View Full Version : The 45-70 at two miles (Black powder)

John Y Cannuck
June 9, 2001, 07:45 PM
45-70 at Two Miles: The Sandy Hook Tests of 1879


THE SHOOTER at the heavy bench rest squinted as he aligned his .45-70 Allin-Springfield Model 1873 Army rifle on the distant target. The rifle fore-stock and barrel was cradled in a rest;
the butt was supported by his shoulder. The rear sight was flipped up to its full height, so with no stock support for his head, the rifle tester from Springfield Armory worked carefully to align high rear and low muzzle sight on the speck that was the target - a surveyed 2,500 yards distant.

Holding his breath, he squeezed the 7-pound trigger. The rifle fired, and some 15 seconds later, signals from the target indicated that his shot had struck well inside the 6-foot diameter bullseye on a target well over a mile away!

The Report of the Secretary of War, 1880, Volume III, under the chapter titled, "Extreme Ranges of Military Small Arms," had this to say:

"The firing was done by Mr. R.T Hare of Springfield Armory who has the enviable distinction, so far as is known, of being the only person in the world who has hit the 'Bull's-Eye' six feet in diameter at 2,500 yards with three
different rifles, and who has ever fired at and hit so small a target as that described in this report at 3,200 yards.

In comparison with this, all other so-called 'long range firing' pales into insignificance. The gun was held under the arm, a muzzle rest only being

The chapter on long range firing begins with a report from the Armory at Springfield,
Massachusetts, May 9, 1879. It records the results of long range tests of U.S. Army Model 1873
.45-caliber rifles using 405 and 500-grain lead bullets, including variations in muzzle velocity and penetration of lead bullets through one-inch target boards and into sand. These tests were made
at the request of the Chief of Ordnance. His interest had been aroused by reports of long range
infantry fire, up to 1½ miles, during the1877-78 Turko-Russian War.

The lineage of the "trapdoor" rifles used in the tests is apparent from the separate lock plate, the massive side hammer, the milling out of a portion of barrel and fitting a breechblock hinged at the front - all clear indications that the rifles were merely breech-loading variations of the traditional muzzle-loading infantry-man's rifle. The Allin conversion of the 1861 and 1863 models Springfield muzzle-loaders came out first in .58 caliber rimfire. Later refinements resulted in the .50-70 rimmed centerfire for the 1866 model. The .45-70 cartridge was first introduced with the Model 1873 single shot Springfield. Several model changes were made from 1873 through 1889, relatively minor differences being the type of sights, modified and improved breech-blocks and
changes in stock furniture.

The first long range tests were made at ranges of up to 1,500 yards on the Springfield Armory test range at Long Meadow, Massachusetts. These tests compared the long distance shooting and penetration performance of the .45 caliber trapdoor Springfield and the .45 caliber Martini-Henry rifles.

The Springfield rifle weighed about 9.6 pounds, had a rifle barrel 33 inches long with a bore
diameter of .450-inch, three grooves and a right hand twist and groove depth of .005-inch. It
fired the then standard Service round consisting of the 405-grain bullet in the rimmed straight case 2.1 inches long with 70 grains of black powder giving a muzzle velocity (MV) of 1,350
feet-per-second (fps). With the same weight of bullet and a charge of 85 grains of powder, the
MV was 1,480 fps.

The British Army .450-577 Martini-Henry lever-operated, drop-block action was far stronger
than the Allin trapdoor breech. The Martini-Henry weighed about 9½ pounds, had a barrel 33
inches long with a right-hand twist, seven groove bore. The bore diameter was .450, and the
groove diameter was .463. The .450-577 Martini-Henry cartridge was a muscular creation. It was based upon a sharply necked-down and lengthened .577-inch Snider case, loaded with a
480-grain lead bullet of .445 diameter, backed by 85 grains of black powder for a muzzle
velocity of 1,253 fps.


Mean Mean Mean
Horizontal Vertical Radius
Springfield 9.23" 16.8" 19.1"
Martini-Henry 10.9" 14.55" 18.2"
Though there is no direct relationship between mean radius and group size figures, a mean radius
of 18 to 19 inches would probably translate into a group size of between 55 and 70 inches. Old
Ordnance records show that when fired from a machine rest the .45 Springfield was expected to
group all of its bullets inside a 4-inch circle at 100 yards, in a 11-inch bull's-eye at 300 yards, and inside a 27-inch circle at 500 yards.

At 1,000 and 1,500 yards, as expected, the mean vertical figures are considerably larger than the
mean horizontal. (See the above table.) This is the result of variations in muzzle velocity, which
gives this dispersion at long range, and also the effect of the high trajectory of these rifle bullets since the target is perpendicular to the ground, while the bullet is descending at an angle.

The report of October 15, 1879, covers long range firing at Sandy Hook, New Jersey. This was
done along the beach to make the location of the bullet strike easier to find. Also, the long
beaches allowed shooting back to 3,200 and even 3,500 yards.

The rifles tested included a special "long range" Springfield chambered for a 2.4-inch shell instead
of the standard 2.1-inch case. The 2.4-inch case held 80 grains of black powder behind the new
prototype 500-grain lead bullet. The other loads tested were the standard .45-70-405 Army load
in the issue M-1873 Springfield, and the .45-85-480 load in the British Martini-Henry rifle.

The target, which had been 12 feet by 12 feet square at 1,500 yards, was changed to one 44 feet
long by 22 feet high. The extended wings had a height of 16 feet.

Since one of the test's objectives was to gauge bullet penetration, the huge target consisted of
three 1-inch thick boards, separated by 1-inch cleats. The target was supported on 6-inch spruce
posts and was constructed partly of spruce and partly pine, since this was the wood at hand.

In the tests at 2,500 yards, the target was hit five times in seventy rounds with the .45-70-405
service load, only once with the Martini-Henry in eighty rounds, and four times with the long
range Springfield in thirty shots.

When the Springfield long range cartridge was fired, the 500-grain blunt nosed lead bullets
propelled by 80 grains of black powder in the 2.4-inch cases at about 1,375 fps penetrated right
through the three inches of wooden target and buried themselves in the sand. One 500-grain slug
pierced three inches of target and buried itself in a supporting six-inch post, giving a total
penetration of a measured 5.25 inches. The Service 405-grain bullet gave a penetration of just
1.12 inches, and the Martini-Henry 480-grain bullet, 2.50 inches.

The angle made by the shot holes with the face of the target appeared to be about 40 degrees for
the service Springfield, 45 degrees for the Martini-Henry, and 50 degrees for the long range
Springfield. This angle is taken from the vertical and thus the lower angular reading indicates the
higher angle of descent. Various kinds of bullets were dug out of the sand within 45 feet of the
target and directly behind it. This shows the great angle of trajectory at this range and how
extremely difficult it was for Mr. R.T. Hare to hit a 2,500-yard target the size of the one used.

The target 22 feet high by 44 feet long was then placed at 3,200 yards from the firer. The range
chosen was fortunate in that it was found to be the extreme for the Martini-Henry. When the firer
was instructed to increase his elevation, the range decreased. On decreasing the elevation, the
range increased to a certain point.

The long range Springfield's 500-grain bullets hit the target four times - twice where it was one
board thick, and twice where it was two boards thick. In each case the heavy blunt nosed lead
bullet punched through the wood planks and buried itself several inches into the sand.

In this respect the Armory's 500-grain balls surpassed the Martini's 480-grain balls, which did not penetrate more than 6 inches into sand. In trying to get the correct 3,200-yard elevation, the long range bullets were thrown over 300 yards beyond the target. These were then dug out of the
beach and all were found to have struck point on.
For the .45-80-500 2.4-inch case Springfield long range rifle at a MV of about 1,375 fps, the
angle of elevation was 20°51'37". For the .45-85-480 Martini-Henry at 1,253 fps MV, the angle of elevation was 26°5l'.

The report of November 13, 1879, lists the results of firing tests made at 3,500 yards distance
with two long range Springfields. One had a rifle barrel with a l-in-18 rifling twist, the other
.45-80-500 had a 19 5/8-inch twist. Two different loads were used: .45-70-500, and .45-80-500. The Martini-Henry .45-85-480 and the service .45-70-405 Springfields were again tested against a Sharps-Borchardt using the same loads as in the long range M-1873 Allin-Springfields. After firing many rounds, the service Springfield and Martini-Henry rounds failed to reach the target at 3,500 yards.

W. John Farquharson

Reprinted with permission from the
November/December 1977 issue of Rifle Magazine, [www.riflemagazine.com].

John Y Cannuck
June 9, 2001, 07:46 PM
The above post was shortened from the original article to conform to forum length rules

June 10, 2001, 09:36 AM
Thanks John,
That was a very interesting and informative article.

June 16, 2001, 11:21 PM
So that means a good man can make a rifle deadly at a purty far piece. Great article! :D

John Y Cannuck
June 17, 2001, 08:47 PM
Or you can dream a lot BigG.:D

June 18, 2001, 12:15 AM
I wonder what the velocity of the bullets were at those ranges ?

June 18, 2001, 12:48 AM
Actually the question should be, What kind of damage does that kind of bullet do to you at that range? Also what kind of influence does a hit from one of these rounds have on the targets bystanding buddies?

June 18, 2001, 08:25 PM
Well, the article tells you what kind of damage it will do; penetration in wood and sand. It sounds to me like it would cause serious injury to anyone hit with it, even at those ranges. Therefore, I would like to know the velocity. Why ? Because we (shooters/hunters) tend to believe that nothing short of a cannon is sufficent to hunt with or defend our lives. This is BS, and I think this article is a good example of why this is BS. Calibers and loads that worked on game and for self defense 100 years ago will still work fine for the same purposes today.

John Y Cannuck
June 26, 2001, 04:59 PM
I don't have a clue how you would actually read the velocity, but you might be able to figure it if you had enough data on bullet weight and penetration of a given medium at various velocities.