Winchester Model 70 Classic Featherweight Rifle
By Chuck Hawks
Between 1936 and 1963 the famous Winchester Model 70 bolt action rifle was built in a number of variations and calibers. Models included the Standard Grade, "Carbine" (not an official designation, but a short 20" barreled Standard version produced between 1936-1946), Featherweight, Super Grade, Super Grade Featherweight, Super Grade African, National Match, Target, Bull Gun, Varmint, and Alaskan.
Of all of these, it was the Featherweight that was to become the best known. One of the valid criticisms of the standard pre-'64 Model 70 was that it was too heavy. The Featherweight came with a 22" barrel, aluminum bottom iron and trigger guard, and a slender, lighter stock in order to shed unwanted ounces.
The Featherweight dissappeared for a while after the disastrous revision of the Model 70 line in 1964, when controlled feed was abandoned in favor of a simpler, push feed action that was less expensive to manufacture. In 1992 Winchester again revised the Model 70 action, this time restoring the full length extractor, receiver mounted ejector, coned breech and controlled round feed (CRF) while retaining the other good features of the push feed Model 70 action. The new, revised action became the heart of the Classic models, available in many variations including a revitalized Featherweight and even a left-handed Featherweight. There are super-short, short and standard length Model 70 Classic actions.
The Model 70 Classic action is one of the finest Mauser pattern, two front locking lug, bolt actions ever mass produced for a hunting rifle. It offers just about everything the aficionado of such actions could want, including strength, accuracy and exceptional feed reliability. It is the odds-on choice among bolt actions for ultra-critical applications, such as hunting dangerous game.
The most popular version of the Model 70 Classic is the Featherweight. It was named the "Bolt Action Rifle of the Century," with some justification. It wears a modern classic style walnut stock with a medium pistol grip, fluted straight comb, Schnabel forearm and satin finish. The cut checkering pattern is pleasing and extensive and there is a pistol grip cap and a red solid rubber buttpad with a black line spacer. The blued, controlled feed action has a jeweled bolt with a knurled bolt handle and a hinged magazine floor plate.
The basic specifications for the Model 70 Classic Featherweight are as follows: magazine capacity 5 (standard calibers), 3 (WSM/WSSM calibers); barrel length 22" (standard calibers), 24" (WSM calibers); overall length 42" (short action), 42.5" (standard length action), 44" (WSM calibers), 41" (WSSM calibers); length of pull 13.5" (13.25" in the Super Short), drop at comb 9/16", drop at heel 7/8"; nominal weight 6 pounds (super short action), 7 pounds (short action), 7.25 pounds (standard length action), 7.5 pounds (WSM calibers).
The Model 70 Classic Featherweight purchased for this review in 2003 is chambered for the 6.5x55 (Swedish Mauser) cartridge, a fine general purpose cartridge combining low recoil with good killing power and excellent accuracy. The Featherweight and the 6.5x55 make an almost unbeatable combination and it is a shame that the caliber is no longer offered.
The Featherweight's stock has a straight comb that helps to position the eye correctly for use with a scope and minimizes the effects of recoil. No iron sights are supplied. The Classic trigger is user adjustable, although I have always found the double lock nut arrangement used by Winchester to be rather time consuming to adjust. Never the less, I was able to set the trigger for a consistent 3.5 pound release. There is only a tiny bit of take-up before the trigger releases and over travel is well controlled. The out of the box trigger pull measured about 4.75 pounds on my RCBS Premium gauge.
The latest version of the Model 70 Featherweight Classic, introduced in 2008 and called the "Featherweight Deluxe," has been improved by the inclusion Grade II wood and a new M.O.A. trigger system. Unlike some recent "improved" triggers designed by lawyers, the Winchester M.O.A. trigger is adjustable, light and clean right out of the box. It is factory adjusted for 3.75 pounds with zero take-up, creep or overtravel. I consider it to be the best trigger system ever offered in a Model 70 rifle.
The controlled feed Model 70 action is one of the best. It was designed from the outset for a hunting rifle, not adapted from a military or target rifle. Its coned breech ensures smooth and reliable feeding, the full length Mauser style extractor grabs a big slice of the rim of the case and the fixed blade-type ejector allows reloaders to remove their brass by hand if they so desire. The flat bottomed action is partly glass bedded and the integral recoil lug is substantial. With the bolt back the opening is large and thus the action is easy to reload rapidly. The Model 70's three-position safety is highly regarded by most users and has been widely copied. All in all, the Model 70 Classic is one of the best bolt actions for a fine hunting rifle.
A Weaver Grand Slam 3-10x40mm scope was mounted using a two piece Leupold base and medium height Leupold rings. This scope was selected because of its very good optics, solid construction and precise 1/4 MOA finger adjustments. The 3-10 magnification range is more than really required by the 6.5x55 cartridge, which would be just as well served by a 2-7x scope, but Weaver does not offer a 2-7x scope in its Grand Slam line. (A complete review of this Weaver Grand Slam scope can be found on the Product Review Page.)
The sample Model 70 Featherweight is a handsome rifle and it proved capable of fine accuracy. 100 yard, three-shot groups fired from a bench rest over sandbags with Sellier & Bellot factory loads (140 grain PSP bullet at a MV of 2645 fps) averaged 1-1/8". The smallest group measured only 7/8", and the largest 1-3/8".
As expected, there were no malfunctions of any kind; both rifle and scope functioned perfectly. The inherently moderate recoil of the 6.5x55 cartridge in combination with the Model 70 Classic Featherweight's well designed stock made our range sessions a pleasure.
In 1997, control of USRAC was sold to the Walloon region of Belgium (home of FN). In March of 2006, the new owners closed the Winchester/USRAC plant in New Haven, CT. This brought production of Model 70 rifles to an end and the Belgian owners stated that they had no intention of establishing Model 70 production elsewhere. Fortunately, they lied and the Model 70 Featherweight Deluxe was reintroduced in 2008. Other than the improved M.O.A. trigger system and a grade II walnut stock, it looks, feels, operates and handles the same as the previous Featherweight Classic. This new version is made in the US, but south of the Mason-Dixon line in an annex of the FN plant.
The Model 70 Featherweight was undone (twice, no less) because it was too expensive to produce, not because the cheaper rifles that replaced it are better. Both times it has reappeared because it is too good to let die. Those who own Model 70 Featherweights tend to hold on to them and those who don't generally wish that they did. It is, after all, "The Bolt Action Rifle of the Century."
RIFLE REVIEW SUMMARY
Copyright 2002, 2012 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.