H&R's Wesson & Harrington 1871 Buffalo Classic .45-70.
The "poor man's 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
When we say "Buffalo Rifle",
it conjures up images of scruffy, buckskin clad, bearded
men carrying their 1874 Sharps 45-90 or 50-110 "Poison
Slinger" heavy barreled rifle across the trackless
plains in search of the vanishing North American Bison.
While this is not a totally inaccurate picture, the venerable
Sharps certainly had no monopoly on decimating the big beasts.
Remington rolling blocks, Maynards, Ballards, Springfields,
and even the lesser known Wesson's took their fair share
of the bloody harvest.
Due to their scarcity and high cost, very few original specimens
of any of the aforementioned rifles are found on todays
firing lines or SASS side matches. Replicas of the Sharps,
the Springfield, and Remington, however, be found in fair
quantities. For many shooters, however, even these replicas
(ranging in cost from $800 to $3,000) are too expensive.
This precluded many shooters like myself from participating
in these side matches.
Until recently, the only low priced .45-70
available was the rare, and now out of production Harrington
& Richardson "Shakari" with its collapsable
cleaning rod, or the currently produced H&R "Handi-Rifle"
(produced under the New England Firearms name) with its
modern lines and hardwood semi-pistolgrip stock. The Handi-Rifle
looks like a top break single shot .410 shotgun with modern
rifle sights. As badly as I wanted to do long range single
shot matches, it looked a little bit too "un-cowboy"
to me, even though it is SASS legal.
In 1996, however, H&R resurrected the
"Wesson & Harrington" trade mark, and introduced
their "Wesson & Harrington 1871 Buffalo Classic".
It is a single shot, top break rifle in 45-70 caliber. While
there are two very scarce and expensive limited edition
grades of engraved 125 year commemerative models, the standard
grade is fairly plentiful, and VERY reasonably priced at
around $300 retail! As you will see, the standard grade
Buffalo Classic is A LOT of rifle for the money, and boy,
can it shoot, too!
For those purists who think that a top break (tipping barrel)
single shot is not authentic, think again! The Maynards,
Stevens, and original Frank Wesson rifles of the period
were all top break actions. This made them relatively strong,
simple to manufacture, and relatively trouble free due to
lack of complicated mechanisms. This Wesson & Harrington
1871 Buffalo Classic is actually a direct decendant of Frank
Wesson's original top break rifles.
In the mid-nineteenth century, Frank Wesson
designed and began manufacturing a line of very popular
top break (or "hinged breech, as he called them) rifles.
They usually featured two triggers in seperate trigger housings.
The front trigger released the action for loading/unloading,
much the same as the old three triggered Stevens shotguns.
Early variations saw service during the Civil War as secondary
arms. As the population spread west, so did the Wesson rifles.
In 1871 his nephew, Gilbert Harrington, joined Frank, and
the company was renamed Wesson and Harrington. Not only
did they continue the top break Wesson rifles, but branched
out into revolvers as well. In 1875 Wesson sold out his
interest to Williuam Richardson. The company then changed
its name to Harrington and Richardson, and has been producing
firearms ever since.
The Buffalo Classic has a genuine black
walnut, straight grip stock and schnable style fore arm,
both with nice cut checkering. Like the Handi-Rifle, it
has a single tipping barrel, but it is a heavier 32"
with deep cut rifling for lead and Black Powder loads. The
receiver is very nicely color case hardened, as is the crecent
steel buttplate. The blueing is very deep and even. While
it does not come with sights (long range sights being very
subject to individual preferences), there is a 3/8"
dove tail on the muzzle end of the barrel, and the receiver
end is drilled and tapped for a Williams rear sight. The
rifle looks very "cowboy" to me.
Well, you may ask, how does it shoot? Great!
For sights, I got ahold of Williams Sight Company. I put
a standard white front bead in the 3/8" dovetail. Since
I don't shoot very well with tang sights, I used the WGRS-H&R
rear reciever sight, replacing the peep with a "V"
notch blade from the WGOS sight. This setup was installed
without any gunsmithing. I would eventually like to have
a 3/8" dovetail milled in the breech end and replace
the Williams WGRS with a Marble full buckhorn rear sight.
As for loads, I came up with two that work
very well. The smokeless load is 25 to 26 grains of Alliant
2400, a Winchester WLR primer, and a 405 grain, moly-lubed
Bear Creek Supply (Waterford, California) bullet. In my
initial sighting in at 50 yards, this load shot about 1
1/4" at this 50 yard range. The real star, however,
was the Black Powder load. I used 65 grain (weight) of Goex
FFFG with a WLR primer, and the same 405 grain bullet with
Crisco in the grease grooves, with a .45 cal. lubed felt
"Wonder Wad" over the powder. One group actually
was one large ragged hole, less than 1", at the same
50 yard range. When you consider that I am a really lousey
"bulls-eye shooter", that's pretty good!
For an inexpensive gun, it has a really
smooth, crisp, trigger pull, breaking at about 5 lbs. As
for ballance, it is really great. The long 32" barrel
is heavy enough to give it good balance, but so heavy as
to fatigue the arm in off-hand shooting. The action is opened
by depressing a lever next to the hammer, under the left
thumb. The ejection of the empties is, to say the least,
very positive, making reloads really fast. These two features
really help in off-hand shooting against the clock.
Shooting the Buffalo Classic at both our
November and January long range rifle side matches, I got
second place in both the smokeless and black powder categories.
The November match had over 20 competitors in the smokeless
category. To a man, they were using much more expensive
1885 Brownings, expensive Shiloh or C. Sharps, or custom
Remington rolling blocks! The January match had about a
dozen. The course was 9 rounds against the clock (6 rounds
in January), freehand, at a 20"X15" steel buffalo
at 235 yards. Prior to the November match, I had not fired
the Buffalo Classic farther than 50 yards. Not bad performance
for a "bargain" gun!
My hat is off to the folks at Harrington
and Richardson. For over 125 years they have been producing
very reasonably priced firearms for the shooting public.
The Buffalo Classic is just the latest example of their
responsiveness to the market. They are continuing to supply
the demand with a very modest priced rifle. This strategy
has served the company well, keeping them afloat through
some troubled times, for almost a century and a half. In
closing, I would have to give H&R's "Wesson and
Harrington 1871 Buffalo Classic" this ol' Lawman's
"BEST BUY FOR THE BUCK AWARD" in the long range,
single shot rifle category!