• 7 best deer hunting calibers .45-70

The .45-70 Government: Bone-Crushing Performance From An Old School Lever-Action

Check out this article about the history, shortcomings, and recommended uses for the .45-70 Government.

Today I’ll be discussing a cartridge that, while popular in certain circles, does not get a lot of attention these days: .45-70 Government. The .45-70 delivers bone crushing power at close range, but is difficult to shoot accurately at longer ranges because its big, slow moving bullets have a very steep trajectory.

So, while the .45-70 is as American as apple pie and the .45 Colt, only a relatively small percentage of dedicated hunters and shooters use it these days.

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.45-70 Government History

Designed in 1873 for use in the single-shot “Trapdoor” Springfield, the .45-70 (originally known as the .45-70-405) fired a 405 grain, .45 caliber bullet propelled by a powder charge of 70 grains of black powder. This original black powder load pushed a cast lead bullet at a velocity of about 1350 feet per second. With a muzzle energy of about 1600 foot pounds, this cartridge was one of the most powerful loads available at the time and was effectively used by the Army through the Indian Wars in the late 1800s. The U.S. Army continued to use this rifle and cartridge in limited numbers through the Spanish-American War and Philippine Insurrection in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

A .45-70 with a 350gr cast lead bullet compared to a 7.62x51mm (.308 Winchester) cartridge.

.45-70 with a 350gr lead bullet compared to a 7.62x51mm

Due to excellent the reputation it earned while in use with the Army, the .45-70 quickly became popular among sportsmen in the United States. In response to significant demand for good rifles chambered in the cartridge, the major manufacturers began building rifles specifically for the .45-70. Soon, hunters had access to quality rifles and repeaters such as the Remington Rolling Block, the Remington-Keene, the Sharps 1874 “Buffalo Rifle,” the Winchester-Hotchkiss, Winchester Model 1885 “High Wall,” and the Winchester Model 1886. Even when using the relatively simple solid lead bullets available at the time, the .45-70 was an extremely potent load when used on whitetail deer and black bear and still effective on the larger, tougher, and sometimes more dangerous species like moose, grizzly bear, and bison.

Modern .45-70 Government Ammunition

Using modern, smokeless powder, most of the ammunition manufacturers currently produce a wide variety of loads of varying power for the .45-70. What load you should use depends on the rifle you intend to use it in. If you have an older rifle such as a vintage Trapdoor Springfield or a Winchester Model 1886, you should avoid modern ammunition (especially anything labeled “Magnum” or “+P”) and instead stick to low pressure loads that mimic the original performance characteristics of the round. However, most modern rifles, such as the Marlin Model 1895, the Ruger Number 1, or a converted Siamese Mauser, can handle increased pressures and there are several loads in production that have significantly improved the performance of the original load.

As just a small sample of these more modern loads that improve upon the original factory load, Federal Premium ammunition makes a load firing a 300gr Power-Shok at 1850 feet per second, generating a 2280 foot pounds of energy at the muzzle. Hornady produces the “LEVERevolution”, which has a pointed, flexible, polymer tip which improves the ballistic coefficient of the normally flat tipped bullet. The 325 grain bullet has an advertised muzzle velocity of 2050 feet per second and a muzzle energy of 3032 foot pounds. Buffalo Bore produces one of the hottest .45-70 loads available with a 405 grain jacketed flat nose bullet propelled at 2000 feet per second for a tooth rattling 3597 foot pounds of muzzle energy.

For a more detailed discussion on .45-70 Government hunting ammunition, read this article:

Best .45-70 Ammo For Hunting Deer, Bear, Moose, & Other Big Game

Combined with modern bullet construction, these enhanced loads dramatically improve the performance of the .45-70 on virtually all game species when compared to the original black powder load. This allows the hunter to ethically take game at longer ranges and still consistently penetrate deep enough to reach the vitals of the animal for a quick and ethical kill.

.45-70 Government Shortcomings

While the .45-70 is a very accurate round, it is difficult to shoot at longer ranges because the slow velocity and low ballistic coefficient of the bullet, even when using modern bullets such as Hornady’s “LEVERevolution,” combine to produce a pretty steep trajectory. At ranges past about 200 yards, precise range estimation and applying the proper hold over become extremely important. For instance, using the ballistics of the original black powder .45-70 load, a bullet will drop nearly 50 inches between 350 and 400 yards! For this reason, long range shooters using cartridges like the .45-70, such as buffalo hunters back in the late 1800s, used “tang” or “ladder” iron sights with Vernier scales that allowed for very precise elevation adjustments. As long as he estimated the range correctly, a skilled marksman using a high quality rifle and sight could accurately hit targets out past 1,000 yards using the cartridge.

Due to these constraints, few modern hunters use the .45-70 at ranges past 200 yards. Fortunately, this cartridge excels at short ranges where the heavy, slow moving bullets deliver the bone crushing power and deep penetration necessary for hunting large, tough animals such as moose and grizzly bear. At the same time, the low velocity bullets do not produce large amounts of ruined, blood shot meat on thin skinned animals such as deer that high velocity cartridges do.

.45-70 Government Advantages

Another advantage of the .45-70 is that most of the rifles chambered for the cartridge are short barreled lever action rifles like the Marlin Model 1895. These rifles are often easy to carry, whether on foot or on horseback, and are quick to mount and fire. For these reasons, the .45-70 is an ideal cartridge for hunting in thick woods or heavy cover where short range shots (>100 yards) are common.

300gr Nosler Partitions retrieved from a feral hog (L) and a Red Hartebeest (R).

300gr Nosler Partitions retrieved from a feral hog  and a Red Hartebeest

In addition to use on North American game, the .45-70 can also be a very effective cartridge for an African Safari. While it would not be my first choice for the longer range shots that are sometimes encountered in areas like the Kalahari Desert or Serengeti Plain, the cartridge shines when taking shots in the thick bushy conditions often encountered in the Lowveld or Mopani Bush areas common in many parts of Africa. Using high quality soft point bullets, there is no plains game animal that I would hesitate to use the cartridge on at short range. Even very large animals like the eland should present no problems as long as a heavy for caliber, controlled expansion bullet is used and placed appropriately.

While I know it has been done before, I would be very cautious about using the .45-70 on thick skinned dangerous game like buffalo and elephant. For one thing, even when using very high pressure loads designed for modern rifles, the cartridge only produces between 3,000 and 3,600 foot pounds of energy at the muzzle, which falls short of the legal minimum energy requirement of some countries for use on dangerous game. Additionally, at .204, .238, and .276 respectively, the 300, 350 and 405gr bullets most commonly used in .45-70 fall short of the commonly recommended minimum sectional density of .300 to reliably penetrate deep enough to reach the vitals on a buffalo or elephant.

For a more detailed discussion on hunting cape buffalo with the .45-70 Government, read this article:

Read This Before Hunting Cape Buffalo With The 45-70 Government

As a remnant from a bygone age in American history, there are few other cartridges that have as long and storied of a history as the .45-70. While it certainly has its limitations, the .45-70 Govt is still an extremely effective cartridge when used under the proper conditions. There are few modern cartridges that can match balance of power and portability that the .45-70 offers.

The Lyman 50th Edition (p352-360) and Hornady 10th Edition (p754-761) reloading manuals were used as references for this article.

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About the Author:

John McAdams is a proficient blogger, long time hunter, experienced shooter, and veteran of combat tours with the US Army in Iraq & Afghanistan. John has written for outdoor publications like Bear Hunting Magazine, The Texas State Rifle Association newsletter, Texas Wildlife Magazine, & Wide Open Spaces. Read some of John’s most popular posts here and feel free to send him a message.


  1. Joh Monaghan March 18, 2014 at 3:45 pm - Reply

    Thank You for this excellent article on the 45-70 cartridge. I would however like to point out that when handloading cast bullets ypu can obtain 525 to 535 grain bullets with a brinnel reading of 25. The latter bullet has a sectional density of .364 with the former being .357. Also Lyman gives a trapdoor load with this bullet over46.5 grains of Varget giving a muzzle velocity of 1520 fps with a C.U.P. of 18000. This load I am confident will take anything on this planet.

    • Tim July 10, 2017 at 5:54 pm - Reply

      Agree. A 525 grain Beartooth Piledriver started off at around 1,600fps or a little higher will do the trick on anything, if your placement is good.

      • John June 25, 2018 at 3:09 pm - Reply

        Though I appreciate your comments, I must respectfully disagree with your conclusions. While a 525-535gr bullet at 1,500-1,600 feet per second is indeed a potent load, in my experience, that’s not enough velocity for adequate penetration on buffalo. I’m sure that will do a number on a grizzly bear, but you’re just asking for trouble with that load on a Cape Buffalo or elephant.

  2. Zebra Information and Lifestyle November 16, 2014 at 4:20 pm - Reply

    […] a short range shot is likely, such as many places in Zimbabwe, cartridges like the .444 Marlin, .45-70 Government, and .35 Whelen can be counted upon to deliver the bone crushing power necessary to ethically kill […]

  3. Stephen Roberts July 26, 2018 at 2:23 am - Reply

    That is why you use hotter rounds like the Grizzly Hunter Xtreme 45-70..325 Grains
    Muzzle Velocity 2275 Feet Per Second
    Muzzle Energy 3735 Foot Pounds

    Why is everyone looking at slower rounds?

    • John July 26, 2018 at 1:18 pm - Reply

      Really hot loads like the Grizzly Hunter Xtreme are great for modern rifles, but they aren’t safe for use in older .45-70 rifles like the Trapdoor Springfield. This is something the ammunition companies have to keep in mind when loading up “run of the mill” .45-70 factory ammo.

  4. James Smalley August 22, 2018 at 7:39 am - Reply

    Would the 45-70 do for wild boar in Florida?

  5. Matt Cuddy September 19, 2018 at 3:33 pm - Reply

    I purchased an 1898 “Rod” Bayonet Springfield Trapdoor in the white a few years ago The bore is perfect. I use “Cowboy” rounds mostly, but somehow got a box of modern smokeless ammo from Aguila. I shot the whole box, with no discernable damage to the rifle or accuracy. The Springfield Trapdoor in 45.70 is one strong rifle.

  6. neo71665 September 22, 2018 at 6:02 am - Reply

    have no problems with it on wild hogs in arkansas

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