The .45-70 and the .30-06 were originally designed as weapons of war. The .45-70 is the older of the two, originally introduced in 1873 for the United States Army and used by some units until the Spanish American War where it was outperformed by Spanish troops armed with 7mm Mauser bolt-action rifles.
It was the 7mm Mauser that led to the creation of the .30-06 cartridge, originally in the Springfield bolt-action rifle of World War I and later the widely popular M-1 Garand of Anzio, Normandy, and Iowa Jima fame.
Comparison of the .45-70 and the .30-06
These are hunting cartridges, but in the modern era, the use of a .45-70 is greatly limited in comparison to the ubiquitous .30-06.
The .30-06 fires a standard, boxed cartridge in either 150 or 180 grains. The muzzle velocity of a .30-06 is over 2,900 feet per second depending on the cartridge, and delivers solid power at long ranges, with energy ratings above 1,500 pounds at 500-yards. The .30-06 is a great big game cartridge with the stopping power for moose, elk, deer, and black bear.
There is a reason it remains one of the most popular calibers among hunters.
The .45-70 can launch custom made bullets weight 500 grains at a much lower muzzle velocity.
A .45-70 loaded with boxed ammunition in 325-grain size, is effective to only 300 yards against big game. The energy drops below the 1000 pound threshold for ethical taking big game soon after passing the 300-yard mark.
At close range, the power compared to a .30-06 is on par, both platforms deliver excellent energy from the muzzle to the 300-yard limit. The .30-06 continues to meet the 1000 pound maxim for another four or five hundred yards depending on the powder charge and bullet size.
Why would anyone use a .45-70 for large game then? The secret is the bone crushing power of the heavy slug.
Bullets in the size fired by the .45-70 have a knockdown power that the .30-06 can’t match at closer distances.
The brush busting advantage of a heavier bullet gives the .45-70 another advantage when hunting in heavy cover.
Both of them are good choices for large game hunting. The difference comes in flat shooting, and in long range accuracy.
In praise of the .45-70, few hunters would take a .30-06 into the South African brush and try to bring down a Cape buffalo with one.
Unless it was a perfect shot, you’d have an enraged, animal weighing over a ton charging at you. The .45-70 will leave no doubt on an animal as large as a cape buffalo, that’s why it was such a popular cartridge in the 1870s and 1880s across the American West when there were still herds of American bison in the wild, being hunter by professional hunters.
Diaries of these buffalo hunters have many references, and great praise for not only the power, but the range of the .45-70 as one of the most useful large calibers for harvesting bison.
Which Has More Recoil?
The .30-06 kicks, but the .45-70 can be bone jarring if you’re not prepared for the blast. In the world of recoil, the .45-70 is one of the best at generating purple shoulders.
Shooting a .45-70 from a bench rest, shooting sled or sandbags still produces a strong recoil, firing one from a standing position often knocks unprepared shooters backward, sometimes even off their feet.
A wide stance, and proper preparation needs to be taken before squeezing the trigger on a .45-70.
Shooter’s flinch is a real problem with the recoil on a .45-70. Hunters or shooters trying to focus on a target can’t forget what’s in store when they pull the trigger.
The .30-06 by comparison is a lightweight, when in fact, it still has a substantial recoil. A .30-06 will induce shooter’s flinch as well, but not with the force you get from a .45-70.
In fairness to experienced hunters, recoil is often forgotten or not noticed at all when you have a huge bull, buck or black bear in your sights.
Target shooting on the range doesn’t have the adrenalin inducing excitement that the thrill of the hunt can generate.
Which is Better For Deer?
The .30-06 is a better deer rifle. It’s more accurate over distance, doesn’t leave a huge hole in the deer when you hit on target, and is easier to shoot. The .45-70 surprisingly doesn’t destroy as much meat with a poorly placed shot since the velocity is slower, and the expansion isn’t as great as with a .30-06 flying in at over 2500 feet per second.
When you consider range, more accurate shooting ranges, less recoil and the cost of ammunition, the .30-06 is a clear winner.
The .45-70 does the job, but it costs more out of your pocket, and a little higher in your shoulder when you fire it.
Is 45-70 Overkill For Deer?
This is a difficult question to answer, yes it could be overkill, but it does get the job done, and a lot of deer have been taken successfully since the late 19th century with a .45-70. There is no getting away for a large buck with a properly placed .45-70 round. If you hit a deer in the chest, it’s going to fall.
For sentimental reasons, the .45-70 remains a popular cartridge. Images of the old west, with photos from 1950s vintage Outdoor Life and Field and Stream magazines fuel the popularity. Western movies as of late often depict the .45-70. When was the last time you saw a .30-06 mention in a film?
The .30-06 is faster, shoots farther, is more accurate, and a great overall big game rifle. That’s why t remains one of the most popular cartridges ever invented.
But the .45-70 still has its place.
The .45-70 is a gun out of time, a lost species suddenly rediscovered in the shooting world. It is still a viable cartridge, now approaching 150 years since its first introduction.