BG is short for big game. My purpose in this piece is not to give a history lesson on the .45-70 from its inception (as an official American BP military weapon from 1873) to the several iterations of current BP single-shot rifles in the same chambering. In the simplest of terms, I’m not into BP shooting of anything! I don’t have a single drop of nostalgic blood flowing through my veins.
<My former Ruger No.1 in .45-70 with the long throat (LT). The Nikon 2 – 7 x 32mm scope is now on my Ruger No.1 in .458 Win Mag – that one on the header.
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My goal in this piece is to discuss some current (or recent) production rifles for the .45-70 using modern powders, bullets and pressures. As recently mentioned, the title given to my last (and third edition) reloading manual on the .45-70 was: “SUPREME LOADS for the 1895 Marlin, NEF Single Shot, Ruger No.1 and Ruger No.1 IMP”. In the 1895 Marlin, I included loads for the 18.5″ Guide Gun and 1895 Classic (22″). The Ruger No.1 IMP was my second Ruger No.1 in which my gunsmith gave an “improved” throat by lengthening the leade so bullets could be seated longer granting more space for the right powder in shooting long monolithics, or the relatively heavy bullets like the Hornady 500gr and 450gr A-Frame. That worked out very well making that #1 Ruger about equal in ballistics to a 22″, .458 Win Mag. Later, I changed the moniker from “IMP” to “LT” (long throat), as the chamber had never been altered, but the throat only.
That manual contained several pages of loads, giving the CUP for most loads and PSI from lab testing of the initial Ruger #1, 500gr Hornady load. Some were known from other sources but mostly from a downloaded CUP program based largely on the Powley Computer. A few were extrapolated from other loads. On the whole, all were tested in my personal rifles with an eye for excessive pressure.
For well over a decade a rifle chambered for .45-70 Springfield was mostly toted for hunting purposes. That included 1895 Marlins, NEFs and Ruger No.1s. Note that two of those three styles were single-shots.
A supposed advantage of the 1895 Marlins over bolt action rifles was multiple shots available from the shoulder with a quick flick of the hand and wrist. In reality, however, that was the theory for much milder loads than I used. Shooting from my left shoulder, I always lowered the rifle from my shoulder if a second shot was deemed necessary, as in the killing of my first bear. The first shot from 100 yards was all that was needed but I stood on the moose-hunting platform for a finisher with the bear down and out at 85 yards.
Another real advantage of the 1895 Marlins was the ability to replace any fired with one still in the chamber and the hammer cocked with eyes still on the game. While heavier than a .30-30 of the same model, it’s balance and handiness (even with a scope) gave added confidence. As to power, it wasn’t lacking for any BG, including DG, when appropriately handloaded with the right bullets. In a 22″ barrel format, it was fully capable of 4000 ft-lbs at the muzzle from 405gr projectiles. Of course, choosing the “right” bullet for a given hunt was important enough to do the necessary research and testing.
The main negatives of the Marlins were its COL restrictions (though most of the four that I’d owned allowed 2.6″ – 2.61″ COL for smooth functioning through the action. I crimped using a LEE crimp die), and stock shape including the hard rubber butt pad (they can easily be replaced with a softer one). While STAR cases with a smaller size cup for primers are available, I never-ever had a problem using “standard” brass.
I’ve owned two single-shots from New England Firearms in .45-70. The first was the best. It had an excellent heavy barrel that was easy to clean using the break-action, but rarely was it dirty enough to need a cleaning. It was also superbly accurate, and allowed longer seating of bullets than the Marlins. It also had an ejector that would send the empty case flying past your ear when opened for loading another cartridge. And the action was strong –stronger than the Marlin, but not as strong as the Ruger #1. I shot a good bear with that rifle from a tree stand at 70 yards and it was a DRT. The load was a 465gr hardcast at 1900 fps/3727 ft-lbs, and about 1735 fps/3108 ft-lbs/ 163 TE at impact. With a few on the stock, that rifle with scope and ammo barely weighed 8 lbs, so the recoil was fast! 57 grains of H335 was the magic and produced those numbers plus 46 ft-lbs recoil. A neighbor, who had some cattle on that property, was digging a water-hole for his herd (I didn’t know he was there), and loudly heard the “wack” of the bullet as it hit the bear… he exclaimed out-loud, “Either he hit a large tree or the bear”. I never picked up that sound as the bullet impact was too close, but he later told me his reaction. The bullet passed through and was lost. That NEF was a powerful and handy rifle, and easy to climb into a tree stand with it in one hand or slung over a shoulder. The second NEF was much different: It had a shorter barrel (though as heavy), the “thumb-hole” stock and an extractor rather than the ejector. I never liked the extractor with the rim of the case protruding only 3/16″ with the action open — especially with gloves on during hunting season. I used it for wolf hunting for one winter after which it “went down the road”. But it too was accurate, powerful and handy. The main load for wolf was the 325gr Hornady FTX at just over 2300 fps. The idea was in choosing a deer bullet with some reach.
< The 325gr load next to a wolf track.
< On the hunt for wolf with the NEF and 325gr load.
The single-shot Rugers have had quite a bit of attention in my blogs — especially the “LT”. I considered it the best rifle I’d ever owned – from the standpoint of looks, versatility, power and handiness.
Good, bad or otherwise, I’ve never been a collector of rifles for the pure reason of having them. Every rifle ever purchased was for at least one of the following reasons, or perhaps (in some cases) for more than a single purpose: Hunting; testing and improving ballistics through handloading; overall function and handiness; and aesthetics – never for boasting, like “I have one of those too”, or “There are over 100 rifles in my gun room”. To me, having 74 firearms in a gun room (the average by respondents to a national survey published in a gun magazine) would be of dubious significance, because no one could ever become familiar with that many firearms in a lifetime unless the majority were duplicates or so similar as to make little to no distinction in purpose or usefulness.
The main point of my blogging over recent times is to demonstrate how versatile any big-game (BG) rifle can be, or become, through handloading. One BG rifle can deliver a lifetime of enjoyment and experience through handloads adapted to most environments and game animals or predators. Agreed. But some BG rifle cartridges are more adaptable (versatile) than others due to usefulness for both ends of the spectrum from small to large — including dangerous game (DG). And, of course, all that depends on available reloading components and the handloader’s savvy.
But, we all like some variety in life and choices, so rarely are we content with the same breakfast every day of the week, month, year or lifetime… unless, of course, we live in a mud hut with twelve other adults and children who hope for some protein sometime during the upcoming weeks or months! And, lest we forget in our getting, facing starvation is still a reality for millions in the 21st century while we quibble over what bullet is just perfect for a trophy bull moose or Cape buffalo. As Jesus reminded the people of his day – and ours – “Giving is better than getting – the rewards are greater because the Father above takes notice of our motives as well as our deeds”. And His Day is not yet, but still it is coming!
After we have experienced (in general terms) most of what the gun world has to offer in real terms, fewer rifles get used in the field – and less handloads for those few. We, then, are more focused on the critter, the bullet and the potential ranges. Recently (a relative term), I’ve been very focused on the development of a good, practical load for black bear in an area I know very well on Crown Land. In the past I’ve used a variety of loads from several rifles that could serve well for whiletails, black bear or even moose. These were all handloaded and employed in the general Crown Land hunting areas. Some smaller numbers, like .223s and a .25-06 were also handloaded and made useful for varmints and small game but not toted for medium and large game.
< The 405gr Remington load on the RIGHT and the 400gr Barnes Buster load on the LEFT.
In searching for and in the development of a good, practical load for black bear on Crown Land, I finally settled on a very accurate .458″, 405gr Remington load that was originally tested early on in my ownership of the Ruger No.1 in .458 Win Mag – about two years ago in 2019. Basically, I wanted a near duplicate of a 405gr Rem load I’d successfully used from an 1895 Marlin on a black bear at 100 yards back in 2005. That was a “bang-flop” as the bear was moving away from me and took the 405gr Remington in the left flank, completely penetrating the body diagonally and made exit just behind the right front shoulder. MV was over 2100 fps with impact velocity more than 1800 fps. My current bear load for the Ruger No.1 in .458 WIN is the same 405gr Remington at 2085 fps (average corrected to MV) and shoots into sub-MOA. The powder charge is 75 grains of RL-15, WLRM primers and Hornady brass. COL is 3.26″. For anyone who might be interested, I’ve also loaded the same 75 grains of the same powder behind the 400gr Barnes Buster that shoots into the same group as the 405gr Rem. That gives the possibility of a soft followed by a solid, or visa versa. Crimping isn’t necessary for the single-shot Ruger, though I do crimp the 405gr Rem into the bottom cannelure.
< On Monday,August 2, 2021, I was at the range with my son, Phil. My main interest was to spend some time together, but also I wanted to know where the 405gr Rem and 400gr Barnes Buster would hit at 100 yards without having made any adjustments from the previous trial at 50 yards where two of each made a single ragged hole. The bullet hole at the top in this photo is from the 400gr Barnes and just below is that made by the 405 Rem. Using the same charge of powder, the 400 Barnes gave slightly more recoil that would indicate it had a somewhat higher MV. I’ve adjusted the crosshairs right to center those loads.
In reviewing some of my data and notes from the past on various .45-70s, I’ve concluded that 400s/405s are the best weights for overall performance. Though, heavier cast bullets also performed excellently from the Marlins and NEF. A 465gr hardcast was very accurate from both a Classic 1895 Marlin and the Guide Gun at around 1900 fps. From the Marlin Classic (22″), I attained up to 1950 fps with excellent accuracy. The main problem of that load in the Marlin was felt recoil from the lever. The NEF was more comfortable in that regard, though lighter, due to a much better shaped stock. From the NEF I cleanly killed that mentioned trophy quality black bear at an MV of 1900 fps from that 465gr cast bullet at 70 yards. There was no running off for twenty yards or more from either bear. They both were DRT, but the bruin shot using the NEF was somewhat larger.
<The cannelure in this pure copper and lead 400gr Hawk .458″ was made by a LEE Crimp Die
In recent times the .45-70 has even been used to take the Big Five (or Six) of Africa. Well loaded, it is perfect for deer, hogs, all bears, elk and moose on our North American continent. 45-70s may not be the best in wide-open country for today’s shooters dependant on powerful scopes, where shots might exceed 300 yards, but a good load is capable for large game well beyond that if the shooter has practised and become familiar with its trajectory.
Til the next…