Story and photographs by Mike Nesbitt
During my initial try at black-powder, cartridge-rifle silhouettes, the first person I met was Beth Morris. She was the match manager who greeted us, accepted our entry fees and also presented the awards after the shoot. Those tasks would keep any person well occupied; however, during the match was when she really got busy.
Beth is a real shooter: She uses Model 1874 Sharps rifles in “buffalo” calibers, and her stocks are decorated with entry stickers from her many competitions. Those stickers are the real marks of experience, but don’t let me suggest that Beth is the only woman to shoot in those matches, because there are several ladies who compete (and hunt) with black powder rifles. You can find ladies shooting in silhouette and long-range matches, as well as the famous Matthew Quigley buffalo rifle match in Montana this month. As a lady Sharps shooter Beth isn’t alone, but she is outstanding.
The real start for Beth was when she pitched in to help her husband Steve with his bullet casting and reloading. Steve started competing in black powder cartridge rifle (BPCR) silhouette matches 15 years ago and had little time to prepare the ammo the way he wanted it. That’s when Beth learned how to cast bullets and, as she says, one thing led to another.
Her next step was spotting for Steve while he was shooting. A spotter watches for bullet impacts to let the shooter know if any sight adjustments need to be made. Spotting, of course, is done with powerful scopes that can see the bullet’s impact from well over a quarter of a mile away.
Their first BPCR match was at the Powder River Sportsmen’s Club in Baker City, Ore., and both of them quickly got hooked on the sport. Beth’s boss at the time was also competing and they would have lengthy discussions at work about reloading, ballistics, reading and calling wind conditions, plus everything else related to long-range, black-powder-rifle shooting. Beth would then share this knowledge and expertise with Steve.
Beth then got involved in the testing and load development for Steve’s Sharps .45-70. Even though she had only shot a rifle once in her life previously, she started thinking about doing some of the shooting herself. So, after one of the matches she fired her first shot with a black-powder, single-shot Model 1874 Shiloh Sharps in .40-65. On her second shot she knocked down a pig silhouette at 300 meters and was hooked.
Steve was certainly excited about Beth’s shooting, although he might have been a little worried about the extra work it involved. She told him she would start shooting under two conditions: She wanted to do all her own bullet casting, reloading and load development so whatever she achieved would be her own accomplishments from start to finish. She depended on Steve’s support and advice, but she wanted to do the work. The second condition was that if she felt at any time her shooting adversely affected her husband’s enjoyment or ability to compete in the matches, she would quickly quit. Luckily, it turned out to be a great experience for both of them and something that they share a great passion for.
Beth began looking for her first black-powder-cartridge rifle and decided on a .40-65 caliber Pedersoli Rolling Block from Dixie Gun Works. She shot in her first silhouette match with that rifle in September of 2002 and reached a score of seven hits out of the 40 targets. Frankly, that isn’t a bad start, and by December of the next year she was shooting in the NRA AAA Class, which generally means she was hitting 26 to 30 targets out of 40, almost a master-class shooter.
Now, Beth shoots three different .45-70 rifles, all Shiloh Sharps Model 1874s. Beth gives her rifles names, and that to me is revealing because it means she recognizes how each rifle can have a character of its own. We might say that people who name their guns know their guns the best.
Her first rifle is named “Freebie” because Steve won her (all of Beth’s rifles are ladies too) in a drawing at the Idaho State Match. She is a Hartford Model .45-70 with a 30-inch heavy barrel, Montana Vintage Arms front sight and long-range Soule rear sight on the tang. This rifle is also fitted with an MVA 23-inch 6-power scope with a 4 minute-of-angle aperture reticle. Freebie is Beth’s all-around gun for iron sights and scope classes, and she has helped her win several NRA national titles while setting several women’s records. Beth uses Freebie mainly for shooting with a scope, and has fired over 16,000 rounds through her.
Beth’s second rifle is called “The Ninety.” It started out as a .45-90 lightweight hunting rifle, but they sent the gun back to have it fitted with a heavy 30-inch barrel chambered in .45-70, half-round, half-octagon. With this gun, she also uses a Crossno .22-caliber barrel liner for practice, and with the liner she also competes in BPCR .22 long-range silhouette competitions. Those Crossno liners are accurate, and with that combination Beth won the “High Woman” award at the national matches in Raton, N.M., in both 2009 and 2010 as well as the Oregon State .22 Iron Sight Open Championship in 2013. Beth achieved her Master Class in .22 Long Range Silhouette competition with The Ninety in 2013.
“Surely” is the name of Beth’s third Sharps rifle, and it’s very special for several reasons. The only time the NRA Nationals, held at Whittington Center in Raton, ever awarded the Shiloh Sharps rifle trophy to a High Woman Champion was in 2008 when this rifle was presented to Beth Morris who used Surely for the competition.
Surely is a .45-70 Model 1874 No. 3 Sporting Rifle with a heavy 30-inch barrel. It is equipped with an MVA front sight and midrange Soule sight on the tang. Beth named this rifle Surely in honor of her mother, Shirley Merrin who passed away after a brave battle with cancer.
“My mom,” Beth says, “was the rock of our family and could always be counted on to support and encourage us. So my beautiful mother’s spirit now is part of that rifle.”
In 2009 Surely helped Beth achieve her highest finish at the Nationals in Raton. That year Beth finished 5th overall out of 182 shooters, and she won the AAA Class and was the high-scoring woman in both the scope and iron-sight classes.
BETH MORRIS’S SHOOTING ACHIEVEMENTS
2006 NRA National Woman Champion Scope
2008 NRA National Woman Champion Scope and Irons
2009 NRA National Woman Champion Scope and Irons, 1st AAA Class, 5th overall
2010 NRA National Woman Champion Scope and Irons, 6th AAA
2012 NRA National Woman Champion Scope and Irons
2014 NRA National Woman Champion Iron Sights
2013 Oregon State Long Range .22 Silhouette Iron Sight Champion (open)
2014 Oregon State Black Powder Cartridge Rifle Silhouette Scope Champion (open)
NRA National Record for Women in BPCR Iron Sights (coholder)
2 NRA Women’s Team Records in BPCR Iron Sights – 3 Woman Team
Numerous State awards in AAA class (Oregon, Idaho and Montana)
Numerous State High Woman awards (Oregon, Idaho and Montana)
All three of Beth’s rifles have added custom pistol grips that Steve makes out of black walnut. Those grips allow for more control, especially in offhand shooting. Steve also adjusts the trigger pulls on the set triggers of Beth’s Sharps rifles so that all three have a very similar light pull. That allows Beth to switch from one gun to another without any real difference in the feel of those rifles. She says she is very lucky to be married to her gunsmith.
Beth Morris is a Sharps shootin’ gal, for sure. She knows what she’s doin’ and more than a few guys ask her advice on loads and bullet styles, especially for black-powder-cartridge silhouette shooting and those shots out to 500 meters. We might say if you want to see how it is done, just watch Beth while she shoots her Sharps. ASJ
Beth is seen here with “Freebie,” one of her three Sharps .45/70 rifles.