When other rifles knock him out of his groove, this black powder shooter reaches for his big, heavy ’74 Hartford to get back on target.
You have probably heard me compliment the .50-70 Sharps rifles before, and the most “pats on the back” in this story go to my C. Sharps Arms ’74 Hartford with the 32-inch number 1½ Heavy barrel. That’s a hefty 13-pound rifle; a very good performer too. It seems like every time I have some difficulties with another rifle, either a black powder cartridge gun or a muzzleloader, I go back to this .50-70 in order to get my bearings and stability again.
This is the rifle that the Accurate Molds bullet number 52-4502L was designed for. The design seemed to be necessary because this rifle would not shoot accurately while using some other bullets. Those other bullets did not carry enough lubricant. They’d shoot a good three-shot group, but then bullets began to fly all over the paper and the last 4 inches or so of the bore would be caked with a hard fouling. So, this bullet was born with wider lube grooves. I like it and the 70problem of “not enough lube” vanished with the first batch of bullets I tried.
Using a 25:1 lead-to-tin alloy, these bullets weigh about 445 grains, or about 20 grains heavier than the Lyman number 515141 bullet. My favorite and most common load with this bullet in the .50-70 burns 65 grains of Olde Eynsford 2F compressed under a .060-inch Walters wad, while the bullet is seated deeply enough that its forward bearing ring is almost out of sight in the mouth of the case. I have tried other loads but keep coming back to this one. It’s a good standard load that gives me confidence, and when I invite other people to shoot the 32-inch-barreled rifle, that’s the load they get to use.
One new shooter who borrowed my heavy .50-70 was Wes Davis, who had been bitten by the black powder cartridge bug but didn’t have a rifle yet. Wes and a partner were going to share a rifle, but I offered to let Wes shoot the .50-70 instead. So, I gave Wes a quick “Sharps lesson,” which included putting the hammer on half-cock before opening the action, plus a couple of “dry fire shots” (with the hammer all the way down so there was no hammer fall) so he could feel the lightness of the set trigger. That all went well. I also told Wes to not be afraid to adjust the sights. He did adjust the sights and his second target, fired at 200 yards, showed that he was much more comfortable with the rifle than he was with his first target. That’s just getting to know the gun. Wes has his own rifle now, a Sharps in .45-70, but I’m sure he will consider getting a .50-70 every now and then. The ol’ .50-70 seems to cast a spell on shooters.
LOADING FOR THE .50-70 with the grease-groove bullets is rather simple. Starting with fired, decapped brass, my first step is to run the cases through the expander die. I generally reload my .50-70 cases without resizing them. This is quite acceptable, especially if the loaded ammo is going to be fired in the same rifle. After expanding the case mouths, which also “rounds out” any cases that might have been dropped or “dented,” the brass is then reprimed. With the new primers in place, the brass is ready for loading.
Each primed case is then charged with powder and that powder is compressed under a fiber wad, by using the expander die, to a depth that will let the bullets be seated properly.
Then the bullets, sized to .512 inch and lubed, are simply seated in the cases with fingertips. Those bullets need to be seated with only a little of the top bearing band exposed, or the loads will be difficult to chamber. And the final step in preparing these loads is to run the loaded rounds through a taper crimp die, which securely holds the bullets in the cases.
I don’t load all my ammunition without sizing the brass; this description only refers to how I usually load my .50-70 ammo. Other cases often require more attention. Likewise, the .50-70 ammo will require resizing if the cartridges are to be used in guns other than the rifle the ammo was previously fired in.
WITH NEW RELOADS well prepared, this .50-70 was ready for a short-range match at our club, where we shoot at 100- and 200-yard targets. Things went well in that match. At first, I spotted targets for a pair of partners, Jerry Mayo and Lynn Willecke, who had their targets side-by-side so both could be seen without adjusting the scope. Then, in the next relay, it was my turn and Jerry spotted for me on my 100-yard target. That went just fine. One shot got sent out of the black, but I will take credit for that simply because I’m the most suspect factor in my shooting.
Then we moved out to 200 yards and, again, I spotted for the two of them while they made their scores. During the break, I wiped the barrel of the .50-70 with just one patch. While shooting, I use a blow tube for fouling control, relying on my moist breath to keep the fouling in the barrel soft. Soon enough they finished their 200-yard targets and we traded places; I sat down behind my cross-sticks and Jerry took over the scope to spot my shots.
My first shot on this target was a good one, at 10 o’clock. By taking good aim for each shot, and shooting without hurrying, only three shots strayed out of the 10-ring. I’ll have to admit that I was rather pleased with this target, my second highest score at 200 yards in our short-range matches. That score was a 96-X for the 10 shots fired.
But again, one of the three shots that strayed out of the 10-ring went out of the black. Like on the 100-yard target, that must be my fault. I still have something to work on.
Our match was not over with those two targets. We always shoot a couple of gong targets after the paper-work is done. Those are the buffalo and the bucket, shot at 200 yards over cross-sticks for the buffalo and at 100 yards offhand for the bucket. We shoot five shots at each of those two targets, starting at 200 yards. I missed the buffalo a couple of times, although just barely, according to Don Kerr who was spotting for Bob Gietz, our range safety officer and scorekeeper. None of our shooters hit the buffalo with all five shots but Allen Cunniff, my Quigley partner, did hit it with four shots from his .45-70. Then we moved to the 100-yard bucket for some offhand shooting. There I did better than expected and hit the bucket with all five offhand shots. In our final scores, Allen and I were tied with eight hits each, but the tie was broken in my favor because I had five offhand hits while Allen had four.
Using this .50-70 in the match was a good choice. It helped me place third on the paper targets and first on the gongs. That’s more than enough to make me feel restabilized. Now my biggest problem will be leaving this .50-70 in the rack while I try shooting with another rifle.
STORY AND PHOTOS BY MIKE NESBITT