The .45-70 Government was developed at the United States Army's Springfield Armory for use in the Model 1873 rifle known as the "Trapdoor Springfield." This cartridge replaced the .50-70 cartridge that had been in use since 1866. This new cartridge would be completely identified as the .45-70-405. The nomenclature at that time was based on these characteristics of the cartridge:
.45: the caliber or diameter of the bullet
70: the weight of propellant (black Powder) charge in grains
405: the weight of the lead bullet in grains.
The cartridge was later loaded with a 500-grain lead bullet that produced superior ballistics. The heavier bullet was capable of reaching beyond maximum of the .45-70-405. While the maximum effective range of the .45-70 on individual targets is limited to about 1,000 yards with either load, the heavier bullet was capable of producing lethal injuries of beyond 3,000 yards.
The .45-70 cartridge did not survive the transition to smokeless powder as a military round even though it was used to a limited degree during the Spanish-American War. For all practical purposes, it was replaced in 1892 by the smokeless powder round, the 30-40 Krag.
As a sporting cartridge, the .45-70 Government has survived and, more than 130 years after its introduction, the .45-70 has undergone resurgence in popularity. Several modern rifles and a few handguns are now chambered for the cartridge, and its popularity appears to be on the increase.
The .45-70 has proven itself to be an effective short-range cartridge on all kinds of heavy and dangerous game throughout the world. Today, the traditional 405-grain jacketed soft point bullet is considered adequate for any North American big game within its range limitation including the great bears. It does not destroy large volumes of edible meat on smaller animals such as white tail deer because of the bullets low velocity. It is a very effective round for all types of hunting in brush or heavy timber where the range is usually short (less than 100 yards). While it does not produce the instant kills of the modern high-intensity cartridges, it still performs reliably. A well-hit game animal of North America will seldom escape after being hit with the .45-70 heavy bullet.
Factory ammunition today for the .45-70 includes the 405-grain jacketed soft point with an advertised muzzle velocity of 1,330 feet per second. Remington and Winchester manufacture this round. This would be a very effective round for hunting black bear, deer and wild boar in West Virginia. Federal also offers a 300-grain jacketed hollow point bullet with a muzzle velocity of about 1,800 feet-per-second.
Some of the rifles and handguns manufactured today for the .45-70 include the Marlin Model 1895 lever action, the Ruger Number One and Number Three Single Shot. A few companies have manufactured replicas of the "Trapdoor" Springfield Single Shot. The Thompson/Center Contender Single Shot is also chambered for this round.
Below are three handloads for the .45-70 Government:
1. Case Winchester
Primer Federal 210 (large rifle)
Powder & Weight: IMR 3031: 46.0 grains
Bullet Hornady 300-grain jacketed hollow point
Note: This is a low-pressure load for older rifles and modern replicas of the 1873 Springfield Trapdoor Model.
2. Case Remington
Primer Remington 9 1/2 (large rifle)
Powder & Weight - IMR 4198; 41.0 grains
Bullet Sierra 300-grain flat nose soft point
Note: This load is very effective in the Marlin Model 1895.
3. Case Winchester
Primer Federal 210 (large rifle)
Powder & Weight IMR 3031; 55.4 grains
Bullet Hornady 350-grain round nosed soft point
Note: This load should only be used in the stronger Ruger Number One and Number 3 Single Shot. It would be very effective on elk, caribou, and moose at close ranges.
These loads should never be fired in the older rifles that were manufactured during the black-powder era.