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Boyds Gunstocks Blog

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An Old Timer That Still Works

by Jim House

Is it possible that a product that predates cell phones, Facebook, and the EPA could still be taken seriously?  As Gabby Hayes would have said, “Yur durn tootin!”  Just because something is old does not mean that it is not fully functional and useful.  I have had my reloading press for over half a century and it works perfectly.  The fountain pen with which I wrote this essay dates from the 1950s.  Similar models now sell for $50-100 as vintage pens.  What about a cartridge that will be 150 years old next year?  Could it still be widely used, effective, and versatile?  Well, if it is the .458 caliber .45-70 Government it can.

            Introduced in 1873 as a black powder cartridge, the old timer has survived surprisingly well perhaps for a good reason-it works.  The original load for the .45-70 utilized a 405 grain lead bullet and 70 grains of black powder.  The velocity produced was approximately 1350 FT/sec, which sounds rather pedestrian by today’s standards, but the big bullets hit hard.  The original .45-70 rifle was the Model 1873 Springfield that has become known as the “trap door” model as a result of having a door that lifted upward to give access to the chamber.  It was, of course, a single shot rifle.  The action was not particularly strong, but the original load generated modest pressure.

            On the subject of pressure, the wide variation in strength of rifles that fire .45-70 ammunition has led to an important consideration.  As a result, loading manuals frequently give different data for different rifles.  The Lyman 50th Edition manual list loads of below 18,000 psi for the trap door Springfield, but list loads going up to 28,000 psi for the Winchester Model 1886 and Marlin 1895 lever actions.  For the very robust Ruger No.1 the loads go up to 40,000 psi or above.  The Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers Institute (SAAMI) establishes pressure limits for ammunition and the maximum average pressure listed for the .45-70 is 28,000 psi.  However, within the 18,000 psi limit a 300 grain jacketed hollow point can be given a velocity of approximately 1700 FT/sec with proper loads.  That results in a muzzle energy of almost 2000 FT LBS with a big bullet of large diameter.  Such a load is capable of taking care of business.

            Most of the major loading companies produce .45-70 ammunition and one of the most common loads is with a 300 grain bullet at a specified velocity of approximately 1700-1800 FT/sec giving a muzzle energy of about 2300 ft lbs.  Another load that is listed by multiple loading companies is that utilizing a 405 or 410 grain cast bullet that has a velocity of 1200-1300 FT/sec.  Such loads are commonly referred to as cowboy action loads.  A couple of .45-70 loads deserve special mention.  One is from Hornady and it features a 325 grain polymer tipped bullet known as the FTX at an advertised velocity of 2050 FT/sec giving a muzzle energy of just over 3000 FT lbs.  This is not a load that I would suggest for use in a Springfield trap door rifle.  Another load that would get the attention of something large is from Swift.  It utilizes the highly regarded Swift A-Frame bullet that weighs 350 grains at a muzzle velocity of 1730 FT/sec.  Winchester offers the usual 300 grain loads but also a load that features a 375 grain bonded hollow point at 1500 FT/sec for a muzzle energy of 1873 FT lbs.  There are also other specialty loads from other manufacturers some of which are intended for use only in rifles having strong actions.

            The versatility of the .45-70 is increased even further by careful handloading.  For general shooting, I use mainly 350 grain cast bullets driven to about 1300-1400 FT/sec.  Another load that I produce in quantity uses a 300 grain hollow point from Hornady, Sierra, or Speer driven at about 1500 FT/sec.  I do not need more power than such a load produces.

            My .45-70 rifle is a single shot H&R Handi-Rifle.  I bought it as a used rifle, but it was easy to see that the rifle had had little use.  With a black polymer stock and forearm, it was not exactly a glamorous specimen, but it did have very nice iron sights.  I would not want a rifle of that type without sights.  Although I never intended to try to make it look like a single shot Holland & Holland, I knew it could be improved.  The way to do that was with a Boyds walnut stock and forearm.  The stock that I chose has lovely checkering on the grip area and although it is smooth, the generous sized forearm makes for a secure grip.  The result is a Handi-Rifle that lives up to its name and performs admirably.  I added a Galco butt cuff that holds six cartridges and because it is beautifully made of dark leather it does not detract from the beauty of the stock.

            I have read of others having H&R rifles that did not have acceptable trigger action, but mine has a really good trigger.  It is crisp with a let off requiring a pull of about three pounds.  With several different loads, it will put five shots in a ragged hole at 50 yards so it is plenty accurate for what I use it for.  My Handi-Rifle is not 150 years old, but it is handy, looks and shoots good, and is utterly reliable.  The rifle fires the grand old .45-70 Government cartridge and I would like to use it on some large predators sometime.


The .45-70 Handi-Rifle in original form.

The transfer bar mechanism used on H&R rifles.

The .45-70 has excellent open sights.

The addition of the Boyds walnut furniture makes it an elegant Handi-Rifle.

The checkering on the stock has superb looks and is functional.

Three factory .45-70 loads are a Winchester 300 grain hollow point, a 300 grain Winchester Ballistic Silvertip, and a 405 grain Remington jacketed soft point.

A wide assortment of bullets are available for handloading the .45-70