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30-30 Vs. 45-70 Caliber: Which Is The More Powerful Cartridge?

We have two cartridges with an impressive history and long tradition as sporting rounds here. While the .30-30 Winchester entered the civilian arena as the first sporting cartridge loaded exclusively with smokeless powder, the .45-70 Government jumped from the U.S. Army to the hunting fields as soon as it was invented remains a popular hunting caliber across the United States.

Today, rather than being ancient and decrepit, these two cartridges are probably the two most popular ones used in lever-action rifles in North America. Even though it seems that all the rage today is long-range shooting, the .45-70 and the .30-30 Winchester remain popular cartridges, probably for sentimental reasons.

The explanation for their popularity might be straightforward: if you want to hunt with a traditionally styled lever-action rifle, a traditional cartridge is what’s needed.

In the bottom table, we have arranged the basic data for these two calibers to give you a more precise overview of the spec for these cartridges.

Cartridge  .30-30 Winchester.45-70 Government
Bullet125 to 170 gr (8.1 to 11.02 g)250 to 400 gr (16.2 to 25.9 g)
Bullet diameter  .308” (7.8mm).458” (11.6mm)
Case length2.039” (51.8mm)2.105” (53.5mm)
Maximum overall length2.55” (64.8mm)2.55” (64.8mm)
Rim diameter.506” (12.9mm).608” (15.4mm)
Max Pressure (SAAMI)42,000 psi28,000 psi
Muzzle Velocity160gr/ 2,400 fps325 gr/ 2,050 fps
Muzzle Energy160gr/ 2,047 ft-lbs.325 gr/ 3,032 ft-lbs.
            200yds Bullet Drop (inches)-6.1”-10.3”
Powder load37 gr45.0 gr
Rifle Weight8.0 lbs.8.0 lbs.
Free recoil energy12.12 ft-lbs.29.24 ft-lbs.
Case capacity45.0 gr H2O81.8 gr H2O

.30-30 Winchester

Without question, the .30-30 Winchester is one of the most important cartridges in American firearm history. As the first U.S. “civilian” smokeless powder hunting cartridge with a jacketed bullet, the .30-30 changed the design of small cartridges forever.

It was the first American commercial small-bore, sporting cartridge loaded with smokeless powder that launched a 160-grain bullet at a fantastic muzzle velocity for its time of about 1,950 fps.

The Winchester Repeating Arms Company introduced the .30 Winchester Center Fire (WCF) in 1895 for their Winchester Model 1894 rifle. The cartridge name indicates that it consists of a .30 caliber (.308-inch) bullet loaded behind the 30 grains of smokeless powder.

The designation “thirty thirty” is related to an older methodology of cartridge naming when most cartridges were based on black powder usage. The same nomenclature rule refers to another competitor – .45-70 Government.

But let us go back to one of the most famous cartridges of all deer calibers, the .30-30 Winchester.

The .30-30 WCF round in this compact and lightweight lever action carbine offered low recoil, good trajectory and excellent terminal ballistics, followed by the ability to fire six shots as fast as the shooter could work the lever.

Soon the .30-30 Winchester was adopted by the other rival gun manufacturers, but that dropped “Winchester” off the name and simply dubbed it the .30-30 (“thirty-thirty”).

Along with the legendary Winchester’s Model 1894, the “Rifle that won the West,” the .30-30 was chambered in other manufacturers’ rifles such as the Marlin Model 336 and the Savage Model 99 lever action.

Anyway, the original .30 WCF 160 grain load offered hunters about 1,950 feet per second muzzle velocity and 1,379 ft-lbs. of energy that was more than enough for hunting deer, feral hogs and black bears at short to moderate range. Modern technology developed factory bullets in the 140-190 grain range, with 150- and 170 grainers as the two most common factory loadings. Besides traditional .30-30 ammunition loaded with round or flat-nosed bullets, today we have available the famous Hornady’s LEVERevolution line of .30-30 ammunition with soft tips of memory elastomer. While we can load them in rifles with a tubular magazine without risk of primer detonations, the LEVERevolution provides a slightly flatter trajectory (13%), more energy (6%) and a slightly increased effective range.

Depending on riffle weight and much less of the particular loading, the .30-30 WCF will have recoil between 10- and 13-foot pounds of energy.

.45-70 Government

With more than 140 years of service, the .45-70 is even older than .30-30, and like it, the legendary .45-70 has survived the test of time.

This old-timer was designed in 1873 for the United States Army and was initially chambered in the single-shot Trapdoor Springfield rifle. Similar to .30-30, the new U.S. Army cartridge was dubbed .45-70-405, a designation typical for black powder ammunition. In its case, the last number denoted a 405-grain bullet launched at nearly 1,300 fps with 1,748 foot-pounds of muzzle energy.

The original round loaded with 405-grain lead flat nose projectiles haven’t impressive ballistics, and at 200 yards, the bullet would drop more than two feet. In comparison, the modern “forty-five seventy” projectiles can exceed 2,200 fps and generate 3,400 foot-pounds of energy, with trajectories twice as flat as the initial loading.

Unlike the .30-30 bottlenecked rimmed case, the .45-70 Government uses a straight-wall rimmed case with a much larger case capacity (45 vs. 81 grains, respectively). While they have the same maximum overall length of 2.55″, the most significant difference is the caliber. The .45-70 Govt uses .458″ diameter bullets, whereas the .30-30 uses .308″ bullets.

The .45-70 ammo is loaded with bullets weighing as little as 250 grains and as heavy as 500 grains. On the other hand, the .30-30 Winchester generates a higher maximum pressure than the .45-70 Govt (42,000psi vs. 28,000psi).

Speaking of ballistics, as you would be expected, shooting significantly larger diameter and heavier bullets, the .45-70 Government provides 48-97% more terminal energy than the .30-30. That energy advantage means you can hunt big and dangerous game like brown bear, North American bison, and moose.

Of course, all that power comes at the cost of felt recoil. The .45-70 Government has significantly larger recoil than the .30-30. Compared to thirty-thirty moderate recoil, the heavy .45-70 loads will recoil almost three times as hard as .30-30.

Final thought

From a trajectory standpoint, the.45-70 is inferior to the more versatile .30-30 Winchester. It also means that these two veterans have some overlapping in their capabilities. Both will be deadly within 200 yards on whitetail deer and similar game.

If you want the hard-hitting big game cartridge with bone-crushing muzzle energy at short ranges, the .45-70 would be your choice. In case when you are not hunting under heavy cover but need a gun with a flatter trajectory and less recoil, you should not look further from the .30-30.

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