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At one time hyphenated cartridges were the norm. One could have .44-40's, .40-65's, .38-55's, and .45-70's, as well as so many that have long disappeared from the scene such as the .40-82, .45-65, .45-125, and .50-110. The hyphen served a purpose as the first number indicated the caliber, the second, the powder charge, in black powder of course, and when a third number appeared such as the .45-70-500, it indicated the bullet weight.
As we entered the new century, the advent of smokeless powder changed the nomenclature of cartridges with the .30-06 being the .30 caliber round from 1906 and the .250-3000 Savage proudly announced the first cartridge to attain a muzzle velocity of 3,000 fps.
Most of the old cartridges are gone now but a few are not only still around they are also even more popular than ever. One of those is the .45-70. Others still exist or are coming back because of the popularity of cowboy shooting and long range black powder silhouetting. The .45-70 exists for these reasons and also the fact that we have yet to come up with a better cartridge for use in close quarters against large or dangerous American game. The English have long had their double rifles for use in Africa. Americans have the levergun chambered in .45- 70 for use against moose, elk, and the big bears. Properly loaded, it is also a grand black bear, feral pig, and deer rifle.
The first rifle chambered in .45-70 became the official U.S. service cartridge and rifle combination. That magnificent old single- shot workhorse was the 1873 Trapdoor Springfield. One of the best leverguns ever chambered in .45-70 was the 1886 Winchester which has only recently been resurrected and is once again available in modern form complete with a sliding tang safety.
Marlin jumped on the .45-70 bandwagon with the Model 1881 and reached the apex of levergun design with the 1895. The Winchester design featured top ejection; the Marlin, even way back before the turn of the century, had a solid topped receiver with side ejection. The Model 1895 would be produced by Marlin until 1917 in calibers .38-56, .33 WCF, .40- 65, .40-82, .45-90, and of course, the .45-70.
After World War I, Marlin turned to the more modern cartridges such as the .30-30 and .35 Remington for their leverguns in Models 1893, 93, 36, and the present 336. The 336 Texan was a levergun I often dreamed about as young teenager and that model in .35 Remington with its slab- sided receiver and straight gripped stock is now a special favorite.
In 1972 Marlin corrected the mistake of 1917 and brought back the Model 1895 in .45-70. A myth immediately arose around the 1895 .45-70 as shooters spread the word that "It won't shoot cast bullets!" As with most myths there is some basis in fact with this one. Yes the Marlin 1895 with Micro-Groove rifling designed primarily for jacketed bullets does not shoot many cast bullet designs BUT choose the right bullet and muzzle velocity combination and this changes.
For the Marlin 1895 .45-70 with Micro-Groove rifling I have found this combination to be the RCBS designed 405 grain gas checked bullet with maximum bearing surface. When driven to muzzle velocities of 1800 fps or more the accuracy is excellent and it also just happens to be a grand choice for heavy boned large animals. It is available to bullet casters in RCBS's #45-405FN mould or in ready to load form from Fusilier as their 400 grain gas checked .458" bullet.
We just as well lay another myth to rest here and that is the same albatross around the neck of the .444 Marlin in the Model 444. It will generally not shoot cast bullets of standard weight, however when loaded with 290-300 grain gas checked bullets at muzzle velocities in the 1800+ fps range groups tighten up dramatically. Again we have a combination that is the best available for deep penetration in the .444 Marlin.
All this is now academic as far as current production Marlin leverguns go. All three of "new" .45-70's tested do not have Micro- Groove rifling but are furnished with six grooves and lands and Ballard type or cut rifled barrels for the best accuracy with cast bullets. The extra added bonus is the fact that they also shoot jacketed bullets just fine.
In the past year Marlin has brought forth not one, nor two, nor even three, but rather four models of the 1895 .45-70. Two are limited editions that we can hope will eventually reach production status and the other two are current production leverguns from Marlin. It has been my good privilege to get my shooting hands on three of them and I have been enjoying the experience immensely. The fourth .45-70 1895 has just been announced and it will be a 24" full octagon-barreled beauty with a full length magazine tube.
MARLIN MODEL 1895G, "THE GUIDE GUN": The Marlin 1895 .45-70 has been a popular platform for building brush guns the past few years. I have had both Jim West of Wild West Guns in Alaska and Keith DeHart of Texas build easy handling, fast into action short-barreled .45-70 Marlins with both being reported in GUNS. West's creation is a 16 1/2" barreled take down model with a satin nickel finish while DeHart's offering is an 18 1/2" barreled version with slimmed down wood for easy carrying and use. Now Marlin is offering its version of a handy brush gun, and by this we mean a levergun that is handy to use in the brush or tight quarters not one that will somehow magically shoot through brush. Incidentally both of these custom .45-70's still have their original factory barrels, both have Micro Groove rifling but only one is so marked on the barrel.
The Guide Gun from Marlin features an 18 1/2" barrel with a shortened magazine tube that is set back about 4" from the muzzle. This allows a capacity of four rounds in the tube plus one in the chamber for five very potent rounds immediately at hand. The Marlin .45-70 is gaining appreciation in Africa as a close range rifle for use against dangerous game and the Guide Gun should be very popular over there when loaded with full house .45-70 loads such as offered by Garrett Cartridges. In the Guide Gun, Garrett's .45-70 loading with a hard cast 415 grain bullet exits the muzzle at more than 1700 fps. That is a lot of muzzle energy in a light easy to handle carbine.
Jeff Cooper who has hunted extensively both in Africa and this continent says of the 1895 Marlin and the Garrett loading of the .45-70: "Randy Garrett, the custom ammunition maker from Chehalis Washington, has really been hard at work on the .45-70 ....He is now featuring a 415 grain hard cast lead bullet for this cartridge that shows greater penetration than almost anything including the .375 H&H. When you remember that dangerous game is shot at short range, it begins to appear that we have been overlooking the best brown-bear cartridge for more than 100 years."
The Guide Gun, as all Marlin leverguns, is equipped with a cross bolt safety. I hear a lot of complaints from those who say this is not traditional and wish it weren't there. Because of liability laws being what they are today the cross bolt safety is definitely here to stay. I don't need it but I feel very comfortable when those around me have one on their leverguns and use it! I've even seen some rifles with the cross bolt safety removed leaving an ugly hole. This is not a wise move. Leave the safety in place and use it when a round is carried in the chamber.
The first Marlin 1895's in the resurrection of the model in the 1970's had straight gripped stocks. This desirable feature is back and the Guide Gun looks very trim with the lack of pistol grip. Its looks would also be vastly improved if the magazine tube was carried out full length or shortened to the end of the forearm giving it a capacity of either five or three rounds.
The Guide Gun is stocked with genuine American Walnut (Remember when this was a given on any American rifle?), and in the case of my test gun is quite attractive with nice figure. The forearm, as on all Marlin leverguns, is much thicker than it needs to be and could be slimmed down considerably. A most generous and much appreciated recoil pad is fixed to the butt stock and the front barrel band and the butt stock both have a sling swivel should one opt to fit the 1895G with a sling. It is also drilled and tapped to receive a Marlin Weaver scope mount base that accepts Weaver rings for ease of scope mounting. I elected to go with iron sights.
Sights are standard Marlin levergun with a bead front and an adjustable rear sight on an elevation ladder that folds down out of the way if not needed. I switched from the Marlin sights as the Guide Gun gave me a good chance to test a new sight system from Ashley Outdoors. Ashley Emerson of Ashley Outdoors has come up with a Ghost Ring Sight System for rifles that is perfect for use on the Guide Gun. The very small rear sight mounts on the 1895G using the two rear scope base holes already drilled and tapped on the top of the Marlin's receiver, while the front sight is tapped out of its dovetail and replaced with an Ashley front sight, or the entire Marlin front sight and ramp can be removed by loosening two screws and then replaced with an Ashley Outdoors Ramp Front sight and base.
The Ghost Ring Sight provides a large aperture rear sight that mates up with a front sight that slopes forward to the top and is fitted with a white stripe down the center. It is very easy to pick up quickly and would make a great combination for big game at close range.
To add to the Guide Gun's desirability it is furnished with a recoil reducing system with four holes on each side of the front sight plus two on each side of the barrel. Do they work? While firing all three .45-70 Marlins from the bench I found out exactly how well the porting system did work.
With all three guns fired from the bench the difference was remarkable. Both the standard Model 1895, now known as the 1895SS, and the Limited Edition when used with full house loads would come up off the bench enough for the back of my thumb to hit me in the nose. Not enough to hurt but enough to be disconcerting to say the least. When I fired the Guide Gun I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of uplift as the levergun was fired especially with full house 400 grain loads. It did not raise up off the bench and my thumb did not tap the end of my nose. It works!
The Guide Gun is a serious hunting or back-up levergun so it was used with hunting loads. For deer or deer-sized game, we have two great choices, namely Winchester's 300 grain Jacketed Hollow Point or Federal's version of the same. Both clock out at 1600 fps over the Oehler Model 35P with 50 yard groups in the two-inch range using iron sights.
For bigger game I would opt for Garrett's 415 grain hard cast loading. This round clocks out at 1700 fps from the Guide Gun's short barrel and stays well within two inches at 50 yards. My handload of Fusilier's 400 grain gas check over 52.0 grains of H322 yields a muzzle velocity of 1822 fps from the Guide Gun and with the Ashley Outdoors Ghost Ring in place stays within two inches at 50 yards.
MARLIN 1895SS: In conjunction with the Texas Historical Shootist Society, Marlin sponsors the cowboy shooting event Trail Head each year. I journeyed down to Texas in 1997 for the shoot and Marlin's introduction of the "new" .45-70. After the shoot, writers Finn Aagard, Gary Sitton, Bart Skelton, Glen Voorhees, John Wootters, and myself journeyed Southeast to the Shanghai Pierce Ranch to hunt wild hogs. If the shoot was relaxing, the trip to the ranch almost ruined me for any return to civilization. Founded by Pierce in 1885, the ranch is now a major source of rice and also a migratory wildfowl and bird paradise. The combination of the rice crop and wetlands are perfect for wildfowl and also for wild hogs.
Marlin provided the .45-70 leverguns and Garrett Cartridges supplied the ammunition for this hunt on 85,000 acres of Texas rangeland. Randy Garrett manufacturers two loads, both serious hunting loads. One is his 415 grain .45-70 load patterned after Elmer Keith's old loading of the .45-70, while the other is a 310 grain semi-wadcutter Keith style bullet in the .44 Magnum. Both loads use hard cast bullets and they do penetrate big game. Garrett has recently added a 280 grain load for the .44 Magnum and will be following it this summer with two loads using 310 grain bullets with most of the weight in the nose for superior penetration and maximum use of the cylinder length of Ruger's Redhawk and Super Redhawk.
The Garrett .45-70 load handled several large hogs quite handily for the other shooters. I had planned to use Marlin's .45-70 and Garrett's load for hogs but as it got dark and time ran out the last evening I could not see well enough to shoot the iron-sighted Marlin. A Ruger Super Blackhawk with a 2X Leupold saved the hunt. The 310 grain .44 bullet entered the left shoulder of a big hog, exited in front of the right ham and resulted in a large dead hog 40 paces from where it was shot.
As stated Marlin's standard Model 1895SS now features cut barrel rifling for use with cast bullets. My first thought was what the results would be when using jacketed bullets with the new barrels as we are so ingrained to expect jacketed bullets to be just the ticket for the Marlin .45-70. Using Hornady''s 300 grain bullet over 52.0 grains of H322, I was pleasantly surprised with a 50 yard three shot group of three-fourth inches. Following this with Speer's 400 grain Jacketed Flat Point over 50.0 grains of H322 yielded 1800 fps and a one-inch group for three shots at 50 yards with iron sights. When the bullet was switched to the hard cast style, the 300 grain RCBS Gas Check #45-300 FN over 52.0 grains of H322 put three shots into one-half inch at 50 yards and did it with a muzzle velocity of 1850 fps. Fusilier's 400 grain gas check, a dead ringer for RCBS's #45-405 FN, also is an excellent performer when driven to 1880 fps with 52.0 grains of H322 and a 50 yard group of one-inch. If you haven't guessed by now, my favorite powder for the .45-70 in leverguns is Hodgdon's H322!
As the platform from which the Guide Gun springs, the Model 1895SS differs in a only few aspects. Barrel length is 22", the butt stock features a pistol grip and a slimmer recoil pad, and there is no porting system in place. For test-firing I removed the standard rear sight and replaced it with a Williams Receiver Sight which will stay in place on the 1895 for general use.
The Marlin 1895SS is an exceptionally good shooting levergun. The only complaint I would register or change I would want is to see the magazine tube offered full length thus making a much better looking levergun as well as bringing the capacity up to six rounds in the magazine and one in the chamber. O.K. So maybe I would leave the checkering off the forearm and butt stock also!
MARLIN 1895 LTD: The only thing wrong with this .45-70 levergun is the fact that it is a Limited Edition. Introduced in the fall of 1997, this edition is now sold out. That is the bad news. The good news is that 1998's version is already available and will be the same basic gun with a full octagon instead of a half round-half octagon barrel and the butt stock will be the pistol grip shape.
The barrel length on the Limited Edition is a very pleasing 24" with a full magazine tube. This not only looks great but also gives a capacity of nine .45-70 rounds. Thank You Marlin!, and no checkering on either the forearm or the butt stock, Thank You Again!!
For testing the Marlin Limited Edition .45-70 I went with a Lyman #66 Receiver Sight. This fully adjustable sight has been around for a long time and is well proven to be of excellent quality. It mates up perfectly with the bead front sight that is standard on the Marlin .45- 70.
This is one good shooting levergun. If memory serves me right it gave me the smallest group I have very experienced with a .45-70. Using Hornady's 300 grain Jacketed Hollow Point over 52 grains of H322 resulted in a muzzle velocity of 1860 fps with a three shot group at 50 yards of three-eighth's of an inch! That is excellent but before I get too excited I must tell you that my friend Fritz Dixon, who is an NRA rep as well as a .45-70 fan, shoots his old Marlin 1895 in the .45-70 matches. Last week I watched him experiment with his scope and loads on a wet windy cold day. The result was three cast bullets in one and one- fourth inches, not at 50 yards, not at 100 yards, not even at 150 yards but a full 200 yards! From a levergun with cast bullets, in the antiquated, to some, .45-70! Marlin .45-70's will flat out shoot.
Yes, the only problem with the Limited Edition is just that, it is limited. At least it has already been replaced with a new Limited Edition. If one has a chance to get one I would advise not letting it pass by. O.K., so there is one other problem with the 1895 Limited Edition. Like the Colt Single Action it stirs the heart, mind, soul, and spirit. It is really difficult to stay in the later 1990's with a levergun in hand that does its best to take one back to the 1880's. The built in imagination booster is an extra bonus at no added cost.
Marlin can be reached www.marlin-guns.com. For a Ghost Ring Sight System and several other interesting items, Ashley Outdoors is at www.ashleyoutdoors.com. For serious full house .45-70 hunting loads contact Garrett Cartridges at P.O. Box 178, Chehalis, WA 98532 or on the web at www.garrettcartridges.com
GROUPS/THREE SHOTS AT 50 YARDS
* Equipped with Ashley Outdoors "Ghost Ring"
This article was originally posted on www.sixguns.com