EMF's 1874 Deluxe SHARPS .45-70 Buffalo Rifle.

By: Tuolumne Lawman, SASS# 6127

This article was first published in the Cowboy Chronicle,
the publication of the Single Action Shooting Society®.

Copyright ©: Tuolomne Lawman & Cowboy Chronicle

It's strange 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 shot rifle.
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!)

Christian Sharps 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.

Plainmen and 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.

The crescent 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 target.

The graduation 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!


Copyright 1996-2004
Kjell Heilevang aka Marshal Halloway, SASS #3411 Regulator
Email: Phone & Voicemail: 1-720- 258-1258