For those who are afflicted by the lure of historic rifles, the name Sharps stirs them to the core. Rivaled only by the Kentucky long rife and various Winchester lever rigs for nostalgic appeal, the Sharps speaks pure magic when shooting is the subject of conversation and fantasy. Sharps rifles were first designed by Christian Sharps and date back to 1848. But the Sharps that is most popular today and the one that likely triggers the most pronounced romantic ramblings in shooters is the Model 1874. This is the rifle made famous by the buffalo hunters and is the one most often replicated by manufacturers.
The 1874 was chambered for a wide array of behemoth black-powder cartridges. These were designated by bore and powder charge. Some even carried the bullet weight designation. For example, a .45-90 had a bore of .45 caliber and a charge of 90 grains of black powder. Numbers such as 405 or 500 added to the nomenclature indicated the weight of the bullet. Popular bore sizes included .40, .44, .45, and .50. The effectiveness of such rounds was evidenced by the near extinction of bison, some taken at ranges measured in hundreds of yards. One popular competition in which the Sharps saw service was the 1,000-yard Creedmore match. Simply put, the rifles would shoot.
There has been a tremendous resurgence in popularity of the Sharps and black-powder shooting in the last few years. Silhouette matches using original or recently-manufactured Sharps rifles and black-powder cartridges have sprung up nationwide, and those who master the game turn in some incredible scores. Targets as far away as 600 yards are hit with monotonous regularity.
And along with the popularity of competition, hunting with those same rigs has seen a marked revival. There are those who use nothing else. Sharps rifles are common throughout the U.S, and quite a few are now taken to Africa. The design and cartridges offered in 1874 work just as well today as they did on the bison in the 19th century.
The good news coming from all this popularity is that Sharps rifles are easily obtained now because several manufacturers saw the need and began producing detailed replicas of the originals. C. Sharps Manufacturing of Big Timber, Montana, makes an extensive line of rifles with a long list of options. As the name implies, this is a true Sharps in every respect. The only difference is that modern materials are used and the rifles are manufactured now rather than more than 100 years ago.
The C. Sharps has become my number one choice. Mine is the Bridgeport model chambered for the .45-70 Government round, and it is a joy to shoot. Accurate, handsome and trim, it is all any shooter could want. Whether I am out for whitetails, wild hogs, black bears, or any other big game where I can close the distance to within 200 yards, the Bridgeport is along with me.
Be advised, however, that Sharps rifles are expensive. And the wait to get one can be quite long. Still, I waited only 90 days or so for my rifle to be completed, and the money I put into it was well spent. I have been offered more than I paid, and that seems to be the trend. A solid investment, these rifles are.
And there are alternatives. Cabela’s, among others, imports rifles made by companies such as Pedersoli. These are generally well built and highly functional replicas of the originals and cost less. They afford a reasonable option for the shooter to enter this glorious avenue of shooting a historic rifle. I took the Cabela’s version to Wyoming on an antelope hunt a couple of years back. Shooting factory loaded black-powder cartridges from Goex, I took a dandy buck at 152 yards. The big 405-grain lead slug went exactly where it was directed, and the buck simply crumpled. It was all quite spectacular.
In a popular cartridge such as the .45-70 Government, shooters have a wide choice of ammo, both smokeless and black powder. The former is unquestionably cleaner than the latter and certainly works well, but it lacks the nostalgic appeal and rumble of black powder.
If you are a shooter who enjoys history and the firearms that helped shape this country, give some thought to the 1874 Sharps. They are purely grand rifles and will allow you to step back in time and experience what shooting was all about before modern-day technology took so much of the human element out. You won’t regret making that move.