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The .45-70 Gov't vs. The .405 Win.: Cartridge Clash

It's time for another cartridge clash! This time, it's the .45-70 Gov't versus the .405 Winchester. Which is best for you?

The .45-70 Gov't vs. The .405 Win.: Cartridge Clash

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The late 1800s were the golden age of ballistics. In the years spanning the start of the American Civil War to the turn of the 20th century, firearm and ballistics advanced at a breakneck pace. In the heart of that period of innovation came the .45-70 Gov’t, originally known as the .45-70-405. A brass-cased cartridge designed for use with blackpowder, the original ballistics of roughly 1,400 fps from a Trapdoor Springfield made the .45-70 cutting edge. It was a popular choice for frontiersmen and was adopted by the U.S. Army. The .45-70 also coincided with a new generation of repeating rifles that were much more capable than cap-and-ball guns. The .45-70 survived the advent of smokeless powder and competing bottleneck cartridges that blew it away ballistically. Fans of the cartridge will tell you the reason it won’t die is that it’s just too good.

In 1904 Winchester introduced the rimmed .405 Win. cartridge, which was built from the ground up for use with smokeless powder. It was originally offered in the 1895 Winchester lever action, and it propelled a 300-grain bullet at about 2,200 fps. The .405 faced a hurdle right out of the gate: It fired .411-inch bullets, which were pretty much exclusive to the Winchester cartridge. The .405 Win. received a PR boost when Theodore Roosevelt carried one on his grand 1909 African safari, calling it his “medicine gun” and inspiring generations of hunters to save up their money a buy a Winchester 1895 so chambered. But it was never hugely popular, and it’s not popular today, either—although Winchester still builds 1895s in .405, and there are a few Ruger No. 1 and Winchester 1885 single-shots chambered for it as well.

45-70-gov-vs-405-win-cartridge-clash-02

By contrast, the .45-70 is so popular in some regions of the country that if you can’t find one on well-stocked gun store shelves it’s because they’ve all been sold. When Marlin announced it was bringing back the 1895 in .45-70 a few years ago, rifle fans were clamoring to get their hands on one. The situation is similar with factory ammo. A popular internet site lists 43 different .45-70 loads as of this writing, with bullets ranging from 225 to 500 grains. The same site lists just one .405 Win. load, a 300-grain Hornady InterLock Spire Point offering that is currently out of stock. Reloading components for the .405 are also harder to find. Not impossible, but it’s more challenging. Two of the three reloading manuals I checked didn’t even offer data on the .405 Win., while all three offered .45-70 data for a variety of rifle designs.

Neither cartridge is going to make its rounds on the PRS circuit, but both the .45-70 and the .405 pack a substantial punch at close range. Driving a 300-grain bullet at 2,200 fps, the Hornady .405 Win. load generates 3,224 ft.-lbs. of muzzle energy to 3,032 for the company’s 325-grain .45-70 LeverEvolution load. Sight in this .405 load 4.2 inches high at 100 yards and it’ll strike dead-on at 200. Sight in the .45-70 load 5.5 inches high at 100 and it will likewise be zeroed at 200. Drop at 300 yards is -17.6 inches for the .405 versus -23 inches for the .45-70. At 300 yards— the practical maximum effective range for either under normal hunting circumstances—the .405 carries about 170 additional foot-pounds of energy over the .45-70. However, there are also modern .45-70 factory loads that exceed two tons of muzzle energy and some that shoot flatter. But you need to make certain your particular  gun can handle this level of energy and pressure. What’ll it be, the ubiquitous favorite or Teddy’s favorite medicine gun? Both offer plenty of wallop for close-range work on most game animals. This one is a matter of taste.




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