Can the 45/70 Marlin TSBL Trapper be made into a Suitable Youth Deer Rifle?

by | Jun 29, 2018

As some of you might know, when I got my new 2018 Marlin Trapper home and took it out of the box, my daughter Gabi took one look at it and wanted to hold it. She was instantly intrigued by its compact size. The barrel dimension at 16 ½ inches, the overall length at less than a yard long (35 inches) and weighing in at 7lbs, her appeal to it seemed reasonable. It really is a tidy, solid little rifle. But then you realize the other half of the equation; the 45/70 half, and you instantly mentally wince at the thought of pulling the trigger and watching the flames belt out of that short barrel as a large .458 caliber bullet peels out and into space. While this is a natural reaction when you think of the grand old 45/70 round’s typically heavy recoil, it is not entirely justified. There are ways to make the cartridge quite civilized for recoil sensitive shooters.

Gabi had decided that this was going to be the rifle she borrows on the days when she and I are going to hit the tracking mountains this fall, and so I needed to do my homework and see how I could make the rifle perform at a more tolerable level of recoil while still maintaining its accuracy and its effectiveness on a whitetail or an occasional Adirondack black bear should one present itself. In short – can the Marlin Trapper be made into a youth rifle? Let’s see…

I wrote in a previous article, that next to the 35 Whelen, I felt the 45/70 could double up as a one gun solution for all things hunting in the US. I stand by that statement – but with one limiting caveat that my 35 Whelen’s do not share – the 45/70 has inherent limits to its range. That is not to say that a 45/70 with proper heavy loads and large projectiles can’t be an effective long-range proposition – it most certainly can. Many have shot it accurately out past 1000 yards. But for the average guy or gal, running bullets past anything like 200 yards and you have to begin becoming a ballistician to understand how to shoot it accurately due to the arc of the heavy flat bullet. And frankly, most hunters/shooters just are not that interested or invested in shooting the 45/70 long range for this very reason. But if we take the argument for the 45/70 to be a one gun solution for hunting within a reasonable maximum range of say 200 yards, any north American game can be effectively dispatched within that window, and that includes moose, brown bear, elk and anything smaller that walks the North American continent if proper load development supports these goals.

Having established its credentials as a versatile round in the upper limits of its capabilities, conversely we need to research and set up a 45/70 with loads that will inspire confidence in a 16 year old girl’s smaller stature. At the lower end of its capabilities, I did some research; specifically on the history of it as a black powder round in trapdoor rifles of the past. At the turn of the twentieth century, steel wasn’t what it is today, and neither were rifle designs. Guns were weaker and came apart if the cartridge was overloaded for the designs of those times. Smokeless powder was still relatively new, and the 45/70 was a cartridge that remained a slow proposition in relatively weak trap door single shot rifles. Today we have some loads that mimic those black powder era ballistics with reduced smokeless powder loads. My favorite powder for the 45/70 is IMR 4198, and here are my two recipes that will be used with lighter 300 grain bullets for Gabi. They copy trapdoor loads of the past:

21.5 grains of IMR 4198, 300 grain Meister bullets (cheap) in a 16.5 Inch Barrel = 801 FPS

This is the practice load with less than 9 lbs of recoil energy (this is 3 lbs less recoil force than standard 30/30 150 grain loads for comparison).

28.5 grains of IMR 4198, 300 grain Hornady Interlock SP Bullet in a 16.5 Inch Barrel = 1,185 FPS

This will be her hunting load with 12.1 lbs of recoil energy (this is the same recoil force as a 30/30 150 grain factory load for comparison).

These loads are mild and accurate. But many might look at that hunting load as being too slow, with too little punch to ethically kill a deer or bear. It would be if we attempt shots farther than 100 yards. But keep in mind, my farthest shot on a whitetail buck while tracking has been 65 yards, and Gabi’s farthest shot was her first buck at 75 yards. Almost all the deer I’ve shot are in the less-than-fifty-yards category. A 300 grain pill at, or above 1000 fps, will blow clean through a buck broadside, and will certainly cruise past the heart and lungs in a frontal shot. The point being, the above hunting load has little recoil and will be effective for this kind of close range hunting with standard cup and core flat nose Hornady bullets. Bullet arc (trajectory) is totally inconsequential at any game standing or lying down within this self-imposed 100 yard limit as well.

I’ve begun the process of hand loading both the plinkers and the hunting cartridges specified above. I really look forward to watching Gabi practice with the Marlin. I’ve shot some of these rounds in the past out of my guide gun and they almost sound “38 specialish”, more like a pop than a boom. The hunting loads are not all that much more, a solid thump but by no means difficult to handle, so they will be perfect rounds for her. In contrast, I will be using Barnes TTSX 250 grain hand loads on the days I will be carrying the little beast. While a smaller grain bullet, they will be traveling much faster and flatter at around 2,100 FPS. They are very well balanced cartridges in this rifle, and I’ve gotten some amazingly small groups in the 1 inch MOA range with them. These Barnes bullets and the Remington 405 grain factory cartridges were a bit more accurate than the 300 grainers I was shooting last month.

While Gabi wanted a scope on the Trapper when she borrows it, she has a Marlin 30AS in 30/30 with a new Leupold 2x7 on it to handle the clearer weather days. I’m keeping the Trapper sans scope, as the whole point of the Trapper is up close and personal peep-sighted action. This gun will be my poor weather companion, especially those heavy snow laden days. I’d imagine it will grace Gabi on those types of days as well, and she will see the value of simplicity when the conditions get downright nasty. After all, the Marlin Trapper was literally built with this situation in mind – the perfect tracker’s grey days!

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