a.k.a. the 45-120 Sharps
a.k.a. the 3 1/4" Sharps
Photos below are of a
1885 Hi-Wall by Uberti - 32" Tapered Octagon Barrel - Crescent Butt with Cleaning Rod Compartment - Weight approx. 11 pounds
Blacksmith Makes The 5" Belt Buckle
(Wal-Mart doesn't carry these.)
Making Cartridge Belt & 4 Cartridge Carrier
A Little About the 45-120 in general
The 45-120 Sharps cartridge came out in 1879-80. The case alone is 3 1/4 inches in length. It is the largest of the old (American) 45 caliber black powder rifle cartridges and sufficiently powerful to bring down any North American game animal. It is not for the faint of heart however ... it can kick the snot right out of you! But it is fun, and will definitely catch the attention of the folks at the range. A cartridge belt filled with these (the belt should be 5" in width by the way) is a real crowd pleaser. It isn't easy to find a belt buckle large enough for a belt of this size... if you're of a mind to make one. I had a blacksmith custom make a buckle for me (see photos above.) The inside diameter of the buckle is 5 inches.
Black powder cartridge lovers know that many cartridges of the day were called what they actually were. For example; the venerable old 45-70 shot a 45 caliber bullet propelled by 70 grains of black powder. The US Army's infantry load shot a 405 grain bullet, so the complete cartridge designation was 45-70-405 (although the load for cavalry carbines was reduced to 55 grains of black powder so as to reduce recoil while shooting from horseback.) The 38-40 and 44-40 cartridges shot 38 caliber and 44 caliber bullets respectively and their cases held 40 grains of black powder. The 38-55 rifle cartridge shot a 38 caliber bullet propelled by 55 grains of black powder... and so on. The Colt 45 was an exception to this rule. It's 45 caliber bullet was propelled by 40 grains of black powder, but as far as I know no one ever called it a 45-40. Anyway, most of these old brass cases were what we now call the "balloon head" design. As the name implies, the inside dimensions were more hollowed out than modern cases. The walls were thinner in the head area and therefore the case held more powder. The advent of "solid head" cases made them stronger, but reduced the inside dimensions of the case and thus, powder volume. Therefore, a modern 45-70 (solid head) case will not actually hold 70 grains of black powder (a 38-40 won't hold 40 grains of black powder, a 38-55 won't hold 55 grains of black powder, a 45 Colt won't hold 40 grains of black powder... and so on.)
When I purchased a 45-120 I thought that it probably would not hold 120 grains of black powder anyway... which was how I convinced myself the recoil wouldn't be too bad. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the case actually does hold 120 grains of black powder. Woops! How did that happen? The 38-55 came out later than the 45-120 and used balloon head cases. Hm-m-m-m... it's puzzling. The only thing I can figure is that the volume of the balloon head in a three and a quarter inch long case is so small compared to its overall capacity that the relative volume reduction is negligible.
Speaking of recoil, I have shot two different rifles chambered in 45-120. One had a shotgun butt and the other (mine) has a crescent butt. You might think that a shotgun style butt would absorb the recoil better... and hurt less. Not so. At least not in my case.
A shotgun style butt is held against the shoulder, while a crescent butt is held against the base of the arm (the curve in the crescent is designed to fit around the arm, not against the shoulder.) Recoil directed straight into my shoulder rattles my cage more than recoil directed onto my arm. My arm gives easily, so it goes with the flow so-to-speak, whereas my shoulder is closer to my head and the recoil rattles my brains. A friend of mine is just the opposite. He doesn't mind a shotgun butt pounding his shoulder, but his whole upper arm turned black-n-blue shooting my crescent butt. The moral of the story? If you are interested in a black powder cartridge rifle but worried about that wicked looking steel, crescent butt plate, try it before you decide. You just might like it. But BEWARE! Do not hold it against your shoulder... keep it out on your arm. And stand up straight so it can rock you back... don't lean into it. Don't fight it... you won't win. Let it knock you back. And I don't recommend shooting a 45-120 from the prone position either. It just might push your shoulder down into your ribs. When shooting a big gun stand up on your hind legs like a man.
I have found that a smokeless powder popular with the cowboy action folks, Trail Boss, is good for concocting light loads for the 45-120. By "light" I mean 45-70 equivalent velocities out of the 45-120. Now, the 45-70 is no lightweight. It's plenty good for buffalo, but then all things are relative.
My favorite smokeless powder for the 45-120 is Accurate 5744. I won't say what powder weights I use... you can look those up for yourself on Accurate's website and work up your own load.
Here are a couple of things to keep in mind about the 45-120. ..
Yes, it is a crowd pleaser. Yes, it increases velocities over the 45-70 cartridge using the same bullet. Yes, it will take any game on this continent. However, it is still a blackpowder cartridge that shoots heavy bullets, which means trajectories are rainbow-like. If you want flat trajectories, this cartridge is not for you. Which brings up another point that has dawned on me recently while blasting away at gongs out at the range. Much of the point of increasing the case length and thus, the powder charge, is to make it easier to shoot heavier bullets. Heavier bullets mean deeper penetration, and some really big, thick-skinned critters require a lot of penetration to bring down. If you go from a 405 gr. bullet in a 45-70 to say a 500 gr. bullet or even heavier you will necessarily have to reduce your powder charge due to limited volume... your case is filled up with lead, leaving less room for powder. However, with the 45-120 you can load an awful heavy bullet and still have lots of space left for powder. This is assuming of course that you are loading blackpowder or blackpwder equivalent. With smokeless you can load it up as hot as your gun will stand... or until your arm gets knocked off your shoulder, whichever comes first.
An interesting story
Clarence Mulford wrote the Hopalong Cassidy series of books beginning in the early 1900's. In fact, I read somewhere that it was he who introduced and popularized the whole idea of serial fiction books (he also wrote a series of Bob Corson books.) Anyway, after his books became popular he began spending more time in the west familiarizing himself with real cowboys and real-life old west paraphernalia. One of the things he took a particular interest in was the firearms of that era. Because of his interest in black powder cartridge guns and his subsequent experience shooting them, his stories became quite realistic in how those guns were portrayed. Other writers have their characters doing things like shooting buffalo with a 36 caliber cap-n-ball revolver (Louis L'Mour) or a 44 rim fire Henry (Dances With Wolves.) But not Clarence Mulford... he knew better. In fact, the plots in some of Mulford's stories revolve around specific attributes of some of those old-time cartridges... including the 45-120.
Note: Hollywood's version of Hopalong Cassidy bears almost no resemblance to Mulford's books... which is a downright shame! Worse still, I heard that the actor who played Hopalong in the movies bought up the rights to the books, thus reducing the possibility that anyone will ever make a decent movie using Mulford's colorful characters.
Anyway, in one story the hero is chasing a bad guy across the prairie when the bad guy suddenly stops, gets off his horse, takes out his lever gun and rests it across his saddle to take steady aim at the distant but rapidly approaching hero. (The bad guy is thus shielded by his horse.) The good guy stops, jumps off his horse and pulls out his 45-120 Sharps. He takes careful aim, then shoots the bad guy... straight through the saddle, horse and all!
Of course modern Hollywood wouldn't touch this story with a ten-foot pole, what with the animal rights people keeping an eye on such things. But Mulford's stories do reflect his familiarity with the capabilities of the arms of that era.
One final thing...
I am often surprised that many shooters are not aware that a bullet crosses their line of sight twice. A common misconception is that, in terms of altitude, a bullet starts out at zero, goes pretty straight for awhile and then starts to curve towards earth. Strictly speaking, the bullet does do that, but not in relation to the shooter's line of sight.
The shooter's line of sight is straight (assuming a reasonable degree of sobriety) while the path of the bullet is curved (or at least it is until it hits something.) Now consider... the sights sit atop of the rifle's barrel. You aren't actually looking through the bore when the gun goes off. I suppose a single lens reflex system (like on a 35mm camera) could be employed, but that would necessitate a time lag in ignition, rather like shooting a flintlock, which most modern shooters would, no doubt, consider to be rather irksome.
Anyway, as currently conceived and practiced, rifle sights are adjusted to intersect with the path of the bullet as it rises to the line of sight. Then the bullet crosses the line of sight and keeps rising. Then, for a little while, the bullet is actually above the line of sight (hits high.) Eventually it starts falling towards earth and once again crosses the shooter's line of sight. So the question becomes: At what two distances do the path of the bullet and the line of sight intersect?
Generally speaking, with large caliber bullets at relatively slow speeds (such as you get with muzzleloaders, black powder cartridges and modern pistol cartridges) the two points of intersection are at about 50 yards and 100 yards. In other words, if you sight your gun (muzzleloader, black powder cartridge gun or pistol) in at 50 yards, you will also be right on at about 100 yards as well. At less than 50 yards you will hit slightly low. At 75 yards, slightly high. After 100 yards your bullet will start falling towards earth rather quickly.
Modern, high-velocity calibers stretch this whole thing out over a greater distance, but the concept is the same. Your bullet crosses your line of sight twice, so you will be right on at two different distances, high in between and low before & after.
The photo (below) is of a Colt Walker (Uberti of course) cap-n-ball revolver caught on film at the precise instant of ignition... a lucky shot! The charge was about 60 grains of black powder and a .451 round ball.
Fanning a 45 LC loaded with black powder is sort of smoky!
Click to enlarge