Military Wiki
.50-90 Sharps
Sharps 50-90.jpg
.50-90 Sharps cartridges
Type Black-powder rifle
Place of origin USA
Service history
Used by USA
Production history
Designer Sharps Rifle Manufacturing Company
Designed 1872
Manufacturer Sharps Rifle Manufacturing Company
Produced 1875
Variants .50-100, .50-110
Parent cartridge .50 Basic
Case type Rimmed, straight-taper
Bullet diameter .512 in (13.0 mm)
Neck diameter .528 in (13.4 mm)
Shoulder diameter .528 in (13.4 mm)
Base diameter .585 in (14.9 mm)
Rim diameter .663 in (16.8 mm)
Case length 2.50 in (64 mm)
Overall length 3.20 in (81 mm)
Primer type Large rifle
Ballistic performance
Bullet weight/type Velocity Energy
365 gr (24 g) FN 1,814 ft/s (553 m/s) 2,668 ft·lbf (3,617 J)
440 gr (29 g) FN 1,749 ft/s (533 m/s) 2,989 ft·lbf (4,053 J)
550 gr (36 g) FN 1,448 ft/s (441 m/s) 2,561 ft·lbf (3,472 J)
Source(s): Accurate black powder[1]

The .50-90 Sharps rifle cartridge is a black-powder cartridge that was introduced by Sharps Rifle Manufacturing Company in 1872 as a buffalo (American bison) hunting round. Like other large black-powder rounds, it incorporates a heavy bullet and a large powder volume, leading to high muzzle energies. It is the most powerful round that an 1874 Sharps rifle could use.


The .50-90 Sharps is similar to the .50-100 Sharps and .50-110 Sharps cartridges. While all three use the same 2.5-inch (64 mm) case, the latter two use lighter bullets weighing from 335 grains to 400 grains (with the .50-90 using a 600 grain bullet). All rifles made for the .50-90 Sharps should be able to use the .50-110 and .50-100 cartridges due to the case dimensions being nearly identical.

Bullet diameter was typically 0.512 inches (13.0 mm) diameter. Bullets weighed from 335 to 700 grains (21.7 to 45.4 g). Historical loads using black powder have muzzle energy in the 1,630 to 1,985 foot-pounds force (2,210 to 2,691 J) range,[2] while modern loads using smokeless powder give 2,561 to 2,989 foot-pounds force (3,472 to 4,053 J) of energy.[1]


Shiloh Sharps rifle with .50-90 Sharps cartridges

The .50-90 was created specifically with buffalo hunting in mind. The buffalo is a large animal and difficult to take down reliably, leading to a demand for cartridges designed for buffalo hunting. At the time of its invention, there were no special powders or bullet types, and the knowledge of ballistics was fairly limited. Thus, when trying to create a more effective big game cartridge, the designers simply expanded the dimensions of prior cartridges.[3]

Billy Dixon used a Sharps .50-90 at the Second Battle of Adobe Walls on June 27, 1874 to make his legendary 1,538-yard shot.[4][5]

Today the round is obsolete. Ammunition is no longer mass-produced by any manufacturer. Brass and bullets are produced, but loaded ammunition must either come from a custom shop or be handloaded. Rifles are produced only as semi-custom by a few companies. Rifles in this caliber are typically used for buffalo hunting and reenactments. Occasionally .50-90 rifles are used for vintage competitions, but the commercial availability of other contemporary cartridges such as .45-70 makes them much more popular.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Accurate Smokeless Powders Loading Guide Number Two (Revised), Book by Accurate Arms Co, Wolfe Publishing, 2000 p.368
  2. Buffalo Cartridges by Chuck Hawks
  3. Cartridges of the World 8th Edition, Book by Frank C. Barnes, DBI Books, 1997, ISBN 0-87349-178-5 p. 140
  4. Buffalo hunters and Indians clash at Adobe Walls
  5. Replicating Billy Dixon's Legendary Long-Shot

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