.444 Marlin 265-gr vs. .45-70 Government 300-gr
by Scott Crawford - July 14, 2021
Although the first Marlin 444 rifle was manufactured in 1965, I didn't stumble across one until January 20th, 1981 (Day 444 of the Iranian Hostage Crisis).
This should have been a national holiday with the release of the United States hostages that day however I commemorated it myself buying my 1st centerfire rifle, a 444 Marlin. I was about to turn 25 that year and was headed to an out of state deer hunt (Illinois didn't offer centerfire hunting). I had planned on buying a new Marlin 45-70 and picked up what I thought was one out of the gun stores gun rack. Little did I know that the 444 Marlin would come home with me instead.
In later years I added multiple Marlin Big Bore rifles from 44 Magnum, 444 Marlin, 45-70 Govt., & 450 Marlin. My favorite is still the 1895, 45-70 however I'll never be without at least one 444 Marlin.
The Hornady 444 Marlin 265-gr FTX is the most commonly found 444 factory cartridge today
My favorite 444 Cartridge load of all time was / is the 265-gr Hornady Interlock over 42-grains of H4198 in a Starline Brass case with Winchester Large Rifle primers. Unfortunately Hornady has decided to discontinue this marvelous projectile. Thank goodness & good planning I still have many years of these around for loading, shooting & hunting. When I first started hunting with my 444 the only cartridge I could find was a Remington 240-gr soft nose jacketed. It was actually the same bullet they loaded in their 44 magnum factory rounds.
In fact the .429 diameter bullets used in the 444 Marlin cartridge allowed the hand loader a wide range of bullets to choose from considering all of the cast and jacketed available for the 44 magnum. The 444 Marlin favored 240-gr to 300-gr projectiles in the 1:38 twist rate. Their rifling was available in 1-38″ (Microgroove) or 1-20″ (Ballard cut) depending on which year your rifle was manufactured.
With the invention of the LeveRevolution rounds Hornady saturated the lever action market with new, rubber tipped wonders. This captured the hearts and souls of new, younger shooters who have eventually become the mainstream lever action owners. With marketing magic Hornady convinced many that the FTX or LeveRevolution rounds were far superior to standard, flat or round tipped lever action ammo. While I'll admit there is a noticeable uptick in trajectory performance, I don't see it as something I have to have to go hunting. Know your ammo's ballistic performance and your shooting abilities and you can hunt with anything.
Some 444 Marlin Components on the Author's Reloading Bench
While I've already stated that the 45-70 is my favorite round I'd stand by either cartridge for medium to large game just short of dangerous game. That being said there are custom & certain hand load data that suggests the 45-70 Government can and has been used on everything that walks this earth. There are many ways to compare the two cartridges some of which are filled with controversy and others that are not. Probably the easiest is the Muzzle Velocity, Muzzle Energy & Trajectory. To simplify this comparison I'm going to be talking just about the two bullet weights in the title of this article. The 265-gr 444 & the 300-gr 45-70.
In the two tables above, I colored each cell green where that particular load held the advantage. If you study the two rounds data closely you'll possibly come to the same conclusion that I did. Not much difference between the two. I typically don't sight in my big bores at 200 yards however I noticed that Hornady did for their FTX round. When I input that same distance for the 45-70 Government they became "almost" identical in Trajectory.
The table shown below reflects the Steinel Ammo "High Power" load of the 300-gr Hornady Interlock from an 18.5" long barrel sighted in at the same range as the other two tables (200 yards). Although this round isn't winning the velocity challenge noted in the two tables above, it is a superior load compared to the (Max Load) for accuracy & grouping. It is also almost the perfect load for modern lever guns such as post 1972 manufactured Marlins, Henrys & Winchesters.
I can recommend this load for mid-sized to large game up to 1,500 lbs. I personally hand load most of my ammo though I was very pleased to receive some of these Steinel rounds and found them extremely accurate. They also seemed to be almost identical to my personal hand loads of 300-gr jacketed hollow points which I found very pleasant to shoot.
Some Steinel Ammo 300-grain Hornady Interlocks
The 45-70 Government cartridge has been around since 1873 which makes it 92 years older than the 444. Of course the original 45-70 was much different than today's smokeless powder loads. The naming convention for the 45-70 was based on a .45 caliber 405-grain projectile loaded over 70-grains of black powder. Shortly after the original load the 500-grain 45-70 became available. In 1873 the Army set the twist rate at 1:22 which handled the heavier bullets of the time. Today's 45-70's have twist rates of 1:20 which are better suited to lighter bullets. If you intend to shoot heavier bullets the Marlin Ballard rifling is preferred. It's still a 1:20 twist rate however the rifling is cut deeper than the Microgroove which helps to better stabilize heavier bullets.
When you research both calibers you'll find that there are more bullet choices with the older of the two however it's important that anybody loading or shooting a 45-70 understands the three types of firearms that can chamber & shoot a 45-70 cartridge.
The Springfield Trapdoor was the original 45-70 and it wasn't made to withstand the higher pressure loads like a modern post 1972 manufactured lever action such as a Marlin or Henry. Then there are the "Modern" rifles such as the Ruger No. 1 rifles capable of even higher chamber pressures. So when you start buying ammunition or loading your own it's extremely important that you are using the type that is "safe" in your firearm. Most manufacturers such as Steinel Ammo list what type of 45-70 rifle can or cannot use a specific load. Pay attention to warning labels on ammo cases or on their websites.
Hornady .430 dia. 265-gr FTX and the Hornady .458 dia. 300-gr Interlock
Sadly, Marlin stopped manufacturing/selling any 444 rifles which caused Hornady and Remington to curtail or reduce the number of factory ammo choices for the consumer. That effectively killed the cartridge. Then shortly before Remington went bankrupt they rolled out their new 444 Marlin rifle. It was again received with a lot of interest but alas, it died once again when they closed down. There are a lot of 444 lovers out there waiting to see if Ruger brings a 444 rifle back. Fingers crossed!
The Marlin 150th Anniversary Model was Briefly Offered prior to Bankruptcy
Side by Side Comparison
The .45-70 uses a straight-walled, rimmed case measuring 2.105 inches, and maintains an overall length of 2.550 inches. The 444 Marlin uses a straight-walled, rimmed case measuring 2.225 inches, and maintains an overall length of 2.550 except in the case of the LeveRevolution (FTX) where the case length is 2.065 and maintains the overall length of 2.600.
Original Hornady 444 Marlin 265-gr FTX Hand Loading Data
Hornady 444 Marlin 265-gr FTX Factory Load Data
45-70 Govt. 300-gr Hornady Interlock H4198 Max Load Data
45-70 Govt. 300-gr Hornady Interlock Steinel High Power Load Data
As mentioned previously Ruger is working to release their first Marlin rifles and it looks like we'll start seeing Marlin 45-70's again soon. Since September 2020 Henry Firearms has been enjoying almost a corner on the market with Marlin shut down and Winchester being a much more expensive alternative. I'm very much looking forward to great competition again between Marlin & Henry as the result for the consumer was pretty impressive in 2019-2020 with so many new alternative lever action designs.
So to recap, if you look at ballistic performance alone between similar sized projectiles, the 444 Marlin & 45-70 Government can be loaded almost identical. That being said, Max Loads don't always provide repeatable, accurate ammo so I recommend slightly reduced loads tuned specifically to the shooters rifle. The biggest difference which we didn't touch on is projectile penetration. With so many bullet weights available in the 45-70 you can almost dial-in the amount of penetration you want. Anywhere from explosive just under the skin mushrooming to solids that will travel the length of a Cape Buffalo and beyond. Yes, the 45-70 gets the final nod from 1895Gunner however that probably wasn't a surprise.
I hope this Bullet Points blog gives you some insight into just how close the two big bore cartridges are in performance or can be depending on your load and firearm used. Feel free to comment on this story for feedback on how you see it.
IN THIS ARTICLE
Marlin Firearms Ruger Firearms Remington Firearms Hornady Steinel Ammo Henry Firearms Winchester Firearms Starline Brass