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Thread: Accuracy of the sharps rifles and skill of the hunters in 1874

  1. #1
    Boolit Buddy
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    Accuracy of the sharps rifles and skill of the hunters in 1874

    I'm currently reading Empire of the Summer moon.

    In one chapter, where one of the Comanche warrior chiefs and his band attacked a small outpost populated by buff hunters, skinners, etc there is the description of how accurate they were with their sharps rifles.

    It describes them as "big fifties"...a sharps shooting a 600gr boolit, with 125gr BP.

    The paragraph describing the incredible shooting is shown. Could those guys really have been that good to intentionally hit the Indians at 3/4mile? Or just luck or exaggeration of distance?
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  2. #2
    Boolit Master


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    They had plenty of targets to improve their skill, just my thoughts!

  3. #3
    Boolit Buddy Castaway's Avatar
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    HighUnitas, it is a well documented shot by a fellow named Billy Dixon at the second battle of Adobe Walls. Easy to look up and read more about it

  4. #4
    Boolit Bub
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    The buffalo hunters cast their bullets over an open fire often from pure lead. Not a recipe for match grade bullets. Most of the sharps hunting bullets were about 1.1” long and very blunt. They did not weigh their powder charges, they scooped them with a measure out of a keg of powder. They they used tallow hardened in the bottom of a frying pan to make lube wads to allow multiple shots to be fired without fouling control. Their loading tools were very limited and crude compared to todays tools. My research indicates that they probably got about 4 MOA accuracy. Plenty good to be reliable to 400 yards and maybe more on buffalo. I have shot man sized targets at 1200 yards, measured. To think that a hunter using a dirty rifle to engage a man at an unknown distance around 1300 yards distance is laughable. Yes, Billy Dixon made the shot. Used a borrowed rifle that had a blade front and a rear ladder sight on the barrel. By luck he got the elevation correct but he had some help of the wind drift/spin drift problem. He shot at seven warriors seated on horses in a line giving him a lot of latitude on windage. Billy Dixon himself says it was just a lucky shot.

  5. #5
    Boolit Master
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    Wasn't Billy's shot 1538 yards...or something close to that...as supposedly surveyed by the Army?
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  6. #6
    Boolit Grand Master

    Wayne Smith's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MichaelR View Post
    The buffalo hunters cast their bullets over an open fire often from pure lead. Not a recipe for match grade bullets. Most of the sharps hunting bullets were about 1.1” long and very blunt. They did not weigh their powder charges, they scooped them with a measure out of a keg of powder. They they used tallow hardened in the bottom of a frying pan to make lube wads to allow multiple shots to be fired without fouling control. Their loading tools were very limited and crude compared to todays tools. My research indicates that they probably got about 4 MOA accuracy. Plenty good to be reliable to 400 yards and maybe more on buffalo. I have shot man sized targets at 1200 yards, measured. To think that a hunter using a dirty rifle to engage a man at an unknown distance around 1300 yards distance is laughable. Yes, Billy Dixon made the shot. Used a borrowed rifle that had a blade front and a rear ladder sight on the barrel. By luck he got the elevation correct but he had some help of the wind drift/spin drift problem. He shot at seven warriors seated on horses in a line giving him a lot of latitude on windage. Billy Dixon himself says it was just a lucky shot.
    And if I remember right the hit was his third shot, not his first.
    Wayne the Shrink

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  7. #7
    Boolit Grand Master

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    Long range shooting depends as much on the shooter as the rifle. Knowing the come up for a given range and reading the wind light and other conditions. I have shot to 500 yds with the old buffalo guns and with the right load they are very accurate On swinging rams the splatter spot was around 4 1/2" -5" . This was with a 45-70 BP and 535 grn bullets. I dont believe the iron sights of the period were a big hindrance. The tang mounted sight and apertures gave a long sight radius and clean view. They also may have helped focus.

    I have also shot 1000 yds some with modern rounds both the service rifle and match rifle. My good NM M14 M1A o,308 1-10 twist is 1clk up at 200
    3 clicks at 300, 24 clicks at 600 and 44-46 at a 1000 with a LC 862 duplication load. Even the modern load at 2650 fps with a BTHP match grade 168 grn bullet is a lot of drop. At the highest point of the bullet is around 390 inches above line of sight, and time of flight is around 1 3/4 seconds. But knowing this makes it doable.

    With most rounds long range s more artillery fire dropping them in, When in the pits at 1000 yds you can see the angle when you insert the spotter into the hole.

    There are groups that shoot these rifles to 1 mile which if memory serves is 1578 yards.

    Shooting silhouettes is interesting in that you fire 1 -1 1/2 seconds later the ram jumps then another 1-1 1/2 secs later you her the ding of the hit.

  8. #8
    Boolit Grand Master

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    Something I just remembered. We would practice for 1000 yd matches like this. ( there arnt a lot of 1000 yd ranges out there) We would use a 22 rinfire at 200 or 300 yds drop and wind are very close to a 308 at 1000. Follow thru is also very close. If you want an ideas of what long tange is shoot somegroups with a 22 at 200 or 300 yds. If memory serves most standard velocity is 20-22 mins from 50 yd zero to 200 yds I believe 300 is 42-44 mins

  9. #9
    Boolit Grand Master Don McDowell's Avatar
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    Dixons shot was at 1538 yards. It was done with factory loaded ammunition. There's a pretty good case to be made it was a 44-77 or 44-90. If it was a 50 then the bullet was a 473 gr either patched or grooved. Either way Dixon said it was a scratch shot, Quanah Parker said the bullet lit short splattered some rocks into the indians pony and leg, the rider got bucked off, everybody laughed, injured warrior mounted up and they all rode off.
    Long range rules, the rest drool.

  10. #10
    Boolit Master
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    There were only the big 50 2.5 at the time, no ammo was available with a 600 gr bullet or a cartridge capable of holding 125 grs of powder at the time of the fight. Pure fiction. Sharps never offered a 600 gr 50 caliber mould even. Little bit of research will shoot that fiction right in the old clod stomper. Furthermore sharps 50’s were offered with a 1-36 twist, this will not stabilize a 600+ gr bullet. As Don mentioned the 50 was designed for a 473 gr patched or grooved bullet. These old bs stories need a proper burial and put to rest.

    Kenny Wasserburger

    We have had one 50-90 shoot well in our mile match he ended up getting a bull barrel put on it by Shiloh because his 650 bullets and the charge he used were too much recoil for a string of shots. Oh and a 1-26 twist too.

    Oh btw a mile is 1760 yards 5280 feet.
    Last edited by Kenny Wasserburger; 12-18-2021 at 12:24 PM.

  11. #11
    Boolit Master Lead pot's Avatar
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    I shot a .50-2.5 for many years at the Gong shoots ranging out to 1000 yards and it does very well at extended ranges.
    My .50 is a Shiloh and it has a 1/22 twist with a 34" barrel, it's a 13# rifle and it will put lead splatters in the white spot or close to it at 1000 yards and I think the buffalo at Raton is 1100 or 1200 yards and I put spots in the white using the .50. But I use a 710 gr bullet with 115 gr of 2E powder and it does well.
    But like mentioned before with the slow twist toe original Sharps had a 600 gr bullet won't hold accuracy out as far as the Dixon shot was fired. It will reach that distance but it would be hard to say where it will hit.
    I tried a 1.4" long bullet in my .50 that weighs 650 gr and it does fine at hunting distances but it will kick up dust around a 1K target with occasional hits in my 22 ROT rifle.
    That iron buffalo in the picture is full sized and I shot it at 1585 yards using my hunting rifle a 1/19 twist Shiloh .44-77 using a 1.325" long 485 gr PP bullet of the original Sharps profile.
    using the Lawrence rear barrel sight and blade front sight and it connected in a fair wind that I had to hold off two targets to hit it. That buff was only 200 yards short of a mile so I have no doubt in my mind if Billy had his own rifle he would have no trouble connecting at the range he shot if he had made long shots in the past and knew where to move that slide on his rear sight. I sure would not stand out in the open with a feller using a sharps at that range.
    These rifles loaded with black powder and lead bullets do just fine at extended ranges at 1285 fps my Sharps will push that 710 gr bullet. You don't need that Magnum mentality to hit a target at 1K.


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  12. #12
    Boolit Buddy Castaway's Avatar
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    Kenny, are saying the Dixon shot didn’t happen?

  13. #13
    Boolit Master
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    Yes Dixon made the shot, wasn’t with any 600 gr bullets 50 or what ever caliber.

    Perhaps reading comprehension is your strong suit, no where in my post do I refute that.

    I simply said that book quoted is pure fluff fantasy about 600 gr bullets and 125 grs of powder. No one made a 50 call mould at that time with a 600 gr wt.

    I have Dixon’s book he made the shot, I tend to agree with Don was done probably with a 44 caliber sharps.

    Sharps own catalog stated the 45s did better work at 1000 yards then the 50 Did at 600. Past few years in business, Sharps only made 50s on special order.

    The Buffalo at Raton is 1123 yards

  14. #14
    Boolit Master Lead pot's Avatar
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    Thank you. I knew it was more than 1100 yds but it's been a while.
    My .50-2.5" Bell cases will hold 121 grains of 1.5 powder flush with the case mouth. Now I don't have any idea what a balloon head case would hold but with any sort of wad stack and seating the bullet I think 125 grains would be ?????

    I have read an interview with Billy Dixons Wife, I think her name was Olive, and she said that Billy himself told her that he thought the shot was a lot less in distance than they gave him credit for.
    I stopped at the site where the shot was made and looked at the bute and to me it did not look like 3/4 of a mile away and if they sat on horse back I think they would have been out of site on top of that bute.
    But the place is all fenced off so it's hard to know exactly where he shot from.

  15. #15
    Boolit Buddy
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    I was thinking there had to be some fluff in that paragraph. The paragraph wasn't even about Dixon's shot, though. They go on to mention that a couple of pages later, but if course make it sound like he just picked up a buddy's rifle and drilled a guy at 1538, first round.

  16. #16
    Boolit Bub
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    shot 1000yds at lodi wisconsin.practice was 200yds at nicolet rifle club wih 22 rimfire.bet boots obermeyer at his peak could make billys shot.saludos a todo y feliz navidad.

  17. #17
    Boolit Grand Master
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    If you want a challenge, shoot a target at 1000 yds on a hot windy day with a 38-50 black powder reload using a 325gr Ideal 375166.
    All of one’s shooting knowledge has to be used and expect many ‘fliers’ off target trying to get to the target and even worse getting into the 10 ring ….
    Regards
    John

  18. #18
    Boolit Master Lead pot's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by John Boy View Post
    If you want a challenge, shoot a target at 1000 yds on a hot windy day with a 38-50 black powder reload using a 325gr Ideal 375166.
    All of one’s shooting knowledge has to be used and expect many ‘fliers’ off target trying to get to the target and even worse getting into the 10 ring ….
    I'm having a Hepburn build right now in a .38-50 to find out just that John.

  19. #19
    Boolit Grand Master


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    If I remember did not Dixon fire at a group of Indians on the ridge. Does any account read that he actually fired at a specific person?
    "Come unto Me, all you who labor and are heavy burdened, and I will give you rest." Matthew 11:28
    Male Guanaco out in dry lakebed at 10,800 feet south of Arequipa.

  20. #20
    Boolit Grand Master
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    Kurt, the 38-50 is a typo … should be 38-55
    Good luck with your 38-50 build

    I spent one complete afternoon at Ridgway trying to put lead on Homer with H&R 38-55 with an accurate Green Mountain barrel and 42grs of FFg. After a good trajectory, many were dancing around Homer. After correcting windage and mirage several times … was proud of what a 38-55 can do. Even had one center hit

    Be sure to order the Accurate mold that Tom cloned for me, the Ideal 375166. It’s the only bullet for my 38’s
    It calculates a 4 stability with a 12-18 twist
    Last edited by John Boy; 12-19-2021 at 09:27 PM.
    Regards
    John

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