Ammo Brief: The Enduring .45-70 Government

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45-70 Government cartridge

The longevity of the .45-70 Government is the definition of a true classic cartridge.

Why The .45-70 Government Soldiers On:

  • Available in many classic rifles, including lever-actions and rolling blocks.
  • Modern ammunition has extended the range of the straight-walled cartridge.
  • Properly loaded, it’s capable of taking almost all North American game.

Adopted by the U.S. military in 1873 with the single-shot “Trapdoor” Springfield rifle, the .45-70 Government continued as the official service cartridge for 19 years. It was replaced in 1892 by the .30-40 Krag. The .45-70 was also a popular cartridge for sporting use, and many repeating and single-shot rifles were chambered for it, including the Remington rolling block, Remington-Keene, Remington-Lee, Marlin Model 81, Winchester Model 86 and Hotchkiss, plus many others.

Although the Krag officially replaced the .45-70, in 1892, all volunteer Spanish-American War regiments—with the reported sole exception of Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders—were equipped with the Trapdoor .45-70. And many state militias were armed with the .45-70 Springfields well beyond 1900.

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American companies dropped the .45-70 Government as a rifle chambering in the early 1930s. However, it’s staged a major comeback in popularity. Currently, Marlin, Pedersoli, Henry, Taylor’s & Company, Cimarron and others chamber rifles for it.

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Winchester once loaded many versions of the basic .45-70 Government case with different bullet weights, shapes and black powder charges. It also loaded one variant of the .45-70-405 Winchester load expressly for the Marlin 1881 lever-action rifle. That load featured a differently shaped 405-grain bullet and was head-stamped “.45-70 Mar.”

45-70 Government Specs 1

General Comments

“Old soldiers never die”—and apparently, neither do old military cartridges. The .45-70 Government has been with us for more than 125 years and is still very much alive. As a short-range cartridge for anything from deer to grizzly bear, the .45-70 will hold its own with most of our more modern developments. Its greatest fault is its curved trajectory that makes it difficult to place shots beyond 150 yards with any certainty. Hornady’s LeveRevolution pointed, polymer-tipped round helps this considerably.

Unfortunately, the U.S. Springfield and most of the other black powder rifles won’t stand pressures of more than 25,000 psi or so. This prevents using heavy loads of smokeless powder. In late-Model 86 Winchesters or other smokeless powder rifles, the .45-70 Government can be loaded to deliver very impressive performance on the heaviest species of big game. Winchester, Remington, Federal, Cor-Bon and Buffalo Bore offer .45-70 ammunition.

45-70 Government Specs 2

Editor’s Note: This article is an excerpt from Cartridges of the World, 16th Edition.

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