I have been using my 45/70 caliber rifle for target shooting and hunting for years, with reloaded ammo. Although the Pedersoli breech loaders are all CIP proofed for smokeless cartridges I love to load mine with the good old smokin’, dirty black powder.
There is no problem with this until you have a specific, serious job to do, where you have to use he best you an have to be successful. This job for me is the tracking and finding of wounded big game. My Hannoverian scent hound is trained precisely to follow then trail of the wounded game. We found lost boars and deers together 24 hours after they were hit by an unfortunate hunter. Our job is to correct their error: find the fallen dead game or to quickly absolve them from unnecessary suffering.
This is a dangerous task. If you ever encountered a wounded wild boar, you know what I am talking about. When we reach the end of the trail, and the game is still alive you have to fire that “colpo di grazia” as fast as possible to end the suffering quickly and to save our dog from injuries that can be lethal as well.
I have always been a cowboy in my heart, so the rifle for me was always the lever action rifle. I live in central Europe where the hunting tradition tells to use bolt action rifles, but for me the good old Winchester was always much more comfortable. I had been looking for a good lever action 45/70 for a long time, but the Marlins on the market were not historical enough, and the others were too expensive for for me. This was the point when Pedersoli launched its 88/71 Lever Action. I knew that this will be my gun.
The 45/70 in my opinion is one of the best cartridges for tracking big game. It has a heavy bullet with great penetration. It’s diameter is huge compared to the common 7-8 mm rifle cartridges. The bullet is like a freight train: it is not the fastest thing on Earth, but it is very hard to stop it. We never have ideal shooting position at the end of the trail, so it is important that the bullet must be capable of flying straight even if it hits a limb from a tree or bush.
It’s only disadvantage is the curved trajectory, but until 80-90 meters this is not a problem, and the shooting distance in the woods is never really more than 100 meters.
“Szeder”, my scent dog is a family member. My children expects me to protect her at any cost when we work together. This is why I chose to reload cartridges with smokeless powder for my Pedersoli 88/71 Lever Action rifle: I need all the velocity and energy that the reloading table allows me to have.
If you choose bullet for your lever action rifle there some rules you have to follow. 1st you must use a flat nose bullet. A pointed bullet can fire the round in front of it in the magazine due to the recoil. You don’t want to try this beleiwe me… Second if you want to reach high muzzle velocity, you must harden the alloy with tin, and you must use a gas check bullet to eliminate leading in the bore. I add 14 parts of lead to 1 part of tin to make my bullet alloy. This works well in all my breechloaders. The mold I use is an inexpensive Lee mold, the C457-500-F. This is a 500 grain bullet – from my alloy 508 rains – and the Pedersoli bore really loves it. The twist rate of the Pedersoli bore is 1:18” that is suitable for longer bullets.
I size my bullets to .458”. Remember you have to size your bullet to the groove to groove diameter of your bore or .001” stronger. The gas check is placed to the bottom of the bullet while pushing it through the sizing die. The die crimps it in place easily.
Before working on the bullet measure each of them, and keep only the ones within +/- 0,5% weight deviation.
The are very good smokeless lubricants on the market, but so far I have experience with only the Lee Liquid Allox. This is a brown liquid the runs easily on the surface of the bullet and dries in 5-6 hours at room temperature. When it is dry the bullet is ready for loading.
I like Vihtawouri powder. The N100 series powders are single base powders used mainly in rifle calibers. There are ten N100 series powders with different burning rates and suitability from the .17 Remington up to the .458 Winchester Magnum and two special powders for .50 BMG. I already had some N130 in my cabinet, and this is the powder that Lapua recommends for 510 grains LFN gas checked bullets. Bingo.
The Vihtavouri factory load suggestions can be found at: http://www.lapua.com/en/products/reloading/vihtavuori-reloading-data/relodata/5/93
The starting load according to the table is 30,9 grains while the maximum load you must not exceed is 35,5 grains. These loads offer velocities between 389-495 m/s and muzzle energies between 2496 and 4042 J. This sounds more than enough for my purposes. The Lapua test gun had a 22” barrel and 1:20” twist, close to my gun.
I loaded 5 pieces with 30,9, 5 pieces with 32,0 and 5 pieces with 33,1 for the test shooting.
Assembly of the cartridges
I loaded my cartridges into my heavily used Starline cases trimmed to 53,4 mm. The chamber of the Pedersoli lever action rifles like longer cartridges but I decided to everything by the book as this was the first time I reloaded smokeless powder. I set the overall cartridge length to 64,7 mm just as it is written. It is possible to make the cartridge longer to reduce the head space, but I decided to try this later.
If you are loading for a lever action rifle you must apply stronger crimp when seating the bullet. There are two reasons to do so: 1st if the crimp is not strong enough the cartridges in the tube can push the bullet in. If the bullet is “seated” deeper the gas pressure will increase and can reach dangerous levels. 2nd The cartridges are elevated to the chamber in an angle, so the crimp helps the easy loading as well.
I set my distance to 50 meters. This is enough for the job. I shot the gun from a sandbag rest to eliminate the shooter’s errors.
Always start shooting with firing 2-3 cartridges. This will clean the oil from your bore, and also will “wipe” the bore with your current bullets material, and clean the material of the previous one. The velocities will be stable only if you did this short preparation. Do this every time you change cartridge.
Using a chronograph is very helpful. It will show how precise your work is. You did your job well if the velocity deviation is not more than 5-10 m/s in front of the muzzle. Fire at least 5-6 shots to get a good average.
I started shooting the cartridges loaded for the minimum level. The 30,9 grain N130 pushed the bullet with the following velocities:
- 364 m/s
- 374 m/s
- 368 m/s
- 372 m/s
The average of the 5 shots was 370 m/s, so 20 m/s less than what the Vihtavouri factory reloading tables indicated. There can be many reasons for this: we don’t know the exact rifling profile of the test gun, we do not know the exact alloy of the test bullet (the harder the bullet is the greater the gas pressure will be), we don’t know the crimping method, etc…, etc… The muzzle energy of the minimum loaded cartridge was 2258 J, that is not enough for me. I needed at least 2500 J according to the Hungarian laws. On the other hand the group size was just excellent: the 4 shots fired into the target all hit the same hole. A good way to start!
The strongest cartridge for that day was loaded with 33,1 grains of N130:
- 389 m/s
- 398 m/s
- 398 m/s
- 400 m/s
- 387 m/s
The average of the shots was 394,4 m/s, with 2566 J of muzzle energy. Enough for me, but still there are some space to increase the load. The accuracy was superb again: the hole punched by the 4 shots was even smaller than with the lighter load.
I used Quick Target ballistics software to draw the trajectory of my cartridge, just to have some brief indication what the optimal distance to target (best sighting in distance, SID) will be. This point is the point where the trajectory crosses the line of sight, while the bullet does not exceed 4 cm height during it flight.
The first chart shows that the optimal distance to the target is around 70 meters, and I can use the same sight setting until 83 meters to have the bullet in the +/- 4 cm path. The 11 cm drop at 100 meter indicates the curved trajectory.
The second chart shows the energy and velocity versus the distance. The heavy 508 grain bullets keeps its energy and velocity well. It is over 2000 Joules until 90 meters, and still has 1080 joules at 500 meters – a distance I will never ever shoot this gun.
How to improve
The velocity of a gas checked lead bullet can be pushed above 500 m/s, and the Vihtavouri loading data offers me some load increment as well, so I am going to load some cartridges to the maximum powder charge. It seems certain that I am not going to reach the 495 m/s indicated in the table, but I will need every m/s and J of energy that is possible to gain. I will also play with the head space, but to be honest I am absolutely satisfied with these groups already. I will only touch the overall length if I have accuracy problems with the 35,5 grain N130 loads.
Reloading can be dangerous even when following published load data. All reloading and firing of reloaded ammunition is done at your own risk. The load data published on this blog is intended for use by experienced reloaders only.
Do not attempt to reload until you have read and understand at least one printed reloading manual. Always wear safety glasses when reloading. Do not smoke while reloading. Keep primers and powder away from heat and open flames. Keep primers and powder where they cannot be accessed by children. Work up your loads following the standard procedures described in printed load manuals.
Firing reloaded ammunition will almost always void firearm manufacturers warranties. The author and Davide Pedersoli assumes no responsibility for damages done to firearms while shooting reloaded ammunition.
Although every effort has been made to provide accurate data, the author assumes no responsibility for injuries, deaths, or damages due to typographical errors in the data, or any other mistake on the blog or made by the individual reloaders.
To reiterate, all reloading and firing of reloaded ammunition is done at your own risk, the author(s) of this blog and Davide Pedersoli assume no liability for death, injuries, or damage due to the use of this, or any other load data.