.45-70 Government for Elk Hunting? Best Ammo (Round, Load, Cartridge) – Foundry Outdoors

.45-70 Government for Elk Hunting? Best Ammo (Round, Load, Cartridge) for a Successful Elk Hunt

Is the .45-70 Government a viable caliber/load/round/cartridge for elk hunting? The accurate answer is “it depends”. However, the goal of this article is simply to address the question of whether the .45-70 Government is within the ideal range of suitable calibers to harvest elk.

As with anything, the devil is in the details. To answer the question completely, we would need to evaluate the downrange distance to the elk, the bullet type, the grain weight of the bullet, the physical condition of the firearm, the size of the elk in question, the shot placement, the local wind conditions, the expected accuracy of the shooter, the ethics of the ideal maximum number of shots – the list goes on.

What we can do is provide a framework to understand what average conditions might look like, and whether those are reasonably viable for a shot from the average shooter to harvest a elk in the fewest number of shots possible, i.e., ethically.

Let’s dive right in. In the question of “Is the .45-70 Government within the ideal range of suitable calibers for elk hunting?” our answer is:

No, the .45-70 Government is UNDERKILL for elk hunting, under average conditions, from a mid-range distance, with a medium grain expanding bullet, and with correct shot placement.

Let’s look at those assumptions a bit closer in the following table.

Assumption Value
Caliber .45-70 Government
Animal Species Elk
Muzzle Energy 2270 foot-pounds
Animal Weight 720 lbs
Shot Distance 200 yards

What is the average muzzle energy for a .45-70 Government? In this case, we have assumed the average muzzle energy for a .45-70 Government round is approximately 2270 foot-pounds.

What is the average weight of an adult male elk? Here we have leaned conservative by taking the average weight of a male individual of the species, since females generally weigh less and require less stopping power. In this case, the average weight of an adult male elk is approximately 720 lbs.

What is the distance this species is typically hunted from? Distance, of course, plays an important role in the viability of a given caliber in elk hunting. The kinetic energy of the projectile drops dramatically the further downrange it travels primarily due to energy lost in the form of heat generated by friction against the air itself. This phenonemon is known as drag or air resistance. Thus, a caliber that is effective from 50 yards may not have enough stopping power from 200 yards. With that said, we have assumed the average hunting distance for elk to be approximately 200 yards.

What about the other assumptions? We have three other primary assumptions being made here. First, the average bullet weight is encapsulated in the average muzzle energy for the .45-70 Government. The second important assumption is ‘slightly-suboptimal’ to ‘optimal’ shot placement. That is to say, we assume the elk being harvested is shot directly or nearly directly in the vitals (heart and/or lungs). The third assumption is that a projectile with appropriate terminal ballistics is being used, which for hunting usually means an expanding bullet.

Various calibers

A common thread you may encounter in online forums is anecdote after anecdote of large animals being brought down by small caliber bullets, or small animals surviving large caliber bullets. Of course those stories exist, and they are not disputed here. A 22LR cartridge can fell a bull elephant under the right conditions, and a newborn squirrel can survive a 50 BMG round under other specific conditions.

Again, the goal of this article is simply to address the question of whether .45-70 Government is within the ideal range of suitable calibers to harvest elk - and to this question, the response again is no, the .45-70 Government is UNDERKILL for elk hunting.

This article does not serve as the final say, but simply as a starting point for beginner hunters, as well as a venue for further discussion. Please feel free to agree, disagree, and share stories from your own experience in the comments section below.

Disclaimer: the information above is purely for illustrative purposes and should not be taken as permission to use a particular caliber, a statement of the legality or safety of using certain calibers, or legal advice in any way. You must read and understand your own local laws before hunting elk to know whether your caliber of choice is a legal option.

Foundry Outdoors is your trusted home for buying archery, camping, fishing, hunting, shooting sports, and outdoor gear online.

We offer cheap ammo and bulk ammo deals on the most popular ammo calibers. We have a variety of deals on Rifle Ammo, Handgun Ammo, Shotgun Ammo & Rimfire Ammo, as well as ammo for target practice, plinking, hunting, or shooting competitions. Our website lists special deals on 9mm Ammo, 10mm Ammo, 45-70 Ammo, 6.5 Creedmoor ammo, 300 Blackout Ammo, 10mm Ammo, 5.56 Ammo, Underwood Ammo, Buffalo Bore Ammo and more special deals on bulk ammo.

We offer a 100% Authenticity Guarantee on all products sold on our website. Please email us if you have questions about any of our product listings.


Matt Milano - Nov 23, 2021

I have a hard time accepting anyone as a “trusted home” for outdoors equipment when that someone rates the 45-70 as underkill for elk.

The 45-70 has been used to take every animal on the planet, including Africa’s biggest. It is THE gun to use in Alaska for bear defense. With proper sights/scope and good bullet selection, a 200 yard shot is no problem.

There’s absolutely nothing underkill about a 45-70 for elk.

Dave (dated Myers - Jun 02, 2022

This article is so miss leading, It only refers to
Hunters perched on a hill top shooting out to 200
yards, There is another class of hunters that use bows, muzzles loaders and 45-70 trap doors.

For us using the 45-70, our perferred range is 50 yards and 75 yards being the max shooting distance. at least for me. Some who have the lever action with a scope will take Elk out to 100 yards.

So this is the rest of the story.

Acie Brown - Jun 02, 2022

If the 45/70 is good enough to kill buffalo at short and long range. It is good enough for me to hunt elk with. You have bungled this one Bro. Back up and try again. There are a lot of us that would face just about any kind of animal with a 45/70.

Johnnie a. Keller - Jul 18, 2022

Huntiing any big game as small game, one must know their weapon, the ballistics and have practiced enough to have the right and accurate “shot placement.”
I have brought down elk sized animals with .308 with open sights and with one shot. I also have a 45-70 and I know that out to 200 yds with the right bullet, powder and round placement, I can kill elk or mouse with one shot = one humane kill.

Jae Beah - Dec 04, 2022

The 45-70 is a fantastic Elk/Bear/Moose cartridge for timber country, especially out of a modern lever or bolt action!

Shots out to two hundred yards are 100% effective with several of the factory dangerous or big game loads available.

For reloaders, there are countless bullet options for every game species on earth in the .458 caliber.

Modern 45-70 lever actions, and better yet, bolt guns can absolutely put out energy in the 3,000 foot pounds or higher range!

My go to reload, using my own frictional reduction bonded bullet coating, generates 300 Win Mag energy with a solid 420 grain bullet doing a chronographed 2,120 – 2,100 fps out of my lever action. Yes it’s a stout kick, but with NO over-pressure signs. ( Easy extraction, normal primer appearance, no cracked or ringed cases ). That load alone will pass completely through an elk, or bear or young moose. It has literally punched through the entire length of a quartering cow elk at 100-120 yards, dropping it within a few steps.

After 30 plus years reloading, hunting and shooting all manner of cartridges, I can adamantly state the 45-70 is more than enough cartridge with the correct rifle and load for Elk.

As for the original 405 grain lead loads in the 1200-1500 fps range out of trap doors, given lead’s mass, even this load will dump an elk within 100 yards with proper placement.

Nicholas Devito - Dec 04, 2022 I have hunted with a 45/70 for almost 20 years now. Killed dozens of deer, over a dozen elk, bears, mtn lions, etc. Knowing your rifle and your own limitations are the most important factors in an ethical shot. Ive seen plenty of people wound animals at 100 yards with 7mm mags just because of poor shooting skills. If you want to hunt with a 45/70 and shoot over 200 yards, there are scopes with turrets and bdc systems that essily get into the 350 yard game and do it accurately. Then the next most important thing is to practice! If you practice like you hunt, you will learn your limitations and be successful.
Daniel Stevenson - May 23, 2023

I own and use a 45-70 and believe the round is more than adequate for Elk under the right circumstances. But I have also wounded and lost a small deer shot at less than 100 yards with the same round and same rifle. The size of the round or the rifle has nothing to do with the result but the skill and ability of the hunter mixed with a bit of luck.

Leave a comment

Comments have to be approved before showing up