|May - June 2004
Volume 36, Number
The custom Weatherby Vanguard is chambered for a variety of popular hunting cartridges and features a hand laminated stock. The Cooper Model 57 LVT .22 rimfire is outfitted with a Bushnell Elite Model 4200 2.5-10x Scope in Leupold rings. Pronghorn photo b
Q: Love your
magazine. Could you guys do a study on the .45-70 in comparison to other dangerous game
cartridges? Perhaps test the Garrett and Buffalo Bore rounds against the .375 H&H or
.458 Winchester Magnum or Lott? If you check out many of the forums, you will see heated
debates on this topic. Would be a great seller for you guys and a great read for us!! -
C.A.L., via Internet
idea, but the truth is, there is no comparison between the .45-70 and the .375 H&H,
.458 Winchester Magnum or .458 Lott. And, at the risk of possibly inciting a riot on the
Internet, Ill tell you why.
Right off, I would imagine this
debate is somewhat inspired by the story Brian Pearce did about the .45-70 in
Africa, where he used a Cor-Bon 400-grain solid to shoot a Cape buffalo, whereupon the
bullet exited the bull and killed a cow buffalo that had gone unnoticed on the other side
of the bull. The bull took off, and Brian shot it in the south end where the solid
penetrated to the heart, ending the affair in fairly short fashion.
So, it may be logical, from Brians
account, to assume the .45-70 is perfectly adequate for Cape buffalo - assuming one is
using a 400-grain solid at approximately 1,800 fps and the range is limited to 100 yards
or less. Most folks would be tempted to ask whether Brians hunt would have turned up
similar results if he had used a 400-grain softnose. Either way, its a bit of a
stretch to compare Brians load in the .45-70 to a 300-grain solid at 2,400 fps from
a .375 H&H, or a 500-grain solid at 2,100 or 2,300 fps from the .458 Winchester or
Lott. Its plainly obvious, or should be, that the two .458 belted cartridges pack a
lot more clout than the .45-70, regardless of which performance criterion anyone might
choose, i.e. kinetic energy or Taylors knock-out formula.
The comparison, then, should really address
these cartridges in terms of performance potential on large game, or at what point is a
cartridge considered adequate or acceptable in terms of producing a high percentage of
one-shot kills on buffalo, lions or even elephant.
Obviously, the performance
evaluation has to include bullets, softnoses, solids or whatever, like the X-Bullet. If we
restrict the dialogue to softnose bullets, the .45-70 with a 400-grain Kodiak or Hawk with
a .050-inch jacket is probably acceptable for Cape buffalo, assuming proper bullet
placement. That also applies to the .375 H&H with a Swift A-Frame or Nosler Partition.
But, no matter how you cut it, a 500-grain, .458-inch bullet at 2,000 fps impact velocity
delivers a tremendous blow, even on soft body shots. The same could be said of the .470 NE
or the .404 Jeffery and .416 Rigby or Remington Magnum. All assuming, of course, the
bullet is up to the job at hand.
Im also reminded that there
are hunting cartridges and fighting cartridges, the latter being those that are required
to administer a one-shot stop in a fight that was started with a .375 H&H, for
instance. So, while it may be possible to stop an enraged four-footed antagonist with a
.45-70, the .458 Lott and .470 NE are superior tools for the job.
Then theres an experience my
friend Martin Pieters recounted one evening as we lounged around the campfire in the
Okavango last August. It seems one of his clients wounded a Cape buffalo, and they failed
to find it before the client had to leave. So, Martin went back out and spent two days
searching through a little less than 2,000 buffalo before he found the wounded bull, which
promptly took exception to Martins intrusion and charged. Martin responded with a
500-grain .470 solid, between the eyes, and the bull fell dead at his feet. He would have
tried the frontal heart shot, but the bull was so close that the angle was not right. The
effect, no doubt, would have been the same had Martin used a 500-grain solid in the .458
Lott or .458 Winchester Magnum or 400-grain solid in the .416 Rigby or Remington Magnum.
It might also be claimed the .45-70
with a 500-grain solid would have stopped that bull as well, but it should be plainly
obvious that if one is to error in cartridge selection for such work, it is best to error
on the heavier side. At that, there are countless horror stories of Cape buffalo taking
multiple hits from .458 Winchesters or .470 NE doubles, or combinations thereof, before
giving up, or stomping on some unfortunate souls body parts. There is even a
well-documented episode where a huge Cape buffalo took a 400-grain bullet through the
heart from a .404 Jeffery, and it waited in ambush for 30 minutes, at which time the
hunter approached and the bull got up and charged, receiving another slug in the eye at
So, its not adequate to
address the problem of how cartridges might compare in normal hunting situations. It is
only when the worst possible scenario is considered that the wheat is clearly separated
from the chaff.
The point of all this is that we
could argue to the point of reductio ad absurdum as to whether or not the .45-70 is the
equal of other, more established dangerous game cartridges. But it is important to keep in
mind that the animal is only dangerous if the situation is screwed up or gets out of hand.
So, lets consider, hypothetically, if the bull Brian shot turned the other way and
came back at them. All of a sudden, the tables have turned, and the animal becomes a
serious threat. Would the .45-70 with a 400-grain solid at 1,800 fps be enough to stop the
bull before it hooks a horn into someone?
Im also mindful of the fact
the most vocal critics of any cartridge are, in large part, those who have never used it,
or simply used a bullet that was ill-suited to the task. This brings to mind Elmer
Keiths comments regarding the .30-06, damning with faint praise, when in fact, he
was talking about the bullets of his day.
If you load the .45-70 right to the
gunnels with powder under a heavy solid, either copper or hard cast lead, in a Ruger No.
1, the old black-powder cartridge takes on an entirely different personality. (Hornady
lists loads for its 500-grain solid at 1,800 fps in the .45-70 Ruger No. 1.) The same
could be said for the .450 Marlin, .450 Alaskan, .45-90 WCF and, to some degree, smokeless
loads in the .50-100-450 in modern rifles. Theres even the .50 Alaskan to consider,
especially when it tosses 450-grain bullets around at a bit over 2,000 fps from an
18.5-inch barrel and 535-grain bullets at 1,850 fps from a 26-inch tube. These .50 Alaskan
Buffalo Bore loads are creeping right up on the .458 Winchester Magnum.
Ive used all the
above, except the .450 Marlin, to take deer-sized game, elk and bears, and I would be hard
pressed to distinguish the end result produced by any of them from the rest - where the
right bullet is used for the task at hand. If you really want to confuse the issue,
Ill toss in the .50 Black Powder Express used in Africa on Cape buffalo and plains
game, and the .50-90 Sharps used on bison, deer and elk - all .50-caliber loads using
black powder, of course.
Sometimes I wonder if we arent
just arguing death by degree, e.g., a 400-grain solid at 1,800 fps from a .45-70 is
adequate for whatever, but the same bullet at 1,550 fps is little more than a receipe for
dismal failure. Where does that bullet downgrade from perfectly adequate to
marginal or inadequate - 1,400, 1,450 or 1,500 fps?
Im also aware that a lot of
folks like to have things tied up in a tidy little package in terms of kinetic energy or
Taylors K-O values, but you may rest assured, it isnt that easy. Big, heavy
bullets usually perform all out of proportion to their paper numbers. The bison I shot
some time back yielded 892 pounds of boned meat, something over a ton on the hoof, and it
went to its knees within seconds after receiving a 535-grain cast bullet at ±200 yards,
where velocity had dropped to little more than 900 fps. Seeing the snow fly on the other
side of the beast, it appeared the bullet didnt even slow down on the way through,
leaving huge holes in both lungs and shattering
ribs on the way in and out. Who would have guessed? One thing we know for sure, any
attempt to evaluate cartridge/bullet performance of these big-bore/heavy bullet cartridges
using the same criterion commonly associated with .30, .338 and .375 bores (i.e. high
velocity and energy numbers) will usually lead to nothing but frustration and/or
So, what about the debate comparing
the .375 H&H, etc., etc? Rest assured, it will rage on, fostered on both sides by
critics who would never dream of using a .45-70 on anything, let alone a Cape buffalo, and
big-bore fanatics who claim any bullet at less than 2,000 fps that generates anything less
than 5,000 foot-pounds at the muzzle is doomed to failure on any animal larger than a
This reminds me of a
reader who asked which of two cast bullets - an RCBS .45-270 SAA (SWC) or LBT WFN Ð of
equal weight at the same velocity had superior killing power on hogs or deer-sized game. I
suggested it would be a tossup, but the WFN might kill the animal deader than the RCBS
bullet would. Then too, I couldnt prove it because, to my knowledge, there is no
scale of relative deadness. That is, where a 1 would be just dead
and 2 would be deader, 3 would be stone dead and so on. Comparing
the .45-70 to a .375 H&H might create an inspired debate on the scale of deadness,
where the .458 Lott would rate a 9 or 10, stone cold dead or dead
n buried. This could get outta hand.