The No. 2 barrels are heavy and that, as a result, gives this Hartford-style rifle a weight of over 15 pounds. Chambered for the .44-77 Sharps cartridge, Hannah is very pleasant to shoot and will reward this shooter with some very good groups.
The idea for this rifle stemmed from a note I received from Pat Dulin at C. Sharps Arms, who wrote to tell me they had found this No. 2 Badger .44-caliber barrel “in the dust.” He asked me if I was interested in it.
I immediately said no, but then, almost within the same breath, asked how soon they could have the rifle ready. Pat said it would be ready and done for this year’s Matthew Quigley Buffalo Rifle Match, held Father’s Day weekend in Montana.
That’s when the details were worked out with just a few special notes. I said I wanted a pack-hardened receiver and butt plate, brass escutcheons under the stock screws, good standard “buffalo hunter’s rifle” wood, and no rear dovetail in the barrel. And the fact that this rifle was getting a Badger barrel put me in action to get it because there might never be another chance.
I also requested that they stamp the case length (for cartridge and chamber identification) upside-down on the right side flat of the barrel, similar to how the old Sharps rifles were marked.
WHILE I WAS waiting to see this new rifle, I thought about how much I enjoy reading words by or about Oliver Perry Hanna, the O.P. Hanna of the northern buffalo hunts. He partnered with Jim White and they were the team depicted in Ralph Heinz’s painting of “Hanna and White” hunting buffalo.
White was already a well-known buffalo hunter from Texas who went to Montana after the Texas herd was basically wiped out. Hanna and White began their partnership while hunting for meat to supply to the Army forts in the area around today’s Miles City, Montana.
O.P. Hanna’s notes or short stories are anthologized in Miles Gilbert’s book Getting A Stand (available from Dixie Gun Works, $13.95).
Hanna included very specific mention of White’s three Sharps 16-pound rifles, all in .50-90 caliber.
Any reader would quickly assume that Hanna’s rifle was also a .50-90 because I haven’t found where another cartridge or caliber was identified by him. Maybe that was simply because the “Big Fifty” was the more exciting gun to talk about and human nature really hasn’t changed to any great extent over the last few hundred years.
White was murdered in 1880 and his Sharps rifles, plus Hanna’s rifle, were stolen. This happened while Hanna was away from their camp, checking on things at his ranch. Twenty-seven years later, in 1907, Hanna was having some horses shod in Hyattville, Wyoming, and saw a familiar-looking rifle in the back of the blacksmith’s shop.
On closer examination, he saw that it was his old Sharps rifle, identified with the “H” carved in the stock.
More specific information about Hanna’s rifle is given in Roy Marcot’s excellent book, Sharps Firearms, Volume 2 (available from C. Sharps Arms, $89.95), saying that it was made in 1873 (it is a Hartford model) and that it is a .44 caliber. Also, the rifle has a full octagon barrel of 30 inches in length, weighing 15½ pounds with double set triggers and is equipped with peep and globe sights.
Getting such specific information was a real delight to me, perhaps partially because I am a big fan of the Sharps .44s. But Marcot’s book did not include the specific information about which of the .44 Sharps cartridges Hanna’s rifle was chambered for.
Let me admit, I assumed it was a .44-77 simply because of the great popularity of that cartridge.
O.P. Hanna’s old rifle is currently on display at Bob Edgar’s “Old Trail Town” in Cody, Wyoming. I asked my ol’ friend Scott Sibley to check on that rifle for me when he might be in that town.
He did, and reported back to me that Hanna’s rifle is a .44-90 Sharps. That’s good to know and it really makes no difference to me because my Hannah wasn’t intended to be a copy of Hanna’s rifle, even though they are rather close.
Maybe they’re close enough that O.P. Hanna would approve.
MY FIRST CHANCE to shoot Hannah came at Quigley a day before the famous “Montana monsoon” hit. At that time the weather was just beautiful, so after a good cowboy breakfast of bacon and biscuits, Hannah was taken to the firing line, along with some of Cat’s shooting sticks and my line box with a ramrod and a full box of 405-grain paper-patched loads.
Shooting started on target number four, the 24-inch diamond-shaped gong at 405 yards. The midrange Soule tang sight was set at an elevation “borrowed” from my .44-90, which proved to be close enough, requiring only a minute or two of adjustment to be rewarded with hits.
Phil Wiebe was there spotting for me, calling out my hits and misses. In order to break in the new barrel, the bore was wiped after every shot for the first 10 rounds. The load I was using duplicated the old Sharps sporting load for the .44-77, which included 405-grain paper-patched bullets (cast from a KAL adjustable mold) loaded over 75 grains of Olde Eynsford 1½F powder in the Jamison cases.
After no more than four shots, wiping and shooting, hits the 24-inch target were recorded with notes made on a new page in my notebook. Then we moved to the 530-yard “postage stamp” target.
After those first 10 shots were fired, and the barrel wiped each time, I started wiping the bore after every two shots. I do believe a smoothness in the bore could be felt as the ramrod pushed subsequent patches through the bore. Maybe I believe that mainly because I wanted to. At any rate, the shooting was going very well.
The 530-yard and the 600-yard targets were shot at and hit after just a couple of “sighter shots” each, and that rather quickly emptied the box of ammo.
No more shooting was done at Quigley with Hannah and she reclined in her blanket gun cover while my .44-90 was used in the match. Back at home, Hannah was taken to the range again, to try closer targets at 100 and 200 yards.
The load for this was changed to a 457-grain bullet from Accurate Molds over 75 grains of Olde Eynsford 1F powder.
A couple of targets were fired at from the benchrest at 100 yards before putting up a clean target and trying to get a group worthy of a picture. That was done with the very next five shots and I do appreciate the score of 49-X. While that 9 out at 4 o’clock makes me wish it was also a 10, I really can’t complain.
Another target was shot at from 200 yards, all shots grouping very nicely but a bit low in the 9 and 8 rings. Correcting that will simply take a quick and slight sight adjustment. Now this rifle has fired only 125 rounds, but I do feel like I know her well enough to say that you should be hearing a lot more about her as time goes on. Yes, she’s on the heavy side but to me she’s a real beauty. And I’ll always call her Hannah.
Story and Photos by Mike Nesbitt