BY DOYLE DIETZ
For those who enjoy the nostalgic aspects of hunting big game with historical combinations of firearms and ammunition, the resurgence in popularity of the .45-70 Government cartridge is a welcome trend.
Unfortunately, for several years many of those wanting to hunt with a rifle chambered in .45-70 were priced out of the market. Now, owning a modern version of such a rifle is once again obtainable with the reintroduction of the Buffalo Classic Rifle, first introduced by the Harrington & Richardson Gun Company in 1871, which has a selling price in the $500 range.
Ed Kennedy, who owns Ed’s Sports Shop in Tamaqua and is a firearms vendor at gun shows sponsored by the Forks of the Delaware Historical Arms Society, said the price of an antique .45-70 rifle in shooting condition is almost always more than the listed book value. As for purchasing a new target or hunting rifle manufactured by the Montana-based Sharps Rifle Company, the price can exceed $2,000, and European imported replicas of Sharps rifles usually have a selling price of more than $1,000.
“H&R and New England Firearms manufactured affordable, single-shot, break-top firearms for more than 100 years, but sales began to decline in the 1980s because of the popularity of repeating rifles and shotguns,” Kennedy said. “In January 1986, the companies went out of business, but then reappeared in 1991 as H&R 1871, Inc., and added double-action revolvers to its line of break-open rifles and shotguns.
“In 1999, the company ceased its production of revolvers, but the break-top shotguns and rifles are more popular than ever. A lot of people like the idea of using a single-shot shotgun to teach youngsters safety and the importance of making a good shot, and the Buffalo Classic is a great rifle for hunting deer and bear in the woods.
“Marlin Firearms purchased the companies in 2000, and since then they have merged with Remington. H&R and New England Firearms maintain their own identity, and the firearms continue to be manufactured in Gardner, Massachusetts.”
By the early 1870s, the .45-70 was a standard cartridge in use by the U.S. Military, which issued Springfield single-shot trapdoor rifles to infantry units and carbine models of those firearms to Calvary companies. In addition, because of its effective range of 500 yards in the hands of an expert marksman, the 405-grain bullet available for the cartridge made it the caliber of choice for many buffalo hunters on the Western Plains.
Because spent brass casings could expand from the heat produced in the chamber of trapdoor rifles and become difficult to extract, the loading and ejecting systems in single-shot Sharps and Remington rifles made them the choice for civilian use. According to some historical accounts, the military continued using Springfield rifles because President U.S. Grant’s brother, who was in charge of government firearms purchases, received financial consideration from the company.
When the military switched the .30-40 Krag as standard issue in 1892, the .45-70 was still favored by those hunting large and/or dangerous game of all sorts — including the Arizona Rangers, whose lever-action Model 1886 Winchester repeating rifles were chambered in .45-70.
Then, with the advent of smokeless powder allowing for the production of more powerful loads with higher velocities, the .45-70 was already a dinosaur when the United States entered World War I in 1914.
No longer considered state of the art, new and used surplus military and used civilian rifles chambered in .45-70 became readily available and relatively inexpensive.
This trend continued into the early 1970s. Then the demand for these historical firearms began to grow among hunters and target shooters who reloaded their own blackpowder cartridges.
Modern rifles chambered in .45-70 are capable of firing high-velocity factory ammunition, but for those who prefer using historical blackpowder loads for hunting now have that option. At one time, only those who did reloading had access to blackpowder cartridges powerful enough for hunting, but now factory loads in a variety of bullet weights are manufactured by Goex.
Even Buffalo Bill would have to agree that the reintroduction of the H&R 1871 Buffalo Classic has made hunting with a .45-70 rifle more affordable than ever.
I love to read about old guns. And this is good news for hunters. If I was rich i would add some cowboy guns to my collection.