What if I told you there existed today a rifle cartridge that has been around for nearly 150 years, one so large that its brass peals like a bell when it strikes the ground, one that launches massive, heavy bullets over great distances and is more than capable of harvesting any land animal on earth.
A cartridge that, against all odds and even a little common sense has been continually updated with new technology so that it remains viable to this very day?
This is no theoretical exercise, and the cartridge so described is very real: I am referring to, of course, the .45-70 Government. This ancient classic is beloved for its devastating short range performance, and when mated to a strong lever-action rifle, has a nearly mythical status among hunters, guides and other rugged individualists who want crushing power in a fast handling rifle.
One lever-action rifle that blends the very best of the old and new is Henry’s All-Weather series, a tough, no-nonsense rifle that contains the might of the grand old Government round in a reliable and weatherproof package.
In this article, we’ll be examining the .45-70 as a round potentially worthy of a prepper’s selection as well as the excellent Henry rifle that chambers it.
Strap on a recoil pad and let’s get to it!
Venerable and Victorious: Overview of the .45-70 Government Cartridge
There are many old designs in the gun sphere, both arms and ammunition, that have withstood the test of time and continue to serve many decades after their introduction.
But few in number are the real, true living legends, examples with such lauded, decorated history that have remained in continual production and refinement. The .45-70 Government cartridge is one such legend.
The .45-70 was developed by the United States government in 1873 specifically for use in the Army’s then-new breechloader, the Springfield 1873 Rifle, better known and loved as the Trapdoor Springfield.
The .45-70, while not launching the largest diameter bullets of the day, was then and still today a stomper of a cartridge. In its original loading, it flung a 405 grain .45 caliber bullet using a 70 grain charge of black powder.
This massive bullet was deeply penetrating and highly lethal, the bullet not being prone to upset or loss of mass thanks to its comparatively low velocity and great girth.
This worked so well, a revision ensued and a new loading was introduced, one that launched a bullet weighing fully 500 grains even farther and with better effect than could be had with the earlier load.
The range and penetration of the .45-70 way back then was nearly unprecedented, and today it remains an effective round for hunting and extremely heavy medicine for defense against humans.
Part of the .45-70’s mystique and appeal, aside from its massive profile compared to the majority of modern rifle cartridges, is its staying power: unbelievably, it remains in the U.S. military inventory as a blank cartridge for line-launchers at sea.
While a far cry from its battlefield role of yore, it still serves with distinction. The .45-70, both in commercial and military settings, has seen its cartridges loaded for everything from battle to the hunting of large, dangerous game, thin skinned game and everything in between. It has even been loaded for the taking of birds using specialty shot-packed bullets.
.45-70 Performance, Perks and Flaws
Talk about versatile! It seems those who snicker at the phrase “bigger is better” clearly don’t know a thing about the might and majesty of the .45-70. While capable of excellent performance on flesh (or just about anything else) even at great ranges, the .45-70 has an Achilles ’ heel: it has a trajectory that drops faster than a rock.
This means that tapping that extended performance will require serious, old-school rifleman skills: intricate knowledge of your load and rifle, range, wind and more.
Modern loads in modern guns help defray this a little bit by cranking the velocity way up compared to the earliest incarnations, but there is simply no getting around it.
The problem is solved in an elegant way by most users- they simply don’t use the gun for long range! Instead the .45-70 is most at home and often employed today as a close-in wrecking ball of a round, used in lighter, handier guns at home in close confines like brush and bramble, or any terrain where you may expect to muster a defense quickly and with little warning.
While the .45-70 has been and is chambered in everything from single-shot and big game double rifles all the way down to downright gargantuan hunting handguns (including a few huge revolvers!) and even, yes, an AR variant semi-auto rifle, it has found what is perhaps its most iconic home in lever-action rifles.
A comparatively short and fast handling solution, a lever-action rifle combines the light weight of an average bolt-action with faster, surer follow-up shots.
A lever action so chambered is in fact referred to commonly as a “brush gun” or “guide gun” for their stereotypical use by hunters who are seeking large and dangerous game in areas with short sight lines, and their professional guides ready to defend the party from the wrath of game surprised and enraged in such close quarters.
For high-stakes defense against large and powerful animals, you’ll need an appropriately potent round on tap in a quick-firing gun. Lever-actions make a lot of sense for that duty, and that brings us to the rifle which is partly the subject of our article.
The Henry All-Weather Rifle
Henry Repeating Arms has been turning out high quality lever guns since 2012, ones that are made in America with the best manufacturing processes and materials available.
While company president Anthony Imperato is utterly committed to seeing Henry rifles made right and “Made in America, or not made at all” their designs do have a few quirks. The All-Weather is an excellent rifle in its category, but it shares these design choices with its stablemates.
The most obvious to latter day levergun aficionados is the conspicuous lack of a loading gate on the receivers; loading is instead accomplished via a port in the magazine tube near the muzzle, accessed by removal of the follower and spring assembly.
The All-Weather is no different. This arrangement is not ideal for rapid and sure loading, even among lever-actions, and is made worse by the fact that reinserting the follower assembly is hampered by the giant rims of the huge torpedoes waiting in the magazine. Much wiggling and twisting is required to get the follower assembly all the way home.
The other quirk is Henry’s dogged insistence that synthetic stocks are to be avoided whenever possible, so the All-Weather wears wood fore and aft. To yield the necessary environmental resistance, the wood of the pistol grip stock and forend is impregnated with a special coating that repels moisture and is very tough, resisting all manner of dings, dents, scuffs and scratches. While you could save a little weight while maintaining ruggedness with synthetic furniture, that just would not be Henry.
The rest of this rifles features are well thought out and contribute to its efficacy as a heavy-duty tool for outdoor survival: aside from the sights and the furniture, the entirety of the gun is finished in attractive and tough-wearing hard chrome with a satin finish. The finish is bright, but not flashy, and among metallic finishes hard chrome is still one of the best for corrosions and wear-resistance properties.
The action is smooth and the trigger clean, both qualities that have made Henry rifles popular. There is no manual safety switch, a feature often hated by dedicated levergun purists; instead, safe carry with a round in the chamber is accomplished by letting the hammer down to rest at half-cock.
To make the gun ready to fire instantly, one need only thumb the hammer back to full-cock and press the trigger. This is a design feature of many lever-actions, not a workaround.
The top of the receiver is drilled and tapped for mounting of an optic base, and subsequent installation of both base and optic is easily accomplished. The case can be made for both RDSs and low-power optics on a .45-70, as the former will make a quick-handling gun even more adept for fast-moving short range shots while the latter will afford more precision to make better use of the crushing power generated by the big bullets.
And crush it shall: in all but the lightest “historical” loadings, the recoil produced by the big bore Henry is anywhere from bruising to molar-rattling. This is not a gun for the recoil averse, and also not a gun that suffers fools owing to its complicated and fiddly loading procedure and lack of manual safety.
The fact that the hammer must be lowered by hand while pulling the trigger on a live round is similarly a pass/fail operation, with no in-between (assuming you want to carry at maximum capacity of five rounds).
While some design choices leave you with something to be desired or just scratching your head, overall the Henry All-Weather in .45-70 is extremely well made and well executed. If you require (or just desire) the kind of power that only rounds in its class can provide, this is one of the better choices available.
.45-70 Cartridge for Preppers
The .45-70, for all its merit and surging popularity, it is a bit of a question mark as to why one would choose such a massive, expensive round as a primary or even secondary choice for self-defense or SHTF unless one was living smack in the middle of bear or moose country. Any other animal in North America can be harvested with much cheaper and lighter recoiling rounds that allow more ammo in a rifle of the same size.
The .45-70 is not an uncommon round, but it also not what I would call plentiful either, even though several major manufacturers turn out modern ammo in surprising quantity and with many varieties of loads.
It is also very expensive, with factory commercial ammo averaging about $1.60 a pop. It’s one huge pop, true, but when ammo may very well become a precious resource you’ll want to stock plenty of it. That stings when your chosen cartridge means you need to take out a second mortgage on your home to finance a quantity purchase.
Against humans, the .45-70 will certainly do the job and at any range you may conceivably need to shoot someone but it is, in a word, overkill. Smaller, lighter bullets like those launched by typical 5.56mm and various .30 caliber cartridges enjoy excellent effectiveness against humans with none of the considerable baggage that a .45-70 levies.
The recoil from an average .45-70 load is very stout, greatly hampering follow-up shots that may be needed quickly against a human (or animal!) attacker.
Pair this to the manually operated action of your typical .45-70 rifle and a limited magazine capacity in any case and you have very low endurance in a fight: when your rifle runs dry, you’ll be on your handgun for a while or praying that you can get through a cumbersome reload in a hurry.
Neither is a recipe for success for a dedicated defensive gun. Don’t delude yourself that you’ll be a rock-steady cowboy picking off the miscreants with a single shot before you saunter out of town. This ain’t the Old West, and you ain’t Bill Hickok.
Considering the .45-70 as a hunting-specific cartridge with potential utility as an emergency self-defense gun it fares better considering it can take anything in North America. All that power in a small, handy package makes for an easy day afield and you likely will not be shooting enough, or quickly enough, for the cartridges warts to really bother you.
Even so, .45-70 rounds are enormous compared to anything but the most titanic specialty long-range, dangerous game or anti-material rifle cartridges, so they eat up space in your kit and on the gun very quickly. Something to keep in mind before you consider it as an on-foot BOB gun: you’ll be toting very few rounds to go with it.
The Henry All-Weather for Preppers
The Henry, while a finely made rifle, is a mixed bag for prepping. On one hand it definitely checks off the boxes for reliability, accuracy, and adequate ballistic performance. It certainly lives up to its name when it comes to weather resistance and ruggedness.
For hunting, you can carry this one gun and take literally any critter you come across with authority (unless you are hunting small game, in which case it is likely to be reduced to its constituent atoms and a puff of fur). It is a nice gun, and quirks and all a great example of an American made lever-action.
Where it falls short is as a defensive gun against two-legged animals. Ferocious recoil counters the quick handling and smooth cycling. Four rounds, five tops, and you are out and facing an extremely laborious, janky reload.
If I am relying on a lever action, I really, really want that loading gate so I can at least top off the gun on the fly. Having to partially disassemble my rifle to reload it straight up sucks, and sucks worse in a fight.
To add even more injury to injury, reinserting the follower assembly is, as mentioned, very fiddly, further slowing an already slow process. It is worth pointing out that this is no material or design defect per se, and certainly no fault of Henry’s engineers, merely a side-effect of trying to force a slim metal tube around the circumference of those giant rims contained in the magazine.
Sure, statistically a defensive encounter is over by the time you go empty, but if you are relying on statistical probability in the middle of a fight during a true SHTF event than you can go on and run those numbers in your calculator and tell me what you come up with. When I do it only makes a frowny face.
So all things considered we are left with a rifle of excellent quality and power to spare, well suited for hunting just about anything you could want, and able to protect you from dangerous critters who decide to return the favor.
That being said, a well-rounded gun it most certainly is not. You will pay a terrible price for the power of this prestigious cartridge, and it is more hindrance than help in a fight against humans in all but the most lopsided of engagements.
You might consider this as a good general purpose rifle for time afield or if your plans involve hunting very large game or bugging-out to deep country where bears and other large and dangerous critters are, but as an all-purpose SHTF gun for preppers, I cannot recommend the All-Weather in .45-70, no matter how awesome it is.
The .45-70 is a venerable and mighty cartridge, still trucking along and devastating all sorts of creatures nearly a century and a half after its inception.
This Great Grandfather of the modern hunting rounds has found a suitable home for time afield in the Henry All-Weather, a great example of modern levergun quality, but it is far too limited and too eccentric for use as a survival gun in anything except very specific circumstances.
Charles Yor is an advocate of low-profile preparation, readiness as a virtue and avoiding trouble before it starts. He has enjoyed a long career in personal security implementation throughout the lower 48 of the United States.