Best Uses For The .45-70 Round

The .45-70 Government cartridge has been one of my favorite rounds since I first learned to hunt from my grandfather decades ago. This venerable cartridge may be old, but it still packs a punch. In this guide for both novice and expert hunters alike, I’ll cover everything you need to know to make the most of the .45-70 on your hunts.

We’ll explore the history and background of the .45-70, examine the cartridge’s ballistic capabilities and performance, discuss firearms chambered for this round, go over my top ammo recommendations, and outline the best uses for this cartridge when hunting different game.

I’ll also share some personal stories and hard-learned lessons from my many seasons chasing game with a trusty .45-70 rifle in hand. So strap in for the ride as we delve into why I believe the .45-70 Government remains one of the most versatile and enduring cartridges for large-game hunters.

A Bit of Backstory on the .45-70 Government

The .45-70 cartridge traces its lineage back to the early 1870s when it was adopted by the U.S. military for use in the Springfield 1873 trapdoor rifle. Designed as a black powder cartridge, the 45-70 packs a big punch – perfect for taking down enemy combatants.

It also saw plenty of action in the Indian Wars and was used with deadly effectiveness by buffalo hunters who prized it for the cartridge’s ability to drop a 2,000-lb bison with one well-placed shot.

I can still remember the gleam in my grandfather’s eye as he would regale me with stories of buffalo hunters and their lever-action 45-70s. His tales ignited within me an appreciation for both the cartridge and the history behind it.

When smokeless powder emerged onto the scene, manufacturers started producing very hot .45-70 loads intended for modern firearms. However, this also resulted in catastrophes when used in older weapons not designed for these pressures. Safety is paramount, so make sure to use ammo aligned to your rifle’s specifications.

These days, the .45-70 enjoys immense popularity thanks to renewed interest in lever-action rifles chambered for this cartridge. Its versatility also makes it an excellent choice as a brush gun or truck gun when hunting hogs, black bear, deer, elk, and other sizable game.

The .45-70 Government cartridge has been used to take all manner of big game for over 140 years and counting.

.45-70 Ballistics, Load Variations & Rifle Options

One reason I’m enamored with the .45-70 is its versatility as a cartridge. With the right load and rifle, it can serve as an excellent short to mid-range big-game hunting round.

That said, not all .45-70 loads exhibit the same ballistic profile. Velocity, energy transfer, and trajectory can vary pretty widely based on bullet grain weight and the amount of powder behind it.

Most factory loads use bullet weights ranging from 300 grains up to 500 grains, with velocities running from just shy of 1,400 fps on the low end up to over 2,100 fps for the hottest loads. Bears and hogs beware!

I advise experimenting with different factory loads and bullet designs to see what shoots best in your rifle before deciding on your go-to hunting ammo. Lever-actions, single shots, and bolt-actions all have certain loads they tend to prefer.

When pairing ammunition with a firearm, you’ll want to ensure your gun can handle the pressures of hot versus mild .45-70 loads. Point of impact can also shift significantly between light and heavy bullets.

In terms of compatible firearms, there are plenty of new and second-hand smoke-pole options out there for the .45-70:

  • Lever-Actions: Marlin & Henry rifles dominate here but Winchester, Browning & Rossi also offer options
  • Single Shot Break Actions: Ruger No. 1, Thompson/Center, Browning, and H&R firearms fill this niche
  • Bolt Actions: Ruger, CVA, Browning, and Savage have models available
  • AR Platform: Custom builds and AR uppers chambered for the .45-70 provide a modern twist

I run a Marlin 1895 GBL chambered in .45-70 Gov’t with a 19.1-inch barrel which I’ve taken on hunts across North America and Africa. It’s never let me down! But plenty of good alternatives exist if you’re looking for a .45-70 rifle to call your own.

Top .45-70 Ammo Picks for Hunting Large Game

Ammo selection plays a pivotal role in exploiting the .45-70’s strengths at sane distances against creatures that bite back. Here are my top ammo recommendations for lever-actions & single shots:

Hunting Load: For deer, hogs, black bear, elk, and other medium to large game, I suggest Hornady’s 350gr FTX LEVERevolution load which achieves nearly 2,100fps. The flexible tipped bullet offers excellent weight retention and penetration. I’ve had incredible success with this factory ammo in my Marlin lever gun.

Heavy Hitting Load: When you need raw power, Federal’s Trophy Bonded Bear Claw 300gr load is a sledgehammer. It leaves the muzzle at over 2,400fps and retains enough force to punch through a grizzly’s vitals. The bonding process and semi-spitzer bullet shape provide the added penetration you want for game up to and including moose.

Big Bruin Medicine: For large bears, Underwood’s 340gr Hard Cast Flat Nose +P load is devastating medicine. Exiting the muzzle at almost 1,800fps, this solid lead bullet achieves deep penetration on dangerous game. I used this load to stop a 400lb black bear charging from 40 yards away.

Premium Custom: Buffalo Bore offers some epic custom loads in .45-70 Gov’t suited for strong modern firearms. Their heavy 415gr Hard Cast FNGC at nearly 1,900fps is a great all-around hunting load with bone-breaking power on big game like bison, elk, and moose.

No matter which load you go with, I recommend practicing regularly at the range so both you and your rifle are comfortable and familiar with the recoil & ballistics.

My Hard-Earned Lessons Hunting with the .45-70

In my many years carrying a .45-70 afield, I’ve had my share of triumphs along with a few painful lessons. Here are some of the insights I’ve gained:

Know Your Range

Back when I was a brash young buck, I foolishly took a long speculative shot on an elk at over 250 yards with my Marlin 1895 using 405gr ammunition. My range estimation skills needed work, and I ended up wounding the animal which ran off never to be found. It still pains me to this day. I learned to keep shots under 200 yards.

Respect the Recoil

The first time I fired a .45-70, I wasn’t prepared for the heavy recoil, and the gun walloped my shoulder something fierce! Proper shooting form and technique are essential. I added a quality recoil pad and practiced extensively until felt recoil became second nature. Don’t make my same mistake.

Use the Right Tool for the Job

A lesson that took a few years and lost game for me to internalize is that the .45/70 truly shines inside 150 yards – particularly when hunting thick bush country or forests. In open terrain where longer shots are the norm, I’ll grab a different rifle to complement the .45-70. Match your tool to the task at hand and you’ll find greater success.

With good shot placement using heavy loads, the .45-70 Government drops big game like elk quickly and humanely

While it has its limitations, a .45-70 lever gun remains one of the most useful tools in my truck gun collection. Back that up with the right hunting ammo, and you have a supremely versatile brush gun combo.

Next we’ll run through some of my favorite applications when unleashing a .45-70 rifle on big and dangerous game species.

Prime Uses for the .45-70 on Big Game Hunts

Given suitable loads and realistic range restraints, the .45-70 Government cartridge can be used effectively on a wide variety of big game species across various terrains and conditions. Here’s my rundown of the .45-70’s best hunting applications:

Bears, Hogs & Deer in Heavy Cover

The .45-70 absolutely shines as a medium-range thumper on animals like bears, feral hogs, moose, elk, and mule deer – particularly when hunting dense forests, thickets, or swamplands. The heavy bullets buck wind nicely and penetrate incredibly well through brush, limbs, and hide. I’ve used my .45-70 lever gun to harvest dozens of black bears and wild hogs all along the East coast.

Backup on Dangerous Game Hunts

On an Alaskan brown bear and moose hunt a few years back, I carried a Marlin 1895 .45-70 as my secondary rifle in case things went sideways. The good stopping power and fast handling qualities of a lever-action 45-70 can save your skin. While dangerous game hunts require precise shot placement with premium bullets, I still carry a .45-70 when hunting unpredictable predators as insurance.

Cowboy Action Shooting Competitions

My father was an avid cowboy action shooter and introduced me to the sport from the time I could walk. Blazing away with classic lever guns chambered in .45 Colt and .45-70 Gov’t at metal targets certainly gets your blood pumping! The .45-70 excels here because the loads are milder which helps new shooters. There’s nothing I enjoy more than donning cowboy gear and pretending I’m living in the Old West slinging lead with my antique 1895 Marlin.

Herd Management Hunts

Oftentimes, game management authorities will use special permit hunts to cull numbers of animals like deer and elk to keep populations in balance. I volunteer frequently for these types of hunts in Virginia and the Carolinas. My guide gun of choice is usually a .45-70 paired with Hornady 350gr FTX ammo which offers excellent 1-shot lethality out to 175 yards or so. Knocking down 4-5 deer per trip is not uncommon when the herd populations explode.

From home defense to historical reenactments, the .45-70 Gov’t ammo shines in a wide variety of shooting applications. Its versatility combined with lethal terminal performance on large game make it a permanent resident in my gun cabinet.

While more modern magnum cartridges using lightweight, high velocity bullets have surpassed the .45-70 ballistically, they can’t match it for brute knockdown force. When keeping shots inside 200 yards in thick cover environments, a potent lever-action .45-70 rifle chambered in this venerable caliber still reigns supreme as one of the best large-game getters on the planet.

Conclusion

The .45-70 Government cartridge has more than stood the test of time. For over 140 years, it has delivered bone-crushing terminal performance on all manner of big and dangerous game species across every corner of North America and beyond.

This guide only scratches the surface on why I consider the .45-70 to be one of the most versatile and effective rounds for large game hunting, particularly in wooded and thick bush environments under 200 yards.

The .45-70 Government hits with authority thanks to heavy bullet weights, deep penetration, and high energy transfer. And it shines when used in quick-handling lever-action rifles.

With an ever-expanding diversity of loads, special purpose ammunition, and rifles chambered in this caliber, the .45-70 shows no signs of giving up its throne as one of the hardest-hitting brush gun and medium-range hunting cartridges of all.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief tour through what makes the .45-70 Government such a special cartridge. If you have any other questions, feel free to hit me up at CatptainHunter.com. I wish you the best of luck in your hunting adventures with this truly epic historical round that still packs a whallop today.

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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