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No free man shall ever be de-barred the use of arms. The strongest reason for the people to retain their right to keep and bear arms is as a last resort to protect themselves against tyranny in government."

- Thomas Jefferson, of Virginia, Proposed Virginia Constitution, 1776

.45-70 Government

Developed at the U.S. Army’s Springfield Armory, the .45-70 Government cartridge was first used in the Springfield Model 1873 .45 caliberrifle.  The new cartridge was a replacement for the .50-70 Government cartridge, which had been adopted in 1866 - one year after the end of the American Civil War.

4.5-70 Governemnt rifle cartridge

.45-70 Government Cartridge

The new cartridge was completely identified as the .45-70-405, but was also commonly called the ".45 Government" cartridge in commercial catalogs. The nomenclature of the time was based on several properties of the cartridge:

    * .45 : nominal caliber, in decimal inches i.e. 0.45 inches (11.4 mm)
    * 70 : weight of propellant (black powder) charge, in grains i.e. 70-grains (4.5 g)
    * 405 : weight of lead bullet, in grains i.e. 405-grains (26.2 g)

The minimum acceptable accuracy of the .45-70 from the 1873 Springfield was approximately 4 MOA at 100 yards. However, the heavy, slow-moving bullet moved in a "rainbow" trajectory.  The bullet drop of the .45-70 Gov. measured in multiple yards (meters) at ranges greater than a few hundred yards (meters). A skilled shooter, firing at known range, could consistently hit targets that were 6 X 6 feet at 600 yards — the Army standard target. Accurate aimed fire on a man-sized target was effective to about 300 yards.

For comparison: a .30-06, .45-70, and .50-90, respectively.

For comparison: a .30-06, .45-70, and .50-90, respectively.

After the Sandy Hook tests of 1879, a new variation of the .45-70 cartridge was produced, the .45-70-500, which fired a heavier 500-grain (32.5 g) bullet. The heavier 500-grain bullet produced significantly superior ballistics, and could reach ranges of 3,500 yards (3200 m), which were beyond the maximum range of the .45-70-405. While the effective range of the .45-70 on individual targets was limited to about 1,000 yards (915 m) with either load, the heavier bullet would produce lethal injuries at 3,500 yards. At those ranges, the bullets struck point-first at roughly a 30 degree angle, penetrating three one-inch (2.5 cm) thick oak boards, and then traveling to a depth of 8 inches (20 cm) into the sand of the Sandy Hook beach. It was hoped the longer range of the .45-70-500 would allow effective volleyed fire at ranges beyond those normally expected of infantry fire.

Note that while the nominal bullet diameter was .45 inches, the bore was actually closer to .458 inches (11.6 mm). Arsenal loadings for the 45-70-405 and 500 government cartridges generally used bore diameter grease groove bullets of .457-.458 diameter. As was standard practice with many early U.S. commercially produced cartridges, bullets were often "paper patched", or wrapped in a couple of layers of thin paper. This patch served to seal the bore and keep the soft lead bullet from coming in contact with the bore, preventing leading (see internal ballistics). Like the cloth or paper patch used in muzzle-loading firearms, the paper patch fell off soon after the bullet left the bore. Paper patched bullets are still available, and some black powder shooters still "roll their own" paper patched bullets for hunting and competitive shooting.


The predecessor to the .45-70 was the short-lived .50-70-425 cartridge, adopted in 1866 and used in a variety of rifles, many of them percussion cap rifled muskets converted to trapdoor action breechloaders. The conversion consisted of milling out the rear of the barrel for the tilting breechblock, and placing a .50 caliber "liner" barrel inside the .58 caliber barrel. The .50-70 was popular among hunters, as the bigger .50 caliber bullet hit harder (see terminal ballistics) but the military decided even as early as 1866 that a .45 caliber bullet would provide increased range, penetration and accuracy. The .50-70 was adopted anyway, as a temporary solution until a significantly improved rifle and cartridge were developed.

The result of the quest for a more accurate, flatter shooting .45 caliber cartridge and firearm was the Springfield Trapdoor rifle. Like the .50-70 before, it, the .45-70 utilized a brass center-fire case design. A reduced power loading was also adopted for use in the Trapdoor carbine. This reduced load used a 55-grain (3.6 g) powder charge.

A graph showing the relative trajectories of the .45-70-405 and the 7.62x51 mm/.308 Winchester out to 1500 yards.

A graph showing the relative trajectories of the .45-70-405 and the 7.62x51 mm/.308 Winchester out to 1500 yards.

Also issued was the .45-70 "Forager" round, which contained a thin wooden bullet filled with birdshot, intended for use hunting small game to supplement the soldiers' rations. This round in effect made the .45-70 rifle into a 49 gauge shotgun.

The Springfield Trapdoor rifle was last used in quantity during the Spanish-American War and was not completely purged from the inventory until well into the 20th century. The rifle itself underwent a number of modifications over the years, namely strengthened breech starting in 1884. The government adopted new 500-grain (32 g) bullet in that same year for use in the stronger arm. The U.S. Army retained the .45-70 as their principal arm until 1893. Europeans adopted the use of modern, efficient repeaters and smokeless powder ammunition years earlier.

The the military still uses the .45-70 in the form of the CARTRIDGE, CALIBER .45, LINE THROWING, M32. The M32 is a blank cartridge used in a number of models of line throwing guns used by the Navy and Coast Guard. Early models of these line throwing guns were made from modified Trapdoor and Sharps rifles, while later models are built on break-open single-shot rifle actions.

Sporting Use

Sportsman immediately favored the .45-70 and the cartridge has survived for one and a third centuries. Today, the traditional 405-grain (26.2 g) load proves adequate for any North American big game within its range limitations, including the great bears. The .45-70 does not destroy edible meat on smaller animals such as deer due to the bullet's low velocity. The .45-70 Government shows exceptional strength as a big game brush or heavy timber gun, where the range is usually short.

The relatively low velocity limits the .45-70 to practical shots on game to less than 120 meters or so, despite the ability to kill at many times that distance. The steep bullet trajectory of the bullets makes for a very short point blank range. At the time of introduction this was not a significant problem, as the .45-70 was a fairly flat-shooting cartridge compared to other available cartridges. Shooters of these early cartridges a keen judgement in regards to distance, wind and trajectory in order to make long shots. Most modern shooters use much higher velocity cartridges and rely on the long point blank range. Hunters using telescopic sight's rarely utilize elevation adjustments, calibrated iron sights, or hold over. Sights found on early cartridge hunting rifles were quite sophisticated, with a long sighting radius, wide range of elevation, and Vernier adjustments to allow precise calibration of the sights for a given range. Even the military "Creedmoor" type rifle sights were calibrated and designed to handle extended ranges, flipping up to provide several degrees of elevation adjustment if needed. The .45-70 is a popular choice for black powder cartridge shooting events, and replicas of most of the early rifles, including Trapdoor, Sharps, and Remington single shot rifles remain readily available.

A long range tang sight, commonly used on black powder cartridge rifles

A long range tang sight, commonly used on black powder cartridge rifles.

The .45-70 retains great popularity among American hunters and several manufacturers still offer commercial ammunition. Most current cartridge manufacturers offer rounds with low case pressures for safety in antique rifles and their replicas. Modern rifle designs chambered in .45-70 Gov. can benefit from ammunition loaded to higher pressures and ballistic performance. Rifles such as the Siamese Mauser or Ruger #1 single-shot possess the design strength needed to handle cartridges loaded to the pressure levels needed to take on large African game.

Type                                     Rifle
Place of origin                      United States

Service History

Used by                                United States

Production History

Designer                               U.S. Gov.
Designed                              1873


Case type                             Rimmed, straight
Bullet diameter                    .458 in (11.6 mm)
Neck diameter                     . 480 in (12.2 mm)
Base diameter                      .505 in (12.8 mm)
Rim diameter                       .608 in (15.4 mm)
Rim thickness                      .070 in (1.8 mm)
Case length                          2.105 in (53.5 mm)
Overall length                      2.550 in (64.8 mm)
Rifling twist                         1-20"
Primer type                           Large rifle

Ballistic Performance

Bullet weight/type                  Velocity(MV)                     Energy(ME)

300 (Trapdoor) Lead PB         1,597 fps (487 mps)     1,699 ft·lbf (2,304 J)
405 (Trapdoor) Lead FN         1,394 fps (425 mps)     1,748 ft·lbf (2,370 J)
300 (Standard) JHP                 2,069 fps (631 mps)     2,852 ft·lbf (3,867 J)
300 (Strong) JHP                     2,275 fps (693 mps)     3,449 ft·lbf (4,676 J

Article Source: Wikipedia

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I recently ordered a couple of new guns from my local gun shop. It may be a while until they come in, from what I am told. I ordered a 3 inch Ruger SP101 in the new .327 Federal Magnum caliber and a Ruger Hawkeye African in the .375 Ruger caliber. The seller tells me that the SP 101 in that make up is just now trickling out of the factory and that distributers are having a hard time stocking them for retailers, so I may be waiting a for more.