12ga Slug vs .45-70 for Big Game Hunting

12 gauge slug and a .45-70 cartridge

In the quest for the ultimate big game hunting cartridge, the debate often turns to two formidable contenders: the 12ga slug and the .45-70. Both have storied histories and dedicated followings among hunters, each offering unique advantages in the field.

This comparison delves into their origins, specifications, ballistic capabilities, and practical applications to help hunters make an informed choice for their next adventure.

Understanding 12ga Slug vs .45-70

The 12ga slug and .45-70 embody two distinct approaches to hunting, each with its unique characteristics. The 12ga slug’s modern iterations provide reliable, powerful options for hunters in slug-only zones or those preferring the shotgun platform’s versatility.

The .45-70, steeped in history and adapted for contemporary use, continues to offer hunters a high-power, versatile cartridge capable of delivering precision shots across a range of conditions

 Understanding these cartridges’ differences and similarities enables hunters to select the best option for their specific needs, whether they prioritise range, stopping power, or the type of game pursued.

Historical Background and Development

Historical Background and-Development

The 12ga slug has evolved from a simple, smoothbore musket ball to a sophisticated, rifled projectile designed for accuracy and power. Originally developed for large game hunting and law enforcement, modern slugs are capable of remarkable precision.

The .45-70 Government, introduced in 1873 for use in the Springfield Model 1873, quickly became a favourite among military personnel and hunters alike. Its transition from battlefield to hunting grounds is a testament to its versatility and stopping power.

Cartridge and Slug Specifications

Cartridge Specifications

12ga slugs come in two main types: rifled and sabot. Rifled slugs, designed for smoothbore barrels, have helical grooves to induce spin, while sabot slugs are used in rifled shotgun barrels for superior accuracy.

The .45-70 fires a .458 inch diameter bullet, with weights typically ranging from 300 to 500 grains, offering versatility in load selection for different hunting scenarios.

Ballistic Performance

Ballistic Performance

Ballistically, the 12ga slug delivers massive energy on target, with velocities ranging from 1,200 to 1,800 fps, depending on the load. Its performance is optimised for short to moderate distances.

The .45-70 is known for its flat trajectory and consistent performance, with modern loads pushing velocities up to 2,000 fps, extending its effective range significantly beyond that of the 12ga slug.

Hunting Applications

Hunting Application

The 12ga slug is ideal for deer, bear, and hog hunting, particularly in areas where rifle use is restricted. Its knockdown power is unmatched at close to moderate distances. The .45-70, with its higher velocity and longer range, is suited for a broader range of game, from deer to bison, offering flexibility for hunters in various terrains.

Firearms Available

A variety of firearms are available for both cartridges. For the 12ga slug, options include pump-action, semi-automatic, and single-shot shotguns, many of which are equipped with rifled barrels for enhanced accuracy.

The .45-70 is chambered in classic lever-action rifles, single-shots, and even modern bolt-actions, providing hunters with a range of choices to suit their style and hunting needs.

Ammunition Availability and Cost

Ammunition for the 12ga slug is readily available at most sporting goods stores, offering a wide range of options for hunters. The cost per round is generally affordable, making it accessible for regular use.

.45-70 ammunition also enjoys widespread availability, though the price per round can be higher, particularly for premium loads designed for big game hunting. The variety in bullet types and weights allows hunters to customize their choice based on the game and hunting conditions.

Recoil and Shooter Experience

Recoil is a significant consideration for both cartridges. The 12ga slug is known for its substantial kick, which can affect shooter comfort and accuracy during extended hunting sessions.

The .45-70 also produces noticeable recoil, especially in lighter rifles, but modern firearms and recoil-reducing technologies have made it more manageable. Shooter experience with these cartridges will vary based on the firearm used, load selection, and personal sensitivity to recoil.

Reloading Potential

Ammunition And Reloading

Both the 12ga slug and the .45-70 offer excellent reloading potential, appealing to hunters and shooters who prefer to tailor their ammunition to specific needs. The 12ga slug can be reloaded using standard shotshell presses and components, allowing for customization of loads for different hunting scenarios.

The .45-70 is particularly popular among reloaders due to the wide range of bullet weights and powders that can be used to achieve desired ballistics, from low-recoil plinking rounds to high-power hunting loads.

Key Features Comparison Table

Feature12ga Slug.45-70 Government
Bullet Diameter0.729″ (18.5mm)0.458″
Typical Bullet Weight300-600 grains300-500 grains
Muzzle Velocity1,200-1,800 fps1,000-2,000 fps
Effective RangeUp to 150 yardsUp to 300 yards
RecoilHighModerate to High
Ammunition CostGenerally lowerHigher
Reloading PotentialModerateHigh

Similarities and Differences

Both cartridges are celebrated for their effectiveness in hunting, particularly for medium to large game, and share a reputation for reliability and stopping power. Similarities include their historical significance and the passionate following among hunters.

Differences emerge in their applications; the 12ga slug is often restricted to shorter ranges due to its trajectory, making it ideal for dense forests or brush hunting. The .45-70 offers greater versatility with its flatter trajectory and longer effective range, suited for open country hunting.

Recoil and ammunition cost also differentiate them, with the .45-70 generally costing more per round but offering a broader range of reloading customization.

User Experiences and Recommendations

user experience

Hunters who have fielded both the 12ga slug and .45-70 cartridges often share diverse experiences shaped by the specific demands of their hunts. Fans of the 12ga slug appreciate its knockdown power at close ranges, ideal for thick brush or forested hunting scenarios where quick, decisive shots are crucial.

Its effectiveness against deer and similar-sized game is frequently praised, with many noting the accessibility and affordability of slug ammunition as a significant advantage.

Conversely, users of the .45-70 highlight its versatility and superior performance at longer ranges. The cartridge’s ability to take down larger game, including elk and moose, with appropriate bullet selections, earns it high marks. Additionally, the historical appeal of lever-action rifles chambered in .45-70 adds to the allure for those who value tradition alongside performance.

Recommendations often hinge on the hunting environment and intended game. For hunters in areas with dense cover targeting medium game, the 12ga slug is an excellent choice.

For those pursuing larger game or hunting in open spaces where longer shots are common, the .45-70 emerges as the preferred option.


How effective is the 12ga slug for large game hunting?
The 12ga slug can be effective for large game at close ranges, particularly with proper shot placement and when using higher-end, high-performance slugs.

Can the .45-70 be used for home defense?
While the .45-70 can be used for home defense, its powerful recoil and potential for over-penetration make it less ideal compared to cartridges specifically designed for defensive use.

What’s the ideal barrel length for a 12ga slug gun for hunting?
Barrel lengths around 18 to 24 inches are commonly recommended for 12ga slug guns, balancing manoeuvrability with accuracy.

Is the .45-70 too much for deer hunting?
The .45-70 is highly effective for deer hunting, offering clean, ethical kills with appropriate ammunition choices. Its versatility allows it to be tuned down for smaller game or up for larger challenges.


Choosing between the 12ga slug and .45-70 for hunting applications comes down to understanding each cartridge’s strengths and how they align with your hunting needs. The 12ga slug offers unparalleled stopping power at close range, making it a formidable choice for medium game in dense environments.

The .45-70, with its longer effective range and versatility, caters to hunters targeting larger game over varied terrains. Both cartridges carry a storied legacy and have proven their effectiveness in the field, ensuring that hunters equipped with either can approach their quarry with confidence.

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