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 Betsy” and 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.
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.
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.
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.
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"
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.
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.
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.