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The .45-70 Government cartridge is a direct result of extensive development done by the United States Army at their Springfield Armory, circa 1870. The meaning of the naming nomenclature of the cartridge is as follows:

  • .45: for the caliber of bullet.
  • 70: for the grains of black powder required to propel it.
  • Government: because it was designed by the United States Army.

Eventually, the rimmed (meaning that the head of the case {or the opposite end from the bullet} is larger than the body) brass case was standardized at 2.10 inches in length. The bullets themselves were anywhere from 400 to 500 grains in weight and measured a little over one inch in length. Today, the three main ammunition manufacturers in the United States still produce this cartridge, except that the bullets usually weigh 300 grains.

This was a service rifle cartridge for the United States Army for roughly 15 or so years and was developed after the short lived .50-70 Government. This cartridge probably accounted for a large quantity of buffalo and other large game taken during hunting and the requisite fur trade of the late 1800's (though, it should be noted that other black powder cartridges also did a great deal of the work necessary to nearly wipe out the buffalo population). It was accurate to long distances and delivered enough foot pounds of energy at these distances (600 yards plus) to kill the large quarry being sought.

The cartridge has seen a revival due to a new shooting sport — that of the black powder silhouette shooting. This sport entails shooting at a steel silhouette of a chicken, pig, turkey and ram at various distances — no more than 500 meters on the longest target which is usually the ram. It is a very challenging sport, as you have to assemble your own ammunition using techniques not used (and many nearly forgotten) since the era of black powder. Understanding the effect of wind (known as "doping the wind"), sight picture, follow through and ballistics are just as challenging as the discipline of modern target rifle shooting events; yet, since black powder has shooting properties all its own, there are differences.

We still have the .45-70, though it is now loaded with smokeless powder and copper jacketed bullets. For legal liability reasons, the factory loadings are usually designed such that the modern cartridges can be used in a rifle designed for black powder. However, as a result of the higher working pressures obtained with the use of smokeless powder in general, I do not recommend modern factory cartridges to be used in any of the guns chambered for black powder use without first having the gun checked out by a competent gunsmith. Even so, there is something right about this cartridge; else, it would have fallen by the wayside in firearms history.


Sources:

  • Loading the Black Powder Rifle Cartridge, Matthews, 1993.
  • SPG Lubricants BP Cartridge Reloading Primer, Venturino and Garbe, 2002.
  • http://www.speer.com
  • http://www.hodgdon.com

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