By Jay Grazio, Shooting Illustrated
The .45-70 Govt. round is an American icon. Designed for military use in the 19th century (and used to take down bison), it formed the basis of the long-range riflecraft used in the settling of the American West. When one thinks of the .45-70 Govt., either falling-block Sharps or lever-action rifles come to mind. But, what about another American icon, the AR-pattern rifle?
Aaron Cayce at Phoenix Weaponry is an evil genius. He took one look at the AR-10 platform, then another at the .45-70 Govt., and the wheels started turning. He wanted to put the two together, well, more or less because ‘Murica and because he could. Thank goodness for people like Cayce.Of course, concessions were made. The rifles Cayce builds aren’t actually in .45-70 Govt.; that’s a rimmed round that wouldn’t really feed well in an AR-style action. Fortunately, Cayce also happens to be a handloader, and created brass for his new round that approximated the .45-70 Govt. in a rimless round. Thus was born the .45-70 Auto.
Putting out 4,674 ft.-lbs. of energy at the muzzle, a 300-grain bullet moving 2,650 fps bests other big-bore offerings like.450 Bushmaster or .458 SOCOM. When we put up teaser images of the rifle on social media, many questioned the utility of a boutique round that requires custom manufacture. While that’s a valid concern, Cayce was quick to point out that a few ammunitions companies have expressed interest in producing brass, and some may even start producing complete cartridges. Other companies may invest time in the .45-70 Auto as time progresses.
The rifle itself is based on the AR-10 platform, and uses standard AR-10 controls and furniture. The barrel on the model I fired is 18 inches long (20-inch variants are also available), giving the rifle an overall length of 41 inches and a weight of 9 pounds, 12 ounces. Phoenix makes nearly all components in the rifle, from small lower receiver parts to the hand guard, in addition to the upper and lower receivers, barrel and bolt carrier group.
I had the good fortune to be allowed to test “Christine” (Cayce likes to use names of people he knows for model names; I find it fitting that the name of a rifle chambered in .45-70 Auto is shared with the Steven King antagonist, the 1958 Plymouth Fury…) on a hog hunt in Texas before our 147th Annual Meeting earlier this month (read more about the hunt on American Hunter and the Pulsar thermal scope on American Rifleman). Before the hunt itself, we brought several rifles to the range on the hunting camp’s property to familiarize ourselves with the firearms we’d be using and to make sure all zeroes were right.
Recoil was surprisingly not too bad. Oh, it’s definitely noticeable, no question about that, but it’s not something I’d call punishing. Of course, I also giggled at the recoil of the lightweight Ruger American in .450 Bushmaster, so I might not be the best judge of felt recoil in a rifle. If you’re recoil-averse, this might not be the best rifle for you, but there are plenty more out there with equal or superior kick. It’s a heavy rifle, which certainly helps, and it comes with a monster brake to help mitigate the shoulder tenderizing.
It did lead to one of the more humorous exchanges on the hunt, once we started shooting. It was a night hunt, and the muzzle flash from a .45-70 Auto with a large brake was, well, noticeable. As in “Great-Wall-of-China, visible-from-space” noticeable. Steve, the guide from 3 Curl Outfitters who helped us in the hunt, asked if we intended to barbecue the hogs with the same rifle used to harvest them…
For a number of reasons–time, lack of sufficient ammo, unwillingness to detach retinas, etc.– we didn’t run a full set of accuracy specs. Aiming at a 10-inch plate at 100 yards, though, we were able to repeatedly hit the center of the plate with ease. I hesitate to attempt a group size, as the area of paint removed was approximately 4 inches (certainly larger than the actual group). Don’t forget, at 100 yards the .45-70 Auto is hitting with 200 ft.-lbs. of energy less than .45-70 Govt. generates at the muzzle (and several hundred ft.-lbs. more than .458 SOCOM)—it’s hitting that plate with sledgehammer-like force.
Is the .45-70 Auto for everyone? I don’t think even Cayce would say it is. It’s a specialty, hard-to-find caliber in a large AR frame from a custom rifle maker. If you’re just looking for something to down pigs or whack steel with authority, there’s any number of .308 Win. or 6.5 Creedmoor offerings available at less of a premium. However, if you’re looking for a rifle that’s anything but run-of-the-mill, “Christine” might be the Fury you’re looking for.
Editor’s Note: According to the Phoenix Weaponry website the Christine with Cerakote in Flat Dark Earth costs $4,800.