Pedersoli Sharps Small Game and Little Betsy: two vintage lightweights

Action of Pedersoli “Little Betsy”
The “Little Betsy” action made of white metal with unpretentious engraving

We've often said that part of the problem with producing replicas of famous arms consists in respecting the vocation but, for many Pedersoli products and those in the Sharps range in particular, this requisite has not only been satisfied, it's been surpassed.

In this case, we're referring to the fact that Pedersoli, in the Sharps range, has produced replicas that are exactly like the original in terms of special versions, design, mechanism, and aesthetic charm. The guns we'll be looking at today, the Sharps Little Betsyand the Small Game”, are designed for those who want a compact, lightweight gun that's strong and reliable too.

The history of the Sharps rifle

When they were launched in 1848, Sharps rifles were well received, but it was the 1874 breech loading model that made Sharps a legend.

This rifle, produced in various calibres, from the original .52 to .45-70 Gov., was characterised by an impressive square receiver. On early versions it was screwed onto the barrel, while later it was fixed to the stock by a large projecting tang. The gun had a falling-block action, sealed at the end by a solid metal breechblock that slid vertically in grooves. It was activated by a lever that also acted as a trigger guard.

Breechblock 
The breechblock fully lowered (open)
View of cam system
A detailed view of the cam system used to transfer the action of the lever to the breechblock

The rifle had an external hammer and either a single set trigger or a “stecher” double set trigger.

The manual repeater rifle was loaded by lowering the lever to open the chamber.

The ammunition was loaded one at a time in the breach, using the top part of the breechblock, suitably shaped with a semi-circular groove, as a loading ramp.

Once the rifle had been loaded, the lever went back into place under the triggers to act as a trigger guard, then you simply cocked the hammer to shoot.

The empty cartridge case was removed in two stages: first, the lever was lowered to “open the chamber” and the case was extracted with a suitable extractor, after which you could remove the case by hand.

At the time the hunting rifle was renowned for its long-range accuracy and reliability, and was often used by buffalo hunters.

View of barrel
A view from above of the barrel on the “Little Betsy”, fit to the wooden forend
Lever of the Pedersoli Little Betsy
There was no safety on the “Little Betsy” lever

The Pedersoli Sharps

Flicking through the Davide Pedersoli catalogue you'll see that there are around thirty different versions of the “Sharps” rifle.

The range includes versions like the 1859, 1862 and 1863 “Cavalry Carbine” that take cartridges and use a percussion cap and nipple, the more modern 1874 to 1877 versions use modern cartridge case ammunition with an incorporated primer.

Many of these guns have appeared on the big screen, in films like “Cold Mountain” or the latest version of “True Grit”.

As well as the standard versions, there are also the more prestigious “Deluxe” versions and numerous specials, like the “Old West Maple”, “Extra Deluxe”, and limited editions engraved by master craftsmen. 

Lightweight versions

Action of rifle
The action has been streamlined and redesigned to give it a rounded form
Upper groove in the action
The upper groove in the action, which acts as a guide when loading the cartridge. Note the classic ejector

The idea to produce a lightweight version of the Sharps rifle dates back to the 1870's, and the 1862 model, known as the “Cavalry Carbine”.

Another famous lightweight Sharps rifle is the 1877, also produced by Pedersoli, which is characterised by a lightweight action combined with a new firelock and a long barrel to improve precision on long-range shots.

Pedersoli Sharps view
The general streamlining of the dimensions also gives the gun a "light" look

The modern “light” cal.22 LR version is sober and essential, and has been a discrete success in the US as a gun used for “plinking”, as the Americans call target shooting for fun.

"Small Game" and "Little Betsy"

Walnut stock of Pedersoli “Little Betsy”
The American walnut stock with an English grip on the “Little Betsy” rifle

The study of the original guns led to the production of two very similar replicas in terms of mechanisms, but with some differences in the design and intended use. The result was the Sharps “Little Betsy” and “Small Game”.

These particular versions, intended for those who want a compact and lightweight rifle, are made out of the same forged blanks as the “1874” series, which are then milled to give the action its rounded form to streamline the gun and reduce weight. The barrels have also been shortened and thinned down.

Fine alloys with a high carbon content are used, which increases the mechanical resistance of the parts when heat treated.

Pedersoli Sharps “Small Game” rear sight
The “Small Game” version is a hunting rifle with a classic rear sight
Safety on the loading lever
The safety on the loading lever prevents the lever being accidentally opened, and derives from the army version

The other metal parts are cut out of forged blanks by the latest CNC machines, then hand finished and fit to the select American walnut stock by specialists.

In our opinion the choice of calibres is singular and complete for the Sharps .45-70, ranging from the cheaper .22 L.R. to the high velocity .22 Hornet and .17HMR, the versatile .30-30 or .38-55 Winchester.

Obviously the percussion extraction systems are different for the “Rimfire” versions, based on the original Sharps “Bench Rest” design and the “Centerfire” versions, faithful replicas of the original American design.

Barrels
The barrels of the new rifles, thinner that the target shooting models, with a burnished finish
Stock of Pedersoli Sharps
The stock is oil finished
Metal butt
The metal butt
Technical drawing of extraction system 
Technical drawing of the “Centerfire” extraction system, based on the original Sharps system
Technical drawing rimfire
For the Rimfire models, Pedersoli completely revisited the extraction system, which uses the bottom section of the breechblock
Front sight
The “Little Betsy” has a peep and tube sight, while the “Small Game” rifle has a naked front sight
Rear peep sight
A detailed view of the rear peep sight

The most prominent strong point of the “Little Game”, designed specifically for hunting, is its simplicity: the single trigger mechanism, the blade front sight and adjustable rear sight are evident proof of this. 

A peep sight can also be mounted on the tortoiseshell finish action however.

 

As this rifle is intended for hunting, the designers have included a safety button to prevent accidentally opening the breechblock, based on that of the Sharps army rifle.

Finally, the low price is definitely worthy of note, placing both guns in an interesting market segment for youngsters who want a strong, lightweight, well-finished rifle that can be used for plinking and hunting small game, obviously in areas where these activities are permitted.




For more info visit Davide Pedersoli & C. website

This article is also available in this language: