.45-80 500 cartridge headstamp identification

In 2010, I found a cache of over 600 complete and about 100 other broken cartridges, with my metal detector all in the same hole as if someone intentionally buried them there. Given the location of this find, I’m guessing these are military issue but I know nothing about identifying them. The headstamp reads as follows: At 12 o’clock is the letter ‘R’, at 3 o’clock is the number ‘83’, at 6 o’clock is the letter ‘F’ and at 9 o’clock is the number ‘12’. Can anyone please tell me more about these? Thank you.


Welcome to the Forum!

The title of your post suggests the items you found are the “Lengthened Chamber” target version of the .45 Government cartridge with a 2.4" long case. I have not seen that headstamp recorded for that cartridge so I would suspect they are in fact standard length cartridges. Could you verify the case length?

The headstamp indicates: “R” = Rifle (70gr. powder charge), “F” = Frankford Arsenal manufacture, “12” = December, “83” = 1883. I believe at that time, “Rifle” cartridges were loaded with the 405gr. bullet and that the external appearance was the same as the Carbine load with the same bullet and 55gr. powder charge. Carbine loads were marked with a “C”. Later, when 500gr. bullets were used in the rifle loads, external appearance made the distinction obvious and the “R” and “C” markings were dropped.

Any chance we could see a picture?


Edited: “Lengthened Case” to “Lengthened Chamber”.

Dave is mostly right, except for a few details.

In 1883, the rifle cartridge was loaded with a 500 grain bullet. The designation at that time was the 45-70-500. While that made it easy to ID a rifle cartridge from a carbine cartridge, the headstamp continued to have an “R” or a “C”, for rifle and Carbine. In 1886, the carbine bullet was seated deeper in the case and the “R” and “C” were dropped.

R F 3 83 is a legitimate headstamp for a 2".4 Case, unofficially known as a Lengthened Chamber cartridge, 45-80-500, or Sharpshooter. You can either measure the case length, or post a photo. That would help to identify exactly what you have.

And, it was SOP for troops in the field to bury or otherwise destroy fired cases. The intent was to keep the cases from falling into the hands of hostile Indians who might be able to re-load them. I have found several such holes at different Indian War battle sites.



Unless I missed something, Greg was indicating the headstamp on the found cartridges was R F 12 83. Is that known on the 2".4 case?

Thanks for filling in the details…I should know better than to go from (faltering) memory!



You are right. I mis-read his post. R F 12 83 has not been documented as a 2".4 Case headstamp.

Actually, I doubt that he found any of the 45-80-500 cases in that hole. It would have been very unusual for the cartridge to have been in the field because it could only be used in a lengthened chamber rifle, very few of which were made. It was strictly a long-range competition rifle and cartridge combination that was quickly discontinued once the big brass found out about it.


Thank you for the replies. I will attempt to attach 2 photos with this post. The overall length is 2.75 inches and I also took a photo of where the cartridge ends and bullet begins ( I know, not actually the proper lingo!) and that length is 2 and 1/8 inches. I hope this helps. Note: where I found these was very close to a practice range for military in the late 1800’s so the reply about these being, possibly, the sharpshooter cartridges, is intriguing. Well, I’m not sure how to attach a photo. I clicked on the “Img” box thinking that was it but no good. Any suggestions on how to attach a photo? Thanks


A case length of 2 1/8" and a cartridge length of 2 3/4" indicates a standard 45-70-500 Rifle cartridge. 4th from left in my photo.

To post a photo you need a host. I use TinyPic or Photobucket.


Thank you! The other headstamp marks, as I’m reading the replies, are that these were manufactured in December of 1883?

Yes. All headstamped Cal .45 military cartridges will have the month and year of manufacture.