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It was during my first year as a teenager that I first heard of Frank Mayer. I was all of thirteen and he was 102 and still active enough to have killed a four-point buck the year before. It was 1952, and Mayer, born in 1850 was the last surviving "buffalo runner" as he called it. Mayer was an old time buffalo hunter in the days when Bill Hickok, Buffalo Bill, and such made their footprints in the sands of history. He may also have been the oldest living Civil War veteran at the time as he lied about his age in 1863 and became a drummer boy in the Union Army.

For four years from 1872 through 1875, Mayer hunted buffalo. He was a dead shot but also preferred to stalk within 200-300 yards of the big shaggy beasts and set up his stand. His horse was trained to lie down on command, and then to prove there really is nothing new under the sun, Mayer would unfold the metallic bipod attached to his rifle and go to work. In the movies the hunter may twist his resting stick into the ground and then proceed to kill a hundred or more buffalo but this rarely happened.

It was not profitable to hunt buffalo until the coming of the railroad which gave a means of shipping the hides. Even at this Mayer seldom killed more than thirty buffalo a day for the simple reason that his skinners could not handle any more than that. Hides brought $3.00 to $3.50 apiece for cows, $2 for bulls. Buffalo heads for mounting went for $10 to $20 apiece and tongues sold for all of fifty-cents. Most meat was left for scavengers or to rot.

Mayer started hunting in Texas and moved North with the herds. His rifles were Sharps. First came the .40-70 and the .40-90. Then Mayer got his big rifle, a sixteen pound .45 that shot a 550 grain bullet and was equipped with a 10 power German scope. That scope had three horizontal crosshairs for shooting at different distances and also for estimating range. So much for the buffalo hunter with his tang-sighted rifle and cross sticks!

Mayer said his rifle was chambered in .45-120, however modern experts say the .45-120 did not arrive until after the Sharps Company went out of business. Perhaps it was a .45-110 or perhaps the modern experts are mistaken. Perhaps.

By 1875 the big herds were gone. Mayer put up his rifle and would kill only one more buffalo. That was in 1889 when he came upon a bull buffalo being attacked by wolves. He shot the wolves and then shot the old bull before more wolves could attack it. That was in Montana on the Powder River. The buffalo had moved a long way North.

The Sharps rifle goes all the way back to a time two years before Frank Mayer was born. Christian Sharps received his patent in 1848 for a sliding breech action on a percussion rifle. Unlike most muzzle loaders in use at the time that required powder be poured down the barrel from the muzzle end and then the bullet seated and rammed home, Sharps' rifle 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 paper exposing the powder. Instead of a single percussion cap, the Sharps rifle first used a circular capper and then a roll of caps not unlike cap guns used in my young days.

The Sharps was used in the Civil War and a trained shooter could get off ten 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.

It was an easy step for the Sharps from the use of linen or paper cartridges to the new fixed ammunition. By 1869 Christian Sharps was long gone from the company and Richard Lawrence received a patent that year for a new rifle and 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 as we have already pointed out. Some well known chamberings were .40-70, .40-90, .44-77, .45-110, .50-70, and the Big Fifty, the .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 octagon in shape. In the 1870's Frank Mayer's Sharps rifle, 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. Sorta puts the cost of a modern Sharps in perspective doesn't it?

The original Sharps Rifle Company may be gone but the void has been filled in modern times by the Shiloh Rifle Manufacturing Company of Big Timber Montana. The "new" Sharps company goes back to 1976, opening operation 95 years after the demise of the original company. Known as Shiloh Products, there would be a split in 1983 with two companies emerging, Shiloh and C. Sharps.

One does not simply go to a local dealer and pick and choose from a rack of Sharps rifles. In fact there is a L-O-N-G back order situation. I hesitated ordering one when the delay was one year. I still waited when it reached two years. When I finally ordered mine the wait was four years!

Shiloh Rifle Manufacturing is owned by the Bryan family of Big Timber. They say of their company and their rifles we have dedicated ourselves to "...continuing Shiloh Rifle's legendary quality. TO accomplish this, modern steels and manufacturing techniques offer an initial advantage, but the precise fitting of wood and metal, plus the smooth operation of mechanisms, and overall finish of lock, stock, and barrel still requires a considerable amount of handwork and attention to detail.

As with the original Sharps, our rifles are not intended for the mass market. They are for the shooter, hunter, and competitor who wants something special. Therefore we will never sacrifice quality for higher production figures. To do so would compromise the soul of this product, and disappoint those wishing today for the quality that was the norm in 19th Century American firearms.

We feel that Shiloh rifles reflect the extra time and effort that go into their manufacture. Due to the tremendous shooter acceptance of the Shiloh Sharps we find ourselves in a lengthy back-order situation. We wish to assure potential Shiloh Sharps customers that by increasing our work force and by turning to state-of-the art machinery, we are striving to reduce that waiting period."

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 black powder cartridge of the 1870's. The Shiloh is built like the Sharps was in 1874 and should be used the same way.

Chamberings available 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 black powder in the original cartridge. One also encounters the nomenclature of .45-70 (2 1/10), .45-90 (2 4/10), .45-100 (2 6/10), .45-110 (2 7/8), and .45-120 (3 1/4) with the numbers in parentheses being the length of the cartridge case.

Shiloh offers a full line of Sharps rifles such as the Creedmore Target Rifle with a 32" half-octagon barrel and weight of 10#; the #2 Creedmore Silhouette Rifle, 30" tapered barrel and 12# 2 oz.; The Quigley, 34" heavy octagon barrel and weight of 13#; Long Range Express, 34" tapered octagon, weight dependent upon choice of standard or heavyweight barrels; The #1 Sporter, 30" tapered octagon, 10#; The #3 Sporter, 30" tapered octagon, 9 1/4#; The Montana Roughrider Rifle, 30" half octagon or tapered octagon, 9 1/2#; The Saddle Rifle, 26" tapered octagon, 9#; The Hartford, 30" tapered heavy, heavy half, or standard octagon barrel; and The Business Rifle, 28"barrel and weight of 9 1/2#. For competition shooting under NRA Blackpowder Cartridge Silhouette rules, the imposed rifle weight limit is 12# 2 oz. Barrel length for black powder shooting is recommended to be at least 28" with 30" being better and 34" barrels offering extra weight and sight radius. Shiloh can help tailor a rifle specifically for Blackpowder Cartridge Silhouette match competition with the best combination of caliber, weight, sight, and barrel length.

Shiloh also offers complete line of hunting and competition sights, custom cases, paper patching kits for assembling paper patched bullets, cross sticks, even bullet moulds and cartridge belts.

When I originally placed my order for a Shiloh Sharps, I went with the crowd and ordered a .45-70. With a four year backlog, much time is allowed for changing one's mind about the caliber and custom touches. My good friend Tedd Adamovich of BluMagnum Grips also ordered his rifle at the same time and convinced me to take a different tack and go with something less generally available. So we both wound up with Shiloh Sharps rifles chambered in .45-110.

I ordered the #3 Standard Sporter with 30" heavyweight full octagon barrel with supreme grade straight grip military stock, Schnabble forearm, no cheek piece, double set triggers, and two sets of sights, the 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. In fact if I close my eyes and rub a finger over the place where the two come together I cannot not feel the joint. Superb workmanship!

One doesn't find .45-110 cases at most gun shops. But Buffalo Arms specializes in virtually everything the black powder shooter needs. From them I ordered .45-110's 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 fibre wad sheets were also ordered for loading the big .45. A set of .45-110 dies from RCBS, a Lyman #55 Black Powder Measure, and a Hornady Single Stage Press, and 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.

Black powder should only be metered through a measure such as the #55 Lyman Black Powder Measure which is designed for use of black powder. There is danger of an electric spark igniting black powder 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 fibre sheet over the powder. The wad protects the lead base.

Bullets must be selected with special care for black powder as just not any bullet is used with blackpowder. For my use bullets are cast of a lead-tin ratio of 30:1. They also need special lube for black powder shooting. Two good ones are SPG and Lyman Black Powder Gold. These lubes help to keep fouling of the bore to a minimum and what does occur is kept soft. With the wrong lube, barrels can become so fouled that is almost impossible to get a patch through them.

Cartridge cases also require extra care. After firing, I decap the cases, Buffalo Arms has a special tool for handling the long .45-110 brass, drop the fired cases in a plastic gallon milk jug half full of soapy water and slosh them around between shots. When arriving home, the cases are washed in hot soapy water, rinsed and dried by laying them out on newspaper. The primer pockets are then cleaned with Q-Tips and the cases are tumbled clean. Once they are used for black powder, brass cases are kept segregated from my smokeless brass.

To operate the Shiloh Sharps, the hammer is placed at half-cock, the lever is operated down and forward opening the breech, a cartridge is loaded into the chamber, the lever is brought back and up, the breech block closes, the hammer is cocked and the Sharps is ready to fire.

I prefer to clean any black powder firearm the same day it is used. With the Sharps this is made relatively easy by the ingenious design of the Sharps. A lever on the right side of the receiver is simply moved and withdrawn and the whole breech block drops out into the hand for easy cleaning of both block and barrel.

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


RCBS 525 SP 90 gr. Goex CTG 1327
  95 gr. Goex CTG  1380
  100 gr. Goex CTG  1429
  100 gr. Goex FFg  1435
  100 gr. Pyrodex RS Select 1389
LYMAN 400 FN 100 gr. Goex CTG 1531
  100 gr. Goex FFg 1535
RCBS 515 RNFP 90 gr. Goex CTG 1289

With my favorite loading of the RCBS 515 grain round-nosed, flat-point cast bullet over 90 grains of Goex Cartridge grade black powder, muzzle velocity is right at 1300 feet per second and one- to one and one-half inch groups at 100 yards for three shots are the norm.

There isn't anything that walks that cannot be taken with a 515 grain bullet at 1300 feet per second!

For most of us life gets too stressful and serious. To escape this has been the big draw of both Cowboy Shooting and Black Powder Cartridge Rifle Shooting. The first pull back on the big hammer of a Colt Single Action or Sharps rifle, even if they are replicas of the originals, the boom of black powder, and shove of recoil, are all very therapeutic. I recommend this remedy highly.

....Courtesy of GUNS Magazine