< A couple of firearms of a by-gone era owned by my friend Roger Pilon. There are those who still appreciate their artistry and history.
The Spanish American War of 1898 became the final push for transforming American thinking away from straight-wall BP single-shot rifle cartridges to smokeless powder, high pressure bottleneck cartridges as in the repeating rifles used by the Spanish. It was hardly an even contest between the 1873 single-shot BP .45-70 service rifle and the Spanish Mauser repeating rifle that used smokeless powder, but in 1892 the American government authorised the Krag-Jorgensen .30-40 bolt-action repeating rifle, using smokeless powder as their new small arms military weapon. Production was begun in 1894 at the Springfield armory. But continued use of the historic .45-70 was necessary in that war because only about 30,000 Krags were initially produced. It was not that the BP rifles lacked any killing power, but they were slow by comparison in getting off multiple shots, and Napoleonic tactics were still employed in range fire. Not only that but the Spanish Mausers were more accurate with a flatter trajectory and longer effective reach. So the Americans moved to their own versions of smokeless powder, repeating rifles, some employing bottleneck cartridges. The .30-40 Krag of 1894 replaced the .45-70 and, itself, was later replaced in 1903 by the Springfield .30-cal (.30-03) and three years later to the .30-06 Springfield as the new small arms service cartridge that endured right up to and into the Vietnam conflict. As was the case (pun unavoidable) with the venerable .45-70 Springfield, it was inevitable that it would sooner or later be adopted as a sporting rifle cartridge by several sporting rifle manufacturers, notably by Winchester and Remington, so that today it has become one of the most famed and popular sporting rifle cartridges of all time.
Of course, during the late 19th century there was a plethora of single-shot and lever-action repeating rifles that still used BP as propellant, as well as a few bottleneck cartridges, the first of which that never used BP being the .30-30 Winchester chambered for the Model ’94, still being very popular today despite higher pressure and faster “deer cartridges”.
Thus, viewing a rifle cartridge’s shape — how it looks — is often the first clue that impresses the mind as to its capabilities. Straight wall vs bottleneck, and especially with today’s modern magnum fat bottleneck cartridges with sharp shoulders, speaks “fast and lethal” to a younger generation — and to some no longer of a younger generation.
Apart from the history involved, there are still a few hangers-on from the BP era of straight-walled cartridges. Notable among them is the .45-70 that dates to 1873. And it appears more popular now than ever. But the modern era .45-70 using smokeless powder in strong actions, either single-shots or the 1895 Marlin since 1972, is hardly the same weapon as in 1873! There are even special factory loads designed for and capable of taking elephant! And it has been done! And it was the various iterations of the (then) ubiquitous .45-70s that nearly wiped out the American bison! So, obviously, there’s little left to be discussed in regard to it’s popularity then or today, or its power to knock over the biggest and meanest of creatures left on this planet!
Then upping the ante, there are the more modern straight-wall cartridges for the really big stuff: the .458 Winchester Magnum and Lott (which in handloaded form is just a later .458 Win Mag with a slightly longer case).
And how do we evaluate the tiny .22LR ? It’s a straight-wall cartridge that barely uses one or two grains of smokeless powder (some say 5, 6 and even 7 grains of BP) to power a 31 – 40gr bullet at up to 1500 – 1600 fps depending on actual weight of bullet. My CZ 455 bolt-action repeater will shoot five of the 40gr HP CCI Velocitor at 1400 fps into MOA at 100 yards… quite enough for not only a groundhog, but a fox or even a coyote with a head shot! Then there are the shotguns from .410 to 12ga and larger! Are they not straight-wall cartridges?
The obvious point: While there’s a lot of redundancy, there’s a place for most of them. The .303 British hangs on in the former British Colonies, though it started life as a BP cartridge! In North America it has been effective in taking all legal game up to giant moose and grizzly. Yet it doesn’t look modern with its rimmed case and slanted sides before the shoulder. Are there more modern cartridges that are more effective? More powerful, yes, but more effective? Conditions and expertise determines that!
But in any evaluation, it’s the end result that should be the main factor. And the main, unknown factor, is the shooter under variable conditions of stress and personal expertise when all matters don’t align perfectly. Is a .22LR cartridge capable of killing a groundhog under all conditions? No. Is a .22 WMR a better choice for longer shots, and even a good choice for coyote within 100 yards?
The point being, we must know a rifle’s ability as well as it’s ballistics. Back-in-the-day, I found the .22LR ammo capable of killing groundhogs — that weigh 4 to 8 lbs — at 100 yards with head shots. Today’s ammo is quite a bit better, but in my view body shots are still not reliable for quick kills past 100. The .22 WLR, on the other hand, is effective to 200 yards with good hits. The .223? I’ve cleanly killed groundhogs past 300 yards, but it depends on the bullet used as well as placement.
Is the .223 Rem a good coyote cartridge? Under perfect conditions, yes. But many conditions aren’t perfect! I’d choose a .243 for Eastern coyote that can go 35 – 40 lbs! And then we have a half-breed coyote-wolf or wolf-coyote that can attain 90 lbs! Those are the ones I like to hunt, and they are killers of sheep and cattle, and larger mammals as they can go in packs! Two killed a young woman out jogging in a national park on Cape Britain Island, NS, a few years ago. Often, they are known as “brush wolves” or “coy dogs” depending on the province. DNA tests reveal they are part coyote and part wolf.
< This is a stark reminder of what a very strong .45-70 is capable of with safe handloads in a modern Ruger No.1. That number was recorded from a 500gr Hornady RN Interloc that became a standard load in that rifle which was given a long throat (LT) for seating the bullet to 3.19″ COL. Correction to MV = 2210 fps/5422 ft-lbs.
In essence then, unless I depend on the results and advice of others I trust, I quantify potential results by the formula I’ve published here several times, but it has been modified and refined over time. A reliable computer ballistics program is essential as well as external known physical conditions such as: elevation, relative humidity (RH) and temperature. Of course, we can’t know exactly the RH and temp of each day of a hunting season, so I choose as close as possible the averages. But temperature is a variable that significantly affects long range shooting, and elevation should be known as that factor alone can dramatically influence a bullet’s trajectory and velocity at impact, especially in mountains or longish ranges. The inputs I give to the formula is rather consistent as to elevation and ranges. But the big variable is change in temps from spring to summer, summer to fall, and fall to winter. We have a distinct four seasons with temps that can vary from summer to winter that amounts up to 55*C, or +35*C in summer heat to – 20*C in winter ( 95*F to -6*F). Granted, those are the extremes, and you won’t catch me ” out there” in those extreme temps, at least not at this stage of life.
In the Canadian Prairie Provinces, as well as the states south of the border, and in the Rockies, or other mountains or foot hills, ranges can be long, so having knowledge of ballistics, including trajectories, is of paramount importance. But then, so are relative short ranges over bear baits (an example) if using a shotgun slug or even a .45-70. A miscalculation of even 25 yards can result in wounding or a complete miss!
I’ve done my homework for using an 1895 Marlin in .45-70 for moose, and I did take that rifle as backup for a moose hunt in the Far North. A ballistic profile revealed it could be effective on a mature bull at up to 350 yards with a holdover of 1-foot above the hump. Now that’s a LOT father than most “pundits” ascribe to this ancient warhorse! About twice as far, as a matter of fact, as “they” would begrudge even 1/2 that at 175 yards! And yes, to answer the questions: 405gr at 2120 fps and 43,000 CUP. The net result was 70 TE, with trajectory at slightly more than +4″ at 100 (certainly not too much for a moose) and -33″ at 350 yards. One foot over the hump would put it in the “boiler room”! As it turned out I shot the moose at 165 yards! At that range the 405gr would have hit with more force than the 250gr from the .340 Weatherby. The Weatherby had a 112 TE at impact vs a potential 116 TE from the Marlin in .45-70!
Who would have guessed? Certainly NOT the “experts”! After the fact, I actually thought the .45-70 would have done the job more efficiently!
Less powder and less recoil! What’s not to like? And the bullets were MUCH cheaper!
Comparing rifle cartridges… There you have one comparison. No doubt, the .340 would shine past 400 yards, and that’s why I chose it, as clear cuts allowed viewing of a potential moose crossing to well beyond 600 yards. Some time ago I decided to not attempt a shot at moose beyond about 500 yards assuming a solid rest and a broadside stance of the animal. The Marlin in .45-70 would be well outclassed at that range in trajectory as well as TE (Terminal Effect) At 500 yards bullet drop would be nine feet below point-of-aim but TE would be adequate at 50 in the Marlin. The .340 would have the same drop at 500 as the .45-70 at 350, and the same TE at 500 as the Marlin at 350 yards. I replaced the .340 with my current 9.3 x 62. It’s ballistics in both trajectory and TE could be effective on a large soft-skinned game animal, like a bull moose, to my self-imposed limit, and a bit more. That’s why I have it. It burns less fuel but its recoil is similar to the 340 being quite a bit lighter. It’s simply a handier package for the same purposes, except it’s doubtful it will see the Far North. Instead, it has become a favorite for bear having taken three so far.
So in comparing rifle cartridges, the rifle itself: it’s condition, accuracy and barrel length is the first consideration because that defines its true ballistics. You may have a very powerful rifle for big game, that theory says is more than adequate at 500 – 600 yds, but if three shots at those ranges are 2 MOA or more under bench-rest conditions there’s obviously a serious problem in hoping for a clean kill shot under field conditions at those ranges.
The rifle itself should leave no doubts as to its functional ability to place shots where intended whether at 50 yards or 450. And that can only be determined at a range, whether personal or public.
Then I do ballistic profiles of every cartridge after tests using a chronograph, and targets at various ranges, depending on what I need/expect from each bullet load. Also, the size of holes in targets, depending on cartridge caliber, gives a visual impression of holes in flesh. Not that holes in muscle will compare to holes in thin paper targets, but a .458″ hole in a paper target is much more impressive than a .223″ hole. And there is a correlation, other things equal. I like big holes in big animals — the bigger the animal, the larger it’s heart and other organs. We’re not killing “the whole animal” but a relatively small part that’s vital to it’s life! The brain and heart are relatively small, but I’m sure you’ve seen photos or real life animal hearts with 2″ or 4″, or more, holes through them. I’ve seen some that couldn’t be recognised as a heart — they were a mass of jello! But the bullet has had to penetrate adequately and forcefully enough to destroy the heart! Same with any other vital organ. I hit one going away bear in the liver, the bullet continued on through lungs, finally taking out a big chunk of spine and back of the head — it was still going off into timber where it was lost! That was a 350gr Speer from my first .458 Win Mag leaving the 22″ barrel of the M77 Ruger at a very modest 2345 fps/4273 ft-lbs — that is modest for a .458 WIN. Range was 70 yards. No animal will have enough “guts” left to argue that you used a .458 instead of a .243!
< The Ruger No.1 Tropical in .458 Winchester Magnum (also on the header). My current .458 WIN.