Ammunition: the .45-70 Government cartridge

A series of introductory articles conceived to teach beginners specs, features and history of the most popular rifle ammunition calibers.

Have you ever seen a classic Western movie − one of those old-style flicks with the U.S. Cavalry besieged by Indian tribes, soldiers taking cover behind rocks or in a dry creek in the Monument Valley, and shots being fired from, and in, every direction?

Well, in 98% of cases − at least in real life − the rifles that would have been used by the U.S. Cavalrymen would have been Springfield model 1873 Trapdoor rifles, and their caliber would have been the quintessential .45-70 Government.

Some history

The .45-70 Government caliber was adopted in 1873 as the standard service cartridge for the United States Army as a replacement for the .50-70 Government metallic case blackpowder cartridge which felt long in the tooth despite having been adopted only in 1866. 

Ammunition: the .45-70 Government cartridge
A .45-70 Government cartridge as offered by Federal Premium, loaded with a 300-grains SP ball

The original loads for this caliber were based on a .45-caliber 500-grains ball propelled by 70 grains of black powder − hence the .45-70 denomination, with the "Government" designation identifying it as a service cartridge. A following variant, specifically conceived for cavalry carbines, used a 405-grains bullet and a 55-grains load of black powder.

As the years went by, new smokeless propellants were developed and new tendencies were established in the field of ammunitions for individual firearms − more specifically following the German researches and developments. The U.S. Government thus phased the .45-70 caliber out of service in favour of the more modern .30-40 Krag round, and sold the existing stocks on foreign civilian markets.

Initially, the .45-70 Government caliber suffered a sharp market decline; after it was painlessly transitioned from black powder loads to smokeless loads, it regained a wide pool of appraising enthusiasts between shooters and hunters. In modern times, these were joined by antique guns and CAS/OWSS enthusiasts.

Springfield Model 1873 "Trapdoor" 
The Springfield Model 1873 "Trapdoor" U.S. service rifle, chambered in .45-70 Government
Springfield Model 1873 "Trapdoor" 
A close-up of the breechloading system of the Springfield Model 1873 "Trapdoor" service rifle

The cartridge

The .45-70 Government cartridge offers a rimmed, wide, 54mm-long case; modern configurations basically provide for two different bullet types: a "light" 300-grains load and a "heavier" 405-grains load, respectively topping muzzle velocity levels of 600 metres-per-second and 420 metres-per-second.

Its huge, stocky bullets − generally hollow-point in design, often nicknamed the "Flying ashtrays" − still offer power levels ranging around 350 kilograms/meters (well over 3400 Joules or 2500 foot-pounds), and even exceeding it, making the .45-70 Government caliber a more than viable alternative for hunting purposes.

Ammunition: the .45-70 Government cartridge
Another Federal Premium .45-70 caliber load: this comes with a 300-grains, hunting-oriented SP Speer Hot-Cor expanding bullet
Ammunition: the .45-70 Government cartridge
The .45-70 Government cartridge is also available in specific loads for Cowboy Action Shooting and other similar competitions, through manufacturers such as Ultramax
Ammunition: the .45-70 Government cartridge
Hornady offers 325-grains FTX soft-tip loads in .45-70 Government caliber for lever-action carbines
Ammunition: the .45-70 Government cartridge
A classic Winchester .45-70 Government hunting load, with 300-grains JHP bullets

Hunters and sport shooters quickly realized that this round could provide an unexpected level of accuracy on paper target and on running game alike, as well as an impressive stopping power − enough to stop even the largest prey dead on its track if fired from close quarters, hence why it is still anything but on its way to retirement.

Pedersoli .45-70 caliber Model 86/71 
A Pedersoli .45-70 caliber Model 86/71 lever-action rifle
Pedersoli Rolling Block "John Bodine"
Pedersoli's replica of the Rolling Block "John Bodine" .45-70 Government caliber single-shot rifle
Chiappa's model 1886 "Kodiak" 
Chiappa's model 1886 "Kodiak" .45-70 caliber lever-action rifle offers a classic setup with a fully stainless finish and a synthetic stock and handguard
Marlin model 1895SBL 
The Marlin model 1895SBL lever-action rifle in .45-70 Government caliber is built with moder materials and sports a Picatinny rail

Fields of use

The trajectory of the .45-70 Governement cartridge shows a well-pronounced drop curve, which makes it viable for hunting purposes only on short ranges; it has indeed gained acceptance in long-range shooting sports, although in those cases, terminal energies will generally turn out to be much lower than one would expect from such a large caliber.

Its primary use on hunting is on battue and driven hunt, deep in the woods, when the game will almost always appear at short range; the .45-70 Government cartridge is generally chambered on modern, very handy and quick-to-use lever-action carbines, which will provide fast follow-up shot capabilities. A niche of hunters will also be found to be partial for single-shot breechloading rifles chambered in this cartridge, using it for mid-to-long-range shooting on ungulates and other mid-sized game which won't be too much ravaged from the impact of such a big and heavy bullet.

Pedersoli "John Bodine" 
A close-up of the rolling block locking system on a Pedersoli "John Bodine" .45-70 Government caliber lever-action rifle

On short distances, the .45-70 cartridge can also be considered a valid solution against bears and other very large preys, particularly in north America (Canada and the United States), where it has indeed been experimented and used for years. 

There is not much use for it in European hunting, exception made maybe for driven boar hunt in Italy and other southern European Countries or for larger game hunt in the vast woods of the northern parts of the Continent.

Almost all firearms currently available on the market and chambered for this old caliber are lever-action rifles and carbines, but some express and single-shot designs are also available.

Commercial, loaded ammunition are also plentifully available, although they lack diversifications in terms of specific loads... but hey, that's what reloading is for!

Those who may want to load their own .45-70 Government ammunition should also be aware of pressure levels, depending from the type, age and overall conditions of the guns they're meant to be fired through. More specifically, some "old glories" may sport a weak action − too weak for modern loads. Guns that were conceived to fire blackpowder ammunition may not be structurally solid enough to endure the pressure levels of modern hot loads.

Pedersoli Rolling Block "John Bodine" 
The .45-70 caliber Pedersoli Rolling Block "John Bodine" single-shot rifle is particularly suited for long-range shooting competitions


The .45-70 Government cartridge was historically used on the U.S. government issue Springfield model 1873 "Trapdoor" breechloading rifle.

Some historians trace the roots of the .45-70 Government caliber to a modified .50-90 Sharps caliber case.

All throughout its service history, some lots of .45-70 Government ammunition were built using a wooden bullet filled with hunting lead pellets, which allowed soldiers to hunt small game for provisioning when on the field.

The .45-70 Governement cartridge recently provided very good results on long-range shooting competitions, particularly on 1000-yards distances and fired through Ruger N°1 single-shot carbines.

Other popular denominations for the .45-70 Government cartridge include: ".45-70 Gov’t", ".45-70-500", ".45-55-405" and ".45-70 Trapdoor".

Some examples of reloading specs for the .45-70 Government caliber

Gun used: Marlin model 1895 lever-action rifle   Barrel lenght: 56 cm






.45-70 Government 

IRM 4198 

35 grains

Remington HP 300 grains

CCI Standard

  .45-70 Government   

IRM 4198 

32 grains

Remington HP 405 grains

CCI Standard


Our readers should be advised that ammunition handloading requires skill and attention. All provided handloading data should be considered as purely indicatory; even the slightest variations could cause dangerous pressure surges, which could in turn result into bodily harm or property damage. In no case will the author of this article or accept any responsibility for any injury or damage caused by the improper use of these data.

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