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Rifle Magazine
November - December 2001
Volume 33, Number 6
ISSN: 0162-3583
Number 198
On the cover...
This issue is only available on CD-ROM.The Holehan Long Range Hunter Winchester Model 70 features a custom laminated stock, return-to-zero square bridge scope mounts and a Kahles 3-12x Special Ediditon Scope. Whitetail deer photo by John R. Ford Purchase the CD-ROM here
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Few guns become legends, and even fewer achieve such status while still in production. Such is the case with the famous Sharps rifle. Original rifles were produced for a relatively short period of approximately 29 years, from about 1851 until 1880. The western frontier was a proving ground for men and rifles, and the Sharps quickly developed a reputation for being powerful, accurate and reliable among civilians and military personnel alike. The ability to put a single bullet precisely where it was needed was just as important on the frontier as it is today.

Eventually the Sharps rifle transformed from a breech-loading percussion rifle to a metallic cartridge arm, with the maker offering many of its own state-of-the-art, long-range, big-bore cartridges. The U.S. won its first world long-range shooting championship using Sharps rifles, which not only added credibility to its already fine reputation, but also made the name an American household word.

The pinnacle of Sharps production seems to have been with the Model 1874. It’s the version that is most often reproduced today and is in highest demand. Originals in good condition are rarely encountered, and mint samples often cost as much as a new car. This makes modern reproductions an obvious alternative.

In American-made versions, we have C. Sharps Arms Company (PO Box 885, Big Timber MT 59001). This is a very strong rifle made with modern steels that is capable of handling either heavy smokeless loads or black-powder ammunition. They are also fitted with match-grade Badger barrels, are available in dozens of calibers and are of the finest quality. Their workmanship is second to none, and each rifle is built by hand, rather than mass produced.

Shiloh Rifle Manufacturing Company (PO Box 279, Big Timber MT 59011) offers 1874 Sharps reproductions, which are also of fine quality and have become popular especially among black powder cartridge rifle shooters. Calibers range from the mild .38-55 to the big .50s.

Each of the above companies manufactures rifles per customer request and to his or her specifications. (Certain C. Sharps Arms rifles are for sale through its Montana Armory on an “as available” basis. For a list of currently available rifles, contact C. Sharps Arms Company.) Almost any stock specifications, grade of wood, barrel length, weight, finish, sights or traditional caliber can be obtained. These are truly custom-built rifles. However, there are a couple problems.

First there is a rather long waiting list, with C. Sharps Arms currently taking six months to one year and Shiloh taking over four years with a healthy deposit up front. The base prices start at $1,495 and $1,395 for C. Sharps and Shiloh, respectively. However, with a few options such as fancy figured wood, tang sight, silver forend cap, case-colored receiver, engraving, etc., it is easy to drive the price to between $3,000 and $5,000.

Rifles made by either firm are well worth this sum and seem to be a good investment, as prices continue to increase, along with demand. The problem is, there are many shooters who may not be willing to reach that deep into their pockets, even for a base price rifle, while others may not want to wait long months or years for one to be completed.


This brings us to the Italian-made Sharps replicas. Currently there are four companies (that I am aware of) producing these rifles. Each has been carefully scrutinized and fired, with some being of very poor quality and not recommended. Rifles built by Davide Pedersoli are clearly the best of the bunch, with quality being consistent, and the price is a good value. Furthermore, Pedersoli offers dozens of variations in barrel length, weight, finishes and several stock configurations. Calibers include .40-65 WCF, .45-70, .45-90 WCF and .45-120.

For this article, I contacted Butch Winter at Dixie Gun Works (Box 130, Gunpowder Lane, Union City TN 38281; 1-800-238-6785) for a sample Model 1874 Pedersoli Sharps. Dixie imports many variations from the inexpensive Business Rifle, priced at around $650 retail, to the Hollywood style “Quigley” rifle at $1,100 and many models priced in between. There is even a Deluxe Engraved version with a retail price of over $1,400.

Butch is a shooter, who also appreciates the Sharps rifle, and was quick to suggest the Model 1874 Sharps Black Powder Cartridge Silhouette, which is a copy of the original Sharps No. 1 Sporting Rifle. This model features a 30-inch octagonal barrel that measures 1.120 inches at the breech and tapers to 1.00 inch at the muzzle. The stock is of pistol-grip design with a shotgun-style buttplate that is plain blued steel. The forearm is Schnabel, and the wood is of European walnut. The receiver, lever and hammer are case colored, while the barrel is a flat blue or matte finish. The front sight consists of a dovetail that houses a half-circle silver blade. The rear sight is a stand-up ladder style with increments ranging from 100 to 800 yards. Weight is 11.35 pounds, and the caliber selected was .45-70. Retail price from the Dixie catalog is $995.

In examining this rifle, overall quality is good. Metalwork on the receiver is flat with very little rounding on the edges. Likewise the lines on the octagonal barrel are straight, and the wood-to-metal fit is good. The bore looked great with six lands and grooves that are wide and should work very well with cast bullets. The barrel features a one-in-18-inch twist.

While I understand cutting costs in modern firearms manufacturing, Pedersoli has cut a couple corners that detract slightly from this rifle. For example the lever, lever hinge pin, hammer, triggers and rear sight appear to be cast, and their rough surfaces are still visible to a “cursed eye” like mine. In other words, the casting marks and surfaces were not machined or polished smooth prior to finishing. And while it is unlikely they will be a problem, I would like to see the small triggers machined rather than cast.

After cleaning the oil from the bore, it was time for a shooting session with factory loads. With the big rifle’s muzzle heavy design, it rested on the sandbags with authority and was a cinch to hold steady. If the front trigger is set (by pulling the rear trigger first), the pull measured between 17 to 20 ounces. If the set were not engaged, the pull was heavy at an estimated 7 1/2 pounds. The front sight was taller than needed for factory loads, as all 300- to 405-grain loads printed low at 100 yards. Likewise the front sight is tall enough to accommodate handloads with heavier bullets up to 520 grains, which is good as this allows exact sight-in by filing down the front sight. Recoil is very light, due to the heavy barrel; even the most recoil-sensitive shooter should handle it with ease.

Accuracy was consistently good with the old, proven 405-grain Remington softpoint delivering the tightest 100-yard groups that measured just over 2 inches. The 300-grain Winchester Partition Gold was a close second.

Handloading

In developing handloads for the Pedersoli Sharps, great consideration was given as to its strength and to what pressure level it could be loaded safely. Because of the many ancient .45-70 rifles, especially the Trapdoor Springfield, factory loads from Federal, Remington and Winchester are loaded to a maximum average of just under 28,000 CUP; the SAAMI maximum pressure is set at 28,000 CUP.

Generally handloaders divide the .45-70 into three pressure categories based on the strength of the rifle. The first category is for Trapdoor rifles (all vintages) and should be limited to 28,000 CUP. The second category is for post-World War II leverguns, such as the Marlin Model 1895, Winchester and Browning Models 1886, and is limited to 44,000 CUP, the same pressure standard as the .444 Marlin. The third category is for loads in the Ruger No. 1 and modern Browning Model 1885s and can generate as much as 50,000 CUP.

While there are reports of the Pedersoli Sharps being loaded at 40,000 to 44,000 CUP without problem, I was hesitant to load it to this level. Certainly the falling block design is strong, but the type of steel used is not available to me as of this writing. Since I don’t know exactly how strong this rifle is, I don’t feel comfortable recommending loads that exceed SAAMI maximum average pressure. For this reason, all handloads were kept within 28,000 CUP. This is by no means a handicap as 415-grain cast bullets could be driven to over 2,000 fps from the 30-inch barrel. So loaded the .45-70 will easily penetrate deeper than the .458 Winchester Magnum with expanding bullets and is suitable to take any game animal in the world. Recoil is certainly more than the factory loads but is still modest due to the heavy barrel and shotgun-style buttplate.

The most accurate handload consisted of the RCBS 45-405-FN cast bullet (with gas check installed and lubed, weighing 415 grains) and 55.0 grains of Hodgdon H-335. This load clocked 2,007 fps with an extreme spread of just 25 fps for five shots. At 100 yards three shots went just over one inch with the fourth shot opening the group to 1.7 inches.

Within the spirit of the Sharps rifle, it seemed natural to assemble loads using black powder and Pyrodex. The first load consisted of 63.0 grains of GOEX FFg, a Federal 215 primer and a Cast Performance 513-grain cast bullet lubed with SPG black powder lubricant. This load produced almost 1,100 fps and was reasonably accurate, as long as the bore was swabbed every few shots. The second load was a bit less traditional and is a great alternative for those who reside in cities that have restrictions on black powder. It consisted of a 501-grain Cast Performance bullet, which is essentially the same bullet used in military loads in the 1880s, but lubed with the much better SPG lubricant. Two 30-grain Hodgdon Pyrodex Pellets were loaded. Velocity was 1,210 fps, and the extreme spread for five shots was just 15 fps. As long as the bore was swabbed, 100-yard groups hovered just under 3 inches with either load.

A modern rifleman may not be particularly impressed with this level of accuracy, but what is interesting is that these rifles often shoot almost as well at 200 yards as they do at 100 yards. For example if we have a given load shooting into 3 inches at 100 yards, often the same load will group into 3 1/2 to 4 inches at 200 yards, which is much better. This is due to bullet nodding, which takes a little distance to fully stabilize and get worked out. This is rather common with large caliber rifles that shoot cast bullets and have somewhat loose chambers. No formal groups were recorded, but I couldn’t resist standing the rear sight up and shooting informal targets at 800 yards and beyond. Accuracy was good - much better than the 3-inch groups indicated at 100 yards.

Pedersoli offers several optional tang rear sights priced at approximately $100, which probably would have aided in obtaining tighter groups, as the rear sight was not particularly well defined.

Overall I was impressed with the Pedersoli 1874 Sharps replica. When we consider its performance, quality and price, it is a good value and readily available. I’m aware of two Black Powder Cartridge Silhouette shooters who are doing very well in competition using the Pedersoli Sharps. Even if one is not interested in competition, it is a most enjoyable rifle to shoot and hunt with.

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The Original Silver Bullet
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