Cartridge Clash: .45-70 Gov't vs .444 Marlin

Cartridge Clash: .45-70 Gov't vs .444 Marlin

In the era of 5.56 rifles, it’s hard to imagine that the .45-70 was once the cartridge of choice for the U.S. military. It offered plenty of stopping power and impressive accuracy relative to its 1873 release date, and the government soon adopted the cartridge and the Trapdoor Springfield as the standard rifle/cartridge combo for cavalry soldiers.

A product of the blackpowder era, the original .45-70 Gov’t cartridge fired a 405-grain .458-inch bullet at velocities over 1,300 fps, and as westward expansion prompted conflicts between the U.S. government and Native American nations it was the .45-70 Trapdoor Springfield that became the weapon of choice for warring parties on both sides.

By the early 20th century, though, the .45-70 was being usurped by faster, lighter, flatter-shooting cartridges like the .30-06, .30-30 Win. and 7mm Mauser. The old, broad-shouldered .45-70 was a dinosaur, and it faded to the edge of obscurity.

This popularity decline was expedited by the fact that Trapdoor Springfield rifles were not as strong as later lever-action designs, and those, in turn, were not as robust as single-shots such as the Winchester 1885. That meant that the .45-70’s capabilities were limited by action type.

There were still a lot of lever gun fans in the early to mid-1900s, and they longed for a cartridge that provided more power than the .30 and .35 caliber offerings of the time. By the 1960s, the .44 Mag. had taken off in popularity, and Marlin engineers had a simple idea: By lengthening the .44 case, they created a more powerful lever-action cartridge that could utilize .429-inch bullets designed for the .44 Mag. That new rifle cartridge became known as the .444 Marlin, and it effectively filled the existing over-.40 gap in lever guns.


Realistically, the .45-70 and .444 Marlin are not as similar as they may initially seem. The .45-70 was originally designed with heavier 350- to 500-grain bullets at velocities hovering around 2,000 fps, though lighter, flatter-shooting offerings in the 250- to 300-grain range are now more com-mon.

The .444 Marlin favors bullets from 240 to 300 grains, and many rifles are effectively limited by their 1:38 twist rate—advantage .45-70—but the popularity of the .44 Mag. and the resulting cache of new .429 bullets were a boon for .444 fans.

In terms of available ammo, there are about three .45-70 factory loads for every .444 Marlin offering, another advantage for the old soldier. In addi-tion, there are a host of different rifles available in .45-70 like the “new” Winchester 1886, the Marlin 1895 and vari-ous replicas from Uberti and others.

With more rifles, more ammo, and a wider range of bullet weights available it seems the .45-70 is rolling over the maligned .444. Not so fast. There are a bunch of .44 Mag. owners, and if they handload, the idea of a rifle that shoots the same bullets is appealing.

In addition, a factory .444 Marlin loaded with a lighter bullet shoots flat-ter than a comparable .45-70. Case in point, Hornady’s FTX LeverEvolution line. The 265-grain .444 Marlin load has a muzzle velocity that is almost 300 fps faster than the 325-grain .45-70 load, it generates more energy out to 300 yards and, when sighted in three inches high at 100 yards, drops three inches less at 200 yards than the .45-70. It’s not exactly a sheep rifle, but a flatter trajectory curve does make longer shots easier.

The .45-70 is also handicapped by the fact that a lot of the factory ammo out there doesn’t take the cartridge to its fullest—due to the wide range of rifles old and new, as well as action type.

But at least you can find a variety of .45-70 rifles. Even the .444’s parent offers only a single lever action cham-bered for it.

Recommended for You


3 Great Takedown Survival Guns

David Fortier - March 19, 2015

When I decided to review three different rifles chambered in .22 LR and geared toward survival...

Shooting Tips

The Rundown on Runout

Joseph von Benedikt - May 13, 2019

A simple test shows how runout can affect the accuracy of your rounds.


Winchester Twins: The .264 and .338 Magnum

Craig Boddington - May 24, 2019

Winchester's .264 and .338 magnums were both born 60 years ago but took very different paths.

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Black Hills Evolution of Rifle Cartridge: .308 Win. 175 Gr. Match

David Fortier talks with Jeff Hoffman of Black Hills Ammunition about the evolution of the .308 Win. 175 Gr. Match bullet.

All About .300 Blackout

The .300 Blackout is here to stay, and we take some time to look at new technology surrounding this cartridge. Next, we pit subsonic rivals against each other before stretching the legs of this CQB round out to 600 yards from a short 9-inch barrel.

Springfield Armory Saint Victor

The SAINT' Victor Rifle delivers a lightweight and agile rifle solution while maintaining effectiveness at extended engagement distances.

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories


Browning's New X-Bolt Max Long Range Rifle

Rifle Shooter Digital Staff - April 11, 2019

Browning's new X-Bolt Max Long Range rifle is an accurate rifle tailored for long range...


Review: Ruger American/Robar Scout Rifle

Ed Head - April 23, 2019

Gunsite's Ed Head reviews the Ruger American/Robar Scout Rifle.


.22 Nosler vs .224 Valkyrie

Brad Fitzpatrick - May 02, 2019

For decades, things were quiet on the .22 centerfire front. Starting in 2017, shooters were...

See More Stories

More Ammo


Cartridge Clash: .270 Win. vs. .270 WSM

Brad Fitzpatrick - March 04, 2019

In this Cartridge Clash, Brad Fitzpatrick pits the .270 Win. against the .270 WSM.


Craig Boddington on the 6.5 Creedmoor

Craig Boddington - February 27, 2019

Craig Boddington explains why he will go along with the crowd and have a 6.5 Creedmoor before...


Affordable Ammo from Frontier Cartridges

J. Scott Rupp - November 16, 2018

What's old is new again as hornady teams up with lake city to produce affordable ammunition.

See More Ammo

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction.


Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services


GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.