The Ultimate Firearms Destination for the Gun Lifestyle

No Trap Doors

Photos by AZPhotoMan and Steven Kuo

It wouldn’t be much of an irrational argument to claim that the AR-15 platform has been refined nearly to its engineering apex. Different manufacturers have made alterations to barrel length, gas system length, buffer weight, buffer spring weight, gas port size, chamber dimensions, and just about any other physical dimension you can name. With the sheer volume of technical data now available on the rifle’s performance in various configurations, America’s Rifle has now become a prime test bed for all manner of ballistic experiments. In a quest to push the performance envelope of the platform, and to sell more rifles, many companies are fielding AR-pattern rifles in more and more unconventional calibers for specialty applications.

Enter Phoenix Weaponry in Colorado. They’ve undertaken a number of outside-the-box projects and are bringing a particularly unique big-bore AR to market. What started as a pet project will now be available for purchase. They’ve built a highly customized AR rifle around an equally custom cartridge: the .45-70 Auto. Phoenix Weaponry let us play with their preproduction test rifle during a group hog hunting trip in Texas. The rifle’s performance against the Lone Star State’s four-legged vermin didn’t disappoint. Before we talk about that, a little history on where this hard-hitting round came from.

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What’s Old is New Again
The renaissance of American small arms development that occurred during and after the Civil War gave birth to a number of innovations in the realm of shoulder-fired ballistics. Some of these wound up relegated to the pages of firearms oddity. Others turned out to be true milestones in the history of firepower. Most fell somewhere in between. The .45-70 cartridge was developed by the U.S. Army’s Springfield Armory specifically for use in their 1873 Trap Door rifle. The original full nomenclature for the cartridge, 45-70-405, was derived from the load parameters — a .45-caliber slug, sitting atop 70 grains of black powder, weighing 405 grains.

The cartridge was a replacement for the earlier .50-70 cartridge that was, from its outset, a temporary solution for Army requirements that saw less than a decade of service in the ranks. The smaller .45-caliber cartridge was flatter shooting with a longer range compared to its bigger, short-lived brother. Note that “flatter shooting” is used with a large dash of relatively speaking. The combination of a heavy slug and slow-burning black powder gave the .45-70 a rainbow trajectory.

From left to right: .45-70 Auto, .308, and .223.

From left to right: .45-70 Auto, .308, and .223.

While making accurate hits at long range was possible, and did occur with some regularity, this was heavily dependent on proper range estimation and sight adjustment, as the original loadings could generate as much as 50 inches of bullet drop by the 400-yard line. Minimum acceptable accuracy standards for the .45-70 set forth by Springfield were a 4-inch group at 100 yards, but it’s said that a more accomplished marksman could hit a 6×6-foot square out to 600 yards — a technique mainly used in mass volley fire, as the effective range on point targets was capped at 300 yards. Original loadings pushed the aforementioned 405-grain bullet out of the muzzle around 1,300 feet per second.

The .45-70 saw service across the western frontier throughout the entirety of the Indian Wars. In this capacity it gained an excellent reputation against both enemy forces and large game. Its military service continued into the Spanish-American War, when the Army finally realized that its soldiers were severely outgunned against an enemy with bolt-action repeating rifles. The U.S. Army had previously chosen the Trapdoor Springfield over available repeating designs, which the brass deemed wasteful of ammunition and encouraging inaccurate fire. An interesting piece of military trivia — the .45-70 can still be found aboard U.S. Navy ships, in the form of blank cartridges used for line-throwing guns.

As a result of its successful performance on the plains, the .45-70 gained popularity among sportsmen and hunters of the time, with some medium and big game hunters using it even today. The almost-one-ounce lead pill has proven effective against traditionally difficult game, including elk, buffalo, and grizzly bear. Because of this, several companies produce modern ammunition and repeating rifles for the round. Lever-action carbines have been a staple guide gun among Alaskan bush hunters and others who routinely encounter potentially aggressive large animals.

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