Winchester Model 70 Featherweight
By: Pete Moore
Pete Moore reckons there’s life in the old dog yet as he looks at that classic sporting rifle the Winchester Model 70
I go back with the Model 70 Winchester 15-years, as it was the centrefire rifle I decided to take to Africa in 1995 for my first safari. The main reason was the calibre as I wanted something with reasonable power and had a 270 WSM (Winchester Short Magnum) on my ticket. Using 140-grain Winchester Fail Safe ammo it proved accurate, reliable and highly effective! I still have it today though since then it has been re-barrelled in 300 WSM, fitted with a muzzle brake and now wears a Wild Dog synthetic stock.
Introduced in 1936 the Model 70 soon earned its nick name of ‘the rifleman’s rifle’. With an action heavily based on the Mauser 98 the Winchester is hardly a technical build by comparison to the more modern designs out there. But it works and as they say; if it does then don’t fix it… However, we can see its influence in guns like the Kimber, HS Precision and even the Howa 1500/Weatherby Vanguard.
A few tweaks
You may recall a few years ago Browning who owns Winchester announced they were going to discontinue the Model 70 along with their 94 lever-action rifle and 1300 pump-action shotgun. Well reports of the Model 70s death are a little premature as it was decided to carry on with it. The basic action with its twin lug bolt, external extractor, 3-position safety and floor plate magazine remains the same. The major difference is the new MOA trigger mechanism and a return to the pre-64-type controlled round feed system.
Currently there are 10 model available with big game and longer range options such as the Coyote II and a host of stock and finish choices. What I have here is the Featherweight, which pans out, given the calibre you choose as a nice little hunting rifle for the UK market. My example came in 243 Winchester, which would be ideal for many shooters. However, calibre choice is generous with 22-250, 243, 7mm-08, 308, 270, 30-06, 300 WM, 270, 300 and 325 WSM. So if you can’t pick one of these then maybe you don’t know what you want… Up to and including 30-06 the barrel length is 22”, which I feel is a bit short for the 06 and the 270. It’s only when you get into the magnums do you get an extra two inches of tube making these options 24” with an increase in weight of approximately ¾-1 lb.
As regular readers will know I am not a big fan of wooden-stocked rifles, but, rather like my Ruger 375 African, the Featherweight really comes together with its timber furniture. The build shows a reasonable piece of tight-grained, grade 1 walnut with a thick, premium Pachmayr® Decelerator® recoil pad. Not perhaps required for 243 but as you get heavier it will doubtless be appreciated. The build goes for a low/straight comb with semi-fancy but practical panels of chequering on grip and forend. The tip shows a Schnable-style and QD sling studs are fitted front and back.
With a length of pull of 13 ¾” the stock is not fat but nicely hand filling. The barrel is 22”, measured from the gas escape hole and shows a light/tapered profile. Un-scoped the Featherweight tips the scale at a pleasing 6lbs 8oz and measures 42” butt to muzzle.
The bolt is jewelled (engine-turned) with the classic, large, external extractor claw. The handle is angled back with a good length and big knob on the end, which is knurled for grip. The safety is positioned on the right of the bolt shroud and pushes forward to FIRE, middle for SAFE with bolt operation and rearwards SAFE bolt locked. It’s easy enough to operate with your firing hand thumb and doesn’t totally break your shooting position either. The action loads through the top and the floor plate can be opened by a catch at the front of the trigger guard. The trigger is smooth and wide and breaks at a very crisp 4-5 lbs and shows no creep or take-up; a tad heavy for me but a practical weight for an out of the box hunter such as this and easy enough to live with.
For the test I fitted a Swarovski 2.5-10x56 Z4i scope in Leupold, swing-off mounts. Ammunition went to my usual cross section from Winchester, Hornady, RWS, Norma and PPU in a choice of bullet weights and types. My main concern as always with 243 Winchester is its ability to make large deer legal energy (1700 ft/lbs minimum). With its 22” tube I was not expecting any dramas, but it’s always good to find out, as if it comes in under that figure then it’s only allowed for muntjac, CWD and foxing…
The general feel and handling of the Featherweight is most pleasing. The rifle comes up fast and easy, with the generous stock filling hands and shoulder nicely and offering a decent head/scope position. Fully bombed-up with scope, mounts, full magazine it tips the scales at just over 7 ½ lbs, which makes it easy to carry. The barrel is free-floated and in conjunction with rigid forend allows bipod use with no worries about a change in point of impact on or off the pod.
Accuracy was a little back to front; normally a 243 will shoot the lighter bullet weights (58-75 etc.) better than the heavier ones. However, with weights from 58 to 95-grains average groups sizes came in at 1 ½ - 2”, which was a little disappointing. However, where the Featherweight excelled was with 100 and even the heavy RWS/Geco 105-grain loads. With an inch at worst and generally ¾” at 100-yards the rifle obviously preferred these recipes.
The 105-grain Geco showed 2832 fps over the chrono with a muzzle energy of 1853 ft/lbs, so comfortably over the 1700 ft/lb minimum. The trigger, though offering a crisp release, did come up a tad heavier than I prefer, but nothing you could not get used to; given the creep-free break offered.
The Winchester Model 70 as a design is a good one and a rifle and mechanism I like. However, in the UK it does not have the rep of guns like the Remington 700 etc., which is a pity as it’s a solid product and one well worth a look. Given the main use a rifle like this would be put to, the Featherweight in the right calibre would make a good choice.
• A modern classic
• Well worth consideration
• Wide choice of options
|Name||Winchester Model 70 Featherweight|
|Calibre||243 Win (on test)|
|Capacity||4 + 1|
|Stock||grade 1 walnut|
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