barrel, that has a browned finish they refer to as "patina".
This finish gives it a pleasing "antique" look.
The barrel sports an exact reproduction of the original
Sharps ladder style rear sight marked to 700 yards, and
a period correct rounded, nickel-silver front blade. The
barrel has deep lands and grooves for use with black powder.
It is chamber for the popular, versatile, and readily available
.45-70 Government. It is proofed for SAAMI smokeless factory
loads, including the 300 grn JHP from Federal.
butt plate, receiver, hammer, and lever, all have a deep,
lustrous color case hardened finish. The EMF Sharps has
adjustable, double set triggers, that are smooth and crisp.
The action is very smooth and light, unlike earlier IAB
rifles I have seen. It is drilled and tapped for vernier
tang sights (though I prefer the stock Sharps barrel sights).
The wood to metal fit on my sample is nearly perfect! It
tips my postal scales at exactly 9 lbs, 4 oz., though it
seems to balance in the hand well, and feels much lighter.
In my opinion,
it is comparable to the more expensive Pedersoli made Sharps,
and even close to the "service grade" domestic
Sharps that go for twice as much. My overall impression
was "WOW"!!! Even my posse Pard, Sgt. Carter (who
once owned the infamous custom .50-140 Sharps howitzer that
sold for over $3,000) was really impressed! He was astounded
when I told him the retail price! He wished he had bought
it instead of his custom Sharps. Well, I've established
that it looks good, but is it just another pretty face,
or can it shoot?
The answer is
"BOY HOWDY! YES IT CAN SHOOT!!!!! I only had two batches
of .45-70 loads on hand. One is my pet smokeless load of
a 405 moly lubed Bear Creek Supply bullet, over 26 grns
of Alliant 2400, WMR primer, in a R/P nickeled case. It
does about 1350 fps from the H&R Buffalo Classic, and
shoots 2" to 3" groups at 100 yards with iron
sights. The other was a batch of hastily prepared black
powder loads. I used a 405 Bear Creek with Crisco smeared
in the grooves, over a lubed Wonder Wad, 65 grns (volume)
of Goex FFFG (yes, that's FFF), with the WMR primer. When
I say hastily prepared, I mean 65 grns scooped in a measure,
dumped in, and tapped. No drop tube was used.
First I shot
the smokeless load. We only had 70 yards available, and
our rest that day was a picnic bench with a duffel bag on
it. The first 3 shot string went into 1 ¼" at
70 yards. Subsequent groups were about the same. Then I
took the BP loads. Two of the shots were touching, and the
third was a tad over half an inch from them. Group was 1
1/8" center to center at 70 yards. This was with the
factory replica Sharps ladder rear sight and nickel front
blade. I was amazed! I am generally a terrible long range
rifle shot. I don't shoot that well! I didn't even have
to adjust the windage. The groups were dead center on the
on the rear sight were almost dead on for the black powder
loads I used! Using the 200 yrd notch, at 50 yards, the
EMF Sharps shot about 6-7" above point of aim. According
to my ballistic program, that would make it dead on at 200
yards. Using the 300 yard notch, it shot about 12"
high at 50 yards. Once again, that would put it close to
dead on at 300 yards. The EMF Sharps shouldered well, and
seemed a natural fit. The felt recoil, especially with the
black powder loads was surprisingly tame. The 9 ¼
lbs, while not too heavy to heft for free standing shooting,
was enough to absorb some of the felt recoil. I had no discomfort
after shootin about 50 rounds (both smokeless and BP) in
one session. I can't wait to try it with a pair of shooting
sticks at some long range targets. I can just squint my
eyes a might, look out across the foothills around the range,
smell the BP smoke, and in my mind drift back one hundred-twenty
years, to another time and place
.. Isn't that a lot
of what Cowboy Action Shooting is about?
Well, I think
you can tell that I truly believe that US Grant and EMF
have a real "show pony" here. I definitely gets
ol' Tuolumne Lawman's "Best Buy for the Buck"
award. It's a good looking, good shooting, real "neat-o
keen" gun for a great price. Thanks EMF! P.S., you
can't have it back!