The first successful “falling block” action was patented by American Christian Sharps in 1848. This gun was a breech-loading black powder rifle. Sharps personally never manufactured the gun that even today bears his name, instead he chose to accept royalties from A. S. Nippes of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. During the American Civil War, the Sharps rifle became very popular and was coveted by cavalry, especially Confederate soldiers.
With the advent of the self-contained metallic cartridge, the single-shot Sharps became even more popular with target shooters and commercial hunters. Unfortunately, buffalo hunters with Sharps rifles caused the near extinction of the American Bison.
Falling block rifles are extremely strong and accurate rifles. Over time they have been chambered in cartridges as small as .17 HMR and as large as the .458 Winchester. The guns are operated with a lever on the underside of the receiver. Pressing the lever down causes the solid steel breech block to drop below the breech; then a cartridge is inserted in the chamber; the lever pulled up bringing the breech block back up into the receiver and placing the rifle into battery ready for firing. When the breech block is locked into the receiver, it becomes a solid block of steel that is incredibly strong. The Sharps rifle has an external hammer that must be cocked before the gun is ready to fire. More modern falling blocks have internal hammers that are cocked when the operating lever is cycled.
Some of the historic falling block guns of the late 1880s besides the Sharps are the Mylonas, the Ballard, the Farquharson rifle, the 1890 Stevens, and perhaps the strongest falling block of all, the John Browning designed 1885 Winchester.
Today, Ruger leads all manufacturers in sales with its great No. 1 single shot falling block rifle. This great American rifle is chambered in several cartridges including the potent 450/400 Nitro Express 3 inch. A check of the Ruger website shows that five different models are currently offered. Winchester also offers the 1885 Winchester in limited quantities. These are special edition guns offered in two models; the High Wall for powerful center-fire cartridges and the Lo Wall in various rimfires. Other modern manufacturers of falling block rifles include Dakota Arms, Pedersoli, and Uberti. If you are looking for a classic rifle with modern engineering and metallurgy, the Shiloh Rifle Company of Big Timber Montana will build you the very best available, right here in our home state. Think “Quigley Down Under” and you will understand the beauty of the rifles made in Big Timber.
The single-shot falling block rifle is strong, safe, compact, and extremely accurate. They can be found in just about any caliber a hunter or shooter can imagine. For the skilled “one shot” hunter or target shooter, the falling block rifle just might be the gun for you.
Be safe and good shooting.