The Reinvented .45-70 Government
Rifle|September - October 2021
MOSTLY LONG GUNS
Brian Pearce

These period .45-70 rifles include the (1) U.S. Springfield 1873 Trapdoor, (2) Marlin Model 1881, (3) Marlin Model 1895 (an original) and (4) Winchester Model 1886.

In spite of being almost 150 years old, the .45-70 Government remains highly useful for many applications that range from hunting to personal defense. It is available in a wide variety of rifle types (even revolvers) that allow it to serve ideally in any practical role. Ammunition is offered from many manufacturers, which further increases its versatility and usefulness. In spite of originating as a military cartridge, it is truly an outstanding sporting cartridge and one of my personal favorites.

Modern lever-action rifles are popular with hunters and big-game guides. Examples include the (1) Marlin Model 1895 with a 22-inch barrel, (2) Marlin Model 1895G with 18½-inch barrel, (3) Marlin Model 1895SBL with 18½-inch barrel and (4) Browning 1886 Carbine.

This grand, old cartridge was originally designed in 1873 and chambered for the U.S. Springfield Model 1873 “Trapdoor” rifle that served officially as our military rifle and cartridge until 1892, when it was replaced with the .30 US/30-40 Krag. However, it continued to serve in the hands of Army Reserve and National Guard units (in training and combat) for many more years. Interestingly, it is still in use by the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard as the “Cartridge, caliber .45, line throwing, M32 inch,” which is a blank cartridge used to throw lines. This probably makes it the longest-serving U.S. military cartridge.

The .45-70 has found great favor among hunters, target shooters and cowboy action competitors. Examples include a (1) Marlin Model 1895 (1972 vintage), (2) Marlin Model 1895LTD Limited Edition, (3) Lyman/Pedersoli Model 1878 Sharps, (4) Shiloh Sharps Model 1874 and (5) Browning Model 1886 rifle.

Early loads featured internal centerfire priming, 70 grains of black powder and a 405-grain cast bullet (.45-70-405) that produced around 1,394 feet per second (fps). After extensive testing at Sandy Hook, in 1879, a 500-grain bullet (.45-70-500) was added that produced around 1,100 fps. While both loads were tested at extreme distances, the latter produced greater range and proved far superior in performance. At 3,500 yards it fully penetrated three, inch-thick oak boards and then penetrated another 8 inches into sand. This was enough power to cause severe injury to an enemy or their horse.

The demand for this fine cartridge grew among civilians and it was soon chambered in single-shot rifles by Christian Sharps, Winchester, Marlin/Ballard and others, in which it earned a superb reputation as a target cartridge and proved very effective on heavy buffalo and the great bears of the north. While Whitney Arms (aka Whitney-Burgess-Morse) offered the first commercial repeating lever-action .45-70 from 1878 through 1882, its popularity was limited. However, Marlin Fire Arms introduced its Model 1881 lever action in .45-70 and actually beat Winchester to the commercial market with a repeater.

By 1886, Winchester was fortunate to obtain manufacturing rights to John Browning patents that became the Model 1886 lever-action rifle, which proved to be an outstanding rifle that was robust, reliable, strong and accurate. The reputation of .45-70 rifles among hunters, cowboys, explorers, lawmen or anyone that needed a powerful rifle was outstanding.

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