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Thread: A Question About Buffalo Rifles...

  1. #1
    Guy La Pourque
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    A Question About Buffalo Rifles...

    I bought mine with the intention of learning to cast bullets and decipher the ways of the Holy Black, but life got in the way and my rifle went in the safe to pretty much collect dust. I re-discovered it a couple weeks ago, and now I am finally getting to play with it. It's just a Pedersoli roller with a heavy barrel with Lee Shaver sights... and although my shooting stinks to high heaven I am having a ball with it.

    But I'm looking at this thing with a critical eye too. And I am having issues with the idea of these relatively fragile Vernier sights being part of a buffalo hunter's kit. They just don't look robust enough to take the knocks and bumps that must have come with life on the frontier. Is this Hollywood getting the best of us? How 'historical' are, our rifles, really?

    Not trying to ruffle any feathers, just looking for a free history lesson if you have the time or inclination. Other than that, have yourselves a great Friday and shoot straight!

  2. #2
    Boolit Master
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    There was a rather simple “sporting” tang sight that Sharps offered, and Remington had a “Rough and Ready” barrel sight that incorporated a peep.

    If you look through Marcot et al’s Sharps Firearms Vol. II (highly recommended), you will notice that most of the specimens that letter out to the buffalo ranges had the ladder sight on the barrel, and the standard blade front. Once in a great while you see the sporting tang, but any more elaborate sight was added later, not mentioned in the shipping records.

    There are a few uber-traditionalists around that have removed their verniers and apertures and have learned to use the barrel sights that came on their rifles. What they can do out to 400 yards or so is pretty eye-opening.

  3. #3
    Boolit Master
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    I was born and raised on a farm in north central Oklahoma. My area at one time was apparently prime buffalo hunting territory....buffalo wallows all over. I can't say what sights or rifles were used...but I can say that out in the fields the most common cartridge case to plow-up is the inside primed .50-70 copper case. I have found dozens of them. Just a few other calibers(perhaps because they were reloadable and picked up)..these include .45-70 and .44-40...perhaps one or two that may have been a .44 or .45 Remington or Sharps cartridge case.

  4. #4
    Boolit Master marlinman93's Avatar
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    I have true buffalo rifles from the era, and surprisingly (to Hollywood) none of mine are even D&T for a tang sight! Most buffalo were taken at ranges close enough that barrel sights were plenty good. But if you want to shoot farther you'll likely want the Shaver vernier anyway, regardless of whether it's historically correct or not. On my guns I use for long range work, I have vernier tang sights also, and the historical part doesn't matter.

  5. #5
    Guy La Pourque
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    Does anybody make modern versions of those barrel sights, guys? I love my roller, I love the Lee Shavers, but good grief...my BPCR gun is heavy! I can shoot it off hand but the sights are so fine I don't think I could use them for anything other than targets (my eyes don't get along with the heavy cross hair style reticle in the front sight). I'm afraid I bought the gun over the internet not knowing much about these guns other than what I learned from Quigley down under! I love the roller, but I now need one that is lighter and more practical for hunting and offhand work. Would the hunters of that era have slung up the way modern riflemen do?

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  7. #7
    Boolit Master



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    The number of true Buffalo hunters was very small. With them scopes were common. They were far more fragile than tang sights.

    Nice example here https://jamesdjulia.com/item/lot-134...l-scope-46080/

    Good read here: http://www.pbs.org/weta/thewest/reso...ve/buffalo.htm

  8. #8
    Boolit Master

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    Most of the buffalo hunters shot from a hide. Sitting position and simple cross sticks to support the rifle. These rifle were more than likely carried in wagon boxes that protected them the loading cleaning and shooting gear. Weight was important to these hunters since a horse could only carry pull so much weight, and the hides were the reason for being there.

  9. #9
    Boolit Master Don McDowell's Avatar
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    MVA sells a Remington sight http://montanavintagearms.com/produc...-barrel-sight/
    Some Sharps rifles were shipped with a tang sight but it would of been more like one of these http://montanavintagearms.com/produc...ps-long-range/
    Distant Thunder has made some authentic copies of the Sharps hunters tang sights. http://www.distantthunderbpcr.com/dtpages/dtproduct.htm
    Fruends also sold a barrel sight they called a More light sight to the hunters of the day.
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  10. #10
    Boolit Master marlinman93's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by M-Tecs View Post
    The number of true Buffalo hunters was very small. With them scopes were common. They were far more fragile than tang sights.



    I would disagree with the statement that most buffalo hunters used scopes! scopes were very unusual during the buffalo hunt era, and very few hunters used a scope. If you look at the general development of scopes, there was really only one maker of scopes in the US during that era, and that was Wm. Malcolm. Considering the scope was so new, and also not easy to keep sighted in when banging around in wagons like most buffalo hunters traveled in, it wasn't something they even wanted to fiddle with.
    The heavy barreled Sharps at Julias was owned by a rich man, and not a hunter. He likely shot targets with it, and from the condition it surely never saw any buffalo hunting.

    Guy,
    Buffalo hunters cared very little about guns being lightweight, and even leaned towards heavy guns for more stability. Often these guns weighed in at anything between 10 lbs. and 15 lbs. Since they needed a wagon to haul hides and bones, the guns weren't packed around very far from that wagon. So using one for walking around all morning is not hunting like the buffalo hunters did.

  11. #11
    Boolit Master marlinman93's Avatar
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    This is a true buffalo rifle. An early Rolling Block with 34" extra heavy barrel, rocky mountain style buckhorn sight, and nickel silver blade front sight. Trigger is single set. Caliber is .44-77BN Remington/Sharps, which was one of the most popular among buffalo hunters.



    Note the barrel is larger than the receiver and the gun weighs 14.5 lbs.




    Rocky Mountain rear sight.



    Nickel silver front sight.


  12. #12
    Boolit Master



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    Never stated that MOST buffalo hunters used scopes. Having extensively read journals and accounts of buffalo hunts it always surprised me how many used scopes. Below is one example. Lots more out there is you look. Based on the amount of cartridges, powder and lead shipped out and the number of hides shipped back it appears that about 6.5 million buffalo were killed during the buffalo hunting era. Brucellosis was the most likely cause of the decline of the buffalo herds. It caused the cow to abort or not have calves. Also the number of hunters that actually did the shooting was probably under 2,000 and 1,000 to 1,500 appears to be more realistic.

    A rifle that was actually used to hunt buffalo is a fairly rare item today.


    http://www.pbs.org/weta/thewest/reso...ve/buffalo.htm

    Shooting at such long ranges, we, naturally, had to use telescope sights, and set triggers, which to me are a "must" for good rifle shooting. My own were so delicate that you could set the rifle off almost by a breath. The 'scopes we used then were so powerful no shooter could use one without rest sticks -20-and even 30-power, against the 2 1/2-, 4-, and 5-power telescopes in use now
    .

    In those days (1871-1875) rifles were expensive, for they would cost you from $100 to $150, not including the necessary telescope sight. So a man would think twice before deciding on the rifle he wanted. I know I did. I would stay awake at night asking myself which would it be, a Remington or a Sharps? And I'd wake up in the morning asking myself the same question. There was so little to choose between them that either choice would have been the right one. What decided me was two things in favor of the Sharps: it used a straight cartridge, which was less likely to swell and become distorted after being fired a dozen times; the Sharps had the stronger action and was more dependable, I thought, in a pinch. With the Remington you opened the breech by pulling back on an ear on the breech block on top; you opened the good old Sharps by yanking down on the big trigger-guard, just as you use a modern lever action rifle.
    I never regretted my choice of a Sharps, and McRae and other Remington men never regretted their choice either, so everybody was happy.


    Interesting read on Civil War era scopes here:
    https://civilwartalk.com/threads/rifle-scopes.70810/

    Some more here:
    https://civilwartriviajunkie.wordpre...e-then-called/

    They got their name from the target rifle they used with telling effect designed by Christian Sharps. Other weapons used were the Billinghurst Target Rifle with side mounted Davidson scope. The tube like scope had only 3-power amplification. Some Union sharpshooters used the J. F. Brown 45-cal Target Rifle manufactured in Haverhill, Massachusetts mounted with a L. M. Amadon scope from Bellow Falls, Vermont.
    The Kerr Rifle and the Whitworth were British weapons imported by the Confederacy also with scopes
    Last edited by M-Tecs; 02-10-2018 at 01:03 AM.

  13. #13
    Boolit Master
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    Buffalo hunters that had vernier sights detached them from the base and carrier them in a box or bag
    Regards
    John

  14. #14
    Boolit Master Don McDowell's Avatar
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    OP Hanna tells in his book why the hide hunters preferred heavy barrel rifles, they carried two rifles, when the first rifle barrel got so hot it started shooting wild they laid it aside in a snow bank and went to work with the second one. By the time the second rifle started shooting wild, the herd had either moved off or the first one had cooled off enough to go back to work.
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  15. #15
    Boolit Master
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    Obviously neither I nor anyone else can say with certainty why you plow up so many 50-70 cartridges. A possible explanation is that the southern herd was the first to be decimated by the runners in the early 1870's. Perhaps that early in the short history of buffalo runners the 50-70 was still the most popular?

    Frank Mayer in his book, which is more of an interview, "The Buffalo Harvest", (I think that's right), states he used a Malcom scope and I believe it is was as M-tecs described, a 20-30 power.
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  16. #16
    Boolit Master
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    Now I heard it all ! I have a 20x Unertl on my Sharps and with standard blocks it will zero a little past 250 yards. To hit any past that is quess work hold over, and you could do as well with plain iron. 20-30 power ! rubbish ! The back end would be 5 or 6 inches off the barrel. Maybe there was one, or two, but they wern't used past day number one. YHou wold need a modren cutting edge range finder to go with it.

  17. #17
    Boolit Master
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    There aren't a lot of scopes shown in the new book by Marcott, but the old scopes seemed pretty decent. Orville Loomer has a heavy Sharps with what he estimates is a 20x original scope. The old scope mounts were definitely lower to the barrel than what you buy from MVA these days.

    I shoot a scoped rifle in Creedmoor and my 1000 yard sight setting for with a 28" scope puts the eye at nearly the exact same height above the comb as my long range MVA soule sight ( which also didn't exist back then .

    A range finder would be pretty handy . It doesn't take much at all to miss at great distances if you don't know the exact distance!

    Chris.

  18. #18
    Boolit Master




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    In Mike Venturino's book on Buffalo rifles he states that about 1/3 of the rifles leaving the Sharps factory had scopes. They cost more than the rifle but if you figure what these guys could make compared to a normal working smuck the scope would have been a good investment. A qualifier here, it has been several years since I read Mike's book and I might be wrong on the percentage but I remember being impressed with the number at the time.

    Bob
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  19. #19
    Boolit Master Don McDowell's Avatar
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    Charles Billinghurst diary tells of one of his companions having a scope mounted on a rifle in Cheyenne, and then later he had one mounted on his rifle at Miles Town. The scopes then were mostly full length and used the dovetail mounts. I have a friend that has an original Remington with a Malcolm scope.. Marcot's book and other sources detail a number for rifles that were shipped from the Bridgeport factory with scopes. They were there, but not on a great number of rifles. Cornel publishing I believe sells reprints of the Malcolm catalog from the time period.
    GUSA #6
    People will forget what you said...
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    But People will NEVER forget how you made them feel

    Want to join in adult conversation about shooting the old ways without the hysterics associated with other places?http://historicshooting.com/mybb/index.php

  20. #20
    Boolit Man
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    1st Sergeant John Ryan of Company M ,7th Cavalry , had a scoped Sharps along on the Little Bighorn campaign that he ,reportedly, used to good effect from Reno's position. It was in 45/70 and he had traded an Infantry Sergeant a case or two of the 405gr. Cavalry ammo for a like amount of the 500gr. Infantry ammo. . This occurred at Ft. Abraham Lincoln. When the organized metal detecting search of the site was done several years ago, a few 500gr. 45/70 bullets with Sharps rifling were found in the area where Sgt. Ryan had used his rifle to remove some Indians from a high point who were sniping into their position.

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