It seems we all love lever guns, and they’re available in so many calibers. I tend to think of them as mostly .30-30s or one of the pistol calibers such as .357 Magnum or .44 Magnum. However, it’s just because that’s what I have. My first contact with a lever gun was a Model 92 in 32-20. It was an old family gun in which the bore was so worn I couldn’t hit a bucket from across a country road.
Yes, I know we don’t shoot across roads. However, that was then, and things were different. Besides, it was a country road, and you could hear a car coming from a couple of miles away. Hearing protection in those days? What hearing protection?
One thing that is common among cartridges developed for lever-action rifles is that they have a blunt tip. I know there’s one exception and that’s Hornady’s LEVERevolution ammo, which has a pointed tip, but it’s made of plastic. The reason for the blunt tip may not be obvious for any who hasn’t shot a lever action, but it’s because the cartridges feed from a tubular magazine where they’re stored end-to-end, and you don’t want a sharp metal point on one cartridge pushing on the primer of another.
I’m going to cover two cartridges that many of us may never have had a chance to shoot. The first is the .45-70 Government and the second is .35 Remington.
The .45-70 is 150 years old and was developed during the black powder days for use in the U.S. Army’s Springfield Model 1873. It was originally identified as the .45-70-405 with .45 being the nominal diameter of the bullet in inches, 70 being the volume of black powder measured in grains, and 405 being the weight of the lead bullet measured in grains. The 405 has been dropped because modern bullets are available with several different bullet weights from 250 grains to 500 grains.
Powder volume for modern smokeless powder cartridges varies greatly depending on the brand of powder and the weight of the bullet. My reloading charts have some as low as 28 grains and none higher than 67.5 grains. Please consult a competent reloading chart for specifications.
The Army considered the .45-70 a long-range bullet. Being a heavy, somewhat slow-moving bullet, it dropped considerably over a few hundred yards. This required a shooter to be cognizant of drop rates and target distance — if they were going to hit a man-sized target. They trained to hit 6×6-foot targets at 600 yards, but I’m willing to bet there weren’t that many qualifiers at that distance.
In addition to the trapdoor Springfields, the Army and the Navy used the .45-70 in several Gatling gun models up until around 1873. The Navy also used the .45-70 caliber in the M1873 and M1884 Springfield, Model 1879 Lee Magazine Navy contract rifle, and Remington-Lee. The last two were magazine-fed turnbolt repeating rifles. The Marine Corps used the M1873 and M1884 Springfield in .45-70 until 1897 when it switched to the M1895 Lee Navy rifle in 6mm Lee Navy.
All this history is well and good. Notice, however, I haven’t mentioned a thing about lever-action rifles yet. The first lever-action rifle chambered in .45-70 was introduced by Winchester in the John Moses Browning-designed Model 1873. John Marlin built the 1881 Marlin around the .45-70.
When the Marlin 1895 came out it was chambered in .45-70, but that Model 1895 isn’t the same as the one Ruger recently reintroduced for us to drool over. The original was side loading and top ejecting like the Winchesters. The side loading, side-ejecting model like the one Ruger recently reintroduced to represent the Marlin line came about in 1972 when Marlin reintroduced the 1895.
Today, .45-70 lever-action rifles are available from Marlin, Winchester, Henry, Taylors & Co., and Uberti. Heavier bullet .45-70 cartridges are considered adequate for any North American big game, including the great bears, and it does not destroy edible meat on smaller animals such as deer due to the bullet’s low velocity. It is very good for big-game hunting in brush or heavy timber where the range is usually short.
The .45-70 has been used to hunt African game. And as we know from the movies, it is perfect for hunting Jurassic Park’s most dangerous dinosaur, the Velociraptor. For hunting, the .45-70 is a rather short-range round because of its steep trajectory. It can be a long-range caliber for shooters with knowledge of windage and elevation and able to estimate or measure distance.
Ammunition for .45-70 shooters is currently being manufactured by Barnes, Buffalo Bore, Federal, Fiocchi, Grizzly, Hornady, HSM, Remington, Sellier & Bellot, Underwood, and Winchester in weights from 225 grains to 460 grains with lots of 405 grains in the mix. Reloading dies for .45-70 are available from Hornady, Lee, Lyman, RCBS, and Redding. Just about every source I know to go to for brass or bullets has .45-70 products in stock.
The .35 Remington, introduced in 1906, was originally chambered for the Remington Model 8 semi-automatic rifle in 1908. It is also known as 9×49 mm Browning and 9mm Don Gonzalo. Over the years, the .35 Remington has been chambered in a variety of rifles by most firearms manufacturers. It is currently available in the Marlin Model 336 lever-action and Henry Side Gate Lever Action.
For hunters looking for a medium-power rifle with moderate recoil, the .35 Remington is popular alongside the .30-30 Winchester. The .35 Remington is considered a good round for deer, elk, and black bear at reasonable ranges.
Factory loadings normally consist of a 200-grain round-nosed bullet with a muzzle velocity of 2,080 feet per second. This 200-grain bullet is heavier than the .30-30’s 170-grain bullet and has a larger frontal area. This gives it a substantial increase in power over the .30-30. Buffalo Bore, Federal, and Remington load .35 Remington ammunition. I found reloading dies from Hornady, Lee, RCBS, and Redding. Brass by Hornady and by Remington is available. I found three companies who make .35 caliber bullets for reloading.