.45-70 Government: The Ultimate Guide

The .45-70 Government is a legendary centerfire rifle cartridge that has been in continuous production since the late 19th century. Originally designed in 1873 as a black powder cartridge for the U.S. military, the .45-70 Gov’t has evolved over the years to remain one of the most versatile and popular big game hunting rounds available today.

Captain Hunter’s .45-70 Gov Key Points

  • The .45-70 Gov ammo was introduced in 1873 and was the standard service cartridge of the U.S. Army through the Indian Wars. It has a storied history of military use.
  • Modern factory loads using smokeless powder offer vastly improved ballistics and make the .45-70 a highly effective short to medium range hunting cartridge.
  • With proper bullets, the .45-70 can humanely take all North American big game including elk, moose, caribou, black bear, and grizzly bear.
  • Though ballistically limited compared to high velocity magnum cartridges, the .45-70 shines in thick brush and heavy timber hunting situations.
  • The mild recoil, affordable ammunition cost, and good versatility combine to keep the .45-70 popular among American hunters to this day.

History and Development of the 45-70

The .45-70 was born out of necessity in the early 1870s when the U.S. military needed a new service cartridge to replace the inefficient .50-70 Gov black powder round. They wanted a versatile cartridge capable of taking all game for sustenance hunting that also offered long range accuracy and knockdown power against hostile forces.

After testing several calibers and loads for trapdoor breech-loading rifles, the Army settled on a .45 caliber (0.458”) bullet weighing 405 grains propelled by 70 grains of black powder. The rimmed straight case held 45 grains of powder and had a length of 2.1 inches, resulting in the designation “.45-70 Government”.

This became the standard military rifle cartridge from 1873 through 1894 when it was itself replaced by the smokeless powder .30-40 Krag cartridge. However, the .45-70 Gov’t served for over 20 years through the Indian Wars in the American West. Cavalry units used Trapdoor Springfield carbines and Gatling guns chambered in .45-70 Gov’t to deadly effect against Native warriors.

.45-70 Bullet Configuration and Design

The original .45-70 loads used a 405 grain lead bullet driven at approximately 1,350 feet per second from firearms with a .458 caliber barrel. This produced just over 1,600 ft-lbs of muzzle energy. With the introduction of smokeless powder, velocities increased significantly. However, the need to safely feed through tubular magazines means most modern .45-70 factory ammo uses either a flat point or round nose bullet.

There are also “Leverevolution” style loads offered by Hornady that use a soft, flexible polymer spire point on the bullet to improve ballistic coefficient and longer range performance while allowing safe use in a tubular magazine. For handloaders willing to single feed each cartridge, the .45-70 can also shoot heavier, pointed bullets for big game hunting.

Typical bullet weights for the .45-70 Gov range from 300 to 405 grains though there are specialty loads with lighter or heavier bullets available. The most common current bullet designs for the .45-70 are:

  • Round Nose Flat Point (RNFP) – Simple yet effective and feeds safely from magazines. Common weights between 300 and 405 grains. Good balance of expansion and penetration.
  • Flat Nose Lead (FNL) – Another good option for tubular magazine fed rifles. Typically weigh 300 to 350 grains. Provide deep penetration but minimal expansion.
  • Spire Point or Flex Tip (SP/FTX) – Hornady FTX and Remington SP bullets have a flexible polymer tip over soft lead core with tapered copper jacket allowing modest expansion while feeding safely. Weigh between 250 and 325 grains. Much improved ballistics over traditional lead tip bullets.

45-70 Ballistic Performance

The .45-70 shoots heavy, moderately fast bullets that strike targets with authority and penetrate deeply into thick skinned game. However, it does not have a particularly flat trajectory compared to high velocity rifle cartridges. The table below illustrates typical .45-70 ballistics performance from a 24” barrel length:

Bullet Type/Weight Velocity (fps) Energy (ft-lb) Trajectory (inches) 100/200/300 yds

300 gr FNL 2,050 2,850 +1.5/0/-27.0
325 gr FTX 2,025 2,950 +1.5/0/-29.0
405 gr LFN 1,330 1,475 +2.0/+3.5/-32.0

While certainly not spectacular by modern standards, these ballistics deliver excellent performance under 150 yards – which is the realistic range most hunters will encounter big game animals like deer, bear, hogs, elk, or moose. The heavy bullet weights produce deep penetration through bone and heavy muscle. When proper expanding bullet designs are used, the .45-70 also provides enough shock and tissue damage for quick, humane kills.

At longer ranges, the rainbow trajectory and rapid velocity bleed off means precise range estimation and holdover correction becomes critical. This ballistic limitation is really the only downside to the versatile .45-70 Gov’t.

.45-70 Hunting Applications and Uses

From thick wooded swamps to the wide open tundra, the .45-70 round has proven itself as one of the most effective all-around North American hunting cartridges of all time. It has been used to take virtually every big game species on the continent and remains extremely popular for hunting:

  • Deer
  • Black Bear
  • Hogs
  • Elk
  • Moose
  • Bison
  • Brown & Grizzly Bears
  • Bighorn Sheep
  • Caribou

It is also a fine choice for African plains game like kudu, zebra, wildebeest and gemsbok where short range shots are the norm. The .45/70 Gov has more than enough power to quickly put down these species.

In addition to big game hunting, the cartridge has always been popular for self defense against dangerous animals in the backcountry. Its stopping power and the compact lever action rifles commonly chambered for 45-70 ammo make it an ideal “guide gun”.

There is no other cartridge/rifle combination you’d rather have by your side than a Marlin 1895 Guide Gun in .45-70 Gov’t when going against angry grizzly bears in thick bush!

The .45-70 is often used for hunting heavy cover where ranges are short, shots come quickly, and power to stop dangerous game is paramount. It pairs extremely well with smooth operating lever action rifles in these situations.

45/70 Availability and Variants

As one of the most enduring and popular big game hunting cartridges in existence, the .45-70 bullet is widely available both online and in retail stores. Nearly every major ammunition brand offers multiple factory loads tailored for hunting purposes. Boutique ammunition makers also produce high end .45-70 rounds.

On the low end, hunters will find basic practice rounds leaning towards the performance of the original black powder era .45-70 ballistics. For general hunting use, most companies offer mid-range loads using 300-350 grain bullet weights with modest velocities around 1,900 feet per second from a 24” rifle barrel.

Top tier loads meant for the largest game tend to use 400-500 grain bullets pushed to about 2,000 fps or heavier 330-350 grain flex tip bullets at up to 2,300 fps velocity. There are even specialty “maximum” loads exceeding 2,500 fps with 300 grain bullets specifically intended for wealthy handgun hunters. While not officially designated as such, these may essentially be considered “+P” level .45-70 loads.

It should be noted that while the .45-70 Gov may be loaded to vastly higher pressures in strong modern firearms, owners of antique cartridge guns like early Winchesters, Marlins, and Springfields should generally stick to low pressure rounds comparable to original black powder ballistics. Shooters should always carefully inspect their rifle barrel markings for any pressure limitations indicated.

Reloading brass cases for the .45/70 Gov’t is also extremely popular, both for better ballistic performance through precise handloading and economy compared to factory offerings. Handloaders can carefully work up loads using high quality brass, primers, powders and bullets tailored to their specific needs and the capabilities of their firearm.

Can You Hunt Deer With a 45-70?

With proper expanding bullets, the .45-70 round is arguably the best all-around deer hunting cartridge in North America. It has more than enough power to ethically take whitetails and mule deer sized game under all conditions and ranges a typical hunter will encounter.

Unlike other powerful rounds often touted as “overkill” for deer – .338 Win Mag for instance – the slow, heavy bullets of the .45-70 penetrate deeply through muscle and bone to destroy vital organs without destroying large amounts of surrounding meat. This balances knockdown power against edible meat preservation.

Unlike hype surrounding many new cartridges, there is no question the .45-70 bullet has cleanly and humanely harvested many millions of deer over its 150 year history – long before the current trend of ultra high velocity “deer rifles”. Its versatility against all species and availability in easy carrying lever action rifles helps explain why the .45-70 remains so popular among American deer hunters.

Why is 45-70 Ammo So Expensive?

Considering it shoots heavy cast lead or simple soft point bullets rather than precision machined projectiles, some hunters wonder why good .45-70 hunting ammo costs $2-$3 per round or more. There are a couple primary reasons for this:

  1. Large Rifling Band – Bullets for the .45-70 carry unusually wide grease grooves to properly engage with rifles. This requires more lead per bullet driving up material costs over a typical 30 caliber round.
  2. Limited Demand – Unlike high volume cartridges used for popular sports shooting like 9mm or .223 Remington, .45-70 ammunition serves a relatively small niche hunter market. Margins necessarily run thinner trying to profit from such low manufacturing runs.

How Powerful is the 45-70?

When used in strong modern firearms, the .45/70 Gov is easily one of the top 10 most powerful hunting cartridges commercially available today – some loads exceeding .375 H&H ballistics! Firing heavy 400+ grain bullets at over 2,000 fps velocity, the .45-70 Gov hits targets like a runaway freight train yet shoots mild enough for smaller-framed adults and youth hunters to comfortably handle.

For perspective, Buffalo Bore’s stout 405 grain .45-70 load leaves the muzzle at 2,040 fps with over 4,100 ft-lbs of energy. That’s nearly triple the punch of a hot loaded 30-06! Handloaders can carefully work up similar loads using quality brass, primers, and powders to take full advantage of the large case capacity.

Make no mistake – the .45/70 has more than enough power for the largest North American game and remains popular as a backup gun by many diehard African PH’s guiding dangerous game hunts. Don’t let its age or cowboy looks fool you; this grandpappy hits HARD!

Safety Considerations of the.45-70 Round

While most factory loaded .45-70 ammo follows SAAMI pressure standards to ensure safe use, there are exceptions. As with any cartridge, hunters should thoroughly understand their rifle’s limitations and always start low working up carefully towards maximum loads. Warning signs like sticky extraction, blown primers, weeping case heads indicate dangerous pressures.

Beyond cup and case integrity, the stout recoil of some .45/70 Gov’t loads also warrants consideration. Heavier rifles obviously tame recoil forces better than lightweight lever actions. Even moderate loads in a 6 lb carbine translate into meaningful free recoil energy that impacts shootability for many people.

Remember that shot placement trumps power every time. Hunt only with loads you can confidently control and shoot accurately. Practice diligently from field shooting positions replicating hunting scenarios to ensure you know exactly where your .45-70 Gov rifle shoots. Confidence in hard earned skill trumps magnum power every time for consistent, ethical kills.

Tips for Effective Shooting With the .45/70

Here are 7 quick tips for honing your shooting skills with the .45-70 round:

1) Learn your rifle’s maximum point blank range at the chosen zero and stay within it for high percentage shots on game animals.

2) Dial-in a specific zero range best fitting your needs instead of a generic “3-inch high at 100 yards” zero. Know EXACTLY where your gun shoots.

3) Memorize hold points required for increased distances and PRACTICE shooting using hold over to internalize. You should not need to think about holdover adjustments in the heat of the moment.

4) Use a bore sighting tool and verify zero at the range often. Transport over rough terrain via ATV or horseback can shift impact. Reconfirm before hunting.

5) Always use hearing protection when practicing. The .45-70 produces significant muzzle blast and recoil forces that strain eardrums. Don’t flinch in anticipation when it counts.

6) Consider reloading to fine tune loads specifically achieving your rifle’s accuracy potential while managing recoil. Premium components deliver superior performance over bulk packed factory fodder.

7) Finally, respect the power of the .45-70 Gov through diligent gun handling technique. Slow, careful shooting is fast shooting. Don’t get casual simply because modern rifles contain greater energy than old black powder loads of yesteryear.

Wrap Up

More than a century after its introduction, the .45/70 Government cartridge continues going strong as one of the most popular centerfire rifle rounds with American hunters. Combining time-proven terminal performance on big game with affordable shooting in compact, quick-handling firearms helps explain its enduring success generation after generation. Hunted alongside soldiers at Little Bighorn, the .45-70 Gov remains a trusted friend watching over hunters stalking white tails in the modern deer woods. This classic American workhorse simply gets the job done.

Captain Hunter is a seasoned hunting mentor with over 20 years of experience in the field. His passion began as a young man on trips with his father and grandfather in the Colorado mountains. Today, he shares his unmatched skills in survival, tracking, and marksmanship through his website CaptainHunter.com. When he's not volunteering with youth hunting programs, you can find Captain Hunter providing expert hunting tips, gear reviews, and answers to your most pressing questions. His decades of experience make him the trusted guide to help any outdoorsman master the sport.

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