[su_heading size=”30″]If you are starting out with black powder cartridge shooting, the .45-70 is a great place to begin.[/su_heading]
STORY AND PHOTOS BY MIKE NESBITT
[su_dropcap style=”flat”]M[/su_dropcap]ost of what we’ve heard or read about black powder cartridge shooting seems to focus on long-range action. Those stories either include long-range target shooting, especially in “Quigley style” competition, or hunting, such as the tales of the buffalo hunters. While those tales of longrange heroics are often very true, with credits positively earned, black powder cartridges are right at home with shorter range shooting too. Some folks might consider this to be “goin’ slow,” but it really is the best place to start. IF YOU ARE JUST BEGINNING to get into black powder cartridge shooting or are even just thinking about it, the good old .45-70 is a ﬁne and logical entry point to this type of shooting. One good reason for that is because there are so many things, including guns and accessories, available for the .45-70 caliber. Ammunition is readily available too, but that’s less of an issue because for black powder shooting we’d be loading our own, for either single shot or repeating riﬂes.
Black powder loads can certainly be ﬁred in repeating riﬂes, such as my Browning copy of the old Winchester 1886 saddle-ring carbine with its 22-inch-long barrel. The main difference between the repeaters and most of the single shots is that the single shots – such as the Sharps or the rolling block – actually have no maximum cartridge length.
On the other hand, lever-action riﬂes have a maximum overall cartridge length, generally just over 2½ inches, so the cartridges can cycle through the actions. Also, the trapdoor single shots might not accept cartridges quite as long as the Sharps or rolling block because their cartridges must be initially loaded at an angle. And those trapdoors and repeaters might actually chamber cartridges that are too long for them to eject if still loaded, so to unload the riﬂe, those long cartridges will have to be ﬁred.
During the “on duty” days of the .45-70, there were some variations in the loading of the cartridges. The ﬁrst and the oldest was the .45-70/405, which was designated as the “riﬂe load.” Because that powder and bullet combination can be considered quite a blast when ﬁred from a carbine, a “carbine load” using 55 grains of powder under the same 405-grain bullet was also used. The carbine load might sound like it is melted down compared to the standard riﬂe load, but don’t cut it too short. Carbine loads can stand on their own while offering comfortable shooting. MAKING THE CARBINE LOAD IS SIMPLE. This can begin with new unﬁred brass which has been run through the neck expander to accomplish two things: it bells the mouth of the cases just a bit to accept the cast bullets, and it rounds out the mouth of any cases which might have gotten squeezed a bit out of round. Of course, ﬁred brass needs to be treated the same way. Then the cases are primed and ready for 55 grains of black powder. Once the powder is poured into the case, no compression is required and you can easily seat the lubricated cast bullet down over the powder.
The bullets used for these carbine loads were Lyman’s #457124, the old ideal style of grooved bullets that were the standard 405-grain slug for the .45-70. Some of the old-style bullets did have fewer and wider lube grooves, but those don’t show once the bullets are loaded into the cases.
Bullets for carbine loads are seated rather deeply, to ensure that no air space was left in the case above the powder charge and to make the carbine loads instantly identiﬁable to the shooters. For my loads, the bullets were seated just deep enough so the mouth of the case could be slightly crimped over the top of the forward driving band.
A crimp groove in the bullet is not necessary with black powder loads because the bullet is resting on top of the powder charge. There is very little opportunity for the bullet to be pushed further into the case, even when used in a tubular magazine. IF THERE WAS EVER A CLASSIC BULLET for the old .45-70, it would have to be the old Lyman/Ideal #457124. I say that for a couple of reasons, but they can be netted out into just a couple of short statements. First and foremost, it is a very historical design, and Lyman refers to it (in their old Handbook of Cast Bullets, from 1958, the one with an engraved converted Sharps carbine on the cover) as “the regular standard .45-70 Government bullet.”
For our shooting needs these days, this remains a standard bullet, and is useful for any .45-70 riﬂe or pistol being single shot or repeater. It can be used with carbine loads using 55 grains of powder or with full riﬂe loads burning 70 grains of powder. This old standard is still an all-around bullet for the .45-70 and it can be used in most other .45-caliber riﬂe cartridges as well.
The original weight of #457124 was listed at 405 grains. I don’t think any design change has been incorporated over the years but now this bullet is most often listed at 385 grains. That weight difference is simply from the alloy the bullets are made or cast with.
My favorite use for the #457124 is in carbine loads, such as the cartridges pictured above. These are loaded with 55 grains of Olde Eynsford 2F. That is simply a nice load, good for shooting all day without cleaning as long as the bullets are well lubed. When you shoot it all day, this load leaves you with good feeling in your shoulder too. While that is the carbine load, it remains good load for hunting, perhaps for deer-sized game at ranges within 100 yards. It is not a long-range powerhouse, but it doesn’t lack much either. In fact, the above load scoots an average of 1,245 feet per second when shot out of a 30-inch barrel. That’s not bad at all.
If any .45-70 shooters out there don’t have a #457124 mold from Lyman in their gear, their “possibles” are simply incomplete. Lyman has dropped many molds from their catalog over the years, but thankfully #457124 is still on the list; it’s just too good to ignore. These quality bullet molds are available from almost any handloading supplier, and Lyman lists this one for $90.95 without handles.
I must give plenty of credit to these slow .45-70 carbine loads. My loads for this carbine and my lightweight Sharps riﬂe as well perform just as I want them to. Carbine loads will actually perform just as well if not better in any of the heavier riﬂes too. There is nothing wrong with loads that send the bullets out a bit slower than the full charges. They can actually be better if they help us make better hits. ASJ