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An Introduction To The .45-70 Rifle Cartridge



.45-70 Government
.45-70 Government

Photo Credit: On Target Shooter

I just received a Henry Repeating Lever Action Rifle chambered in the hard-hitting .45-70 Government. But, before I show you the results of that test, I figured I'd give you a short primer on this old-time hunting round. I realize that it isn't something that a lot of different people shoot, or have even heard of.

So, what is the .45-70? To be sure, this is a .45 caliber rifle cartridge backed by 70 grains of powder. The bullet it shoots varies in size, but the originals were over 400 grains. Today's bullet weights range from 250-460 grains, with the original size still widely available.

Ammo is a bit on the expensive side. It starts at about the $27 mark, and goes up from there for a box of 20, depending on what you're looking for. The bullets themselves aren't the most aerodynamically correct projectiles out there, but they tend to get the job done at shorter distances—generally less than 200 yards. And, even at that distance a shooter needs to know how to lob the round down range, because it isn't as easy as pointing and shooting.


The cartridge was originally developed back in the 1870s, and is still used today for hunting applications. Back when it was first developed, however, it was the Army's go to rifle cartridge. The .45-70 has a small, cult-like following by many of today's hunters. A lot of them swear by its heavy and slow moving projectile to kill both medium and large sized animals for the dinner table.

It offers a clean kill, with minimal destruction of meat, and often times, offers a fast and humane death to your animal of choice. Many hikers, who don't mind the extra weight of a lever action rifle, have been known to take one along on a hike in bear country, just in case mamma gets angry.

The cartridges of today offer up better ballistics than what was offered back in the 1800s. Bullet technology has increased tremendously, and some ammo makers have even begun making the ammo with a pointed tip, claiming that it helps the trajectory stay flatter, instead of arching like it usually does.

Of course, there are better suited cartridges on today's market for defense against a bear that come in lighter firearms, but you really can't beat the nostalgic look of a brass Henry Repeater.

Long gone are the days when every family would have a rifle chambered in this hard hitter. But, it has been steadily making a come back since the mid-1970s. With more rifle manufacturers than ever building them, the .45-70 seems to have a continuously bright future.

I've fired lever action .45-70s in the past, and it can be a bruiser. Once I get my ammunition in, I'll be sure to record the experience for you to watch, even to the tune of the first few rounds of ammo, so you can see my reaction.

Sound Off Gun Carriers! Do you own a .45-70? Have you ever shot one before? Let us know what it was like in the comments below. Then, make sure you head over to the Gun Carrier YouTube Channel and hit the subscribe button, so you don't miss the video of this beautiful brass Henry.

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  1. Paul R in IL.

    May 15, 2016 at 7:35 AM

    I have always admired the 45-70, that being said, I bought a Marlin Guide Gun in 45-70 when it hit the market several years ago. True with the article, its not your everyday plinker. But as the article says, if you hit it with a 45-70, it goes down. I have bought various loads from different manufacturers, and my favorite is the highly IMPRESSIVE Garrett Cartridge Company in Texas. They offer a range of ammo that will surely impress, shooter and observer alike. As stated above, modern 45-70 firearms handle modern loads, ANTIQUE firearms will not.
    Happy shooting everyone, stay safe and observe firearm safety, because its not just you and yourself you endanger, it is everyone else around you for a mile or better you endanger when goofing off with guns.

  2. robert

    May 14, 2016 at 6:41 PM

    I have been using a 45-70 for years I am the only one in my family that can fire it without getting bruised and banged up the one I have shoots flat with modern propellants and can take a rear view mirror off the inside of a truck out to 600 yards, cause I’ve made that shot. It has a lot of knock down power only drawback is it only has 5 shots and no safety except an empty chamber and tube>

  3. David Stormont

    May 13, 2016 at 8:54 PM

    I’ve shot several 45-70s over the years- if the rifle fits the recoil is not that stiff. However, I tried both the Thompson Center contender pistol and the Magnum Research BFR 45-70s and these give new meaning to unpleasant to shoot, both from recoil and muzzle blast. If you pick the right rifle and tailor your load you can have a very enjoyable time with a good 45-70. The late Paul Matthews wrote a book titled 40 Years with a 45-70. Interesting to read.

  4. Robert Seddon

    May 13, 2016 at 12:25 PM

    BE CAREFUL.. Originally the 45-70 round was a black powder cartridge, and in NO WAY are those rifles able to put up with todays hot loads. I have a Marlin 45-70 in stainless steel, that is made to use modern ammo, and it is great to shoot after you get used to the mule kick. Slow and fat is where it’s at, for the 1911 45 ACP handgun and the 45-70 rifles.. if you hit it, it goes down as it is like being hit by a freight train.
    Robert Seddon
    Mineral, Va.

  5. Diane

    May 13, 2016 at 11:27 AM

    Another bruiser is .300 Savage. That kicks like a mule! Worse than a British .303.

  6. left coast chuck

    May 13, 2016 at 10:47 AM

    The only comment I would make is that most commercial cartridges for the 45-70 are no longer loaded with 70 grains of black powder. The 70 grain original load was a black powder load. Smokeless powder is totally different. One should always be careful to differentiate between black powder and smokeless powder as the two are completely and totally different as bullet propellants. If you purchase a black powder cowboy action or black powder long range rifle cartridge, then it will be loaded with black powder and most likely somewhere around 70 grains, but modern hunting loads will utilize smokeless powder loads.

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