Most people believe rifles chambered in .45-70 Government do not need a scope. Here at Hunting Mark, we disagree and if you’re here, chances are you do too.
Before we get into the best scope for the 45-70, let's look at why it could use a scope. Then we’ll talk about what to look for in a scope as well as some specific recommendations for you to look over as you hunt for that perfect scope for your trusty .45-70.
A Brief (But Important) Background on the .45-70
In order to know where you’re going, you have to know where you’ve been, or so they say. With that in mind, let’s talk about the .45-70 in general, and what that means for our scope choices.
When people talk about long-range shooting, the venerated (OK, more like old) .45-70 Government rarely comes to mind for most people.
However, those who know their gun history know that the .45-70 was actually one of the first long-range rounds, uh, around.
Way back in 1879, the US Government conducted the Sandy Hook Tests where they took early .45-70 cartridges to the range, shooting the black powder round at 2,500 yards with iron sights and hitting the target.
Now, keep in mind this was intended to be a volley-fire weapon at the time, so it was basically fired like a mortar at an extreme angle. Reasonable aimed fire was only really good for a little over 200 yards.
With today's modern powders, projectiles with improved ballistic coefficients can reach out even further of course, provided you use the best scope for a .45 70 and a long barrel.
As most modern 45-70 "Gummint" rifles are carbines with barrels under 20 inches, reaching a mile is impractical. Also, you have to aim about ten feet over the target to get there.
While the idea of a volley-fire gun like the Martini-Henry never really caught on in the US, the .45-70 gained a huge following with big game hunters, particularly out west.
While long-range fire with the .45-70 isn’t super practical, it is absolutely phenomenal at putting down game animals inside 200 yards, even very large game like buffalo
Modern .45-70 rounds loaded hot with monolithic bullets are thoroughly capable of taking any game animal on the planet, including Africa's Big 5.
To all my fellow hunters, a word of caution: If you intend to shoot dangerous game rounds in a .45-70, make sure you are using a modern rifle capable of handling it, like the Ruger No. 1, or a modern rifle like the Henry Big Boy or Marlin 1895.
Older .45-70s, especially the Springfield trapdoors, simply cannot handle the pressures created by the hot round and will turn into a hand grenade right in front of your face.
Things to Look For in A Good Scope for .45-70
Since most people shoot this time-tested round in a carbine, we will focus on, but not limit, discussion to scopes for the shorter barreled rifles.
The best scopes for .45-70 in this case are low power. You just don't need high magnification shooting out to 150 yards, which is where the .45-70 excels.
Other key points to consider are:
Long Eye Relief
A 400-500 grain bullet moving at 1,200 FPS generates a lot of recoil. Make sure you have enough eye relief to avoid scope-eye (the technical term for when the eyepiece of your scope smacks you in the face).
A long eye relief keeps you from having to deal with this, and the ensuing laughter from your buddies as you explain what happened.
Solid, High-Quality Construction
As noted, the .45-70 has some punch on both ends. The best scope for a 45-70 can handle the recoil. A low-quality scope can lose zero very quickly here.
A Simple Reticle
The best scope for a 45/70 won't have a mil-dot reticle, BDC reticle hash marks, or a lot of other stuff. A plain duplex reticle is entirely enough. The one exception would be if you really want a bullet drop compensator for longer shots, but it’s extremely hard to find a BDC for this caliber.
A carbine .45-70 is not a tactical tack driver. If you can put every shot in the magazine tube in a small pie plate at 100 yards, that's considered acceptable accuracy by many lever action shooters, and is more than good enough for hunting.
Low Magnification Range
Simply put, .45-70 is best used as a short-range round. After 300 yards, you’re basically firing artillery and hoping for a hit. At close range though, this is a devastating round that can anchor game animals with authority.
Many people use .45-70 for big game hunting and dangerous game as well, from wild hogs on up to large bears and even buffalo, and if that’s the case, you definitely want a low magnification for faster target acquisition.
Trust me, when that angry bear you didn’t see stands up out of the brush and charges, you don’t want a super high magnification to deal with. You want a nice, quick scope with low or no magnification so you can find the target quickly (before it finds you).
If You Want The Best .45-70 Scope For Your Rifle, Start Here
Out of all the scopes we tested, these are the ones we had the most success with on .45-70 rifles.
Objective Lens Diameter
Vortex Optics Crossfire
2 - 7 x
Leapers UTG BugBuster
Primary Arms Classic Series
EOTech EXPS2 Holographic
Aimpoint ACRO P-1 Red Dot Sight
3.5 MOA Red Dot
Sig Sauer Romeo Red Dot
Vortex Razor Red Dot Reflex
Battery Type: CR2032
Trijicon RMR Type 2 Adjustable
ATN ThOR 4 384 Thermal Smart HD
1.25 - 5 x
ATN X-Sight II Day/Night Vision
Best Scope For 45-70
1. Vortex Optics Crossfire II
Vortex Optics lists the Crossfire II 2-7x32 as primarily a rimfire optic, and when you look at the three available reticle choices, you’ll understand why.
The crosshairs are simple and the holdover marks are meant for shooting at 100 yards or less. That is ideal for the .45-70, which has a trajectory surprisingly similar to a .22 long rifle bullet. Some people will say that this being a rimfire scope, it won't hold up to the .45-70 recoil.
Don’t listen to them. It will. It’s just about shockproof, in fact.
After sighting this one in, you can rest assured that your zero will remain spot on for a very long while, so no blaming your misses on the scope (we’ve all been there).
It’s a second focal plane optic with a one-inch, aircraft-grade aluminum tube. Being an SFP rifle scope, the size of the reticle won’t change as you change the magnification, which is perfect for the simple duplex reticle.
It offers 60 MOA of elevation adjustments in 1/4 MOA clicks. You'll get a 42-foot field of view (FOV) at 100 yards. That's not a lot, but it is plenty when you are putting the crosshairs on a deer at 100 yards.
The objective lens is a hefty 32mm which helps with light transmission, making those late afternoon and early morning shots in low light conditions much easier.
Further aiding your shooting in sub-par lighting conditions is the multicoated lens system, which helps the lenses shed water and transmit light more effectively, and the built-in sunshade to cut glare in bright light.
Finally, it is nitrogen-purged with excellent o-rings making it just about fog-proof, no matter the weather conditions.
2. Leapers UTG BugBuster
Next we have the Leapers UTG BugBuster 3-9x32 scope
This one-inch tube compact scope was designed for shotguns, which makes it a good option for .45-70 as well.
Quality shotguns scopes can certainly pull double duty atop a .45-70 because shotgun slugs and .45-70 bullets have similar trajectories. The BugBuster is a second focal plane scope with a 32mm bell. The field of view at 100 yards is 37.7 feet at 9x.
The mil-dot illuminated reticle lights up red or green, and since this is designed for shotguns, the mil dots will line up pretty well for the big pills coming out of a .45-70 rifle.
For those who like to push the envelope, this rifle scope should be enough to take your shooting to 300 yards in a carbine. Don't worry about terminal performance at that distance. Loaded properly with good bullet placement, the .45-70 is thoroughly lethal three football fields away.
3. Leupold VX-Freedom
Leupold's VX-Freedom is one of the best scopes for .45 70 rifles because Leupold is just one of the very best scopes for any firearm, period. This is a company that is legendary for making some of the toughest optics on the planet.
The 40 mm bell delivers more light gathering ability than the Vortex. It also has Leupold’s Twilight Max Management coating, which gives it the edge over scopes like the Bushnell Banner Dusk & Dawn series for low-light shooting.
The FOV is 35.5 feet at 100 yards, no appreciable difference compared to the Vortex.
The crosshairs are illuminated with several brightness settings as well. This scope offers 1/10th mil adjustments (not MOA adjustments) on windage and elevation, something you want in a rifle that drives tacks at 100 yards, but is a bit overkill for most .45-70 lever action shooting.
You’re usually not sniping targets at long distances with a .45-70 anyway, and things like resettable tactical turrets aren’t super necessary...but if you do want to reach out and touch something, the option is there.
In a Ruger No. 1, then you want that much adjustment because you can realistically reach 500 yards or more. For a long-barrel .45-70, this is the best scope.
4. Primary Arms Classic Series
This Primary Arms Classic Series 1-4x24mm scope is on the bottom of the list for one reason - the objective bell.
At 24mm, this scope simply does not have the light-gathering ability of the scopes ranked higher on this. It is in a 30mm tube, which is better for light than a one-inch tube. The Primary Arms Classic Series still makes the best scope for 45-70 because it is durable, reasonably priced and it works. Some carbine shooters do not want a large front lens because it adds more surface area to the rifle. A small bell is easier to handle in tight quarters.
Click values here are a half-mil. In a tactical rifle, that is not acceptable. In a carbine lever action .45-70, that will always get the job done. The fast-focus eyepiece and the illuminated center dot in the reticle make for some very fast shooting in close quarters, making this matte black rifle scope a great option for brush hunters.
Red Dots? On MY Lever-Gun? More Likely Than You’d Think
The .45-70 lever carbine just screams for red dot optics. By red dot, I mean the squarish window reflex sight, not a tube.
Why? A really wide field of view, and no tube to sight through means faster, parallax-free shooting.
In a brush gun, you need something that lets you get on target in a hurry.
Yes, a 2-mil dot covers a lot of target area at 100 yards, but in a lever-action, you are not after MOA groups anyway. Plus, you get massive eye relief.
The biggest drawback of these scopes is the battery. Simple solution, change the battery every hunting season. If you use the scope a lot, change the battery every two weeks.
Several years ago, I hunted bear in Canada with a Marlin Guide Gun in .45-70 borrowed from the outfitter. He had a red dot on it.
When the two bears walked out, I picked the one I wanted, turned on the scope, and gave the sow a 405-grain jacketed hollow point invitation to come home with me. She accepted. The red dot put the bullet exactly where I wanted it, a clean heart shot.
5. EOTech EXPS2 Holographic Weapon Sight
This EOTech EXPS2 is night vision compatible and comes with a double or single dot, both of which are 2 MOA. Though it is typically an AR optic, it does great on a .45-70 as well.
Sight the top dot in at your preferred distance. Then, shoot with the bottom dot until you find out where it is centered. A good shooter can then bullseye any distance between the two. Click value is 1/2 mil.
This scope does have a front and back lens in the compact square so obtaining a sight picture won't be quite as fast as a single-pane reflex. You will have to be really good to notice the difference though.
This scope has a 600-hour battery life, low compared to others in this list. You should change the battery more often because of that. It is also waterproof, a handy thing if you get caught in the rain.
6. Aimpoint ACRO P-1 Red Dot Sight
The Aimpoint ACRO P-1 Red Dot Sight is more of a short box than a single glass pane. It's also not quite a tube, so you’re kinda splitting the difference between the two designs. Also, it’s designed for handguns which is honestly a much more recoil-intensive application than the .45-70, believe it or not.
It is also fully enclosed, which makes it a top choice for hunters who spend a lot of time in the rain. Most other reflex sights do not have this level of waterproofing.
Unlike some other red dot sights here, this one is night-vision compatible. Check with the night vision manufacturer to make sure you can mate the two.
The dot is 3.5 MOA and the click value is 6/10ths of an inch at 100 yards.
7. Sig Sauer Romeo Red Dot
Sig is best known for their handguns, and while the Sig Sauer Romeo is designed for handguns, it works equally well on the .45-70 carbine. This scope comes in two versions, one with a 3 MOA dot and one with a 6 MOA dot. Get the 3 MOA dot.
Sig reports the battery, a CR1632, will last for 10 years. Take that with a grain of salt. Maybe several. Maybe the entire shaker of salt.
Still, that kind of battery life means you should get a whole season out of it. Also, the Romeo has MOTAC (Motion Activated Illumination System).
When the scope is moved, it comes on. Left idle, it automatically shuts off. This means you don't have to fumble around for the on-off switch when you are watching your target, and won’t kill your battery if you leave it on when you don’t need it.
8. Vortex Razor Red Dot Reflex
The Vortex Razor Red Dot has a 3-MOA dot, still big for a reflex sight, but half the size of the Trijicon below.
It has 1 MOA clicks, which will get you on target at 100 yards, but leaves a lot to the shooter's ability at 200 yards. Vortex says the scope can run for a whole year on a single CR2032 battery.
Change it for every hunting season anyway. Watch batteries are cheaper than a wasted hunting trip because your optic died on you.
It is designed primarily for a pistol, so the .45-70 won't be a problem. While handgun recoil can be less than in a rifle, the jarring is more significant as the slight reciprocates. Watch videos and see how far and what direction handgun recoil takes compared to that of a long gun.
9. Trijicon RMR Type 2 Adjustable
I am a fan of Trijicon sights. The RMR Type 2 is on the list despite having a monster 6.5 MOA red dot. It's on the list because of the durability, the variety of mounting options, including one that attaches to the top of a traditional scope.
That mount will give you an option for those tense moments when you’re in a hurry, while still allowing you to drop back to the traditional scope to zero in for a long-range shot.
Click value is another huge 1-inch at 100 yards. That so close to being an MOA as makes no difference for this scope on the .45-70.
The dot is meant for CQB shooting, particularly on AR’s and the like, but if you’re using a .45-70 as a bear-defense gun or a close-in brush hunting gun where you’re likely to spook that big boar and only have a short amount of time to line up a shot, that 6.5 MOA dot makes for very fast shooting.
A Few Night Vision Options for the .45-70
Given the range of the venerable .45-70 Government, choosing between a quality night vision scope and a good thermal vision scope is not hard. With a decent infrared illuminator, a good night vision scope will display your target at 100 yards.
Thermal vision can reach out much further. Another huge advantage the thermal has in this configuration is the ability to see through some fog. Traditional night vision just can't.
10. ATN ThOR 4 384 1.25-5x Thermal Smart HD
The ATN ThOR 4 384 1.25-5x Thermal Smart HD scope looks like a traditional scope, except for the box in the middle, but this scope is packed with features like recoil activated recording, WiFi, GPS and a compass among other things.
It has a 30mm tube, and ATN says the ThOR battery is good for 18 hours, but keep in mind that this is when just using the scope and none of the other features.
The scope has two models. The more expensive version comes with a laser/illuminator kit.
11. ATN X-Sight II Day/Night Vision
If you want a traditional night vision scope, the ATN X-Sight II works in the day and night. This means you can head out late afternoon and start hunting and keep going after the sun goes down.
It comes with four batteries, each one with an expected life of six hours. At least in this case, you can charge dead batteries while you hunt, if you are close enough to your vehicle.
This one also has recoiled-activated recording and streaming to other devices. A Smart Range Finder remembers ballistic information you program into the scope. Take aim, two clicks on the scope dials and the crosshairs are zeroed for what you are shooting at, no matter the range.
Pretty handy for those quick shots on moving targets.
The .45-70 is a serious caliber for a serious gun. The best scope for .45-70 needs to be able to handle the heavy recoil of this aging, but still popular round. Bullet choices range from 300-grain pills up to 700-grain monsters.
Recoil on bullets more than 500 grains is certainly stout. You have to be sure your scope can handle that level of punishment if that is what you will shoot.
The .45-70 is also a superb brush gun. Big scopes will get in the way when you are trying to fight your way through thick vegetation. Short and tight serves better here.
Your shots will be under 100 yards, likely under 50, so you don’t need a lot of scope. You just need one that will keep a zero and hold up in those field conditions. Each and every scope on this list will do just that.
Which of these .45-70 scopes do you like the best? Is there one that stands out to you? For more scopes like this be sure to check out our best scout scopes and best varmint scopes as well.