Me & Sharps Rifles

A long story still in progress
; .

Three of Duke’s .45-70 Sharps. Top is the original Model 1874. Middle is the Shiloh Model 1874
“Roughrider” mounted with 6X Montana Vintage Scope and bottom is the C. Sharps Arms Model 1874.

One evening almost 50 years ago while working as a dude wrangler in Yellowstone National Park, two friends and I were driving over Dunraven Pass in my pickup. I remember the conversation from the day like it was yesterday. Our usual conversations were girls, horses or guns. This time it was guns, specifically replicas of Old West firearms. I distinctly remember saying, “Mostly I don’t care about them but if they ever bring out copies of Sharps buffalo rifles, count me in.”


This is one of Duke’s original Sharps rifles shown with at least 12 of the 15 cartridges for which Model 1874s were chambered.

All Talk?

In actual fact I knew next to nothing about Sharps rifles except what they looked like. Unknown to me were their weights, barrel lengths, sights or even specific cartridges but still I wanted one. Therefore it was a very pleasant surprise to me eight years later when perusing the aisles at the 1980 SHOT SHOW held (of all places!) in San Francisco, I stumbled upon a display of very handsome and newly manufactured Sharps Model 1874 rifles. The maker was Shiloh Rifle Manufacturing of Farmingdale, N.Y.

If you think this was fortuitous, get this — a mere three years later Shiloh moved to Big Timber, Mont., which by local standards is practically in my back yard. They still reside there along with another company named C. Sharps Arms located on the same street. Both produce Model 1874s among other variations. Here is a confusing fact: The moniker Model 1874 was an afterthought. They were actually introduced in 1871.


The Sharps factory-marked chamberings by case length and not by powder capacity. This one was a .40-70 Sharps Straight.


In 1980 there was a waiting period for those fine Shiloh Sharps so I set about finding a used one. As usual, Duke’s Luck trumped and got one in my hands in February 1981. It was a .50-90 and caused me to dive completely into Sharps rifles — their history, their specifics, vintage ones, domestically made ones and Italian-made ones. To date I’ve owned over 50 collectively from all the mentioned sources. They have ranged from 7-lb. carbines to one 14-lb. “Big Fifty.”

Most especially, I dived into shooting them and I mean shooting all of them. In its production time between 1871 to 1880, vintage Sharps Model 1874s were chambered for 15 cartridges in .40, .44, .45 and .50 bore sizes. To date I’ve handloaded for and shot extensively 13 of those 15 cartridges. The only ones missed were what we term today the .40-50 Sharps Straight and the .44-60 Sharps Bottleneck. A small chart at the end of this column will list the 15 different Sharps cartridges. Literally, I have fired tons of lead alloy and hundreds of pounds of black powder downrange from Sharps rifle


Duke firing one of his many Sharps rifles at one of the national championships.
The distant black specks are the metallic silhouettes.


Back in its era, the Sharps Company did not label their cartridges as we do now. Today most of the old black powder cartridges names consist first of the caliber such as .45 and then next by the amount in grains of black powder loaded into them. For instance, we say .45-70 or 50-70. Sharps Model 1874 rifles were not marked in this way. They were stamped on top of their barrels as follows — “.45 Calibre” or “.50 Calibre.” Then, if the buyer was lucky, the cartridge case length was stamped either on top of the barrel or sometimes upside down on a flat if the barrel happened to be octagonal. What we call .45-70 now would have been marked “2-1/10” or the .50-70 would have been stamped “1-3/4.” When I say “if the buyer was lucky” it’s because not all Sharps rifles got the cartridge case stamp. It seems strange today but back then, evidently the Sharps factory expected gun buyers to know more about what they were purchasing.



At first, my Sharps were used for hunting and I have been successful in taking game ranging from small Texas whitetails to African kudu and a one-ton free-ranging bison bull. However, in 1985 the NRA put forth a game using black powder-era single-shot rifles and cartridges on the standard metallic silhouette course of fire. It was titled “NRA Black Powder Cartridge Silhouette.” The new game consumed me and still does. I’ve fired hundreds of matches all over the west and loved every minute of it. I’ve never been one of BPCR Silhouette’s top shooters but I do have a few trophies and plaques. Along with dozens of good friends spread around the nation.

In our paths through life we encounter many milestones which affect us thereafter. I was fortunate one of mine was Sharps rifles.

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