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Thread: A Question About Buffalo Rifles...

  1. #41
    Boolit Master marlinman93's Avatar
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    Malcolm didn't offer over 20x power on their scopes, so that would be the maximum used. A good number of guns leaving the factory with scopes never saw use as buffalo guns. That's is obvious from the number seen with scopes today in wonderful condition. Guns actually used by buffalo hunters show their use, and most have little finish left, even when well cared for. Metal and bore are often in great shape, as the owners considered their guns a tool and took care of them. But being out in the elements daily took it's toll and finishes suffered.
    I don't doubt some buffalo hunters used scopes, but I do doubt that the numbers or percentages of scopes used is very high. I also don't doubt the military used scopes as there's a lot of scoped rifles pictured in photos of Berdan's Sharpshooters found. I would guess that the military continued to make use of scopes after the Civil War for either game harvesting, or possibly sniper use. Although Berdan's Sharpshooters group was disbanded before the Civil War ended, some of those men and their guns stayed in the military and possibly made it out West.
    If anyone has some specific documentation of numbers of scopes used by buffalo hunters, I'd like to see that. Not just numbers of scoped guns sold, as that says little to how they were used. Scopes were very popular after their introduction by target shooters, in competition. So the requests for scoped guns continued to grow in the late 1800's and even more so after the end of the buffalo hunt era.
    And when Sellers mentioned that 1/4 of the Sharps shipped Westward in 1876 had scopes, it's a bit misleading. Considering the location of the factory, almost EVERY Sharps leaving the factory went West to some degree. Tough to not go West from the East Coast. But considering there were supposedly less than a few hundred buffalo left by the 1880's, the majority of those scoped guns likely saw little use by buffalo hunters.
    Last edited by marlinman93; 02-11-2018 at 01:06 PM.

  2. #42
    Boolit Master Don McDowell's Avatar
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    I don't think an exact number of folks that actively pursued the hide/meat trade can ever be determined. Some did it for a short time for a living, others did it for something to do, and still more may have done it on occasion for a quick shot of cash flow. Rifles could of come from about anywhere, due to the number of supply houses that a rifle could be order thru, and delivered via the mail system that made deliveries along the rail lines to stations about every 10 miles. Then you have things that further confuse the issue such as the spat the Sharps co, got into with Freunds and cut them off from factory direct shipments, so Freunds then arranged shipments thru Kittredge, Curry's and others. Sharps also cut off shipments to Cooper when he had trouble paying the bills he had accumulated.
    Someone would need do an in-depth study of the records of the Malcolm company records to see where they might of shipped scopes to, and then further study on the dealers/gunsmiths records. Scopes weren't prevalent on the western frontier, but we do know that some were used.
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  3. #43
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    Having gotten into this addiction late in life I really appreciate the use of a period correct scope. The first few years the iron sights were fine and I still can use them for targets but those silhouettes started getting real hard to see about 4 years in. I finally got to the point that missing because I couldn't see them was less and less fun and I bit the bullet and got an MVA scope. I still miss but not because I can't see them.
    Buffalo hunting was for the most part a young mans game so the scopes probably weren't as necessary. Add to that the fact that they probably weren't as concerned about a quick humane kill since they could see for a long distance in any direction to find wounded animals. Beside Buffalo are pretty big targets.

    Bob
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  4. #44
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    I have never looked through a Civil War or buffalo hunting era scope. I wonder what the optics are truly like??? Everyone assumes they were not very good. I am not so sure.

    A neighbor of mine was an astronomy buff. He collected pre-1900's telescopes. Some of the mid 1800's telescope had impressive optics even by mid 1990's standards. He moved out of state in 1996 so that is the last time I looked through any of them but I do clearly remember some of them being very impressive.

    He also 100% built and hand ground a large telescope. The glass blanks came out of Germany they were very expensive. It took him months to do the lens. It's clarity made my Unertl 100mm Team Scope hang its head in shame.
    Last edited by M-Tecs; 02-13-2018 at 01:02 AM.

  5. #45
    Boolit Master Don McDowell's Avatar
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    I would guess the optics on those scopes were pretty decent. The Tollefson rifle was equipped with a scope, and shot so accurately at 1000 yards in the hands of young Mr. Tollefson, the NRA actually went to the trouble of banning that rifle and others like it from competition. You don't shoot those sort of scores with crappy optics.
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  6. #46
    Boolit Master marlinman93's Avatar
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    I own a number of old scopes, and some of them are full length scopes. I also owned an original 5/8" tube full length Malcolm once, and it was in excellent condition as for optics. I surely wouldn't compare any of my old rifle scopes to those of modern manufacture, but they are wonderful scopes, with great clarity. The small 5/8" or 3/4" tubes that were common in the 1800's don't draw much light, so they don't work as well at dawn or dusk, or on dark days. But I still enjoy them a lot and I'm always impressed with how good the optics were in the 1800's!
    I also own an original French Long Range spotting scope that dates to the 1800's and is 60x magnification. I've taken it out to see how well it might work spotting hits on 1,000 yd. dingers, and was pleasantly surprised at how clear the targets were!

    This the French spotting scope along with my #7 Ballard Long range in .44-100 Ballard:

  7. #47
    Boolit Man
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    Here is some information about telescopic sights from Ned Roberts. He was unable to find the inventor of the telescopic sight in the U.S. but thinks it was around 1835-40. He thinks previous mention of telescopic sights probably referred to tube sights. Chapman is mentioned by Roberts as reporting the difficulties of scopes as having no focus and very short eye relief and breaking off of the front mount. Up until about 1855, the best scopes were made by Morgan James with ideas from Chapman. In 1855, Wm Malcolm started the first rifle scope manufacturing business. His scopes had many improvements. They had repeatable windage and elevation, good lenses, focus for different distances and focus for an individual’s eyes. His lenses were set in brass cells that were moveable by unloosening screws and sliding them back and forth. These had very good optics. Another manufacturer of telescopic sights during the Civil War was M.L. Amidon of Vermont who made full length scopes. Vall mentions that a few of the Berdan Sharpshooters were equipped with scoped rifles. This picture shows them and many of the rifles look very similar but were supposed to be the personal arms of the soldiers. Maybe they are equipped with Amidon sights from Vermont. Notice that they have an elevation wheel but I don’t see anything for windage. It would be fun to know more about these different scopes as well as how many were manufactured.
    By the time the buffalo hunt rolled around, Wm Malcolm probably had the majority of sales but I doubt that very few were on western rifles. If you have “The Caplock Rifle,” chapter 2 is a good read.

  8. #48
    Boolit Man
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    Here are some better pictures of a rifle that served for Berdan's Sharpshooters. It might even be in the above picture. Also, the term sharpshooter was used well before the Civil War and was shortened from sharp-eyed shooter, not that they shot Sharps rifles.


    Last edited by Old-Win; 02-13-2018 at 12:48 PM.

  9. #49
    Boolit Man
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    Ahh! The Tollefson rifle! It keeps coming up every now and then and I know I’ll probably catch a real rash over posting this. I’ve tried to do research on it but come up with very little ever since it was mentioned some time ago on another board so I do have some questions that I think need some provenance.
    Was Halvorson Jeffrey Tollefson “Jeff” the person to own this rifle. Born in St. Ansgar, IA in 1857 would match according to today’s present owner of the rifle. He would have been 20 years old when the rifle left the factory in 1877. How far did he have to travel from Iowa to shoot matches with the rifle?
    If the NRA banned this rifle, what was it banned from? 1877 was about the last year of the Creedmoor matches and it would never been allowed in any of them anyway since the rifle weighed 21 lbs, had double set triggers and scoped. Did young Jeff take it out east like Seagirt? If these were LR matches, where were they held in the middle of the country? Perhaps the rifle was banned from string matches or small club matches but then why would the NRA be involved Also, banning a particular rifle is like saying you can’t shoot a “Brockway” or a “Pope” in a match because they are too accurate.
    If you look at pictures of the Tollefson rifle, was it capable of making it to the 1000 yd line? Maybe, but look at the height of the front post and the rear elevation. Do you think it has that much elevation available? Even today’s owner seemed a little skeptical as he mentions in the Shiloh thread that he thought prisms may have been used on the scope to reach longer distances. I think it’s one of those things that “if you print it enough, it must be true.”
    OK, I’m going to duck for cover.


    Last edited by Old-Win; 02-15-2018 at 12:27 PM.

  10. #50
    Boolit Master Don McDowell's Avatar
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    No need to duck for cover Bob, a little bit more research on your part might be prudent tho.
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  11. #51
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    Bob, those are good questions. Orville hasn't posted a lot of info on the rifle but he has posted some. Here is a link from some time ago. The matches the rifle was banned from were "local" matches (whatever that means), not the big Creedmoor matches where of course the rifle didn't meet the rules as you noted.

    http://www.shilohrifle.com/forums/viewtopic.php?t=8689

    Your guess on the owners name may be correct, although it seems to be spelled Tollofson. The letter in Orville's link is signed J. Tollofson.

    Somewhere I have read a copy of his letter to the Sharps company asking for a 16 or 17 lb rifle after that one was banned. I do not remember where I saw this, but likely on the internet somewhere

    Chris.

  12. #52
    Boolit Master marlinman93's Avatar
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    Bob, I doubt the rifle's scope has enough elevation available in the rear mount to reach 1,000 yds. without holding over. I've loved that gun ever since I first saw it posted on a forum!

  13. #53
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    ya, it's not just back elevation. You have to have clearance on the front so the tube won't contact psychically, or create a huge shadow/blur in the bottom half. Otherwise you could mount the back block way up the barrel and double the range ( height off barrel).

    I am curious about just how many buffs these guys would kill in a day. You could plug 300 a day, but how many could you skin? And wagon back say 100 miles to a rail head or town to sell? How many on a heavy freight wagon and how many horses mules whatever to pull it? Anybody ever skin one? on the ground? I think you'ld have to roll it over with a horse, or can you do it by hand. Having planted a few horses and dairy cows, I know they don't really flop like a white tail.
    just saying maybe the ability to hit at 1,000 yds was not the overall limiting factor.

  14. #54
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    I have read that the shooters knew how many buffalos a day the skinners could skin and put that number down. A green hide was probably 200lbs or a little more before drying. Even if a "press was built to compress the hides they would be bulky hair and all. Take up a lot of room in the wagon bed along with the weight. I believe they staked the hide to the ground and used horses to pull it off after the cuts were put in. A lot of Oxen were used for freight wagons and such, stronger and could eat rougher than horses. A lot of them also had meat contracts for towns and military installations to fill after the buff shooting was done for the day. then to casting and loading for the next day.

  15. #55
    Boolit Master marlinman93's Avatar
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    From the diaries of those buffalo hunters I've read, the usual hunting party was a hunter and two skinners. They could usually skin out 20-30 buffalo a day, so that's what the hunter took.
    But those hunters out to decimate the herds, and just kill for their own pleasure often shot twice the high number in a day, and never retrieved a single hide or horn. Buffalo Bill Cody wrote of being along on a hunt overseen by a cavalry Colonel who encouraged the hunters to continue to kill buffalo, even after the hunters themselves felt guilty and thought they should cease firing.

  16. #56
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    Last edited by M-Tecs; 02-17-2018 at 08:03 PM.

  17. #57
    Boolit Master marlinman93's Avatar
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    According to Gerald Kelvar's book on old reloading tools, sights, and scopes; the Union Army Sharpshooters used Rural Mfg. rifle telescopes on their Civil War era guns. Rural was located in Philadelphia and is the earliest US scope maker known. The Rural Mfg. Co. was first started by Milton Pierce who made the earliest Civil war sharpshooter telescopes, and then Rural became the company after Pierce, and finished the contract.

  18. #58
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    M-Tecs: Thanks for those links. VERY interesting reading.

  19. #59
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    A couple of thoughts on re-reading the original post:

    As to durability of the more elaborate tang sights: These guys were basically parking the car, setting up their rest, and shooting cows in a pasture. A Rocky Mountain sheep hunt it wasn't. Also, it would have been accepted that if critical items broke irreparably, the enterprise was over - proper cares or proper spares would be taken. Considering the possibility of hostile natives, it's doubtful the Big Rifle was the only gun on the wagon. There was certainly sense in having a Henry, '66, or '73 along.

    As to who the buffalo hunters were, and what they purchased for the task: you hear stories about the clueless yay-hoos who tried to bring along the family piano and other such nonsense on the Klondike gold rush. Doubtless you had those of a similar mindset with an itch for a quick buck decide to hunt bison. For every Matthew Quigley with clear ideas of equipment and how to use it, you probably had at least five who wouldn't know a vernier sight from a venereal disease. Those folks would probably just buy whatever the salesman held up at the lowest possible cost, would fail to see the need for expensive add-ons, and probably had zero understanding of what goes into making a 1,000 yard shot anyway. In all likelihood, THAT was your typical bison hunter, but we celebrate the Babe Ruths and the Mickey Mantles, not the little leaguers, so that's what our reproductions reflect.
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  20. #60
    Boolit Master

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    I would also bet there were way more shots under 300 yds than there were over 300 yds. They got fairly close to start and took out the lead animal first and then gunned while the herd milled around the downed lead animal. The experienced hunters had learned to take these animals with as little disturbance as possible.

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