Also known as .45-70 Government, .45-70 is one of the oldest rifle rounds in America. It was originally designed around 150 years ago, to be used in the United States Army’s Springfield Model 1873. It was first used shortly after the Civil War, and is an example of one of the earliest centerfire cartridges. The round was used in the Army for a couple decades, before eventually being replaced by the .30 Army round.
While this round didn’t last for long in the military, it was very popular with hunters of the time, and has remained popular to this day. Military rounds have almost always caught on with civilian hunters, as we are seeing in the current day with the AR-15 craze. The .45-70 specifically has maintained its popularity because it is a large caliber bullet that is extremely effective for taking down large game.
The bullet is .458 inches in diameter, which is the same as the modern .458 SOCOM. It weighs around 300 grains, and out of a modern weapon, the projectile can be fired around 2000 feet per second. However, while the bullet is large, the muzzle velocity is on the slower side. This prevents the meat in smaller animals from being destroyed, but the large size of the bullet creates large holes to damage as much tissue as possible. One other aspect of the slower velocity to keep in mind though, is that the bullet will die out at long distance. Due to this ballistic performance, you can see why this is such a popular big game round for close range shots.
As far as rifles that shoot .45-70, there are a few options to consider. Most .45-70 firearms are classic lever action weapons. To help your buying experience, we have identified some of the key features in a .45-70 rifle, to help you select what will be important to you. At the end of the day, most lever action rifles are extremely similar, so there are only so many features that can separate them.
- Quality. Even in a simple lever action weapon, there are different levels of quality available.
- Price. Often runs hand in hand with quality, but price is something that is definitely on most peoples’ minds.
- Magazine capacity. This is an example of one of the few features that will vary between different lever action weapons.
- Weight. Especially if you are going to be carrying the weapon over any sort of distance, weight will definitely be something to keep in mind.
Top 5 .45-70 Rifles
Bang for your buck
The Marlin Model 1895 is an excellent choice for a .45-70 rifle. As the name might imply, it’s based off a firearm originally designed in 1895. As with many .45-70 rifles, this weapon has been well known for its ability to stop large game. It has a 22 inch barrel, a 13 3/8 inch length of pull, and weighs around 7 pounds. Overall, it is the best .45-70 rifle available.
The pros of this weapon are the light weight, quality for the price, and the sights. While it may not seem light, this is one of the lightest weapons on our list, despite the fact that it has one of the longest barrels. This is an excellent combination, which allows for continued carrying but also added accuracy.
In terms of bang for your buck, it’s hard to beat this weapon.
For the sights, we found that the front ramp sight was easier to use than some of the others on our list. It is also pre-tapped for a scope mount.
As far as cons, the four round magazine is pretty limited and it is a long weapon. While the barrel will add some accuracy, others will find the length to be a burden.
- Relatively short pull. Easy and fast to operate.
- 22 inch barrel. Increased accuracy and range.
- Rubber butt pad. Eats most of the recoil of this large cartridge.
- Adjustable rear sight with a ramp style front sight.
- Light weight. About 7 pounds.
Most people who know firearms are very familiar with Henry Repeating Arms. They are well known and respected for their lever action firearms, and some of them have been extremely popular. However, Henry is relatively new to the large caliber weapons, having only been making them for five or six years. Rest assured though, the classic Henry reliability and quality has transferred over. Their large caliber offerings are some excellent weapons.
The pros of this weapon are the light weight, compact size, and the two options available. You can get the .45-70 in either steel or brass. The brass version has an octagon barrel, but is heavier. The steel version weighs just a hair over 7 pounds, and has an 18.43 inch barrel. The length of pull is 14 inches. This weapon is a little bit shorter and about the same weight as the Marlin, making it a little more packable.
The cons of this weapon are the sights and the magazine capacity. Just like the Marlin, this has a four round magazine capacity. The sights are slightly more difficult to adjust and use, although this firearm is also pre drilled and tapped for a scope mount.
- Compact Size. Easier to carry for some folks, and doesn’t have any added weight.
- Reliability. As has been common with Henry firearms, this is a very reliable weapon that should be good for years.
- Smooth Action. To be expected from a Henry.
- Quality. Similar to the Marlin, a very high quality weapon at an affordable price.
- Looks. Classic look, on both the steel and brass versions.
- Rubber butt pad. Very helpful when taking these shots.
Up next is another firearm based off an extremely old design. The Winchester Model 1886 is a classically styled lever action firearm that still performs well today. The traditional look of the rifle comes from the crescent butt plate and the straight grip made of walnut. The stock is also made of walnut, to match the grip. Both have a satin finish. Overall, this is a very aesthetically pleasing weapon that is one of the best .45-70 rifles out there.
The pros of this weapon are the reliability, looks, and short pull. This weapon is extremely reliable. The lever action works smoothly over and over again, thanks largely to the fact that the loading gate is made of steel. This goes a long way in increasing the strength and reliability. As previously mentioned, the classic looks of this rifle are an awesome feature. The rifle has a 24 inch barrel, a 13 ¼ inch pull, and has a 6 round capacity. All of these are nice features of the weapon.
The cons are the price, butt plate, and weight. To go along with the barrel and the added steel, the weapon unfortunately weighs in at 8 pounds 6 ounces. You will definitely start to feel this added weight in the long run. The weapon is also on the expensive side. While not the most expensive on the list, it is a lot of money to pay for a lever action weapon. The butt plate is made of steel, which does a lot to increase the classic styling, but doesn’t do much to decrease the recoil of this large caliber.
- Short pull. Shortest of the group.
- Reliability. Steel loading gate paired with a smooth action make this a very reliable weapon.
- Classic looks. Walnut stock and grips with a satin finish.
- Rebound hammer. Added safety.
There are multiple versions of the Sharps rifle currently in production. Some of them are designed for long range shots, some have Creedmoor tang sights, and one has double-set triggers for added accuracy. While each of them are slightly different, we recommend you check out the whole line to make a choice for you. For the purposes of this list, we will focus on the entry level one, the Calvary Carbine. It is the only single shot weapon on our list, but will give you an idea of what buffalo hunters in the late 1800s were using. It is the best .45-70 rifle for long distance and for weapons collectors.
The pros of this weapon are the accuracy, the history, and the fact that it is tapped for the Creedmoor tang sight if you are interested. Other variants of the weapon have more pros, such as dovetailed front sights and engraved receivers, however, these other variants will be much more expensive. One thing that is consistent throughout all of them is the accuracy. The accuracy of this weapon has been popular since the 1870s.
The cons of this weapon are the price. The Calvary Carbine is the cheapest of the lot at $1919, with the Extra Deluxe costing well over $5000. That’s a lot to pay for a classic single shot rifle.
- Accuracy. Does well, even out to longer distances. Some of the variants will be even better for long distance, with longer barrels.
- Tapped for Creedmoor tang sight. Really an excellent, historical sight to have for this weapon.
- Relatively light. The Calvary Carbine is 8 pounds, but longer versions weigh over 10.
- Classic weapon. For anyone with any interest in the history of weapons, this is an interesting firearm to own and use.
Last on our list is the Rossi Rio Grande. While it is not as high quality as some of the other weapons on our list, it is also significantly cheaper. Similar to all of the other weapons on this list, it is classically styled, with a wood stock and grip. Overall, it is the best .45-70 for the price.
The pros of this weapon are the increased magazine capacity, price, and the compact size. Just like some of the aforementioned weapons, this weapon weighs in around 7 pounds. It has a 20 inch barrel, and has a 6 round capacity. The action is smooth, and the size makes it one of the best .45-70 rifles for smaller people. The biggest selling point of this rifle is the price. It is impossible to beat this price.
The cons of this weapon are that the quality isn’t as high as the others. However, I feel like this should more or less be expected at this price. Other cons are hard to complain about at this price point. Be aware that you are probably going to want a new sight.
- Butt pad. Most rifles have it, but a key feature for a big bore weapon.
- Compact size. Easy to tote around.
- Magazine capacity. Better than some of the weapons on this list.
- Affordability. The biggest pro of this weapon.
That concludes our list of the best .45-70 rifles. As you can see, there are quite a few classic lever action weapons to choose from in this caliber. However, we hope that our list has taken some of the guesswork out of the process for you. While each person will value different features differently, it is worth looking into all of the weapons to see what is best for you. Especially with weapons that have multiple variants, we would recommend checking all of the available models to see what you like best.
If you’re looking to do some big game hunting, you can’t go wrong with the Marlin or the Henry. However, if you want the added safety of some additional rounds, be sure to check out the Winchester. If you are more into weapons collecting, the Uberti Sharps rifle has got to be the way to go. Similarly, if you are looking for a rifle to be used at long distance, the Sharps and some of the variants will be your best bet. If you are on a tight budget, the Rossi will work for you. Overall, these are all good weapons that will meet your needs, whatever they may be.