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45-70 IN LEVERGUNS

FROM ELVES TO ELEPHANTS
by Paco

Just as many have written about .45 Colt chambered handguns being different guns in strength, according to what gun and even what year it was manufactured, so the same is true about the .45-70. Certainly we all know the old Springfield Trapdoor .45-70 is a black powder gun and even some of those can't be shot with anything any more, NOT even black powder, due to crystallization of the steel. I had an Officer's Model H&R modern Trapdoor in .45-70 back in the late 1970s. Because of the design, even in modern steel it couldn't be reloaded beyond commercial ammo. In this category also are the early Marlins in .45-70, those manufactured from 1881 thru 1892 or so, and some of Marlin, Ballard and other early single shots. I doubt you would run in to them outside of a collection, however, so that would be 'level one' in strength.

The design of the 1886 levergun which is the same as the Model 71 and its revolver round chambered little brother (the design) model 1892 is very strong...BUT...and it's a big but....be careful of the very old black powder 1886 rifles. Yes, being manufactured after the 1880 Bessemer steel process, gives their steel more carbon and strength, but they are not up to the pressure potentials of the later '86s and '71s. I have found on these old rifles, especially on the small '92s when they were converted from rounds like the 32-20 to the 357 magnum, they just couldn't sustain the beating of the higher pressures. I must have seen dozens of good conversions, but not one of the of the black powder era, that didn't have to have at least their firing pin holes bushed.

That's a process of drilling out the firing pin hole and adding a piece of modern steel in the hole with a new firing pin channel. The hole and the replacement steel is beveled and fitted. Even so other parts begin to let go. I had an 1886 black powder era 40-65, that was tight and in excellent shape, that just shot loose. It had parts breaking constantly, it just couldn't take pressures in the 40,000+ psi level like the '71s can. I traded it to a collector for a modern Browning 45-70, a real sweet gun. Pressure with these BP guns must be kept around 25,000 and below, level two.

At 'Level Three' I hope to see Winchester chamber its Big Bore (fatside) '94 for the .45-70 in the near future. Certainly if the model 94 BB Winchester can take the 444 it can take the .45-70. It's not going to be a simple job for Winchester designers. It's NOT like just opening up the lifters and a longer bolt travel with a new barrel. But it can be done and WW will sell a ton of them. Also the Marlin .45-70s are on the market. The rifle has been around since its reintroduction back in the late 1960s and now Marlin has introduced the .45-70 in their Guide Guns. And they are neat. These guns are sure to be in level three and can be loaded to 40,000 psi. The Winchester, when it comes, will probably be able to take a little more than that.

'Level Four' and the top level in pressure are the modern '86s in .45-70 by Browning and Winchester. Certainly 50,000 psi is a usable and stable pressure level in these guns. By stable I mean they can sustain that pressure level very well. The model 71 in .348 is in essence a modern high intensity rifle cartridge with a large case head and a shape that must give substantial back thrust. Yet they take the pressure without question. The .45-70s case shape will not generate as much back thrust as the .348 but because of the two and half plus times bullet weight in the 45-70 it will equal out. And it's level four.

Now there are three guns on the market today that will take the pressures of the modern rifle belted magnums: The Browning High Wall single shot, the Ruger #3 in .45-70 (boy do you know when you touch off a heavy load in these light rifles) and the Lexus of the rifle world, the better than fine Ruger Number One in .45-70. That baby will take pressures that gives 500 grain bullets the ability to touch the bottom side of .458 magnum ballistics. Ruger has cataloged a Ruger #1 in .45-70 for it's fiftieth birthday and it's a beautiful Rifle! The cost is $1999 but these are not leverguns so maybe I'll write of them in the future if there is interest.

LEVEL ONE:

Black powder in a .45-70 is a messy game - in any cartridge for that matter. But I have a number of friends that shoot black and I forgive them for having so much fun doing it! Actually, I have an old Marlin .45-90 that I use black powder in often. It is a real gig. I often get large smoke rings that go out for ten or more yards on calm days. I can get about 83 to 84 grains of black powder under a 475 grain cast slug, cast 1 in 20, and the velocity out of the 24 inch barrel is 1400 fps plus. It smashes targets and berms behind them with over a ton of muzzle energy. It will also use 36/H4198 and give close to the same velocity and only 16,000 psi. It's an old shooter but I take care to keep the pressure down and the bullet weight up so it has power without strain.

Since we are talking about black powder, in the level one guns, I have fired black in the .45-70: 66 grains under the same 475 grain bullet gives 1377 fps (that's all the black I can get under this bullet). 64 grains under a 525 grain cast bullet gives a little under 1200 fps - again 24 inch barrels. I have a few unfired original 1870 .45-70 US Government rounds in my collection. A few years ago I velocity tested some of them out of my .45-70 Officer's H&R Trapdoor. There was only 54 grains of black under the 506 grain bullet and it just about broke 1000 fps. The 407 grain bullet had 68 grains under it and it tested at 1345 fps.

Those are the actual weights of the bullets I pulled and weighed, as was the powder. And of the two 500 grain loads I fired that day, I had to tap out one case that got stuck in the chamber. The rim let go under the extractor of the Trapdoor, a common occurrence in the old days. That's why these rifles had rods in the forearms of the stocks. These 1870 rounds were fired at seven dollars a shot, so it was marked up to the 'search for knowledge'. Any of the old level one guns in .45-70 should be able to take these loads as long as they are in good tight condition. If you are unsure then let a good gunsmith look over your gun. That's a real gunsmith, not a parts changer!

In my book on Leveractions I wrote about pulling the bullet from a Frankford Arsenal round (don't know when it was made, no date on them). The bullet from that round was 506 grains with a paper patch, and 58.2 grains of very fine black powder. The case was balloon headed very deeply. The bullet had a very small flat tip. It also was a small primer, with a two hole flash system. I shot a small black bear with one of these loads, a 120 plus years old load, hit him in the seat of the pants so to speak. That hundred plus year-old 500 grain bullet went 49 inches, thru meat and bone and belly at whatnot, before it stopped. As I said in my book, that was probably the last animal in history ever taken with a U.S. Army .45-70/500 cartridge!

For those black powder guns that are in good strong shape, there are some modern powder loads I can recommend. Remember that 4895 and 4198 are excellent replacement powders for black for the old guns. 35 grains of H4895 under a 400 grain cast bullet from a twenty inch barrel will give 1300 to 1400 fps and only 12000 psi, and it is an accurate load. I always put a few fibers of pillow stuffing down on the powder to hold it in place. I find it helps the accuracy in these big cases.

30 grains of H4198 (4198 is a faster burning powder) under the same bullet 1450 or so and less then 14000 psi. If your gun is very strong, 33/H4198 will give almost 1550 fps and at a cost of 16,000 psi. Whereas 40/H4895 will give around the same velocity and just under 19000 psi...but that is certainly tops for these old timers. If you want higher velocities go to 300 grain bullets, there is a goodly amount of molds and already cast 300 grainers on the market - even an occasional 300 grain jacketed bullet won't hurt them. Though the barrel steel wasn't designed for jacketed, it's still steel and harder then copper. Hornady's 300 grain jacketed flat point doesn't just kill deer, it flattens them. With 40 grains of H4895 as a starting point, work up.1600 fps is possible, and that is a killer on deer and black bear sized animals. In fact, a 300 grain bullet out of a Freedom Arms .454 revolver at 1600 fps is a load used in the hunting fields all the time.

LEVEL TWO LOADS:

I keep my level two loads to around 28,000 psi. For a 300 grain bullet, like the jacketed Hornady, 35 grains of IMR 4227 will give you well over 1850 fps and that's a killing load on medium game like deer and black bear. With a stouter bullet like the Speer 350 grain flat point, 51 grains of AA2015 will give near 1700 fps and elk and other big game will fall to it. 53 grains of H4895 will come very close to the same velocity and I have found it to be very accurate with this Speer bullet. With 61.5 grains of 748 and this 350 gr. bullet, over 1850 grains is possible but you are running out of powder room in the 45-70 case. The 400 gr. Speer is also a fine bullet that gives outstanding accuracy and 748 is the powder of choice. 59 grains is all I can crowd under this 400 grain flat nose but at 1800 fps and over 2800 ft.lbs. of muzzle energy, you are talking very big game loads so these level two guns are not chicken little when it comes to power.

LEVEL THREE:

Then there are the level three rifles, and most likely the largest user of .45-70 ammo in our game fields. If any animal in America won't fall to a well-placed shot from a .45-70 level three power load then as a good friend said, "you shouldn't have gotten into an argument with it in the first place."

When you are pushing a 350 grain Speer jacketed flatnose at 2050 fps and almost ton and three quarters muzzle energy they are not going to talk back if you do your part, (57/AA2015). I would brain an elephant, without hesitation, using a heavy jacketed 458 magnum designed bullet in 350 grains, like the Hornady 350. How much more power do we need for hunting in the lower 48 states?

The largest animal you can take would be a buffalo, and he's no risk. But just in case that is not enough then Speer makes a 400 grain bullet that you can push with 53 grains of AA2015 and 1900+ fps velocity, as will 57 grains of H335. These two loads of 2015 powder must be worked up to, they are top loads. Don't think that I lowered the powder charge to be careful for you, I didn't. The usual good advice: Start 10% below and work up.

ReL7 is a fine powder in the 1895 Marlins and will be, I am sure, in Winchester's BB 45-70 when they get it off the ground. With 53 grains the Hornady 300 grain jacketed bullet will go over 2250 fps, 52 grains of IMR 4198 will go 2150 and 59 grains of 3031 will do the same. These are great hunting loads. 47/4198 (IMR) will push the 350 grainer to 1900 fps as will 50 grains of ReL7 also. With 58 grains of 4320 under the 400 grain Speer you get a little over 1800 fps and a good deal of accuracy.

One of the more accurate powders I have found with the 400 grain Speer is ReL7. With 51.5 grains and 1900 fps, we are getting 3200 plus ft.lbs. of muzzle energy. Elk and Moose will go down very handsomely to a well placed shot with this load. And the best part is the accuracy! I put three of these from my 25 year old Marlin into 1 inches at 100 yards. With a three inch zero at 100 yards this big flatfaced bullet is down 6 inches at 200 and 12 inches at 250 yards. That's pretty much a dead hold on a deer to 250 yards and, for elk and larger, it's probably closer to dead on out to 275 to 290 plus yards - not bad for a big blunt power house leveraction!

LEVEL FOUR:

LEVEL FOUR: The more modern '86s by both Winchester and Browning are so strong that powder room becomes the major factor in reloading for these big leveractions...almost.

The all-around velocity champ, AA2015, under the 350 grain Speer will push that bullet out of a 24 inch barrel at an easy 2300 fps and an astounding 4100 plus lbs. of muzzle energy. You are talking very close to the African Rifle power levels of just a few years ago. Switch to the Hornady 350 grain heavy jacketed bullet and it is a thick skin killer of African game with a much faster second shot then any other rifle, other than a double.

With this load, and a lot of practice, I was able to put four shots into a 100 yard, 12 inch circle, faster then a bolt action rifleman could put two into the same circle. Firing from the count of three I was able to fire two rounds before he could clear the spent shell from his first shot. It takes a lion about two seconds to charge you from 50 yards. I could hit one easily twice. And this load would turn a lion inside out.

Winchester has just re-released it's model '86 in a 24 inch taken down rifle. And it is beautiful! It is also heavy, but when you are using loads like this you need the weight. I think this new Win '86 45-70 take down, with an octagon barrel, is the finest moderately priced African Rifle now on the market. When you pay the big boys up to 3000 dollars for their African and Safari Grade bolt guns, and 20,000 plus for good doubles, $1100 for the Winchester is moderate to a fault.

The recoil on this rifle with heavy loads is really not bad, because of its weight. Now that is relative. If you are used to .45-70 Marlins with medium loads, the jump to this won't take long. But if you have been shooting .30-30s all your life, you will have to work up. Saying this, I have an early 20s daughter. She beautiful and petite - and she handles full loads in this rifle without breaking a sweat. She had to work up to it, but it didn't take long. Now she can follow PACO'S RULE...out to 250 yards, that's 250 rounds, without problems.

With the 400 grain bullets in these '86s, 2100 fps and just under 4000 ft. lbs. is possible, again with 2015 powder. I use 58 grains for 2100 plus fps. We are not far from the power of the .458 mag with these loads - about one fifth away. The big .458 easily tops five thousand pounds - we are topping four thousand. An elephant would never know the difference. I once killed a rogue female elephant in what was then Rhodesia, with a 9.3mm (.366 caliber) and a 280 grain solid at 2300 fps or so, (estimated no chronos in those days). That bullet nearly went completely thru her head from just between the eyes and into the high back skull. The brain is only about the size of a small football, low behind the eyes. And protected by skull and lots of honeycomb type bone. One of these 86 loads placed right would certainly do the job cleanly.

I make my own .458 bullets from tubing in a set of dies made by friend Ed Wosika. I can make them any weight from about 200 grains to a whopper of 600 grains. But the weight that works for me is 450grs. You run out of powder room with the 475s and 500s in the short .45-70 cases. But this stout 450 can hit 1800 fps. I wouldn't shoot an elephant with one if another was standing behind it. This bullet would go completely thru and wound the second, not a situation that professional hunters will love you for.

Those are your power levels with the .45-70, from mild to absolutely incredible. It's the strength of the gun's action that makes it what it can be and what ever you need it to be.

 

 

 

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