45-70 vs 308: Which Is The Best?

comparison of 45-70 vs 308 win ammo

The 45-70 and 308 are highly decorated and esteemed cartridges in American households. Both these popular cartridges are incredibly versatile yet limited in certain aspects. Deciding which cartridge rifle is best for you will ultimately influence how much you will enjoy your deer or big game hunt.

History Of The .45-70

The 45-70 was designed as a large caliber round for percussion-style rifled muskets converted to trapdoor action breechloaders. The 45-70 was first designed for a black powder cartridge used by infantry in longer-range volley fire and later incorporated smokeless powder.

The military primarily used the initial 405-grain bullet, just like they used the 350 Legend & 357 Magnum, to achieve a range above 1000 yards, if necessary. Since then, the 45-70 became a favorite in many’s eyes as an excellent caliber for lever action rifle use. It has even been featured in numerous Hollywood Westerns typically depicted as a lever gun.


It was so popular in its infancy that it was even used for a short period for Gatling guns. It was also used as big slugs in a 49 gauge shotgun. It had a wooden cased shell, termed “Forager,” used by hunters for hunting small game such as rabbits and fowl.

Since then, it has been used by hunters all across the globe for hunting dangerous game at short range.

History Of The 308 Winchester

After the wide use of the .30-06 Springfield in World War I and the M1 Garand in World War II, the need for a new cartridge was raised to keep up with technological improvements.

Hence the development of the .308 Winchester in 1952, followed by its cousin, the 7.62x51mm NATO used by the military. The .308 is loaded at higher pressures than its 7.62x51mm cousin with 25% more PSI.

Today, the .308 Winchester is used in many rifles for deer and big game hunting in North America as well as African Safari. Its cousin, the 7.62x51mm NATO, is still used in many fully automatic assault rifles.

Performance & Ballistics Comparison: 45-70 Govt vs 308

The 45-70 and 308 are popular cartridge rifles, just like the 450 Bushmaster and 350 Legend ammo, that many hunters use on their hunting expeditions, however, their ballistics differ entirely.

Note that these ballistics were obtained from rifles shooting average factory loads.

1. Velocity and Energy Comparison

Muzzle velocity

The .308 Winchester, with a 165-grain bullet, achieves, on average, a muzzle velocity of 2,680 feet per second. While the .45-70 Government only achieves a muzzle velocity of 2,000 feet per second.

Thus the .308 Winchester travels at 680 feet per second faster than the .45-70 Government, making the .308 the winner in the muzzle velocity category. Many shooters will ask basic questions like, how far can a 22 bullet travel? Muzzle velocity has a major impact on how far any bullet travels!

Muzzle energy

The .308 Winchester round achieves an average muzzle energy of 2640 ft-lbs, and the 45-70 Government only obtains a muzzle energy of 2270 ft-lbs. Both are powerful and remind me of the 223 Rem or 350 Legend rounds.

Generally speaking, as the muzzle energy increases in a cartridge, so to does the stopping power. However, numerous factors contribute to the bullet’s kinetic energy, which ultimately puts an animal down, and accurate shot placement.

For example, the heavier bullet of the 45-70 helps take the large animals down at short range of less than 150 yards, delivering bone crushing power. Thanks to its lower muzzle velocity, it won’t damage the meat as much as the 308 Winchester. These rounds are not quite as strong as Black tips, but they will do the trick! And if you don’t know the different bullet tip color meaning, be sure to read up.

2. Trajectory Comparison

chart showing trajectory of 308 win ammo

As previously mentioned, the muzzle velocity achieved by the 308 Winchester is markedly higher than that achieved by the 45-70 government. Hence, the 308 will have a flatter trajectory than the 45-70 and ultimately less bullet drop. Making the 308 more effective at longer ranges than the 45-70 as it has a higher ballistic coefficient. However, now as effective as the 300 Blackout or 6.5 Grendel from long distance.

The 45-70 will drop almost 90 inches between 300 and 400 yards. In comparison, the 308 Winchester will only drop 24 inches between 300 and 400 yards.

There are methods to increase the range of the 45-70. A “pop up” sight allows for a more arced trajectory. Just like we saw in our comparison of the 22 vs 17 hmr trajectory makes a huge difference depending on your use case.

3. Size Comparison

It should be noted that when comparing the size of these two cartridges, the 308 is a bottleneck cartridge, while the 45-70 is a straight-walled cartridge. A bottleneck cartridge is better designed in terms of powder storage space, allowing more efficient storage of smokeless powder. For this reason, both are very popular. Unlike with the 35 Remington ammo shortage, manufactures produce these rounds at large scale!

Bullet weight – The 308 Winchester’s most popular bullets are the 150 and 165-grain bullets, but they also have a 125-grain and 180-grain bullets available. The 45-70 has heavier bullets, with a wide range of bullet weights to choose from, ranging from a 225-grain bullet to a 500-grain bullet.

Bullet Diameter – The bullet diameter of the 308 Winchester is 308 inches, and the 45-70 has a bullet diameter of 458 inches.

Overall, the bigger bullet of the 45-70 allows for more crushing power at short range. Just like we saw in our comparison of 300 wsm vs 30 06 rounds, bullet size matters!

4. Recoil Comparison

Recoil depends on numerous factors, including the weight of the rifle, buffering system, and the cartridge itself. So if you only focus on the cartridge, both these cartridges have considerable recoil. Although, the 45-70 has more recoil than the .308 due to the round having more power. Just like we saw in our comparison of the 308 vs 300 WSM, the .308 has manageable recoil.

Who Is A .45-70 Gov’t Best For?

The 45-70 is a cartridge known for its stopping power. This hunting round has a short range and is an ideal cartridge for hunting deer sized game such as elk, dangerous game such as black bear or brown bear, and big game such as moose. Just like we found in our comparison of the 303 vs 30 06 rounds, larger calibers are often better for hunting large game.

The 45-70 has a highly effective range in thick woods, taking down the biggest of animals with a single shot, thanks to its heavier bullet. The 45-70 will not waste as much meat on the animal as the .308, attributed to its lower muzzle velocity. The ammo selection is diverse, with bullets ranging from 250 grain to 500 grain.

The 45-70 cartridge can be used in both bolt action rifles as well as in a lever action rifle

Who Is A .308 Win Best For?

Known for its versatility, the .308 is a popular cartridge hunters use for hunting North American game with longer range shots. Plus it is not as expensive as 380 ammo online. The .308 is predominantly used for medium, deer sized game such as elk. Although, the 308. cartridge has a high muzzle energy ft lbs feature, giving it the power it needs to take down big game as well such as moose.

There are also numerous ammo options, with factory ammo usually having 150 or 165 grain bullets. The factory loads are still safe even loaded at such high pressures.

Overall, if you want a rifle cartridge that will shoot deer accurately at long range or want to be a sport shooter, this is the cartridge for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do they call it 45-70 Government?

What's bigger 308 or 45-70?

Although the muzzle energy of the .308 Winchester is higher than that of the 45-70, the 45-70 is more powerful short range. If you use big bore ammo such as Buffalo Bore, the 45-70 short range power is even more enhanced. However, the .308 vs 45-70 longe range is a different story. Even when using iron sights on the rifle, the .308 is much more effective long range than the 45-70 for deer hunting, moose, or any medium or big game. Due to the .308 retaining its initial energy and velocity much better than the 45-70.

Is 45-70 too powerful for deer?

No, the 45-70 is ideal for hunting deer and will cause minimal meat damage.

What's the effective range of a 45-70?

The effective range of the 45-70 for deer hunting is 150 yards; for big game, it is advised to be closer than 150 yards to make an ethical kill.

Is 308 enough for black bear?

Yes, the 308 Winchester can take a black bear down. However, when you shoot with your rifle, ensure accurate shot placement. Antagonizing the black bear will only end badly.

Is a 45-70 Good for grizzly?

Yes, again, the effective range of the 45-70 is limited to 150 yards. So when you take on a grizzly, be sure to be closer than 150 yards. Also, use higher loads of grain in your ammo and bullets with a heavier grain.

The Bottom Line

Rifles have developed considerably from when they first used black powder cartridges in the eighteen hundreds. These cartridges are excellent for hunters with either a bolt action rifle or lever actions.

They are both excellent choices for hunting deer and larger animals. However, when deciding which to choose, your final consideration should be based on range and use case as the predominant deciding factors in the 45-70 vs .308 battle.

About the author

Charles Neser

I'm a life long hunter & gun lover. Currently pursuing my Master's Degree (M.Sc.) in Animal Nutrition at University of the Free State.

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