45-70 Recoil vs.12 Gauge

45-70 Recoil vs.12 Gauge

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What kicks more, a medium bore rifle cartridge or a large-bore shotgun? How can you distinguish between blowback on various loads, bullet weights, and firearm types? Rephrasing that question, and as super specimens of popular ammunition, what’s 45-70 recoil vs. 12 gauge shot or slugs?

A 12-gauge slug with a muzzle velocity of 1280 feet per second has recoil energy of 32 foot-pounds. In comparison, a 47-50 405 grain bullet from the barrel at 1330 fps kicks back with 18.7 ft. lbs. of recoil energy. The 45-70 government is a popular classic, and unless you’re firing a stout load, unlike a 12-gauge shot or slugs, which are horrible kickers.

It’s worth noting that when you fire a rifle at a range, static or moving targets, you’re concentrating on the gun’s scope or sight. Conversely, you’ll shoot a shotgun from a standing position, and your attention will be on the target, minimizing subjective recoil. Read on to compare 46-70 recoil vs. 12-gauge kick with that in mind.

What Gives the 45-70 Govt. Such a Bad Rap When It Comes To Recoil?

The felt recoil you get is dependent or inversely proportional to the load and the gun you use. If you shoot the same load from a heavy firearm, recoil energy will be lower than a lighter weapon. For instance, if you’re using a small light, single shot break action chambered in 45-70, with a 405-grain slug, it will kick you pretty hard.  

For a cartridge that’s been around more than 150 years, the 45-70 hasn’t lost much in terms of a fan base. The US government adopted it in 1873 as the official round for the military with a designation of .45-70-405. That’s because it fired a 405-grain projectile of .45 caliber with 70 grains of black powder, offering a muzzle velocity of about 1,200 feet per second.

Since then, not much has changed, except that the smokeless variety has replaced black powder. The cartridge remains consistent in hunting medium game, proving reasonable shot placement for clean, swift kills. States that have had shotgun-only deer hunting are opening up the use of straight-walled cartridges, and the 45-70 government has seen a resurgence in popularity.

What Causes Recoil In both 45-70 Rifles and 20 Gauge Shotguns?

The phenomenon of recoil is explained by Newton’s third law of motion, which states that for every positive force, there’s equal negative velocity generated. When you fire a gun, it’ll jerk backward with the same intensity as what comes out of the muzzle. That includes, for shotguns, the propellant gasses, wad, and shot or slug, meaning that not all shells or guns will deliver the same amount of kick.

For instance, a 12-gauge shell with 7/8 ounces of shot fired from a7 pound Winchester model 101 Field generated a muzzle velocity of 1,200 fps and 13.9 foot-pounds of recoil energy. But another shell of that caliber with a 1-ounce slug and 1,560 fps generates 27 ft. lbs. of recoil, which is uncomfortable. The more powerful your load and projectile, the stronger the kick you’ll feel.

Similar to the weight of a rifle when gauging 45-70 caliber recoil, shotgun weight plays a significant role in how much kick-back your gun subjects you to when shooting. The heavier the firearm, the lesser its proportional recoil, and a heavy boomer will help you mitigate the effects of firing a powerful shell. For example, a Mossberg 500 Nightstick weighs 5.25 pounds and will deliver more recoil than a Mossberg 500 Combo Field & Security, with its 7.5 lbs. weight.

Heavy recoil, among other detriments, can throw your aim off target, so a beefier shotgun will help you stay on point when rapid-fire comes into play.

45-70 Recoil vs. 20-Gauge: What’s the Difference between Recoil Energy and Velocity?

Recoil energy is subjective, but how much of that kick you’re going to feel is pretty much objective. With a good muzzle brake, suppressor, or recoil pad, for instance, your shotgun or rifle won’t jar into your shoulder as much as if you’re shooting without. A semi-automatic shotgun spreads out recoil over time, making firing gentler than when you’re using a side-by-side or pump action.

Such guns will require that you absorb as much recoil energy as possible, but some shells come with hinged wads that collapse during ignition to reduce the kick you’ll feel. On the other hand, there’s recoil velocity, which is how abrupt this blowback force happens. It’s a product of muzzle velocity, gun, and projectile weight measured in feet per second.

Based on the projectile alone when comparing 45-70 recoil vs. 12-gauge, it’s a matter of ballistics. A straight-walled cartridge like the government is comparable in ballistics to the slug of a 12-gauge shotgun. They won’t carry further than 300 yards, but necked cartridges like the 7.62x51mm NATO have more energy and range, moving twice the distance.

Shooting a factory-loaded 45-70 300-grain bullet from an 8 pounds rifle at 1,500 fps of muzzle energy produces 14 foot-pounds of felt recoil. A top load, 350 grain at 2,100 fps, delivers 35 foot-pounds, while a 420 grain at 1950 fps gives 40 ft. lbs. In retrospect, a 12-gauge shot. 2.75 inches of 1 ounce will leave a 7.5-pound shotgun at 1180 fps, generating 17.3 ft. lbs. of recoil.

Other 12-gauge shotgun loads from the same 7.5-pound weapon will feature recoil of;

  • 23 ft. lbs. for 2.75-inch 1 1/8 oz. at 1200 fps
  • 32 ft. lbs. for 2.75-inch 1 ¼ oz. at 1330 fps
  • 45 ft. lbs. for 2.75-inch 1 ½ oz. at 1260 fps
  • 52 ft. lbs. for 3-inch 1 5/8 oz. at 1280 fps
  • 54 ft. lbs. for 3-inch 1 7/8 oz. at 1210 fps

You may also want to check out our article on 45-70 vs. 30-06: Which is Better and Why? (Comparing Ballistics)


When comparing 45-70 recoil vs. 12 gauge shot or slug kick, you must factor in many variables. There’s the bullet weight and shell load, the action mechanisms of the firearm itself, total gun weight, and barrel length. Overall, the government round performs better in felt recoil than a 12-gauge slug. But remember that these, alongside 10-gauge shotguns, are compared to larger caliber hunting rifles.

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