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Everybody brings up the great buffalo slaughter in favor of, and the lever action in opposition to this cartridge. It’s either a long range tackdriver, or a short range brush gun, little more precise than a claymore mine.
I say it’s in between. Smack dab in between. That confounds people who can’t enjoy anything if a generality cannot be made about it, and it doubly confounds those who figure something extreme must happen for all that recoil and buffalo kills. And yet, I repeat myself: It’s IN BETWEEN.
The 45-70’s “inbetweenness” is exactly what makes it such a wonderful cartridge.
It is not a tack driver. Like Charlie said, the claims of buffalo herds being wiped out by this single cartridge is a romantic assumption and not fact. Sounds good to say it, but it’s not totally true. First of all, there were many cartridges used to slaughter the buffalo, and second (let cognitive thought rein supreme for just a moment…..) it was a SLAUGHTER. Not a target match. They killed those animals with anything they could, and they took crazy shots all the time because a hit was a hit, and they didn’t give two cents whether it was a good one or not as long as the buffalo died eventually. If the buff went down, then it was celebrated, but if it was just wounded, it was either shrugged off or counted as a hit anyway, and I seriously doubt anybody gave a second thought to the thousands of missed shots. Also, consider, as I said above, that the 45-70 cartridge is a 2MOA proposition 99.999% of the time (regardless of rifle and load). Given the angular expansion of 2MOA and the 2 foot diameter kill zone of an American bison, it’s not hard to see that all of this lines right up without the need for the 45-70 to do anything other than what I stated above.
It’s more than a “brush gun”. With a 2MOA rifle that is able to be 2MOA with the same load from many different rifles (including the lever action), this cartridge is easily useful at extended ranges of 500 yards on deer (again, 2MOA vs. a 10″ kill zone on the American Whitetail=turn the crank and out comes a positive answer). All the shooter needs to do is know wind, and know how to set his sights for elevation. 2+2=4 every single time. Besides that, I absolutely ABHOR the term “brush gun”. Anybody who thinks 45-70 bullets are not deflected just as easily by brush as 30-06 bullets is sipping on bad information. Anyone who walks into the woods intending to blast away at the brush and hope a deer rolls out needs to be educated with a fat lip IMHO.
Regardless, this cartridge is not extreme by any metric except it’s ability to live in the middle and always do the same thing. It’s been doing the same thing and performing like it does for the past 140 years and it’s been called everything from a tack driver to a gun that is useless past 50 paces, but there it sits, stalwart in it’s resolve to spit out the same results regarless of “XCB this”, or “Levereveolution that”. Many have approached it seeking to make it something it’s not, and they found that no matter what specific task they asked of it, there was always a modern cartridge that did the job better, but some find out that it’s awful dam hard to find a cartridge that stands in the middle and has enough capability for as many tasks as the venerable 45-70. It’s not extreme. It’s not elite. It’s the Chevy truck of the cartridge world, and that’s what makes it so fun to own and shoot in my opinion.