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The Shilob Sharps .45-110.

The most revered rifle of the Old West chambered in one of the most powerful blackpowder cartridges captures the heart of a modern frontiersman.

The Sharps rifle, a gun long associated with the American frontier, sprang into being when Christian Sharps received his patent in 1848 for a sliding breech action on a percussion rifle. This differed from muzzle loaders, which required that powder be poured down the barrel from the muzzle end and the bullet seated and rammed home.

Sharps' rifle, however, had a lever activated breech block that opened downward. A linen or paper cartridge consisting of a bullet and proper powder charge was inserted and the closing of the breech block tore the material to expose the powder. Instead of a single percussion cap. the Sharps rifle used a circular capper and a roll of caps not unlike those used in a child's cap gun.

The Sharps was used in the Civil War. A trained shooter could fire 10 shots in one minute with the Sharps mechanism and design. The first 9,000 Sharps rifles of 1859 went to the military, and the famous Berdan Sharpshooters were armed with .52 caliber Sharps rifles. In all, the Union purchased over 80,000 Sharps rifles.

By 1869 Christian Sharps was long gone from the company and Richard Lawrence received a patent that year for a new rifle. He started designing and chambering large brass cartridges for what would soon become the Model of 1874.

By 1881 the Sharps Rifle Company, like the buffalo, was gone. You won't find agreement on what chamberings were found in the Sharps, but they certainly included the .40-70, .40-90, .44-77, .45-110, .50-70 and the big .50-90.

Sharps rifles were generally blued steel with case hardened receiver and butt plate, and a straight grip walnut stock. Barrel lengths were normally from 22" to 32" and octagonal in shape.

In the 1870s, the Sharps rifle owned by Frank Mayer, the last of the "Buffalo Runners," complete with bullet mold and reloading dies, cost $225 with an extra charge of $80 for the scope, at a time when a buffalo skinner averaged $38.50 a week. Puts the cost of a modern Sharps in perspective, doesn't it?

Reviving The Glory Of The Frontier

The original Sharps Rifle Company may be gone but the void has been filled today by the Shiloh Rifle Co. of Big Timber, Mont. The "new" Sharps company dates back to 1976. Known as Shiloh Products, there was a split in 1983 with two companies emerging, Shiloh and C. Sharps.

Shiloh Rifle is owned by the Bryan family The company is dedicated to "...continuing Shiloh Rifle's legendary quality. To accomplish this, modern steels and manufacturing techniques offer an initial advantage, but the precise fitting, smooth operation, and overall finish still require a considerable amount of handwork and attention to detail."

Shiloh rifles come in a variety of styles and calibers. They also come with the recommendation that smokeless powder handloads not be used in the large volume blackpowder cartridges. The Shiloh is built like the Sharps was in 1874 and should be used the same way.

Available chamberings include .38-55, .40-50, .40-65, .40-70, .40-90, .44-77, .44-90, .45-70, .45-90, .45-100. .45-110, .45-120, .50-70 and .50-90. In all of these the first number represents the caliber while the second is the charge of blackpowder in the original cartridge.

The Sharps Less Ordered

When I originally placed my order for a Shiloh Sharps, I went with the crowd and ordered a .45-70. During the four-year wait, however, I decided to take a different tack and go with something less generally available. I wound up with a .45-110.

I ordered the No. 3 Standard Sporter with 30" heavy-weight full octagon barrel with supreme grade straight grip military stock, Schnabel forearm, no cheek piece, double set triggers, and two sets of standard hunting-style sights and an extra set of target sights consisting of rear tang sight and a front globe sight.

The barrel is finished in a matte blue, the receiver, hammer and trigger guard are all case hardened, and wood to metal fit is absolutely excellent.

The Love And Lore Of Blackpowder

One doesn't find .45-110 cases at most gun shops, but Buffalo Arms specializes in virtually everything the blackpowder shooter needs. From them I ordered .45-110s made from .348 Winchester for practice loads and .45-110 Bertram brass for authentic and serious use. A wad-cutting punch of .45 caliber as well as vegetable fiber wad sheets were also ordered for loading the big .45.

With a set of .45-110 dies from RCBS, a Lyman #55 Blackpowder Measure, and a Hornady Single Stage Press, I was in business. The length of the .45-110, especially with 500 grain bullets, requires a press with lots of room for longer cases and the Hornady fills the bill nicely.

Blackpowder should only be metered through a measure such as the Lyman #55 which is designed for use of blackpowder. There is danger of an electric spark igniting blackpowder if the wrong type of measure is utilized. Stay safe!

I also use the 24" drop tube that comes with the Lyman #55. This allows the powder to settle into the brass case. Once the powder is in place, I place a cardboard wad cut from the back of a legal pad, or a wad cut from vegetable fiber sheet over the powder. The wad protects the lead base.

Bullets for use with blackpowder must be chosen with care. I use bullets that are cast of a lead-tin ratio of 30:1. Bullets also need a special lube for blackpowder shooting. Two good lubes are SPG and Lyman Blackpowder Gold. These lubes help to keep fouling of the bore to a minimum.

The Sharps In Action

The first shot fired from the Shiloh Sharps .45-110 with a 500 gr. bullet, I thought, "That's not bad!" I felt a little less so with the second shot and by the third I was reaching for the Past Recoil Shield!

With my favorite loading of the RCBS 515 gr. round-nosed, flat-point cast bullet over 90 grs. of Goex cartridge-grade blackpowder, muzzle velocity is right at 1,300 fps and 1" to 1 1/2" groups at 100 yards for three shots are the norm.

Shiloh offers a full line of Sharps rifles such as the Creedmore Target Rifle with a 32" half-octagon barrel at 10 lbs., and a Quigley rifle with a 34" heavy octagon barrel at 13 lbs. Shiloh also offers a complete line of hunting and competition sights, custom cases, paper patching kits for assembling paper patched bullets, cross sticks, even bullet molds and cartridge belts.
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Author:Taffin, John
Publication:Guns Magazine
Date:Sep 1, 2000
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