My grandpa swore by his old lever action .45-70. I shot it once growing up, and the recoil was so bad I swore I’d never go back again. My uncles would always give my grandpa a hard time, because they thought that .45-70 was big time overkill.
These two factors combined lead me to write off .45-70 at a young age. However, as time went on, I became more and more interested in the cartridge. After all, this is a very capable big game cartridge. At this time, I was set in my ways with a lever action .30-30, so I decided to compare the two.
In this article, we’ll go over my comparisons. I’ll talk about the size, ballistics, availability, and weapons availability for both cartridges. After that, we will make some recommendations for when each round has an advantage over the other.
However, before getting too deep into the comparison, we will talk about the long history of both rounds.
.45-70 has been around since the late 19th century. It was designed in 1873 to be used in one of the Springfield rifles for the United States Army following shortly after the Civil War. For those that are unfamiliar, the naming convention comes from the diameter of the bullet and the weight, in grains, of black powder in the cartridge.
The round is slightly smaller than its predecessor, because the military was looking for a round that would be more accurate. It got a little use in the military, but was pretty quickly replaced within the first two decades.
However, the round has remained popular to this day, a century and a half later. It’s a popular hunting cartridge due to the fact that it is a larger caliber, but fires a slower moving bullet. The low velocity preserves the meat of the animal, but the bullet is large enough to drop North American big game. The bullet also plows through brush really well.
.30-30 Winchester was designed shortly after .45-70, in 1895. Similar to .45-70, it is a slower moving cartridge that is commonly used for hunting big game at closer range.
The cartridge is somewhat well known for the fact that it was the first round marketed to be used with smokeless powder. The second 30 in the naming convention actually stands for the 30 grains of smokeless powder the cartridge was originally designed for.
Comparison Chart: 45-70 vs .30-30
US Govt / 1873
Winchester / 1895
.458 in (11.6 mm)
.308 in (7.8 mm)
.480 in (12.2 mm)
.330 in (8.4 mm)
.505 in (12.8 mm)
.422 in (10.7 mm)
.608 in (15.4 mm)
.506 in (12.9 mm)
.063 in (1.6 mm)
.070 in (1.8 mm)
2.039 in (51.8 mm)
2.105 in (53.5 mm)
.45-70 projectiles are .458 inches in diameter. The cartridge as a whole is 2.55 inches long, while the casings are a little over 2.1 inches long, which allows for plenty of space for powder. The most common projectiles weigh 405 grains, but there are also some available in other weights. Hornady LEVERevolution .45-70 is available in 250 grains and 325 grains, while Winchester and Federal make ammunition that is available in 300 grains.
.30-30 projectiles measure .308 inches in diameter. They are essentially the grandfather of modern .308 Winchester. The cartridge measures 2.039 inches long, with a case length of just over 2 inches. The projectiles are commonly 150 grains, but they are available between 130 and 170 grains.
As you can see, the .45-70 projectiles are significantly wider. While it may not seem like much, that additional .15 inches is actually pretty significant. Wider bullets mean that the bullet is able to damage more tissue. On the one hand, this means you are more likely to kill whatever your target it is. On the other hand, you are also damaging more of your potential meat.
In terms of ballistics, the two rounds perform similarly. Both rounds have a range of somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 yards. However, .45-70 is capable of being used at a further distance, it is just pretty difficult for the modern shooter.
.45-70 bullets have a muzzle velocity of somewhere in the neighborhood of 2100 feet per second. It depends on the specific round used, but it is generally near 2100 feet per second.
.30-30 bullets have a muzzle velocity of approximately 2350 feet per second, depending on the round.
As we already talked about, the .45-70 bullet is much heavier than the .30-30 bullet. What .45-70 lacks in speed, it will make up for in weight. The larger, slower bullet is more likely to tumble on impact and damage much more tissue.
However, the .30-30 is still a decently large bullet that will damage plenty of tissue. Keep in mind that this is the size of a .308 bullet, which is commonly used for big game hunting. Just because the .45-70 is larger, don’t think that the .30-30 is nothing.
Both rounds perform well in terms of ballistics, and there are excellent ammunition choices for hunting for each.
Speaking of ammunition….
.45-70 ammunition is somewhat limited. Remington Core-Lokt ammo is available, and it has a 405 grain projectile. The price works out to somewhere in the neighborhood of $2.25 per round. Federal Power-Shok is available with a 300 grain projectile. It costs around $1.80 per round. Both of these are great hunting cartridges that will expand upon impact.
Horandy LEVERevolution is available in 250 and 325 grains. These projectiles have a more aerodynamic shape, so the range will be increased. These also work out to around $1.80 per round. What limited other ammunition is available is somewhere in the same price range.
.30-30 ammunition is still limited, but not quite as bad as .45-70. For comparison’s sake, we will talk about a few of the same brands of ammunition.
Remington Core-Lokt is available with either a 150 or 170 grain projectile in .30-30. These cost about $0.91 per round. Federal Power-Shok is also available in 150 or 170 grain. It costs around $0.85 per round. Hornady LEVERevolution works out to around $1.20 per round.
However, it is also worth mentioning that there are more options available in .30-30. Popular hunting rounds, such as Winchester Power Max, Hornady American Whitetail, and Browing BXR Rapid Expansion, to name a few, are available in .30-30.
In terms of ammunition and availability, .30-30 has an edge on .45-70. The ammunition is cheaper, and there are some excellent hunting and shooting cartridges available.
For both cartridges, there are quite a few high quality weapons available. The vast majority of weapons are lever action rifles, and there are some great weapons to choose from. Both cartridges have weapons available produced by Henry, Rossi, Winchester, and Marlin.
However, we give a slight edge to .45-70 due to the fact that you can get the Marlin 1895 in .45-70. This weapon is thought of extremely highly, and is an absolutely excellent option. You can also get the Uberti Sharps rifle in .45-70, despite how expensive they are.
Rest assured though, the rifles available in .30-30 are excellent as well. The classic Henry lever action is always an excellent choice. One other interesting option is the Mossberg 464 SPX. It is a modernized lever action rifle, with an adjustable stock and a picatinny rail system. It’s not my style, but it may be worth checking out.
With all of these factors in mind, it’s time to make some recommendations.
If you are only planning on deer hunting, we recommend .30-30. It is plenty of bullet to take down a deer, and will be much more enjoyable to shoot, since it has significantly less recoil.
Similarly, if you are a smaller person, we recommend .30-30. The recoil of .45-70 would be tough on a smaller person.
If you are planning on hunting big game, such as bear, we recommend .45-70. While .30-30 will work, .45-70 is a deadly cartridge for big game. Having the extra bullet certainly won’t hurt.
If you are on a tight budget, we recommend .30-30. The weapons seem to be slightly cheaper, and the ammunition is much cheaper, which will save you money over the long run.
If you’re just looking for a lever action to shoot for fun, we recommend .30-30. It’s less expensive and more enjoyable to shoot.
As you can see, there’s a lot to like about both cartridges. Each of them has their advantages, and it would be pretty difficult to choose between the two. Hopefully, seeing all the comparisons laid out here has helped guide your decision making.
Overall, .30-30 is more enjoyable to shoot since it has less recoil. It is also much less expensive, and there are some excellent hunting cartridges that are commonly available.
.45-70 is a large, deadly cartridge, and there are some slightly better weapons available. In terms of sheer big game hunting, there really aren’t many better cartridges than .45-70.
Hopefully this has answered all of your questions about the primary differences between the two cartridges!