Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The .45-70

Farmist asks, in comments:
Would you consider doing a post on reloading for .45-70. I have a Marlin 1885, am a big fan of the caliber, and have been considering reloading for it.
Whoa! That's a broad subject for a blog post. Let me preface this post by saying I'm no expert, but I do have some limited experience with the caliber.

Junior and I have done some small work with the .45-70 over on the castbullet site and you can find two articles here and here. Those articles talk about loading black powder or substitutes in the .45-70, but the common ground of reloading and load development are followed.

The .45-70 is the only cartridge I'm aware of that has loading data published in three levels. The first, and mildest data is for the old, low-pressure Springfield (trapdoor) rifles of the 1800s. The second level of pressure is for the modern rifles in the caliber. The third level of power is for Ruger #1 and Marlin 1895 rifles. You can load this cartridge to levels that approach the .458 Winchester Magnum and it is capable of taking all the game on North America. Alaskan guides routinely use this cartridge as a back-up to client's rifles.

I don't load anything that heavy. The bison herds of the 19th century were wiped out by guys using black powder and that level of power has shown to be utterly effective on the game fields. In the .45-70, I like pushing a soft lead bullet at black powder velocities (about 1200 fps). I have two loads that I routinely load in that caliber. The first uses the Lee 459-500-3R bullet. This bullet is a spire point and I load it over Hodgdon 777 for my Sharps. It turns in very good accuracy in that rifle and closely approximates the load that wiped out the bison herds.

I've tried that load in my Handi-rifle and it just didn't work as well in the carbine as it did in the Sharps. So, I worked up a load using IMR 4895. IMR 4895 is a great cast-bullet powder and works well in reduced loads in a number of calibers. My recipe for smokeless in the Handi uses the Lee 459-405-FP bullet cast of dead-soft lead and lubed with liquid Alox. I size them to 0.457 using a push-through sizer, then load them using a 2.5 cc dipper to measure the powder. I've weighed the dipper charges and they come out to 34.3 grains of powder using MY dipper technique and MY scales. Your technique and your scales might show something different.

Because the 4895 takes up so little space in the cartridge case, I use a tuft (tiny pinch) of pillow dacron to hold the powder down near the primer. I take a tiny pinch of dacron and roll it between my fingers, then stuff it in the case with a pencil eraser. It'll immediately swell up to fill the case, then I seat the bullet using standard reloading practices. I've figured that with primers costing 3 cents each and my bulk powder costing about 2 cents, I'm loading this particular load for a nickel each. That's cheap shooting.

It's a fairly accurate load in my Handi, averaging about two inches at 50 yards, which is the distance my front sight covers the bullseye on a reduced SR-1 target. Below is a picture of the target my son shot yesterday with that rifle and load.

I'm not afraid of recoil and enjoy the thump of a heavy rifle, but with newer cartridges available I don't see the need to push this particular combo. I've never made meat with this rifle, although I've killed deer with my muzzle-loaders using loads like this. A 405 grain bullet traveling 1200 fps is something to be reckoned with when the cover is thick and the ranges are short. I'll be using this combo next week as I'll be hunting two patches of land where 100 yards is a long shot.

Chapters in loading manuals have been devoted to loading for the .45-70 and I hope this little posting helps. The .45-70 is a very versatile cartridge, economical and a lot of fun to shoot. I'm glad I have it in my battery.


Rivrdog said...

Look at it this way: that load is superior in wounding power to a .410 shotgun slug.

'Nother question, PawPaw: does that pillow-stuffing catch fire when you shoot, and if so, how far does that flaming wad go down range? If it doesn't catch fire, does it melt inside the case or barrel?

Bob said...

Gotta consider that you're flinging $7.63 cents worth of lead down range every time you touch it off though.
Rivrdog. I've not used dacron in 45-70 but I've used in .45 Colt. Never had it catch fire never found any of it either.

Pawpaw said...

I don't know what happens to that dacron. It goes away. I see a little (very little) residue in the barrel, but no more than I see with a dirty Unique load. I've never seen anything on fire. I'm not the first guy to use Dacron, but others have used other things, to include Cream of Wheat. It's just a little light-weight something to keep the powder down on the primer.

farmist said...

Thanks for the post and the links. Lots of good info for this beginning handloader.