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Buried in the archives on Real Guns® is a considerable body of work addressing handloading cartridges appropriate for big and dangerous game. It was a kick I was on for a decade or so that ran from the 375 H&H to the 500 Jeffery with many cartridges in between and concluded with loss of hearing in my right ear, a torn rotator cuff and a flat shooting 600 grain bullet at 2,500 fps. It was at the tail end of those projects that the modern incarnation of the 45-70 was pulled in as a heavy hitter for big and dangerous North American game as a step toward rehabilitation.

One of the rifles used for 45-70 handload development was a Ruger No.1, pictured left. Wired for a strain measurement, it was partnered with a universal receiver and test barrel with transducer gear to monitor pressure levels. Fifteen years of heavy use and the most I’ve done is scrub the Ruger’s bore and lube the moving pieces. Good rifle.

Both the Winchester Model 1886 and the Marlin Model 1895, both chambered in 45-70, are solid firearms, but not as strong as the Ruger No.1. Subsequently, the handloads appearing within this article are truly not for use in the noted Winchester and Marlin lever action rifles, or any other brand of lever action rifle.

I always limited Marlin Model 1895 handloads to 38,000 PSI. When Marlin changed barrel thread form and heat treat to accommodate the 450 Marlin’s 43,500 PSI Maximum Average Pressure, I stayed at 38,000 PSI because there was no verifiable statement that the change carried over to all Model 1895s and it wasn’t a big enough difference to narrow the margin of safety.

I do know that most non-standard “modern” 45-70 factory loads top out at 38,000 PSI and I do know that using Ruger No.1 classified handloads in a Model 1895 will cause it to eventually fail, sometimes in a spectacular fashion. On the other hand, I have re-barreled the No.1 for 378 Weatherby based cartridges with a 60,000+ PSI MAP without a problem.  The handloads on this page are not in the 60,000 PSI range, but they are +/- in the 50,000 PSI range.

Why not skip this and move to a 458 Winchester Magnum? Because the 45-70, even when pushed, does not approach the 458 Winchester’s level of performance… or recoil and there is nothing I plan to hunt that requires that level of power. Please see at opening “hearing loss and torn rotator cuff”.

Handloading the 45-70 isn’t budgetary sensibility as it isn’t must less expensive then  handloading the 458 Winchester Magnum. Starline brass is typically available for the 45-70 at 50 cents per and Norma brass when it can be found runs about 60 cents. For some reason, Hornady brass for both is about twice as much. Brass holds up for full tilt 45-70 loads better than the 458 Winchester at 60,000 PSI.

While there are many bullets typically available for the 45-70 that are significantly less expensive than bullets slated for the 458 Winchester, at this level of performance, bullet cost is about the same where jackets are thicker and bullet construction if made to stand up to higher impact velocity. Four bullets were selected for the heavy handloading project, all have held up at this level of performance. Left to right:

The 350 grain Woodleigh 30A was once listed for the 458 Winchester, but it is now listed for the 3 1/4″ 450 Black Powder Express. The 450 BPE was loaded with 105 to 120 grains of black powder and was a popular choice for medium size game. Woodleigh’s bullet is designed for an impact velocity between 1,800 and 2,100 fps, which is 100 fps faster than Woodleigh’s 300 grain and 405 grain 45-70 listed bullets, #s 30B and 30C respectively. It is a good bullet for thin skin, heavy body game…. moose, elk, etc.

Swift’s 400 grain flat nose A-Frame is listed in the company’s reloading manual for both the 45-70 Gov’t and 458 Winchester. The bullet is not listed by Swift as a bullet for lever action applications, but rather under the A-Frame Heavy Rifle Category. The Swift 45-70 load data puts it at a mild 1,691 FPS where the 458 Winchester Magnum is top listed at 2,410 FPS; quite a velocity spread for one bullet. The other oddity is that the bullet’s cannelure is set to a seated depth of 0.425″, but the load data shows the bullet seated to 0.685″ for a cartridge overall length of 2.550″.  The Ruger permitted seating out to a longer than spec COL, which recovered 5.5 grains of case capacity, but did not recover cannelure position.

The Cast Performance 460 grain bullet is hard cast. It does not expand, but penetrates deeply and is pretty good at breaking heavy bone. I am not sure that the gas check is needed at these velocities, but it surely doesn’t hurt. Good bullets, uniform in weight and dimension and they deliver good accuracy.

The 500 grain Hornady DGX, X for expanding, is not listed for the 45-70 in lever gun applications, but it is listed for Ruger No.1 level handloads. Part of the delineation is due to the toughness of the copper clad steel jacket over a lead core, part is because of the long ogive that ends with a 2.925″ cartridge overall length if seated with case mouth at cannelure and to Hornady’s recommendation.

Checking this, and all other bullets with a COL gauge, while the Ruger allows longer than spec COL, it was not long enough to accept the Hornady recommended length for handloading this combination as indicated on the table below. “Actual COL” reflects the maximum physical length of a cartridge with the particular bullet, less 0.020″ to keep the bullet off of the rifling leade.

Bullet Type Weight
Grains
Ballistic
Coefficient
Bullet
Length
Inches
Seating
Depth
Inches
Actual
COL
Inches
Woodleigh Weldcore RNSN 350 0.305 0.955 0.460 2.600
Swift A-Frame FNSP 400 0.258 1.140 0.565 2.680
Cast Performance FNGC 460 0.287 1.120 0.680 2.530
Hornady DGX FNJSP 500 0.295 1.395 0.735 2.750

All of the handloads were assembled with Remington brass, with the exception of the Hornady DGX loads. They were assembled with Starline brass for no particular reason other than I ran out of Remington brass… after running out of Winchester brass during the prior project. For me, cleaning brass has the same appeal as doing laundry. Subsequently, you use every bit of it until you are forced into a dedicate brass cleaning and prep day.

They are much taller when assembled…

Warning: Bullet selections are specific, and loads are not valid with substitutions of different bullets of the same weight. Variations in bullet length will alter net case capacity,  pressure and velocity. Primer selection is specific and primer types are not interchangeable. These are maximum loads in my firearms and may be excessive in others. All loads should be reduced by 5% as a starting point for development where cartridges have greater than 40 grains in capacity and 10% for cartridges with less than 40 grain capacity following safe handloading practices as represented in established mainstream reloading manuals. Presentation of these loads does not constitute a solicitation for their use, nor a recommendation.

Cartridge
45-70 Gov’t Ruger #1 Only
Firearm Ruger No.1
Barrel Length 22.0″
Min – Max Case Length 2.105″ +0.0″/-0.020″
Min – Max Cartridge Overall Length 2.490″ – 2.550″
Primer CCI 250 – Large Rifle
Bullet Diameter 0.458″ +0.0″/-0.003″
Reloading Dies RCBS, Redding Competition,
Hornady Lee Factory Crimp

 

Bullet Type  Bullet Weight
Grains
Net H2O
Grains
Capacity
COL” Powder Type Powder Charge
Grains
Muzzle Velocity
fps
Muzzle Energy
ft/lbs
100 YD
3 Shot “
Weldcore RNSP
350 60.0 2.600 Re10x 54.0 2178 3688 1.1
Weldcore RNSP 350 60.0 2.600 IMR 3031 60.0 2240 3900 0.7
Weldcore RNSP 350 60.0 2.600 H4198 55.0 2179 3691 1.0
Swift A-Frame 400 55.9 2.680 Re7 50.0 2038 3690 0.8
Swift A-Frame 400 55.9 2.680 Re10x 52.0 2059 3766 1.0
Swift A-Frame 400 55.9 2.680 H4198 53.0 2073 3818 0.9
Cast Performance 460 50.5 2.530 Re7 45.0 1876 3596 0.9
Cast Performance 460 50.5 2.530 Re10x 49.0 1916 3751 1.2
Cast Performance 460 50.5 2.530 H4198 46.0 1887 3638 0.9
Hornady DGX 500 48.2 2.750 Re7 43.0 1703 3221 1.2
Hornady DGX 500 48.2 2.750 Re10x 45.0 1766 3463 1.0
Hornady DGX 500 48.2 2.750 H4198 43.0 1792 3566 1.1

Notes

I was going to omit the 350 grain bullet data because it did not fit the “Heavy Lead” category, but it is a pretty hard hitting combination and it definitely fits with heavy bodied game applications. So there ya go.

With the exception of the Cast Performance bullet, which was seated to accommodate its crimp groove, all of the bullets were seated out as far as a COL check gauge allowed, minus a very slight clearance from rifling. Parking on the leade spikes pressure. Where cannelures were placed for cartridges other than the 45-70… like the 458 Winchester Magnum, a Lee Precision Factory Crimp die was used, mostly the result of out of control muscle memory and many years of loading for lever action rifles. There is more than enough case tension from the RCBS full length sizer to hold onto a bullet in a single shot application.

None of the loads were particularly stout to shoot, but I don’t think they are made for casual plinking. This is the part where someone tried to fill out their pants by telling others that they load up with twice as much powder and shoot from horseback. Don’t do it and don’t shoot these loads in a lever action rifle.

The Hornady bullet is really stout and its use with the 45-70 may be dubious. It will certainly penetrate in very large game, but perhaps it is better placed on a 458 Winchester Magnum, 450 Rigby, 460 Weatherby, etc. etc. where velocity is a bit higher. The 460 grain Cast Performance might be a better fit where lead bullets are still allowed and snowflakes don’t fall and, of course, the 400 A-Frame is no slouch.

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