The Sharps Carbine Hunter’s Rifle
Among the Model 1874 Sharps rifles made currently by C. Sharps Arms Company, the Carbine Hunter’s Rifle seems to get the least attention. That really isn’t fair because the Carbine Hunter’s Rifle is one of the Sharps versions that is most often found on the “guns in stock gallery.” But there is more to it than just that, because the Carbine Hunter’s Rifle is a very shootable Sharps.Today’s version of the Carbine Hunter’s Rifle is actually a combination of two rifles from the Sharps history. The Hunter’s Rifle was introduced by Sharps in 1875 and it was available in all of the Sharps cartridges at that time. Barrel lengths on the Hunter’s Rifles ranged from 26 to 32 inches but other options remained few because the original Hunter’s Rifle was introduced as an economy model. When the Sharps company made their move to Bridgeport in 1876, the Hunter’s Rifle was kept in the lineup, but it is a rare version of the 1874 Sharps and this model saw a total production of just under 600 guns.
Even rarer is the old Sharps Model 1874 carbine, which was made in both military and commercial styles. The military version had a barrel band about the forearm, while the commercial version had the forearm held on with the two typical screws from the bottom. Chamberings were more restrictive in the carbines and all of the carbines made at Hartford were chambered for the .50-70 cartridge, while the majority of carbines made at Bridgeport used the .45-70 cartridge, but .40-70 and .50-70 were also available. Barrel lengths for the military carbines were generally 22 inches but the commercial carbines most often carried a 25-inch barrel. About 450 of the ’74 carbines were made.
While the Hunter’s Rifle and the civilian carbines are rather similar, there is one very specific difference. The Hunter’s Rifles had front sights that were dovetailed to the barrels, the same as the Sharps Sporting Rifles. The carbines, both military and civilian versions, had front sights that were brazed directly to the barrels.
TODAY’S VERSION OF the Carbine Hunter’s Rifle is a combination of the old Hunter’s Rifles and the civilian carbines. In their current catalog this is shown as the “1874 Carbine Hunter’s Rifle.” It is offered with the barrel lengths of a carbine, 22, 24, and 26 inches, but with the dovetailed front sight of the Hunter’s Rifle. Other barrel characteristics follow the carbine barrels with the short flats on both sides of the barrels just ahead of the action and the “bulge” in the barrels at the breech. What this combination produces is a very handy hunting rifle, ready to be packed by hand in the timber or carried in a saddle scabbard.
At the very beginning of the gun’s description in the C. Sharps Arms catalog there is a list of the cartridges it can be made in. That list begins with the .38-55 and ends with the .50-70, including only the .40-65, .40-70 Sharps Straight, and the .45-70 in between. Those are the cartridges that can do their best in 26-inch or shorter barrel lengths and chambering one of these light rifles for larger cartridges could make the guns rather uncomfortable to shoot. However, if you have desires for a Carbine Hunter’s Rifle chambered for another cartridge, such as the .40-50 for example, don’t hesitate to ask. I could be easily tempted to request one chambered for my favorite .44-77.
My own Carbine Hunter’s Rifle is chambered for the .40-70 SS and it has the 26-inch barrel. It is simply standard and has none of the other options, such as the Hartford style cast German silver nose cap on the forearm. (If I should ever get another Carbine Hunter’s Rifle, I will order that silver nose cap. In my opinion it really adds to the looks of the gun.) The general shape of the forearm includes a Schnabel at the tip, although on my rifle that Schnabel was removed after delivery to give the gun more of an appearance like the old Hunter’s Rifles.
All of the Carbine Hunter’s Rifles come standard with the military style of buttstock and buttplate. This follows along with the way the original carbines and Hunter’s Rifles were fitted. And this model of the 1874 rifles is not particularly a lightweight gun; my .40-70 SS with the 26-inch barrel and fitted with the Distant Thunder tang sight weighs almost 10 pounds.
NOW SOME TALK about the shooting, at least the shooting I’ve done with my own Carbine Hunter’s Rifle. As already mentioned, mine is in .40-70 SS caliber. My favorite load for this rifle includes a 330-grain paper patch bullet over 65 grains of Olde Eynsford 1½ F powder. That duplicates the old .40-70 SS loading and it would do very well as a deer or medium game rifle-cartridge combination, although I have yet to do any hunting with it.
While I haven’t hunted with this rifle as yet, not all of my shots have been aimed at paper targets. Yes, some of my shooting was done right after Halloween so I had a pumpkin to punch. That pumpkin was set out at 60 yards and properly punched with a couple of the paper-patched bullets just to see what their effect might be. To say those shots were effective is putting things mildly and, as you might guess, that pumpkin will never be the same again.
Another load that I like and probably use a bit more than the paper patch load uses a 370-grain bullet from Saeco’s #640 mold over 60 grains of the Olde Eynsford 1½ F powder. This loading shoots very well and the 370-grain bullets were used to get this rifle sighted-in with the new Distant Thunder sporting tang sight. For target use, the 370-grain bullets have performed the best, making tighter groups.
Two of my friends have Carbine Hunter’s Rifles as well and both of them selected .50-70s, perhaps mainly with hunting in mind. Ashley Garman ordered his .50-70 just three days after shooting one of my Sharps in that legendary caliber and he specifically wanted a hunting rifle that would fit a saddle scabbard because he does a lot of hunting from horseback. Bob DeLisle also picked the .50-70 and both of those shooters enjoy using their Carbine Hunter’s Rifles with paper-patched loads, duplicating the old .50-70 sporting loads.
I’ve shot beside Bob DeLisle in some of our short range black powder cartridge matches and I can quickly testify on how well he does with his .50-70, most often competing with the open sights on the barrel. It’s getting rather hard to mention shooting with a .50-70 without mentioning Bob DeLisle.
Let me conclude my description of the Carbine Hunter’s Rifle and the comparison of today’s version with the originals by saying that the old Sharps Company introduced the Hunter’s Rifle as a model that was less expensive than the other Model 1874s.
Today’s C. Sharps Arms Company does likewise because their Carbine Hunter’s Rifle is the least expensive of all of their Model 1874 rifles. It is currently priced at $1,925 (before taxes). I will point out that is only $70 less than the standard price for an 1874 Bridgeport model, because if the buyer wants to add options, the heavier Bridgeport model might be the better way to go. For more information, check out their website at csharpsarms.com.
Story and photos by Mike Nesbitt