Ask even the most die-hard black rifle fan and they’ll agree—there’s just something cool about a lever-action rifle. For over 150 years, it’s been loved by farmers, ranchers, hunters, shooters, and even law enforcement. Two of the most popular lever-action rifle calibers are the 30-30 Winchester and the 45-70 Government. Why? Read on.
Table of Contents
- 1 45-70 Government & 30-30 Winchester Key Differences
- 2 In-Depth Comparison
- 3 45-70 or 30-30? We Choose...
45-70 Government & 30-30 Winchester Key Differences
Let’s start with the obvious one first. The 45-70 Government is a much, much larger round than the 30-30 Winchester in physical size.
First introduced in 1873 for use in the U.S. Army’s Springfield Model 1873 rifle, the original 45-70 cartridge used 70 grains of black powder to fire a .45 caliber bullet. The 30-30, on the other hand, was introduced in 1895 and was one of the first cartridges to use smokeless gunpowder. It fired a .30 caliber bullet using 30 grains of powder.
With modern factory ammo, the 30-30 has more velocity, less recoil and less bullet drop. However, the 45-70 has noticeably more retained energy downrange due to its heavier bullet. The 30-30 is usually available in the 120-170 grain standard ammo weight range while the 45-70 is available in the larger 250-400+ grain weight.
- Bullet Diameter: .458 inches
- Shell Case Length: 2.1 inches
- Energy (at 200 yards): 1,010 ft/lbs
- Velocity (at 200 yards): 1,377 ft/s
- Muzzle Energy: 2,942 ft/lbs
- Muzzle Velocity: 2,350 ft/s
- Bullet Diameter: .308 inches
- Shell Case Length: 2.029 inches
- Energy (at 200 yards): 1,304 ft/lbs
- Velocity (at 200 yards): 1,916 ft/s
- Muzzle Energy: 2,046 ft/lbs
- Muzzle Velocity: 2,400 ft/s
45-70 vs 30-30 Ballistics
30-30 and 45-70 both have an effective range of 150-200 yards. The 45-70 has a muzzle velocity of 2,100 feet-per-pound while the 30-30 cartridge delivers 2,400 feet-per-pound. For comparison, the effective range of the standard .223 cartridge is up to 600 yards.
Part of the challenge these two calibers historically struggled with was their bullet design. Due to the lever-action rifle’s tubular magazine, ammunition had to be loaded nose-to-tail in the tube. This required bullets to be manufactured with flat, blunt noses to prevent the bullet from directly contacting the primer (and therefore causing accidental firing). And that made them less aerodynamic.
In 2005, Hornady changed that by introducing the LEVERevolution ammunition. This innovative cartridge, available in both 30-30 Winchester and 45-70 Government, uses Flex Tip technology making them safe to use in tubular magazines. They also deliver higher ballistic coefficients.
For big game hunting ammo, here’s our 6.5 Creedmoor and 6.5 Grendel comparison.
Both calibers perform well at 200 yards making, making them great options for hunting medium game. It’s been said more deer have been harvested in America with a 30-30 than any other caliber, and we’re not going to argue against it. Both are also great for feral hogs, javelina and black bear.
That said, these are still two different calibers that serve two different purposes. If you’re looking for something that performs a little better at longer range, the 30-30 is something you can trust to do that (the bullet simply flies a little flatter and further).
But keep in mind the 45-70 is a more powerful cartridge, which makes it suitable for dropping larger game like elk, brown bear or moose. It simply penetrates better.
Of the two, the 30-30 Winchester has a flatter trajectory because it’s a smaller round. That means the bullet’s line of travel when fired doesn’t drop as much as the 45-70 Government. Remember, the 45-70 is a heavier bullet and simply won’t travel as far or as flat as the 30-30. But again, it packs quite a punch when it hits the target.
If you’re looking for ammo with flat trajectory, check out this 38 Super vs 9mm Luger article.
While both rounds are occasionally used by target shooters or cowboy action shooters, they’re rarely used in any other type of competition. In general, lever-action rifles aren’t nearly as accurate as bolt-action rifles and no one will be shooting sub-MOA with either cartridge. But for its intended use, that really doesn’t matter. If you feel comfortable shooting your target with a lever-action, both calibers will perform well enough.
That said, we can argue that the 30-30 Winchester is slightly more accurate than the 45-70 Government due to its flatter trajectory and less felt recoil. Both can arguably lead to overall better shot placement.
Long Distance Shooting
Long-distance shooting with either one of these two calibers? Uh, no.
Keep in mind we’re talking about two older calibers that aren’t very ballistically efficient. They’re both intended to hit 200-yard targets. For contrast, the 300 Win Mag, often used in long-range bench rest shooting competitions, has an effective range of over 1,200 yards. That’s just one of the reasons why it’s been adopted by a number of law enforcement departments and special military units.
Again, the 30-30 Winchester and 45-70 Government are great calibers and they’re great at what they are meant for – shorter distances.
Anyone who’s been shooting or hunting for a while knows all too well just how expensive ammunition has become. Prices have been steadily rising since 2000, but prices shot through the roof since the COVID pandemic in 2020 when the gun industry saw an unprecedented increase in firearm ownership. Although current prices (as of April 2023) have somewhat stabilized, availability can still be an issue.
There is a considerable difference in price between these two calibers. The lowest price per round for .30-30 we saw in stock was $1.25, but the lowest price per round for .45-70 was $2.17.
Looking for cost-effective ammo? Take a look at this 458 SOCOM and 450 Bushmaster comparison.
As we’ve discussed, the 30-30 Winchester is a lighter caliber when compared to the 45-70 Government. That’s why the 30-30 “kicks” considerably less than the 45-70. On average, the 30-30 generates roughly 14 ft/lbs of recoil energy compared to the .45-70’s 33 ft/lbs of recoil energy. That’s over double the recoil and it’s all being forced directly into your shoulder.
So yes, recoil is a real thing in the 45-70. If you want the minimum amount of kick, the 30-30 is the better choice.
Like all things in life, velocity is relative. On average, the 30-30 has anywhere from a 200 to 400-foot-per-second advantage over the 45-70. But, again, the 45-70 uses a much larger bullet and has much more muzzle energy than the 30-30.
30-30 Winchester Pros & Cons
45-70 Government Pros & Cons
45-70 or 30-30? We Choose...
In this in-depth comparison between the 45-70 vs 30-30 rounds, our team chose the 30-30 round because it has significantly reduced drawback and less ammo drop, giving it a flatter trajectory. Since the 30-30 Winchester round is lighter and slimmer, it also has a higher velocity, faster speed, and a slightly more reach than the 45-70 Government.
Looking for a good read? Here’s our review of the Top-Rated Progressive Reloading Presses.
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1 thought on “45-70 vs 30-30 – Primary Differences That You Should Know in 2023”
Atta boy Alfred, carry on our shooting tradition !!!