45-70: Intro to Reloading and Shooting (Marlin 1895 Lever Gun)

Written by contributing author, Guy Miner.

In this story, Gavin introduces Guy to the MEC Marksman press! Guy introduces Gavin to the Marlin 1895 rifle and the 45-70 cartridge. It was quite a change using a blunt nose 350 grain rifle bullet. The rifle and cartridge have been in use for a long time and are still popular with hunters of large game. Let’s get hands-on!

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About 45-70 (Cartridge and Firearms)

The 45-70 Government cartridge was introduced all the way back in 1873 for military use. The designation literally meant a 45 caliber bullet and 70 grains of black powder. The brass case has a large rim and straight but tapered case walls. It quickly became popular with hunters of big game, including buffalo, elk, and bear. It’s still popular and useful today! The biggest drawback to using the 45-70 for hunting is a very arched trajectory, making quick shots on game beyond 150 or 200 yards difficult. At modest ranges however, that’s simply not a problem. 

Marlin’s 1895 lever action rifle is a fine hunting rifle. Reliable, accurate, easy to carry and it can be used with rather powerful 45-70 ammunition. 

When loading for the 45-70 it’s vital to understand that the cartridge is loaded to three different power & pressure levels, in deference to the various strengths of the firearms in which it’s used. Fine examples of this include the Hornady and Hodgdon loading manuals. 

“Trap Door” Loads

Named for the old Springfield trap door rifles of the 1870’s. These loads are mild, Hornady’s trap door loads do not exceed 25,000 CUP (copper units of pressure). As a rule this level of load is pleasant to shoot, and is also surprisingly effective on game. This cartridge relies on a big bullet at modest velocity to take game. 

1895 Marlin Loads

For the very popular Marlin 1895 lever action rifle. Hornady 1895 loads do not exceed 40,000 CUP. These loads include bullet weights from 250 – 350 grains in Hornady’s manual. Other sources include much heavier bullets as well. They have greater pressure, power, and more recoil than the trap door level loads and are very effective on big game. 

Ruger #1 Loads

For the extremely strong single shot Ruger and other rifles of similar strength. These loads develop 50,000 CUP, and should not be used in rifles of lesser strength. Hornady lists bullet weights up to 500 grains at this level. 

If new to reloading the 45-70, it’s worth noting that a 400 or 405 grain bullet is considered standard. A 300 grain bullet is on the light side! Specialty ammunition makers and handloaders sometimes use bullets to 500 grains and more. Also, many shooters use only cast lead bullets in their 45-70 rifles. A quality cast lead bullet can provide great accuracy and tremendous penetration. 

All the major bullet manufacturers as well as some smaller specialty bullet makers produce bullets for the 45-70 cartridge. 

Barnes and Hornady produce mono-metal unleaded hunting bullets which are legally required in some regions. They have also proven to be accurate and very effective on game. 

It’s important to use only flat nosed or round nose bullets designed for use in rifles with tubular magazines! The exception to this are the flex-tip bullets offered by Hornady, which allow a pointed bullet nose. This is because in the tubular magazine, the bullet point rests directly on the primer of another cartridge. 

Guy’s 45-70 Load

The load we assembled and shot in the video is a stout load, similar to the factory 450 Marlin loads, and on the high side of the 1895 loads. The data for this load came from Hodgdon’s manual at what they term the “Lever Action” load level: 

  • Winchester cases
  • 350 grain Hornady round nose soft point bullet
  • 56.5 grains of IMR 3031
  • CCI 200 primers

Use load data at your own risk. Ultimate Reloader is not responsible for errors in load data on this website. Always cross-reference load data with manufacturer’s published data.

Typical crimped 45-70 round:

We didn’t chronograph this particular load, but past experience with it, puts it at about 1900 fps from the 22” barreled Marlin 1895 rifle. My purpose for this load is big game hunting at moderate range, including elk, bear and mule deer. 

Reloading 45-70 Step By Step

We used RCBS dies, a three die set and the cast iron MEC Marksman single stage press. 

Here’s the breakdown of the process:

  • Start with clean and inspected brass. Discard any which are damaged.
  • Lube the cases with your choice of lube, I personally prefer sizing die wax.
  • Size and decap the brass in the sizing die. After this, the case could be trimmed with a Wilson case trimmer if necessary.
  • Prime the case. As with all rifles, it’s important that the primer is seated flush in the primer pocket. We used the very nice Primal Rights Competition Primer Seater which did a wonderful job and was easy to use.

  • Slightly bell, or flare, the case mouth, as one would with a revolver cartridge. This step prevents shaving bullet material off when seating the bullet, particularly with lead bullets. 

Add the powder charge. The MEC powder measure handled this smoothly and accurately. I used the powder trickler but just throwing the charges of IMR 3031 resulted in pretty consistent charge weights. A spherical powder would have metered even more smoothly and accurately. 

  • Seat the bullet. It’s important that the overall length be set properly so that the cartridge will readily feed from the tubular magazine, through the receiver and into the chamber. It’s also important to be able to eject an unfired cartridge from the chamber. Usually bullets for this cartridge have a cannelure rolled into the jacket, or a crimp groove on a lead bullet. Typically seating to that depth will provide the correct overall length. 

Note: Here you can see how well the UFO Press Light from KMS Squared works on the MEC Marksman!

You can get this new press light HERE:

Back to reloading!

  • Crimp the bullet. This step is important to prevent the bullets from setting back into the case, or jumping forward from the case during recoil while they’re in the tubular magazine. The crimp can be done in the same step as seating, or can be applied in a separate step after seating. I applied a roll crimp with the RCBS seating die. Many 45-70 users prefer a factory crimp die, as made by Lee. 

Shooting the 45-70

First, this cartridge & rifle is a fun combination to shoot! Those big brass cartridges with that blunt round nose look terrific and weigh a lot. The gaping 45 caliber bore is so different from more common hunting rifles today. The Marlin is a well-designed rifle, comfortable for most to carry and shoot. There’s something about a lever action that brings out our inner cowboy as well and can take us back to an earlier time. 

Second, a load at this level of power can generate significant recoil in a relatively lightweight hunting rifle like the Marlin. To avoid pain, bruises and even injury it’s important to hold the rifle firmly in the shoulder, to grip it well with both hands, and to keep a good distance between any scope and the shooter’s face. It’s very easy to get “scoped” with this sort of rifle. A properly mounted scope with good eye relief is prudent. The little 2.5x Leupold on this rifle has 4.9” of eye relief. Many shooters and hunters simply use iron sights on their rifles, instead of a scope. A good “red dot” type sight is another good option as is a forward mounted scout scope.  

I describe the recoil of the 45-70 Marlin as similar to a 12 gauge shotgun with heavy hunting loads. Shooting from standing allows the shooter to give with the recoil and is pleasant. Shooting from a bench deserves caution, and a shooter is well advised to use a more upright seating position instead of hunching down tight over the rifle. 

We shot a steel target at modest range, as might happen with a bear encounter or on a bear hunt. It was awfully fun shooting steel with the 45-70 Marlin! 

Conclusion

The big bore Marlin is quite a rifle, and the 45-70 is quite a cartridge! It’s still popular almost 150 years after its introduction. 

On game, I’ve noticed that the heavy bullet at modest velocity often results in less meat damage than with typical high velocity cartridges, yet it still kills quickly. 

It’s worth noting that although it’s most often used hunting here in North America, it’s also in use in Australia and Africa for heavy and even dangerous game. Hunting cape buffalo, lion, or elephant with it has been done, usually with good results. Bullets designed for deep penetration are recommended for that sort of hunting. 

The MEC Marksman press is well made and a pleasure to use. The arm and handle are comfortable. The ram moves easily and seemed to have absolutely no slop. I liked the floating case holder. We also used Hornady’s Lock-N-Load die bushings which were new to me. They made die changing quick and easy on the press.

Get the MEC Gear at Midsouth

If you are interested in purchasing MEC metallic reloading gear including the MEC Marksman, you’ll find it at Midsouth Shooters Supply:

  1. MEC 400 Vibratory Tumbler
  2. MEC Rotary Media Separator
  3. MEC Pan Media Sifter
  4. MEC Digital Calipers
  5. MEC 100R Digital Reloading Scale Kit

Competition Primer Seater

You can order your own CPS directly from Primal Rights:

If you do get a CPS, prepare for a “whole new world” of priming!

2 thoughts on “45-70: Intro to Reloading and Shooting (Marlin 1895 Lever Gun)”

  1. Great write-up on 45-70 reloading. Most of my Alaska hunting was accomplished with 45-70 hand loads. I managed to harvest two black bear, one caribou and a trophy moose with a Thompson Contender and 14″ barrel. Those 400 grain bullets at the lower velocities make a good wound channel without loss of meat common to high velocity rounds. A freight train doesn’t need to go fast to put down large animals.

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