|November - December 2001
Volume 33, Number
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
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
The pinnacle of Sharps production
seems to have been with the Model 1874. Its 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 rifles
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.
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 dont know exactly how strong
this rifle is, I dont 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
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
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 couldnt 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. Im 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