Compared: Remington Model 700 Mountain Rifle and Winchester Model 70 Classic Featherweight

By Chuck Hawks


Both the Remington Model 700 and Winchester Model 70 have previously been reviewed, and those articles can be found on the Product Review Page. In fact, it is those reviews that inspired this comparison, for the specific versions of these two rifles test fired for their respective articles were a Mountain Rifle LSS in .260 Rem. and a Model 70 Classic Featherweight in 6.5x55 SE.

The Remington test rifle is owned by my good friend Gordon Landers, who helped me do the test firing, and the Winchester test rifle by yours truly. Both are nearly new, current models, bought off the shelf at the same gun shop in Eugene Oregon. The MSRP of the two rifles is similar, as is their purpose. These are not "Custom" or "Super Grade" rifles, but they are what I would term deluxe rifles that share the top slots in their respective standard model lines.

Gordon and I have a lot of respect for the .260 and 6.5x55 cartridges, regarding either as a top choice for most North American or European hunting. Their ballistics are just about interchangeable. The .260 fits a short (.308 length) action and the 6.5x55 is usually offered in a standard (.30-06) length action. This makes most .260 rifles about 1/2" shorter than equivalent 6.5x55 rifles, but in the Model 70 Featherweight the 6.5x55 shares the specifications of the short action rather than the standard length action calibers, so this is a non-issue (except for the Model 70's longer bolt throw).

The Remington Mountain Rifle

Remington 700LSS
Illustration courtesy of Remington Arms Co. Inc.

The Remington Model 700 is the best selling, bolt action, hunting rifle in the world. It is a conventional push feed, front locking, two-lug action with a 90-degree bolt lift. The basic action was designed back in the 1950's for inexpensive mass production, given the technology of that time. The barrel is free floated.

The receiver is machined from bar stock and the recoil lug is a heavy steel washer inserted between the action and the barrel. The bolt face is fully recessed and surrounds the case head. The recessed bolt face, plus the flat (not coned) breech end of the barrel, plus the forward receiver ring, constitute the "three rings of steel" (ala Weatherby) that contribute to the action's great strength. The bolt body is attractively engine-turned.

The plunger ejector mounted in the bolt face is positive and reliable. A circlip inside the recessed bolt fact snaps over the rim of the case when the bolt is closed and serves as the extractor. This latter feature has drawn a lot of flack over the years as perhaps the action's worst feature. It is not particularly strong and does not take a very big "bite" on the case. Regardless, it actually works pretty well. The reloading port is relatively small, which makes for a slightly stiffer action and shorter bolt throw, but slows reloading.

Remington Model 700 triggers are easily user adjusted by means of two screws, although Remington warns that only a qualified gunsmith should make adjustments. Gordon set his mountain rifle's trigger for a crisp 2.25 pound release, the pull weight he prefers. The trigger of this rifle is excellent, slightly better than the very good trigger of my Model 70 Featherweight. (It is also slightly better than the trigger of my Remington Model 673 Guide Rifle, which uses the Model 700 trigger mechanism.)

The safety is at the right rear of the action and is a simple two position type. It is easy and positive to use, more so than the vaunted 3-position safety of the Model 70, in my judgment. The forward position is "fire" and back is "safe." The rearward position used to lock the bolt closed. This was to prevent accidental opening in the field and loss of the chambered cartridge if the bolt handle were to catch on something while the rifle were slung over the shoulder. In recent production, this has been changed so that the rifle can be left on safe while being unloaded. A victory for the tort lawyers but a step backward for the hunter, particularly the hunter pursuing dangerous game in the bush.

The bolt release is a small, square button just in front of the trigger. The trigger guard bow is slightly enlarged forward of the trigger to accommodate heavy gloves. The bolt handle is attractively checkered, although functionally I prefer a smooth bolt knob as per the Browning A-bolt or Weatherby Mark V. The Model 700 action feels smoother in operation than the Model 70 Classic action, primarily due to the absence of the extra friction caused by the long, external extractor.

The Model 700 action has proven to be a stiff and accurate action, and very strong. It is also a good looking action, smooth and rounded. It is frequently chosen as the basis for custom built rifles in the U.S.

The basic stock design is of the modern classic type, and positions the eye properly for use with a telescopic sight. It features a straight comb and a comfortable cheekpiece. The pistol grip has a comfortable curve, slightly tighter than the Featherweight's, and is set off by a black plastic cap. The thick buttpad is solid black rubber with a flat face, set off by a black line spacer. The edges are slightly rounded to minimize snagging when shouldered. The generous point pattern checkering wraps all the way around the slender forearm, which has an attractive rounded black tip.

The Mountain Rifle is a lightened, but not extreme ultra-light, version of the famous Model 700. It comes in two versions, a "DM" and an "LSS." DM stands for detachable magazine, and that version comes with a satin finished, blued barreled action and a walnut stock.

LSS stands for laminated/stainless steel. This version is supplied with a satin finished, stainless steel barreled action and a laminated wood stock with a hinged magazine floorplate. The release for the magazine floorplate is inside the front of the trigger guard and is convenient to operate. Iron sights are not supplied, but studs for detachable sling swivels are. The finish of both models is good but not exceptional. Gordon's rifle is the LSS version.

The basic specifications for the .260 Mountain Rifle are as follows: barrel length is 22 inches; overall length is 41 5/8 inches; length of pull is 13 3/8 inches, drop at comb is 3/8 inch, drop at heel is 3/8 inch; average weight is 6 1/2 pounds; magazine capacity is 4 rounds.

The Winchester Classic Featherweight

Model 70 Classic Featherweight
Illustration courtesy of U.S. Repeating Arms Co., Inc.

The basic Model 70 Classic bolt action is a throwback to an earlier era when rifle actions were designed for specific purposes and no one much cared if they were labor intensive to produce. Although it is accurate and strong, the Model 70 action was optimized for the hunting field rather than the rifle range. CNC machines have made the reintroduction of this action economically feasible. It is basically a conventional, front locking, two lug action with a 90 degree bolt lift.

The Classic Model 70 action is machined from a block of solid steel. It has a flat bottom for maximum wood to metal contact when bedded and an integral, machined recoil lug. The barrel is free floated.

The engine turned-bolt uses a full length Mauser-type extractor that takes a very large bite on the case rim to help extract oversize, dirty, or stuck cases, which is more important in the field than at the range. This is what is called a controlled feed action.

The extractor design allows the bolt to pick up a cartridge from the magazine and positively insert it into the chamber (hence "controlled feed"). If you are swinging the rifle while reloading (as is sometimes the case when the target is a fleeing or charging animal) the cartridge will not become misaligned and jam the action, or be thrown completely from the rifle--which has happened with push feed actions. With this type of extractor it is best to feed cases from the magazine to the chamber rather than directly into the chamber by hand, even for a single shot. This makes a controlled feed action less convenient than a push feed action at the rifle range.

The ejector is of the fixed blade type, mounted in the receiver, which allows the reloader to gently remove a fired case by hand by merely opening the bolt slowly. This is a handy feature at the rifle range and for reloaders. Pull the bolt back smartly, as when reloading in the field for a follow-up shot, and the empty case will be thrown well clear of the action.

Winchester Model 70 triggers are user adjustable by means of two screws and locknuts, although Winchester warns that adjustments should be made only by a qualified gunsmith. I'm not, but I've set Model 70 triggers before and I set this one for the 3 pound release that I prefer for a hunting rifle. A tiny amount of creep remains, but it is so minimal that I figured it wasn't worth the trouble to hone the engagement surfaces. The bottom line is that the trigger of this Featherweight is very good, but not quite as nice as the trigger of Gordon's Mountain Rifle.

The bolt knob is knurled, supposedly for a more positive grip. The bolt release is a small lever at the left of the rear receiver ring. I find this to be a more convenient location than the Model 700's bolt release.

The safety is of the wing type, located at the right rear of the action. This 3-position safety is perhaps the most copied in the world. Fully forward is "fire," fully to the rear is "safe" and locks the bolt closed, and the intermediate position keeps the trigger locked but allows the bolt to be operated to unload the chamber. I find this safety more awkward to operate than the Remington safety, but I like the fact that the bolt is locked closed when the safety is set.

The breech is coned for smooth and reliable feeding, a real plus if a fast second shot is required. You can feel the difference when you cycle cartridges through the action. And the magazine holds 5 standard diameter cartridges, one more than the Model 700 magazine.

The Featherweight has a longer bolt throw and a much larger loading port than the Mountain Rifle. This makes it easier and faster to reload, a matter of little importance until an emergency arises.

It is this collection small features, unnoticed by many newbie hunters and shooters, as well as its fundamentally sound design, that has made the Model 70's reputation as the "Rifleman's Rifle." Many knowledgeable experts regard the Model 70 as the finest bolt action ever designed for a hunting rifle. It has been chosen as the basis for many fancy American made custom rifles.

The Classic Featherweight comes with a black walnut stock. The test rifle's stock wood is pretty dark and does not have a lot of figure. The basic stock design is of the modern classic type, and positions the eye properly for use with a telescopic sight. The pistol grip has a comfortable curve, slightly more open than the Mountain Rifle's, and is set off by a black plastic cap. The slender forearm has a schnable tip. This stock features a straight comb and a comfortable cheekpiece. The relatively thin buttpad is solid red rubber, set off by a black line spacer. It has a slight "rifle" curve to more closely fit the shape of the shoulder. The attractive checkering panels are rounded and wrap completely around the forearm.

The Featherweight is perhaps the best known model in Winchester's storied Model 70 line. It is a somewhat lightened version of the standard Model 70. It comes with a polished blue metal finish and a satin wood finish. Overall, the finish is good but not exceptional. The bottom iron is mostly aluminum to conserve weight, but the hinged floorplate itself is steel. The floorplate release is a small button at the front of the trigger guard, which is satisfactory but not particularly easy to operate. Iron sights are not supplied, but studs for detachable sling swivels are.

The basic specifications for the 6.5x55 Model 70 Classic Featherweight are as follows: magazine capacity 5 rounds; barrel length 22"; overall length 42"; length of pull 13.5"; drop at comb 9/16"; drop at heel 7/8"; nominal weight 7 pounds.

The Scopes

The Mountain Rifle LSS wears a Leupold Vari-X III 2.5-8x36mm scope in a low Leupold mount. The Featherweight wears a Weaver Grand Slam 3-10x40mm scope in a low Leupold mount. The Leupold scope has a Mil-dot reticle and the Weaver scope has a standard plex reticle. The Mil-dot is probably a little better for target shooting as it has finer crosswires. These are both very good scopes that give a sharp, clear view of the target. Both rifles had previously been sighted-in.

The Ammunition

Remington Express factory loads were used in the Remington rifle and Sellier & Bellot factory loads in the Winchester rifle. Both used 140 grain Pointed Soft Point type bullets. These are the factory loads commonly used in their respective rifles. Both are "popular priced" (not premium) loads; the retail price of a box of either type of ammunition is similar at our local gun shop. We did not purchase any special ammo for this comparison.

Although Gordon and I are both reloaders, reloads were not used for this comparison. Reloads would have probably resulted in slightly smaller groups from both rifles, but not changed the outcome.

The shooting results

To set the stage, Gordon and I did all shooting at the Isaac Walton range near Eugene. This is an outdoor facility with 25, 50, 100 and 200 yard rifle ranges. We tried to pick days with decent weather and minimal wind, but we were outdoors and there is always some air movement. We used bench rests and sandbags when shooting for group size, and both scopes were set to approximately 8 power. Most groups were 3-shots, with a few 5-shot groups to keep us honest.

There proved to be no practical difference in the accuracy of the two rifles. Using factory loads the Remington Mountain Rifle's average group size proved to be 1.5" at 100 yards. The best groups went into 1".

The Winchester Classic Featherweight averaged about 1.5" groups with factory loads at 100 yards. The best group went into 7/8" and worst into 2" (my fault).

Anyone trying to choose between these two rifles will have to look beyond intrinsic accuracy. Which is as it should be; intrinsic accuracy is seldom the most important attribute of any hunting rifle.

The Comparison

Plusses for the Model 700 Mountain Rifle include its excellent trigger mechanism, rust resistant stainless steel barreled action, enlarged trigger guard that makes it easy for a hunter wearing heavy gloves, smooth action, short bolt throw, convenient magazine floorplate release, and the rounded edges of its buttpad. Because it is lighter than the Featherweight it would be easier to carry long distances over rough terrain, an important factor in a mountain rifle. But, unlike ultra-light mountain rifles, it retains enough weight to also be a good shooting rifle. Neither of us would have it any lighter.

The Mountain Rifle LSS is more eye-catching than the Classic Featherweight. I find its brown laminated stock with the extensive checkering pattern and black forearm tip and grip cap very attractive. It nicely sets off the silver stainless steel barreled action. The more subdued Classic Featherweight is also a good looking rifle, well above average in appearance. However, at least for me, the LSS wins the beauty contest by a narrow margin.

The biggest plusses for the Model 70 Classic Featherweight are its superior balance and slightly greater weight that reduces perceived recoil. Also appreciated are its coned breech, large loading port, greater magazine capacity, controlled feed, more convenient bolt release, and its integral recoil lug.

The Featherweight is light enough to not be burdensome to carry and heavy enough to be fun to shoot. It is a pleasure at the rifle range (at least in 6.5x55 caliber) and readily adaptable to a wide range of hunting situations.

Conclusion

These are attractive and functional hunting rifles. Both have areas of superiority. Neither has any glaring flaws. Both are more than accurate enough for all practical hunting purposes. There is little to choose between the performance of the two cartridges.

If Gordon could change one thing about his Mountain Rifle, he would like a heavier contour barrel. If I could change one thing about my Classic Featherweight, I would like a stock with more figure.

The Mountain Rifle is, as its name implies, a superior mountain rifle that still remains suitable for all-around duties. The Featherweight is a suitable mountain rifle and a superior all-around rifle.

Note: Individual, full length reviews of these rifles can be found on the Product Reviews page.




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Copyright 2004, 2006 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.

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