The Winchester Rifle is colloquially known as “the gun that won the west.” While this claim certainly holds merit as the weapon was extremely effective when fired by U.S. marshals and cowboys, it was not really the gun that won the west. The credit for that goes to the Sharps .50 caliber rifle and rightly so because of its sheer power.
With its large caliber of lead, the Sharps was used for decimating herds of buffaloes that reined over the plains in the 1870’s cutting off supply of food to native Americans. With the sheer power of Sharps .50 caliber rifle, the United States government was able to subdue the buffaloes and they were confined into reservations.
Kirk Bryan, an aficionada of Sharps and Shiloh Rifle Manufacturing Company’s owner, revealed that the Sharps made rifles with different calibers like .50, .45 and .40 and out of these the biggest was .50/90. This heavy-duty rifle fired a bullet of 650 grams.
Christian Sharp designed the rifle, thus the name Sharp. A.S. Nippes, in Philadelphia, produced the Sharps rifle in the beginning of 1850. The company later moved its operations to Connecticut and here the Sharps grew in demand among the Civil War soldiers.
There was a political strategy involved with using Sharps to annihilate buffaloes. Bryan explained that it was all part of a political agenda as the government wanted to get rid of a major food source for Native Americans. Even ammunition was donated by the army to hunters for killing buffaloes. The Sharps .50 caliber rifle has the power to knock a horse down at 100 yards or over.
The sharp rifle featured a slanting breach carbine system that had a falling block mechanism. It was not only able to use a standard percussion cap, but the gun also featured a unique pellet primer feed. This device was able to hold pile of pelleted primers and flip one over the nipple when the weapon’s trigger was pulled and hammer fell. This made it much easier to fire Sharp .50 caliber rifle than other guns in which percussion caps are individually loaded.
Though it is a single-shot gun, in the hands of an experienced shooter, Sharp is capable of firing 10 shots per minute. There was also an innovative double trigger in Sharp Rifle which enabled shooters to set up the trigger in front by pulling the back trigger. With the double trigger, steadying the rifle became easier for long-range shots. Props were often also used to steady the aim for long-range shots.
With the Sharp .50 caliber rifle, shooters were able to annihilate targets at an astronomical distance since the range of rifle was 1000 yards or even more. Shots from great distances made killing buffaloes easier and removed the danger of being crushed from getting too close to the herd. The Sharp brought the buffaloes to near extinction as hunters kept on disseminating the helpless animal.
A Shot To Remember
The most famous shot ever fired by a Sharp rifle came in the second Battle of Adobe Walls. On the third day after the attack, fifteen Native Americans rode out to survey the battle situation. At the order of one of the hunters, Billy Dixon, who was famous as a “crack shot,” aimed at the warriors with a Sharp .50 caliber rifle that was given to him by Hanrahan. The distance was about 1,500 yards and at that time, one could not have imagined bringing down an enemy at such a distance with a mere rifle.
But Billy Dixon with a Sharp rifle in his hand, was able to accomplish this. He dropped one of the approaching warriors down from his horse. The enemy was discouraged so much by seeing this that they decided to decamp and gave up the battle. Billy Dixon claimed that it was nothing more than a lucky shot, but you can imagine the power of sharp rifle from this shot of Billy.
The Wild West has ended, but Sharp rifle today continues to be used by sportsmen, hunters and soldiers. Now the metal cartridges are used instead of powder, and the design of Sharps rifle is one of the very few ones that made the transition.
A number of Western Movies have featured the Sharps and you may have already seen it. Today, it is considered a highly valuable collectible arm and if you’re one of those gun enthusiasts looking to get their hands on the best collectible rifles, Sharps .50 caliber rifle is a must.
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